Namsos, Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews
Do you remember your first meeting with the Star Wars Empire – joy, excitement, beyond imagination? For the Norwegian concept artist Stian Dahlslett (36) the meeting with the star warriors became essential for his whole adult career. He has created several renowned characters from video games and movies, including “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” from 2005.
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The year is 1983, and “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” has recently premiered in Norway. A seven-year-old boy is at the movies, and by the time it is over, he has decided his future work career.
Stian Dahlslett has not looked back and regretted. He grew up in the small Norwegian town of Namsos with artist parents, and he has never had any difficulties to reconcile art and everyday life. His profession consists of visualizing other people’s dreams so that you and I can have an extravagant movie experience.
The concept artist tells that he has always been interested in aesthetics and the mythical landscape.
– I have always been interested in Norse mythology, Vikings and the Medieval Ages. I was, and still am, particularly interested in costume history, and I read several books about knights and their swords, helmets and shields. To me, historical accuracy is very important.
From Namsos to Hollywood
As a pupil in a relatively small Norwegian elementary school, we can only speculate on how his teachers interpreted his remarkable drawing talent. Did anyone ever imagine that this kid was to take part in the Empire as an adult? As the only Norwegian, Dahlslett has seen the inside of the Star Wars universe, and the phrase “dream job” has seldom been more appropriate.
It is not difficult to see that Stian is inspired by mythical environments and legendary characters. The unmistakable ‘Dahlslett’ figures are very detail oriented, and lively designed by an artist who loves to tell stories from the hidden world.
– During my graduate studies at Muenster University of Applied Science in Germany I specialized in Concept Art – which in the film industry means that it is my task to visualize the director and screenplay writer’s ideas. It is my job to create landscape illustrations, costume design and set design. While I was studying, I sent an application and my portfolio to Lucasfilm Ltd. during the preparations for “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”.
– The production company Lucasfilm Ltd. receives a large amount of applications daily. What were your expectations for getting this job?
– I had high hopes. I have learned that you have to keep your faith up and believe in yourself. I was lucky that got the job, and had the opportunity to work from London, the Skywalker Ranch outside San Francisco and Sydney with a lot of cool people.
Seeing the Figures Become Real
– So you finally got the dream job. But we cannot help wondering what a “normal” day in the Star Wars design department is like?
– I received a description of the character – which was either a new one or an old figure that would be developed. Costume Designer Trisha Biggar gave her inputs, and I made different sketches of the figure. After approval from Trisha and George Lucas himself, the sketches were sent to the costume production. The first time I saw an actor dressed in “my” outfit was a bizarre but gratifying experience.
– How does a character come to life – which tasks does a concept artist receive when a new/old character is developed?
– I have benefited from my fascination for costume history. Many characters need a historical accuracy, while with others I have the freedom to visualize them as I prefer. Off course, I must make sure that the actor does not “drown” in too much clothing and equipment. It is the actor that carries the role, but the costume has an important function to emphasize the character’s personality.
Great Sentimental Value
All males between 5 and 50 years old probably have a strong relationship with the Star Wars characters. This new Empire laid the foundations for a new movie genre, and the movie merchandise and collectables became very popular worldwide.
In addition to having great sentimental value for Stian, the job as a concept artist for Lucasfilm Ltd. gave him important contacts in the American film industry – something very few Norwegians have accomplished. This has opened new doors, both in Norway and in the U.S.
Cultural Similarities and Differences
Norwegians often look to the U.S. to pick up new ideas, inspiration and knowledge. The truth is that everything is bigger “over there” – especially in the film industry: The movie Kon-Tiki (2012) had a budget of approx. 16 million dollars – the most expensive in Norwegian film history. In comparison, a typical Hollywood production cost about 100 million dollars. The general impression is that the American film industry is very professional.
– What were the biggest challenges of being a Norwegian employed in the U.S.? Did you experience any cultural differences working for American companies versus Norwegian?
– The biggest difference is that Americans are working extremely hard. They are effective and have an insane intensity. The professionalism in the film industry is incredible. Beyond that, I cannot recall any major cultural differences. We have a rather similar conception of artistic expression and values.
Stian has had his breakthrough in the film industry, but he has also worked as Art Director for the Norwegian game company Funcom – known for “Age of Conan” and “The Secret Word”.
New Artistic Hunting Areas
Today, he works with freelance assignments. He keeps his hands busy, which includes an art project about Norwegian predators.
– Right now I’m working on different projects. I recently received a scholarship from Namsskogan municipality, which involves an exhibition inside the Family Park next summer. My vision is to combine animals and mythical beings from old Norwegian folklore. In addition, two friends and I have started a company creating iPad apps for children. We have just started the project, and have received financial support from Innovation Norway to develop the concept further.
– Does this mean that you are heading out of the film industry?
– No, not at all! I am in dialogue with the director of the Norwegian mockumentary “Troll Hunter”, André Øvredal, concerning movie collaboration.
ThorNews is obviously very curious, but Stian answers politely that the content is currently confidential.
Visions of the Past in the Future
– Now we have an idea of what you have worked with, and what projects you are doing right now – but what are you doing in five years?
– I’m probably in the film industry. Which film and with whom I certainly cannot predict, but I have always wanted to work with a Viking production. Present societies often underestimate previous cultures, and there is so much interesting Viking material to work with.
– Do you often think about how our ancestors might have looked like?
– I think it’s very exciting to visualize how they might have looked like and how they lived their lives. The large longhouses from the Stone and Iron Ages, as well as the carvings on the Stave Churches were perfect – which must mean that the population restrained handicrafts at a high level. I also think that aesthetics and beautiful surroundings were important to them.
We observe that Stian slowly disappears into another world – a world ThorNews cannot access. We wonder if there is a new knight or a Viking warrior that is created in his vivid imagination. In fear of disturbing, we avoid asking him. We will rather wait for the next project release.
Do you want to see more outstanding figures? Visit Stian Dahlslett’s homepage here.
All illustrations by: Stian Dahlslett ©
Photo: Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews