“How many have you seen Avatar?” is
only one of the many questions conceptual
designer TyRuben Ellingson asked
at the beginning of the presentation to
Oak Knoll students. He visited the students
to talk to them about his career as
a Hollywood character designer.
Ellingson has worked with many
notable directors such as James Cameron,
Guillermo Del Toro and George
Lucas and has designed many props
and costumes for many movies including
“Star Wars: A New Hope”, “Avatar”
The job of a conceptual
d e s i g n i n g
which are only a few of the many
“Photoshop is the go-to tool for designers”
Ellingson explained to the students.
Ellingson also created a way to plan
on improving which he calls “The Seven
Year Plan.” It revolves around a person
imagining themselves in the future
and wondering if they would be happy
with what they see.
“I haven’t given up my dream of
directing yet,” Ellingson said in describing
about his seven year plan.
Ellingson first started his art career
because his father was an artist who created
various paintings and prints.
Ellingson spent his young life in his father’s
workplace, drawing and designing
various objects. Ellingson attended
Saint Cloud State University in Minnesota
where he received his Masters in
Art. Ellingson also earned a Master of
Fine Arts fromSouthern Methodist University
in Dallas, Texas.
Ellingson’s talents were put to use
on George Lucas’ Industrial, Light, and
Magic where he worked on “Jurassic
Park” and “Star Wars: A New Hope. “
During Ellingson’s time working
on “Star Wars”, he designed numerous
aliens and ships. Though not all of
his creations were featured, some went
through, like the small, cow like creatures
at the beginning scene in Mos Eisley.
Ellingson also has been hurt on
the job when he was designing for
After Ellingson left Industrial,
Light and Magic he pursued a
career as an independent conceptual
Then Ellingson was contacted
by a director by the
name of Guillermo Del Toro, creator
of the movies “Hellboy”, “Mimic” and
Ellingson helped design many objects,
such as Hellboy’s Pistol and the
giant insect from the movie “Mimic”,
which he had to sketch over 250 times
to get it right. He also designed many
costumes; one was the suit for a man
that ran on Clockwork in “Hellboy”,
Ellingson also worked on James
Cameron’s film “Avatar”. Ellingson designed
all of the vehicles on his own, including
the mechanical suit, planes and
land vehicles. During the presentation
he showed many elaborate drawings of
these vehicles for the humans.
Ellingson explained his job and how
he achieved what he has today. He also
enthusiastically showed many designs
and drawings he made for movies.
Ellingson’s process for designing
involves first making a rough sketch, on
the back of the script, and then he starts
to build the image through multiple detailed
“Since I’ve been doing this for a long
time, I write it on the back of the scripts”
Ellingson said, “I limit myself to three
or four sketches”.
Ellingson’s techniques have also
changed with the times. Ellingson was
introduced to the program Sketch-Up,
which creates 3-D pictures, making it
easier for him to create large sketches
into a single, detailed piece.
Ellingson is currently working at
VCU as an art professor, but still strives
to further his career. He does not know
what the future holds for him, however
Ellingson has chosen to continue his
search for more oppurtunities. In Ellingson’s
own words, he prefers to “Think
of the future as open ended”.