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Exclusive: ROBOCOP 2014 Concept Artist Milena Zdravkovic Interview

RoboCop (2014) concept art by Milena Zdravkovic

Read my exclusive interview with RoboCop (2014) concept artist Milena Zdravkovic!

The RoboCop remake has been out for a while and Variety said the film "meets the era's darker demands for action reboots with machine-tooled efficiency and a hint of soul." One concept artist was kind enough to an interview about her work in the film.

Milena Zdravkovic is a professional concept artist, 3d illustrator and a set designer based in Canada. She's worked on Hollywood movies for over a decade like Man of Steel (2013), X-Men 2 (2003) and I, Robot (2004).

Click the images to enlarge.

Maurice Mitchell: How did you get involved working on RoboCop?
Milena Zdravkovic: I’ve been in the industry since late ‘99 based in Vancouver and since the movie was shot in Toronto, they were looking for Canadian concept artists to help out. I got a call from the supervising art director Brandt Gordon and Voila!

MM: And there you are! So, is this the first time you had worked with the production designer before?
MZ: Yes, this is the first time that I was working with Martin Whist and it was great. What I loved about him is the fact that he would let the concept artists do they're thing. He was specific in giving information and guidance to what was needed and, for the rest of the time, it was just going with your experience and you're gut feeling.

Once we had finished the concept we send it back and then they review it. If it’s along the line they’re looking for there are some certain tweaks and things that obviously come back because you have to carry on with a complete look of the movie which you don’t necessarily have an overlook as a production designer would. And of course there are always things that are connected with budgeting and how much of the things you're doing are along those lines. But that’s why we're all here right? We try to come up with the best possible ideas and whatever comes through and can be done, we go for it!

MM: You obviously worked on many things, but what did you work on the most for this film?
MZ: Most of the designs for Robocop character were already done way before the film started in pre-production meaning the robots and the suits and everything else was done in L.A. but once the actual pre-production started we were taking care of mainly concepts for the set designs, locations modifications and key frames. This means that if, for example, we're going to test the location and see if we can shoot in that location let's put all of our guys in there let’s do a scene from the movie not shot yet and see if it’s gonna work or not. Having said that, I’ve done everything from the TV studio all the way to the end which is a whole sequence of him coming in on his bike, getting into the building and shooting all these big robots and everything.

That was pretty much storyboarding in a sense, but really in a key frame illustration fashion. And I’ve done that in collaboration with my partner Warren Flannagan who’s also an illustrator.

Because I start in 3D and base everything in Maya first, it is easy to share which with all the departments. At one point I lay out the shots and put all my guys in and do the lighting and then a beauty pass in Photoshop. These 3D models in Maya can then be pushed right into previs or post-production so we know exactly where we stand in real world versus just a beauty illustration.

MM: Were there any interesting challenges to working on this film?
MZ: The biggest challenge is to find visual solutions that are not seen before and finding the language that is going to be simplistic and minimalistic but still standing on its own. Whenever you work on a movie you are trying to find a language that has significantly different identity for any given project. Every movie has its own language and all of us have to feed into that to create the style and look of it. So, for the most part, it's fine-tuning, finding something that existed in the original movie but tweaking it and making it look cool and fresh.

The original RoboCop in its essence was very boxy and angular. It was very robotic, in the 80s fashion robotics. So it was a very interesting process to find those sleeker, thinner, less bulky outlines across the board, including the sets and locations. It's not the biggest challenge but it's always a challenge.
The original movie designs are cool as a cucumber, but since then the technology has completely changed. We're looking into nanorobots now. And so we’re trying to figure out how to get as much new technology as possible and make it believable for people. In this particular one we were kind of heading that way anyways. You want to do something that is possible and believable but it's still sci-fi. And that's a fine line.

I think one of the things that were a little bit challenging is finding out the solution for displays especially in a hologram universe of the studio sets. I don't know how it ended up in the end since I haven't seen the movie yet, but all of the interactive displays that the actor was flashing around and moving thru air had to be made interesting. That’s something that is a challenge because you still have to carry on with what the audience is used to seeing because in all honesty my preferences would differ from a bit from what someone else would use to tell the story. So, you kind of have to go back and forth and pull it back and push it a little bit more if you find yourself at odds with certain way of looking at things. Never the less,  It’s a fun challenge.

MM: Fun indeed. You worked on this film a while ago, but do you have any fond memories from the project?
MZ: The funniest part about the whole thing is that I hadn't met the designer till the very end because I was working remotely from Vancouver and majority of the film was shot in Toronto.  Now, they had to do reshoots for the very end of the movie and came to my turf, to Vancouver. So, it was seven o'clock or eight o'clock in the morning and I was asked to come to location to meet with the designer.

So I rushed to UBC (University of British Columbia) campus and there were a group of guys standing there in front of the building. So I approach them and asked, "OK, who's Martin?" And he said, "Oh yeah, there she is." So, that was it right? It was the immediate recognition. We'd been working together for almost a year but communicated exclusively by images. Thru pictures and illustrations. So, the very first time that we exchanged a spoken word was seven months later. It was like, “Oh there you are. OK. Let's go shoot that b**tard.” We live in a world where everything is now remote and it worked in this case because it was kind of like the movie itself, where technology enhances some parts of the experience but personal connection still never fails.

MM: A great guy to work with I'm sure! So where will we see your work next?
MZ: The next one that is coming out is Tomorrowland (2015), which I have worked for part of 2013. Once I wrapped that up I jumped onto World of Warcraft (2016).

Thanks for much for the interview Milena! See more of Milena Zdravkovic's exciting portfolio at milenazdravkovic.com!

Click on the links if you want to see more of Milena Zdravkovic's work or RoboCop (2014) on my blog.

What do you think of the concept art? If you've seen RoboCop (2014) what did you think?

Official RoboCop 2014 Summary
"In RoboCop, the year is 2029 and multinational conglomerate OmniCorp is at the center of robot technology. Their drones are winning American wars around the globe and now they want to bring this technology to the home front," reads the synopsis. Alex Murphy is a loving husband, father and good cop doing his best to stem the tide of crime and corruption in Detroit. After he is critically injured in the line of duty, OmniCorp utilises their remarkable science of robotics to save Alex's life. He returns to the streets of his beloved city with amazing new abilities, but with issues a regular man has never had to face before."
Directed by José Padilha
Cinematography by Lula Carvalho
Production Design by Martin Whist
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Official Site: http://www.robocop.com/
Release Dates: January 30, 2014 (Malaysia/Singapore/Taiwan), February 7, 2014 (United Kingdom), February 12, 2014 (United States)
© Copyright 2014 Strike Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved

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Write by: Arek - Thursday, March 6, 2014

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