Sydney MasterTalk with Bowen Ellames
An accomplished concept artist and graphic designer in the film and television industry, Bowen has worked with Marvel, Amazon and Netflix.
He has received numerous accolades for his work, including the Australian Production Design Guild Award for Best Concept Design (Sweet Tooth) and Best Concept Design Visualisation (Tidelands).
Most recently, Bowen was the joint recipient of the Best Graphic Design Award for Baz Luhrmann’s biopic Elvis. He has worked on a variety of well-known Australian and international productions, including I Am Mother and Thor: Ragnarok.
Bowen gave an inspiring talk to our students and guests, covering his work on productions including The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Tidelands, Sweet Tooth and Elvis.
As well as working on these large-scale productions, where Bowen described the studio environment as being like a “whole town of people working on this one idea,” he has also created and shown his own short films and digital media projects.
While sharing advice with our students about starting out in the creative industries, Bowen also allowed us to get a glimpse of life in film and television production, where entire teams of designers will work alongside writers, cinematographers and directors in order to create the finished vision.
The nature of Bowen’s work means he isn’t just limited to one aspect of production and has seen him participate in varied aspects of the production process.
When creating concept art, for example, Bowen’s work will be used in the planning process for sets and materials. It will also be used as a blueprint for cinematographers to follow with regards to lighting, and the “feel” that a scene or a production will have.
In contrast to this vital behind-the-scenes work, Bowen’s work as a graphic designer contributes to the creation of the worlds we see on screen in a different way. When working on a period film such as Elvis, for example, each detail must be created with care to present a convincing world.
“So, a lot of work goes into just one little set,” Bowen said. “Elvis’s house is all plastered over the inside with period newspaper, that all had to be graphic designed by a team of people.”
Bowen emphasised the importance of research, not only for recreating the authenticity of period sets, but also for meeting audience expectations of a particular genre.
“Watch a lot of different genres, read a lot as well, and get an understanding around audience expectations of a particular genre. What’s expected of science fiction? What’s expected of fantasy, of a thriller? And take note of things like tone and style, certain kinds of colours; so that when you are briefed to do a particular style or look, concept art wise, you have that understanding, you’ve got that sort of vocabulary, that toolkit in your mind to pull from as a resource.”
Bowen talked about using older films and images for inspiration, researching freak shows for the carnival posters and scenes in Elvis, and the design styles of book covers from the 1880s to the early 1920s for The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart.
Once artists have built up their skills through research and practice, they need to remain adaptable.
Anyone working on big productions with big budgets can expect change requests (especially at the last minute) requiring teams to switch priorities quickly. Adapting to change has been vital in Bowen’s own work. On a large scale project such as Elvis, big changes can be made both during and post-production. For example, those period newspapers used to cover the walls of the set that would represent Elvis’s home. “Ultimately,” Bowen said, “that was cut from the film”.
Following Bowen’s talk, students were queuing up to speak to him, and he gave invaluable advice and encouragement to this next generation of aspiring practitioners.
All of us here at AIT would like to thank Bowen once again for a wonderful talk and an inspiring evening.
AIT’s MasterTalk events bring together guest speakers from the film, animation, games and entertainment industries. Past speakers have included Deborah Riley (Game of Thrones), Lewis Morley (The Matrix, Star Wars), Disney animator Jose Velaya (The Lion Guard, The Simpsons), Dennis Jones (VFX on Mortal Kombat for Rising Sun Pictures), Costa Daniel Kassab (Ludo Studio’s Bluey, Princess Bento Studio) and many more.
Watch an Interview with Bowen
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