The disciplined geek

Eric Chu, concept artist. | Photo courtesy of Battlestar Galactica Museum

Geektopia will grace the Vancouver Harbour Convention Centre on July 6. Among the many notable cosplayers, writers, actors and fans will be Vancouver’s Eric Chu, a concept artist best known for his work in Battlestar Galactica as well as his storyboards for various animated shows including Beetlejuice.

During a break from his studio, Paranoid Delusions, Chu took time to expose The Source to his unique thought process and ideas.

Technique, discipline and vision

After lending his pen to numerous projects over a decades-long career and developing his specific style and approach, Chu has realized the invaluable worth of both practice and commitment to the art form. Though many people aspire to be great artists, the qualities Chu places highest on his list for team members are flexibility, a willingness to sketch and the urge to improve their capabilities by honing their technique and focus.

“Technique without discipline is ultimately a dead-end road. A one-trick pony. Discipline implies that you continually struggle to improve yourself,” he says.

Although technique is the primary trait of an artist, Chu would never dream of sacrificing substance to elevate style, noting that many new Hollywood movies are good-looking but lack the element that grips an audience. Recalling his time spent on Battlestar Galactica (BSG) he points out the ingenuity and daringness that a limited budget breeds, as well as the way writer and artist support each other to create something memorable.

“Many people don’t realize it, but BSG was [comparatively]low-budget, and because of that, we were able to tackle more controversial stories,” he says. “Good design supports the story and can even lend credibility and visual interest to it.”

Advancing on creativity

Robot design by Eric Chu | Photo courtesy of Battlestar Galactica Museum

As time has passed, industry standards and technologies have evolved, and with that evolution comes new access to the realms of the artistic mind

“The sci-fi films of the 1970s and 1980s were significantly less sophisticated due in part to budgets but also due to the technology available at the time to execute them,” says Chu. “With the introduction of CG and many new manufacturing techniques, suddenly nearly anything you can imagine is possible.”

Technology that has furthered creation has also furthered access to these works and Chu believes streaming has allowed more content to be produced, which certainly is a boon when it comes to film design work. He has observed that the types of productions being made have also improved with more sophisticated and unusual storylines being pursued, allowing new opportunities for creative experimentation.

In his eyes, a recent example of such experimentation is the Netflix produced Love, Death and Robots. Although he still has his long time favourite artists in Ron Cobb and Syd Mead, he won’t deny that the resurgence in the popularity of sci-fi and superhero movies (not to mention the avenues of video game design plus Japanese manga and anime) over the recent years has given rise to an abundance of opportunities for new design as well as exposure for many talented artists working in the industry.

The Robot father predicts the human end

Though he has produced many drawings, the designs that have earned Chu the most recognition and cemented his place in the hearts of fans and collectors alike are those of the “Cylons” from Battlestar Galactica. As the visionary designer of the humanity-crushing cyber-race (earning himself the title of “Cylon-God”), Chu is in a unique position to lend his opinion on the human chance for survival if AI goes horrifically wrong. Staying true to his creations, Chu’s response to being asked how Homo sapiens will fare in battle for existence against machines is short, simple and ominous.

“You’re toast,” he says.

Even our chances of survival are limited in his eyes.

“[Humanity’s best chance for survival in the worst-case conflict between men and their creation will be realized by] swearing eternal subservience to your new AI overlords,” says Chu.

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