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Alumnus designer George Hull's concept art for movie 'Elysium'

by Deborah Rieselman

Conceptual illustrator and visual-effects art director George Hull, DAAP ’93, took a break before starting work on the movie “Jupiter Ascending” to design some big sets for the sci-fi action drama “Elysium,” which opened Aug. 9, 2013. Even though all of the concept art never makes it into a film, Hull shares a variety of his designs here.

Director Neill Blomkamp (director and co-writer of “District 9”) hired Hull "to help design some large-scale environments for the film," Hull says. "I actually designed a massive robot factory for a Nike Superbowl commercial for Neill years back. So when it came to huge scale sets, I suppose that is why he turned to me.

"Even though (production designer) Syd Mead designed the overall look of 'Elysium,' there weren't any images for the substrata/cavernous environments, robot factory or the deportation bay. All were really cool set descriptions that I was elated to chew on."

Starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, "Elysium" takes place in the year 2154 when two classes of people exist. The extremely wealthy live on an unspoiled human-made space station named Elysium. The vast majority remain on Earth, languishing in its overpopulated, poverty-laden, crime-ridden and devastated environment.

The lack of medical care makes Earth's masses desperate to reach Elysium, but the residents there will do anything necessary to enforce anti-immigration laws and maintain their lavish lifestyles.

Hull's work on the film had to progress quickly. "Given the short time I had available and the speed of VFX in production, I only got one or two passes on blocking and layout of each set," he says. "Once Neill liked the direction, I was moved onto the next set piece.

"Kent Matheson and his team at Image Engine (the visual effects production company) used my sketches as a starting point to evolve final models into their beautiful VFX shots. As always, things change, but the front-end, heavy lifting from a blank sheet is my favorite part of the process. I like seeing artists’ early sketches, so hopefully people will enjoy my art even though it is mostly blocking work.

"I would have loved the time to do proper detailed design overlays and a sexy painting pass for each set, but regardless, I was honored to have been called in for the film."

From 1994-2000, Hull worked for Industrial Light and Magic, leaving as senior visual-effects art director to open his own production firm. "I often work for film studios directly," he explains. "I am hired by directors, production designers and visual-effects supervisors to help conceptualize the visual vocabulary of a film, create the mood or design sets, vehicles, environments, etc, via drawing and painting in 2-D and 3-D techniques."

Some of his best-known works include "The Amazing Spider-Man" ('12), "Tree of Life" ('11), "Iron Man 2" ('10), "Avatar" ('09), "WALL-E" ('08 — film won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature, and Hull was an artist in the animation dept.), "The Matrix Reloaded" ('03), "Finding Nemo" ('00), "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" ('97), "Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi, Special Edition" ('97), "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Special Edition" ('97) and "Forrest Gump" ('94 Academy Award winner for Best Visual Effects and Best Picture).

"Jupiter Ascending," starring Channing Tatum, is due to open in 2014. In spring 2013, principal photography began at the Warner Bros. studio.