College for Creative Studies: Illustration


Ed Natividad


Concept artist/Illustrator

Once a transportation design major, Ed Natividad is now one Hollywood’s foremost conceptual artists. Sean Bailey, producer of the film “TRON Legacy,” referred to him as a “design superstar” in an interview with

But Natividad is humble about his accomplishments, even though his list of projects includes such blockbuster hits as the ”Star Wars” prequels, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” “I Am Legend,” “Transformers” and “Superman Returns,” as well as the 2010 release of “TRON’ and 2011 releases of “Green Lantern” and “Cowboys and Aliens.” He attributes much of his success to lessons he learned in art school. 

“Both illustration and transportation design offered creative processes that I felt were invaluable,” said Natividad. “Of all the courses, the one that has proven most instrumental was a perspective class instructed by Casey Wise. To this day, I start every drawing with a perspective grid and use ellipses to communicate surface orientation. In retrospect, his no-nonsense method of teaching was essential since the laws of perspective are indisputable.

“The illustration department encouraged us to emulate the techniques of various artists and be a ‘chameleon’ of sorts. I am often placed in situations where I must switch duties and be both conceptual designer and storyboard artist. For example, as a conceptual artist, whether designing environments, characters or vehicles, the preferred medium is digital, both 2 and 3D. Although the initial ideas can spawn from pen sketches on paper, it must be taken to a more sophisticated level to better communicate the vision.

“Meanwhile, the storyboarding process relies not so much on technology as it does traditional drawing skills applied to a cinematic format. I am entirely analog when I begin visualizing a sequence. When meeting with a director, I bring paper, pencil, eraser and clipboard, but the ability to listen and remember supersedes the art. The storyboarding process requires efficiency and each frame is taken to a certain level of clarity to describe camera movement, action and dialogue.

“From my industrial design professors, I learned how to generate form, while promoting the ideation process to search for a ‘next’ generation of product. This skill has been useful in films where much of what is needed is projections of the future or otherworldly scenarios.”

Before breaking into the entertainment industry, Natividad considered a career designing cars. He interned as a sophomore at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn where he explored concepts for the next generation Thunderbird. After his junior year, he went to Southern California to intern at General Motors Advanced Concept Center in Thousand Oaks.

“The experience was both pleasurable and insightful,” described Natividad. “It also reinforced my decision to pursue the film industry over automotive design. After finishing my senior year, I jumped in my car and headed west.”

Natividad took a job designing Hot Wheels for Mattel Toys. A couple years later, he met Doug Chiang, another CCS graduate, who offered him a job at visual effects giant Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) working on “Forrest Gump.” Impressed with his talent, Chiang invited Natividad to join the design team for “Star Wars I” and “Star Wars II.”

“Since then, I have been involved in so many great projects,” reminisced Natividad. “I consider working one-on-one with Ridley Scott (on “Body of Lies”) a career highlight. He himself believed that art school was everything, and I agree.”