Concept Life with Kinman Chan

by Brandon Pham
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“Ideas can begin with Art. It’s very common with any visual product to have a ‘Visual’ to start a conversation. Digital concept art is often a good answer, primarily utilized to suit visual communication needs, while fine tuning variations and iterations in paint.”

— Kinman Chan (Concept Artist)

Fifteen professional years working as an artist in the entertainment industry with a portfolio spanning across film, games, animation, toys, products and graphics, Kinman Chan’s love for art and creative expression carried him through life, adding the perfect colors and shapes to everyone’s ideas.

Intrigued by the idea that George Lucas was a personal fan of his artwork, we had to sit with Kinman to go over how he got so good at concept art. We looked at his career and his successes as an artist, and even try to figure out how master level concept artist can further their skill even more with unconventional practice methods.


First Gig Out of School…

“My first gig out of school was… Red Dead Redemption, “I’m dating myself” but yes I did some backgrounds characters for the game. I was super excited about entering the industry and then after a month… Nothing. I had to big of a head, too big of an ego and I didn’t know the speed and pacing required of an artist. I had a small bit of work and then nothing, I had to really figure out how to sustain myself and keep up the pace of production.”


Talk about hitting the bulls-eye on this one, Red Dead Redemption was a mega hit for its time on the PS3 / Xbox 360 era. Much like any student right out of school getting this opportunity, he was riding high and already thinking the career transition had been made and his spot was secured. But as any seasoned developer knows, our industry is fickle and often foul, it wasn’t long after starting Kinman realized exactly what he was up against in needing new work to do at that time after the first month.

Getting the gig at all, he made special note to thank Art Center for their staff’s connections and ability to contact and bring top level industry talent recruiters to the art center portfolio show. Which lead to Kinman rubbing elbows with a producer at Rockstar San Diego who loved his work enough to offer him a business card and a chance to come see the studio and “talk”.

In Regards to Graduating from Art Center


“I will say that I was really lazy before school and Art Center really kicked my ***. In terms of expectation and work ethic, It really got me in shape”. “My teachers in school were hammering me, if you’re not drawing at least 3 to 4 hours a week* (he may have meant a night), then you’re probably not drawing so I kept to that, while also keeping in mind the mindset of a professional artist. You’re going to HAVE to draw a lot, so you might as well get used to drawing a lot.”

Coming from movies, how easy was the transition to games?

“It was different, I came back into doing digital again. I had to ask a lot of questions to the team and try and immerse myself in that world as much as possible. I never worked at a game company before Insomniac on staff in house.”

To help himself acclimate back to working in a game development environment after a few projects in movies, Kinman turned to being inquisitive but also by getting himself back into playing games more. Spending time on your own outside of work to better familiarize yourself with your market or your product is never a bad thing.

ILM / Lucasfilm Thanks to a School Friend


A colleague of Kinman’s graduated from Art Center and got a job at ILM right out of school. In needing some additional artists, that friend recommended Kinman, and landed him a chance to interview for a story boarding for Clone Wars!

Good news turns bad, when the team decides to pass on Kinman as a storyboard artist.
Bad news turns good again, because there was another team at the ranch with their own project in need of artists and they liked Kinman’s art and wanted to bring him onboard. So it all worked out. The secondary team appreciated the painterly style and more polished appearance of his art and decided to hire him.

When did you become BFF’s with George?


“They just liked my work sometimes. It was crazy yea, meeting with George Lucas. I think it was kind of like, I was kind of in this weird like, What am I doing here? I only have like one year of experience before that, one year full time experience and I’m up there doing characters and basically everyone else on the team had at least 10 years’ experience or 15 years like my boss. I’m just around these super intelligent insanely talented people and I was like ok, yeah it was all surreal. Kind of surreal. We would post our images on these foam boards and he’d have a collection of stands. So one would say Good, one would say OK it is what it is, and if he really liked it, there was one that said Fabuloso. You really wanted to go for the Fabuloso stand. And a lot of my pieces made it onto that stand, they hated that my pieces were Fabuloso. Who am I in that crowd right? I felt like, I’m just a new artist. George is like, every time George goes in the room, an entourage of like 20 people come over. Basically he’s just critiquing the work so as far as like 1 on 1 time that I actually had with him, maybe 2 seconds? In the beginning he really liked my work, like complimenting my work. I rubbed shoulders with him.”

Advice on the Business Side of Things for Freelancing

Working freelance has as many perks as it does drawbacks so being able to find balance is paramount if you want to be successful at it. Kinman spent time here and there doing or returning to freelance work as a way of keeping active in his career path while away from a main job. Going completely pay independent is hard to do over long periods of time if you don’t have your a process. Spending too much money and not saving for taxes, underestimating how much savings you’ll need when the work starts to run dry, these types of things can cripple you if you got caught off guard while freelancing.

“Pure finance classes. Actually learning the nuts and bolts of finance. How to manage your funds better, all those kind of classes that you can learn about business that’s what you should do”. General finance class. That was very helpful to me, you know, how to get out of debt… All these basics”


Before dropping the subject, we dug a bit to ask was there one thing that made the most dramatic change in his understanding of personal finance.

“I’m not good at it, that’s what I learned… In a way it’s kind of like drawing, you’re building a habit. In finance you have to build a habit. In drawing, if you want to get better at drawing, you have to build those drawing habits. It’s the same with finance.”


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