Have you ever wondered what it’s like to design for the Entertainment Industry? Ever thought what it would be like to design concepts for Iron Man’s hot smoking new body armour? If you have, than I suggest you read on. This month we had the pleasure of interviewing Harald Belker, a designer who’s worked with the biggest names in the industry and on projects many of us can only dream of; from Porsche in Germany to Universal Studios in Hollywood just to mention a few. With over 25 years of experience in the field of design, Harald shares valuable insights into the automotive and entertainment industry and proves that hard work, dedication and passion are indispensable if you want to be a great designer.
For more information on Harald and his work, be sure to check out his portfolio: http://www.haraldbelker.com/
Interview by Roxanne Palisada – @embody3d Monday – 15/03/11
Hi Harald, thank you for taking the time for an interview with Embody 3D. Before landing your first job at Porsche, you were a design student at the Art Centre College of Design. Can you tell us what you believe were the most valuable things you learnt there as a student? Was there anything you wished you had learnt that could have helped your progression into the design industry?
I learnt early on how to present my work. From day one it was; do your work and make it presentable. Today, putting together a presentation is second nature to me, and I have to credit AC for it. I also wish they would have taught us a sense of business. I used to just be happy and thrilled that people would like my stuff. Freelance wasn’t in our vocabulary; you just assume to work for a company. However, so many of us venture out to do our own thing because it is more than difficult to conform to the vision, or lack of vision, of others. But getting paid is as time consuming as doing the work. One workshop would take care of it. So like many others, I had to learn the hard way.
In Australia, I think many recent design graduates would also agree that learning the business side of the design industry certainly comes in handy, though this aspect seems to be over-looked by many design schools down under.
Can you tell us who and what inspires you as a designer?
The world around me. Anything that is innovative, brilliant and cool. From all aspects of life. I am a great fan of cool products. Architecture is unbelievably inspiring. Makes me want to do it myself. Uninspiring to me are all the celebrities that turn designers, and we all know who is doing the real work.
You’ve worked on many projects over the last ten years, not just entertainment design, but also consumer products, books and DVD’s. What has been the most memorable for you and why?
It’s been 20 years by now, which reminds me of the time that is just flying. Very memorable was designing the Batmobile, it was a new career, it was an incredible opportunity and it happened to be the last over the top big budget movie in Hollywood where money was no subject. We were a giant family, it was so much fun. The awakening was the premiere of the movie. Minority Report was so cool because of the close proximity to Spielberg and Cruise. We had a couple of laughs together. That is something you don’t forget. On the product side possibly the development of the e-bike with Lee Lacocca. A legend in his field, but without any vision as it surprisingly turned out.
You have also been involved in the Gnomon Workshop DVD’s with your tutorials on automotive illustration. Can you tell us how you first got involved with the Gnomon Workshop?
Through my good friend Scott Robertson. We went to school together and through circumstances he got a bunch of us involved in creating a book. During that time, he contacted Gnomon and kind of got the ball rolling. Since they are about to discontinue the old DVD’s we are in discussion to do a new series. Especially with new programs that one has to use these days, it makes total sense.
You completed a degree in Engineering before moving into design. How has an engineering background shaped you as designer and do you recommend other designers invest their time and efforts in engineering?
If you want to be a serious designer, you will have to know how things work. Your job is it to innovate and not just beautify. In car design you are just a stylist, so you can get away with being creative on a surface level, but if you want to become a well rounded, complete designer, you can do the research today or get a head start with some basic knowledge before.
Can you tell us a little bit about some exciting upcoming projects you’re working on?
Well, I just finished a book that deals with the future of racing. It combines sci-fi with real knowledge and facts of racing in about 30 years. I had this idea for some time and I thought putting it all in a book could perhaps help me to get a movie deal or something like it. We will see. It was a lot of hard work. Otherwise I am working on Total Recall, a remake of the one with Arnold. It’s fun and I enjoy it very much.
A book on the future of racing that blends sci-fi with facts sounds interesting and will definitely be something we’ll look forward to when it is published. I also remember watching Total Recall as a child of the 90’s; it’s exciting to know there will be a remake of it and see how it compares to the original!
In the early years of your career you worked first for Porsche and then later for Mercedes Benz. Can you tell us how you landed that dream design job at Porsche and what it was like working as a new recruit for two internationally renowned companies within the automotive industry?
