Film designer unleashes creativity

Film designer Eric Chu next to a full-size Cylon Raider from Battlestar Galactica. | Photo courtesy of Eric Chu.

Film designer Eric Chu next to a full-size Cylon Raider from Battlestar Galactica. | Photo courtesy of Eric Chu.

Eric Chu, film design guest of honour at the upcoming Vancouver’s Premier Science Fiction, Fantasy and Games Convention (VCON), will be talking about his experience working onBattlestar Galactica as well participating in a group panel about a new project, the SF puppet show Gerry Anderson’s Firestorm. The VCON convention will be held at Surrey’s Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. 

Growing up on a farm on Vancouver Island, Chu never imagined he would end up in the film business.

“It was either that, or become a chicken farmer,” says the Hong Kong-born film designer.

Early calling

Chu was always comfortable with drawing as a kid because his parents left him with reams of paper to scribble on. He hoped to draw for a living, but didn’t feel it was a likely career path.

“The day-to-day realities of rural life would overshadow any thoughts of working in art, so I never imagined that it was in the realm of possibility to work in the film business. However, I think I was always headed in that direction, whether it was planned or not,” he says.

Chu says he was fortunate that his parents were not typical Chinese, meaning they never pressured him to be a doctor or accountant or some other so-called respectable career. He recognizes this is not usual among Chinese families.

Chu is critical of how he thinks the Chinese base the worth of a career solely on monetary gain.

“That’s why the arts are looked down upon in Chinese culture, and you rarely see Chinese people being completely original,” he says.

He feels the Chinese are so risk-adverse that they would rather somebody else do the hard work, and they will follow with a cheap knock-off.

“It’s a very practical way to live, but without imagination and discovery, it’s also a stagnant way to live,” explains Chu.

Even if art is not a lucrative profession for Chu, he enjoys it and says it is good enough for him.

Reconnecting with Asian heritage

Though ethnically Chinese, Chu feels he grew up more Canadian, culturally speaking. In 1990, he moved to Japan for a year and lived in Hong Kong from 1995 to 1998 and later from 2006 to 2012. He moved to Asia because he became interested in his heritage and wanted to absorb more of the culture.

“I don’t think I could ever call myself a full-blooded Asian, but I kept an open mind and took in as much as I could as an outsider. So, although my style is not Asian, everything that I have seen and observed colours the way I approach designs,” Chu says.

Chu draws inspiration for his style from life. He does not want to be sheltered in a cocoon of comics, movies and other pop culture. Chu thinks to become really exceptional, people must extend beyond their comfort zones and expand their horizons, which will in turn help to develop an original voice.

“Travel, history, biology, politics… they all have value. I know that sounds strange from a guy who draws spaceships and robots for a living, but who I am is more than what you see on paper. Finding one’s style is a never-ending path of discovery. My work is always changing and improving. I haven’t yet reached the point where I can look at one of my drawings and not cringe. I can only cringe less,” he says.

Career highlights

From 1982 to 1984 he studied at The Emily Carr College of Art. Since then, Chu has been in the film and animation business for over 30 years. In that time, some of his projects included Droids, Beetlejuice and Captain Power. When he came back to Canada in 1998, he did concept designs for the new Battlestar Galactica, which has been a major highlight for him – it has given him a certain level of recognition, though he notes he may or may not deserve it.

“If that was all that I accomplished in my lifetime, then I think I did okay. It certainly impressed the hell out of the 10 year-old in me!” Chu says.

Upcoming plans

Chu has a few projects on the go, all set in Asia. Two are live action comedies with a satirical view of Chinese food, culture and the elderly. Chu is also currently gathering funding for an animated martial arts feature project.

For more information on Chu’s work, please visit