By Tobias van Schneider Published November 10, 2020
Entering Ash Thorp’s world is like stepping into a kid’s comic book. There are robots and fast cars. Jiu Jitsu and outer space. Monster and machines.
Thorp has made a career of stuff as a motion, VFX and digital designer and director. Working on video games like "Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare," and films like "Ghost in the Shell" and "Assassin’s Creed," he’s become known for his ability to build transportive, futuristic worlds.
As it turns out, it’s a craft he’s been pursuing since childhood.
“I grew up in very humble surroundings, so I would use my imagination and mind to escape from reality quite often,” says Thorp. “The things that interested me growing up still influence me heavily today. I feel that I am continually trying to please my inner child when I create.”
One of Thorp's illustrations for "L'INTRUS BEYOND BATMAN."
As a self-proclaimed forever student, Thorp is constantly striving to hone that skill. How do you stir emotion in a viewer? What makes a character believable? How does light influence the tone of a scene? What makes for a real, immersive world? Lately, he's been studying films to find those answers.
"At the end of the day, my main goal is to convey emotion through all my art."
“I don't proclaim to be an expert on the requirements for what makes a film worthy to watch, but I do know what draws me to the films that I love, and that is always a great story,” says Thorp.
Thorp tries to break down how scenes in films work, searching for how and why they invoke emotion in a person. For him, it starts with knowing the subject matter to the point of authenticity. Making a believable world, he explains, requires knowing what motivates the characters to do the things they do and why.
Scenes from "Lost Boy," a sci-fi film Thorp designed and co-directed.
“I am continually experimenting and studying as I progress as an artist,” he says. “At the end of the day, my main goal is to convey emotion through all my art.”
Before creating his recent series of paintings for friend Vitaly Bulgarov's game, “Mortal Shell,” he first studied hours of gameplay and immersed himself in the game lore. He then pulled references of films and moments that he felt connected tonally with the game.
One of Thorp's recent paintings for the game "Mortal Shell."
He also studied Roger Deakins’ DOP work on "1917" and "Skyfall," particularly the end scenes at night. Since "Mortal Shell" is placed in a fantasy realm with no artificial lighting, Thorp looked for clever tricks Roger may have used to illuminate his cast during the night shoots.
A scene from the 2012 film, "Skyfall," which Thorp referenced while creating his paintings for "Mortal Shell."
Another film he paid close attention to was Francis Ford Coppola's “Dracula.”
"It's lit so incredibly well and has some very poetic visual moments," says Thorp.
After diving deep into those films, he focused on gaining a better understanding of the subject matter to figure out the best way to extract emotion.
“One method is to focus on the characters’ ambitions, and then create from that viewpoint,” he explains. “For example, if they are emotionally torn, I may choose to light the character in a high contrast form to reflect both their light and dark sides.”
Another recent painting for "Mortal Shell."
Thorp is currently teaching himself to use 3DS Max and Vray, after years of using C4D and Octane/Redshift for his work. He’s also working on his directing skills, and says he is learning to find patience with the process.
How he sees it? Every new tool or skill he learns unlocks a new list of opportunities.
“I am always trying to view the world as a student,” says Thorp. “I don’t ever want to settle on what I know or am comfortable with now, but I’d rather focus ahead on what I want to learn and who I want to become."
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the founder of DESK, nice to meet you!