Learning the Language

Learning the Language

Concept artist Chang Wei Chen talks about his design process and how he embraced the shape language of mechs over the 8 weeks in Drawing & Rendering Techniques for Hardware Design.


Hi everyone, my name is Chang Wei Chen. I come from Taiwan. I’m a concept artist currently working in a VR studio based in Taiwan. I enjoy doing both 2D and 3D concepts for any project.

I graduated from National Cheng Kung University in 2013 where I studied industrial design. I’ve always been more interested in the entertainment industry so after graduation I went to Singapore and learned concept art and design at FZD school of design. After graduating, I joined ACME game studio (Taiwan) as a full-time concept artist working on an unannounced PS4 game project. It was a great experience there to understand the whole process of making a game. Then in 2018, I switched to a startup VR studio because I was interested in making content for this new technology. I also did some freelance illustration work for some board game projects, such as Monumental by Funforge SARL.

I wanted to learn hardware design from Michal Kus so I took this class. I’ve followed him since 2014. I like his mech designs because they look creative and still grounded to the real world so I wanted to learn his design thinking and process.

Using Effective Reference

Week 2 homework is about designing something manmade which is inspired by nature. Michal taught us that it’s better to use the reference by extracting design elements and shape language from it and then apply these to the design. The demos in class showed me how to actually apply the idea from the class to your work.

I chose a WW2 aircraft and mantis for reference. I wanted to apply the organic and aggressive shape from the mantis onto the WW2 aircraft. I think nature references helped me to be more creative and manmade references helped me to keep the design more grounded and believable.

Design Language & Style

The biggest challenge here was keeping the same design language on each tank robot and also making sure all parts of the robot somehow made sense or were believable. I decided to use a similar pose but a different design style on each design. The first one is based on a NASA space car and the second one is based on a WW1 tank.

The second one was quite hard for me because I wanted to make my robot look like it was in the WW1 era but still advanced enough.  The feedback for this week is great. He usually draws on top of our homework and tells us why he’d change the design. So it’s quite easy for us to follow and fix our designs.  As a designer, I need to make both the exterior and interior of the robot appear functional, so I changed the cockpit of the second design later.

Introduction to Rendering

I usually start with the base color. Then I add a shadow layer, texture layer, and an ambient occlusion layer on top.  Finally, I paint on top of these layers for a more detailed and hand-painted look. I think an important tip Michal provided is knowing what light hits which surface– how these lights affect those surface materials. This helped me to think logically while I was rendering this mech. Also, to pay attention to the darkest darks. I usually don’t paint dark enough so my renderings sometimes look unfinished. These tips help me a lot.

Finishing and Rendering Mechs

I became fascinated with WW1 tanks by playing Battlefield 1. I like the heavy and strong look of these machines. So I decided to do a WW1 tank robot. I gathered many animal references for its pose and started sketching. In the beginning, I couldn’t find a balance between shapes I like with the WW1 shape language. Then I started to look at the reference carefully and started designing with my intuition. I finally came up with something I liked. This homework let me know that I should really “use” these references than just put them on the reference board. I also found a material reference while I was rendering the robot this time.

Final Thoughts

Overall I like my week 6 & 8 homework. They are more refined and have more thought behind them. Week 6 was pretty fun because I got to just do rendering which is easier than designing new stuff. I think weeks 7 & 8 were the hardest because I needed to use everything I learned from the course and apply it to these designs. But for me, I guess putting more time in and thinking carefully in each step can overcome these challenges.

Yes, I think this course is good for people who want to learn how to design and the process of creating a mech. I got more confident in designing hard surface stuff after this class. Michal also shared his design thinking and his opinion of the concept art industry which helped me a lot.