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Star Wars Artist Shares His Remarkable Journey

October 13, 2023 | Campus News

The One Academy recently conducted a Virtual International Design and Creative Masterclass 2023 for their Illustration in Movie & Game Art segment, featuring renowned international concept artist, Iain McCaig. He is best known for his Star Wars designs of Queen Amidala and Darth Maul. Some of his film work includes 'Dracula,' 'Terminator 2,' 'Hook,' 'Peter Pan,' 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,' 'The Avengers,' 'Guardians of the Galaxy,' and ‘The Jungle Book’. In his sharing titled ‘Every Picture Tells a Story,’ McCaig shared his awe-inspiring experience as a concept artist with students and high schoolers.

It seems almost unbelievable that the characters, spaceships and weapons from the Star Wars franchise were created in the minds of individuals armed with nothing more than a piece of paper, a pencil and a passion for drawing. However, as McCaig unveiled the process behind each creation, the audience found it inspiring and believable. Just like a storyteller, Iain McCaig was able to transport the audience into a world of mythical creatures, aliens and hybrids with every artwork he shared.

Despite having made such remarkable works, the down-to-earth artist started the session by sharing with the audience his first attempt at drawing at only five years old. He attempted to replicate a Brachiosaurus from the front cover of a children's book and kept practicing it until it was perfect. Then in kindergarten, when he was asked to draw his pet, he drew the dinosaur perfectly. “The room went quiet, everyone was standing around me and the teacher said…‘wow,’ and that was all I needed,” he said when sharing the defining moment of his newfound passion.

McCaig then shared his experience when he first stepped foot in the Skywalker Ranch to work for George Lucas, the founder of Lucasfilm. As he looked around the studio, he noticed the walls were filled with drawings of spaceships and creatures but there were no people. So, he asked the other artists if he could work on human characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Padmé. “I always look for the hole or space that I can fit into so I can offer something that comes from me,” he adds. McCaig went on to give characters like Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker distinctive personalities through his drawings and that became his job.

Later in the segment, he finally revealed the highly anticipated process of creating Darth Maul, who was described as “A vision from your worst nightmare” in the Star Wars script. Based on that, McCaig drew his worst nightmare, a lifeless face with glittering dead eyes and glistening metal teeth that he envisioned staring at him from outside his studio window one night. “George Lucas opened up the folder of the drawing and went, ‘Oh, my God,’ slammed it shut, handed it back and said, ‘Now, give me your second worst nightmare,'” he said.

McCaig was confused as he believed the first concept was a sure winner. However, it dawned on him that Star Wars was set in the past and not bound by reality. This revelation meant that he could use any creepy mythological character for inspiration. Thus, the striking red Darth Maul hiding behind expression markings on his face was inspired by…clowns! The iconic character turned out to be the perfect sinister representation of an evil warrior from the dark side.

He continued showing the audience sketches of characters like The Hulk, Groot, Rocket, Thanos, Mowgli and many more. Behind every finished artwork that made it on the big screen, there were hundreds of initial drafts that were not approved or needed improvement. “People always ask if I get frustrated when my drawings get rejected and to that I say no because I get to draw more, are you crazy?” he said. The audiences could see his unwavering passion for art, where even rejection was seen as another exciting opportunity.

“Don’t draw anything from the outside, draw from the inside, become the character,” he reassured the audience that as long as each artwork carries within it a piece of themselves, it will undoubtedly stand out. This was made clear when he told aspiring artists that he creates a backstory for the characters he visualizes before actually drawing them out. Incorporating this thought process in each artwork gives life and adds personality to these drawings even before they are animated or acted out.

During the Q&A session between Iain McCaig and the audience, he was asked how to avoid the fear of judgment or rejection. To that, he simply replied, “We should treasure fear. Fear tells us we’ve reached the end of what we know. When fear comes in you should go, ‘Good, I am reaching into the darkness, and I will pull something back from here,’ so draw inspiration from fear.”

On how to stay enthusiastic, he said, “What the studio expects is…You! To stay passionate, you have to offer you, you are the magic ingredient. How you see the world is what you have to learn to give. The way I do that is by putting one passionate thing in my sketchbook every day whether it’s a drawing, writing or a pasting a magazine cut-out.”

The humble veteran artist ended the session by saying, “I hope I don’t intimidate anyone; I’m just like you, I’m sitting on a chair holding a pencil, in front of a paper just like you are.” Iain McCaig’s inspiring sharing left audiences feeling motivated, enthusiastic and with an understanding that as artists they should stay true to their authentic self.

The One Academy is committed to providing the best art education programmes and continues to nurture its students passionately through its “Masters Train Masters” coaching philosophy, which has been practised for over 30 years, by providing diploma and degree courses in Advertising & Graphic Design, Digital Animation, Digital Media Design, Film Visual Effects, Interior Architecture & Design, Illustration, Fine Arts, Paris Fashion Design & Pattern Making, Computer Science & Game Design. For more information, visit or call 03-7875 5510 or e-mail your enquiries to [email protected].

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