Going back to Germany and starting at Porsche was a great learning experience, but also incredibly tough. Nobody really cared that you were the new guy. Finding housing without any help and living on very little money was too much for me. It made me take Mercedes up on their offer and send me back to the US. Still not making a lot of money, but living was a hell of a lot easier over here.
What were the most valuable lessons you learnt within those first couple of years in automotive design?
My lesson was that I wasn’t cut out for the corporate life. I wanted to design, not manage people. In the corporate world, climbing the ladder meant becoming a group leader – manager. I studied to be a designer, I wanted to create. In the corporation the less talented rise to the top, because they got the chance to do so while the good designers are executing the work. It wasn’t for me. I needed to be the one doing it and being in charge of my own future. I am not bitter, and don’t want to come across as somebody who got rejected, I quit on my own terms. It wasn’t easy, after all I worked at Mercedes in southern California, and it didn’t sound bad on paper.
I believe many of the Embody 3D readers would be curious to know what it’s like to work on a film with the director, writers, production crew and other designers. Can you tell us what a typical day would be like working on a project for a new film?
I sketch, render, model all day long. Sometimes there will be some meetings about the direction. I always try to create something totally new, and moving faster than you can imagine. Movies don’t have time, we are always running late.
It sounds as though there is never a dull nano-second when working on films. Can you also tell us who would you be working with and how do they can influence your creative process?
These days I try very hard to work from my studio. It is just more convenient that way, and I don’t need to battle traffic. If you have been to LA, you know what I am talking about. Basically I work for the Production Designer, who is in charge of the look of the movie. Sometimes the director gets very involved as well. Depending how the PD feels about it, I get to talk to the director directly and he explains his vision for the designs. He is really the one to keep happy and fall in love with the things we do.
I will soon experience LA traffic for the first time; I am looking forward to it already…
For several years the piracy of movies has hit the entertainment industry with massive losses in revenue. Can you tell us how it has affected designers working in film?
Working on movies is always top secret. Not as paranoid as the car industry!!! Regarding the piracy issues, that has to do with the end result. There are usually 3 years of separation and a completely different group of people responsible for.
Can you describe the differences of working in entertainment design compared to automotive design for Porsche and Mercedes Benz?
No money and no time. These are the obstacles in entertainment design, but they also make it fun. In a car company you are part of a team, even if you get to design a complete car, you got so many people above you who will put in their 5 cents, that the end results may not be what you had in mind. On a movie it is your idea, if the director doesn’t like it you will present a different idea.
Can you tell us what the employment prospects of industrial designers are in the U.S. at the moment? How, do you believe, the GFC has affected, in particular, recent design graduates in their search for employment?
It has always been a tough field to get into. There are only so many positions to fill for designers. A good school, top of your class, a great portfolio and to be a great team player with a pleasant personality can make you stand out from the rest. Not just your skills count, half the job is how well you fit within the team.
So true! What tools/skills and techniques do you recommend new graduates develop to build a career in Industrial Design or, in particular, Concept Designers within entertainment/film?
For entertainment learn Photoshop really well. It is the greatest tool. 3D programs like modo or SketchUp. They help tremendously to visualize shapes and sets. Work on a great portfolio. If you want to check out the competition, go online. It is shocking how good people have become. I guess we advertised the fun we were having too much. For general industrial design some model making skills help. I always thought that a good awareness of trends and what is out there is of great help to be creative yourself.
It’s a pleasant surprise to see the outstanding works of others. What I find especially inspiring is learning that several professionals discovered their passion for design by accident; how simply playing around with Adobe Photoshop can instigate a serious commitment leading to a successful graphic design career! Speaking of portfolios; your online portfolio is full of amazing renderings and illustrations. What challenges have you faced when developing your skills in this area? Briefly what advice can you suggest to others who want to improve their sketching and rendering techniques?
Believe it or not, it took me ten years after graduating from Art Center, to finally get comfortable with my technique. Drawing well takes practice and more of it. 3D programs make everything easier, but truly understanding what it is you are designing is a craft that takes time to learn. Look at other work and learn from it. Don’t copy but use it to find your own original style. It’s not easy, I know.
Thank you, Harald, for taking the time to speak with Embody 3D!
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