Adam Middleton shares his experiences as a Professional Concept Artist


Christina: Tell us what you’re currently working on?
Adam: Currently I am working on the Avatar Sequels as well as freelancing for Treyarch on an Untitled project.

Christina: Can you explain what you do professionally and how you got started?
Adam: My day to day job is as a Concept Designer. This covers a variety of disciplines including prop design, costume design and environment design. I first became aware that being a concept designer was a job when I purchased The Art of: Return of the King. I couldn’t believe that a job existed where you could dream up and draw swords and castles! The work of Alan Lee and John Howe in that book was my original inspiration for becoming a concept designer, so it was very cool to be able to discuss both the Helms Deep and Golden Hall cross sections with Alan Lee.

Christina: Did you have a traditional school education for art or are you self taught?
Adam: I attended Massey University in Wellington, studying industrial design, I was 1 year into a 4 year degree before pulling out and deciding to figure out my own way to become a Concept Designer. I did a couple of Gnoman courses as well as a zBrush course with Andrew Baker who was Weta Workshop’s lead creature Designer at the time.

Christina: What are the things outside of tutorials and classes that help you grow as an artist most?
Adam: Certainly the people I work with. I have learnt so much from the others in the Design Studio at Weta - it’s like the best education you could have being surrounded by that team on a daily basis, I am very fortunate!

Christina: Are there times you face burnout and how do you overcome that?
Adam: I think all artists face burnout, usually for me it happens on projects that I’m not getting creative satisfaction from. I’ve found the best way to combat it is to do my own personal work to bring back the joy of creating and designing, that’s how my whole Middle-Earth cross section project started. I was feeling burnt out with my day to day work so I decided to combine two of my passions, Lord of the Rings and cross section illustrations. The project became one of my most creatively rewarding experiences.

Christina: Are you a social artist or do you prefer to work alone?
Adam: At the moment I’m a very social artist which suits my in house position at Weta Workshop. It’s such a melting pot of artists and creatives it’s hard not to feel inspired everyday turning up to work.

Christina: As a professional artist what are you doing now to make sure you stay relevant to the talent coming behind you?
Adam: Constantly trying to push and develop my own fundamental and design skills. There’s been a lot of new software and technical advances in this industry in the last few years, but one thing none of those programs can give you is an understanding of the fundamentals and what goes into creating a successful design.

Christina: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Adam: Flip your canvas every now and then!

Christina: What’s your favorite piece that you’ve created?
Adam: There’s a bunch of work I’m proud of that I’ve done for projects that aren’t released yet, but the Helms Deep cross section is certainly one of my favorites. I loved that whole battle sequence in the Two Towers so to illustrate it and collaborate with Alan Lee, the original designer for the LOTR trilogy, was an experience I won’t forget!

Christina: Do you have any rituals that you perform before you start working on a project? During a project to keep the motivation, inspiration alive? At the end of a project?
Adam: When I start a new brief I try to gather as much relevant reference material as I can to get a handle on the subject matter. Being a Concept Designer often requires becoming an ‘instant expert’ on the subject you’re designing around. Learning about the construction of ancient Chinese weapons one week and cutting edge aerospace developments the next keeps things fresh and constantly interesting.

When I decided to do a cross section of Helms Deep I began by asking Daniel Falconer (Weta Workshop’s resident LOTR buff and author of all the Hobbit Art of Books, as well as concept designer here) for as much reference imagery that he could pass on to me. He gave me a wealth of old set photos, miniature photos and set plans. I then began building a 3D model of the structure in MODO. Once I had that in a good place I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Alan Lee (Lord of the Rings and Hobbit concept designer) who gave me his insight into spaces within the fortress that were never seen in the films.

Once the 3D model was finished I took a roughly textured render into Photoshop and painted over the top. It probably took about 90 hours all up to complete the illustration.

Christina: What creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
Adam: I would love to be a Designer for Lego! I think that’s one of the ultimate ‘big kid’ jobs there is. Lego was a source of constant inspiration for me as a child growing up, so it’d be a pretty awesome opportunity to possibly be able to create something that might inspire future generations to pursue creative careers and lifestyles.

Check out Adam’s work on Instagram! :