An Interview with Didier Konings

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Didier Konings (27) from the Netherlands is currently Lead Digital Matte Painter / Concept Artist at Aaron Sims Creative, concept design and visual effects studio based in Los Angeles. For the past four years and a half, Didier has been working full-time at Aaron Sims Creative. Working on several blockbusters and delivering iconic concept design work and memorable visual effects. Some of the highlights being – The look of scenes for the film Rampage, the majestical worlds of the film Wrinkle in Time, The design for the Island for the film Wonder Woman, the bizarre Upside Down world for the hit TV series – Stranger Things, and the fantastical worlds for the Chinese blockbuster Asura.

What was it like growing up in the Netherlands? What are some of your most fond memories of those days?

I grew up in a small town that is part of Rotterdam called Hoogvliet. Growing up in a nice neighborhood where I had a lot of friends that are still up until this day my best friends.  When I was young I was in South Africa where my grandpa lived at the time. I was still very young. There was one night they where screening Jurassic Park. When I saw that my mind was blown. Funny enough the day after we were on a safari trip in a similar kind of car. I felt like I was in that movie, and I thought there might be dinosaurs around. It was very intense for me as a kid.

So seeing that movie of me being a dinosaur fan was for me a milestone because since then I became very interested in film making.  The film became an obsession for me in a way that I really wanted to find out how they made those dinosaurs alive. I watched and researched the behind the scenes endlessly. For some people finding out how it was made makes the magical aspect of it go away, but to me, that was where the real magic is. Inspired by that film and many other films I saw I started to film my own films with my friends.

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When did you first discover your love of art?

I had a very rich fantasy life as a kid and through drawing, I was able to scribble that into a visual format. Dinosaurs have always been my biggest passion. I had a lot of books with amazing drawings that inspired me.

Do you happen to remember what the first you loved to draw as a child was?

Definitely Dinosaurs!

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What led you to leave for the United States? Did you experience any culture shock? How do the two places differ most?

There was no culture shock, the shock was more that it’s exactly how I imagined it to be. I remember my first impression was that it all feels very cinematic like a film scene. L.A. is really a car city, so the infrastructure is built on that. Like the roads streets, parking lots.  Funny enough I’m still riding my bicycle as a crazy Dutch. But it really is a car city.

Do you ever get back to the Netherlands much these days?

Every winter and Every summer. Winter to celebrate Christmas with my family.

And the summers are nicer in the Netherlands since the temperatures are perfect, L.A. during the summers can be very extreme hot.

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You also work as a filmmaker from time to time I understand? What do you love most about that?

Directing films and telling stories have since I was young always been my passion. The fact that I’m able to express my vision in the form of a film is great. I like to collaborate and guide all the aspects of film since I’m passionate about everything it takes to make a film. Sound, Music, Cinematography. Acting, so by directing I’m able to work with people on those things. Nothing makes me more satisfied to see multiple talents coming together behind the camera and in front. Smoke comes in the lights go on, the set becomes alive, the actors transform into characters. Those moments are truly magical to me.

How did you come to find yourself working as a concept artist?

As a big movie nerd, I had the idea to make my own feature film at the age of 17, directing the low budget feature Boys in War. I spent four years on it and the aspects I enjoyed the most were directing, design, and visual effects.

So I enrolled at the Netherlands Film Academy, specializing in Digital Matte Painting and Concept Art. Afterwards, I completed a design internship at  Aaron Sims Creative, concept design and visual effects studio in Los Angeles during the summer months of 2014. In 2015, I graduated with the film The Space Between Us a post-apocalyptic science fiction film where I was able to do the Production Design and Visual Effects.

My dream of moving to Hollywood became a reality, So I moved to Los Angeles to work for Aaron Sims Creative. I work there for 4,5 years already and was able to work on a lot of big film projects, gaining lots of experience.

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Are there any projects you have worked on that were more dear to you than others?

Yes for sure. I feel very lucky to say that I have worked on things I would have never thought I would work on. I remember so clearly the night I saw the first Pirates of the Caribbean. That was so awesome!  The visual effects were so great, and still hold up to today. I once did a vfx test with my friends to replicate the effect of the skeletons being revealed by moonlight. And crazy enough … years later while I was doing the internship at  ASC where I had the opportunity to work on the 5th installment, designing the dead crew from Salazar. I was blasting the soundtrack whole the time while painting. That was great!

What do you enjoy most about the act of creating?

As an artist being able to express my ideas and visions that first live in my mind then while creating they appear in a visual form, I think that transmission process, sharing ideas in such matter is very unique and make us humans so magical.  I’m a visual thinker and can see things up until detail level in my head, I always try to bring as much of what I envision on paper.

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What advice would you offer to others looking to pursue a similar career?

I would say the only thing that makes you stop is yourself. Work hard really pays off. And push yourself always to go further and keep learning, that’s to me the most fun part. The industry changes fast, new techniques, software, and expectations. so you have to keep up. I feel it makes it fresh and fun, rather than staying in your comfort zone. I also gained a lot of growth when I changed my mindset towards critique. I really wanted people to be very hard on my work and smash it into a thousand pieces if needed. Around that time I really saw a big improvement in my work. Community is also key. Surround yourself by artists, learn from each other. Find yourself a mentor person, who is preferably a couple steps ahead in where you would love to be in the future. Don’t lock yourself away and try to invent the wheel by yourself I would say.

What projects are you currently working on?

Recently I have worked on the new X men The Dark Phoenix and I’m currently working on a film called Mouse guard and another big thing that I’m able to say a word about.

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Do you have a dream project you’d most like to bring into existence?

I’ve been working on a film project for a while that I created and directed. The Cast and Crew that were involved are very close friends. Our chemistry is like a well-oiled machine. It’s such a pleasure. We are in discussion with investors to secure funding for a new feature film project (a long form version of a short film we shot last year in Iceland). Though that’s all I can speak on it at this stage, we are extremely confident in this project and cannot wait to see where it goes.

Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

Thank you very much for this interview and great questions.

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