Roger Kupelian has been working in the indie film biz since 1992, and the Digital Effects industry since 1995. He is well versed in many forms of visual media, having contributed everything from storyboards production illustrations, and concepts to final shots for major film projects. He has also specialized in creating digital environments and structures too expensive or simply impossible shoot on location, everything from the surface of Mars to the mountains of Mordor, from the volcanic inferno of Mt. Doom to World War Two’s Iwo Jima.
He has also composed and delivered entire shots and supervised composites, and worked with art directors to design cinematic sequences. His Lord of the Rings work resulted in a recent nomination for ‘Best Matte Painter’ at the 2002 Visual Effects Society awards as well as a subsequent nomination (with the team at Zoic) for Best Created Environment for “FlashForward”.
His film credits include the Academy award winning The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Flags of Our Fathers, Charlie Wilson’s War, Alice in Wonderland, Hop, Yogi Bear (3D) among many others.
Raised in Sierra Leone, West Africa, and a chronic world-traveler since, Kupelian brings his unique cultural backgrounds and influences to his work. After a stint as a High School Art instructor, Kupelian started as a storyboard artist and production illustrator/ designer for a Hollywood effects company. This eventually led to digital matte painting and compositing at various other visual effects houses and his subsequent sojourn to New Zealand for the three Rings Films.
His accomplishments include published articles, short stories, and a documentary translated to three different languages and televised internationally. His artwork has been published numerous times and was featured in many of the Lord of the Rings art books (and even as part of a stamp collection for the New Zealand postal service). A Jury Prize was awarded to his war-zone documentary, Dark Forest in the Mountains, which was followed up with a sequel, Hands and A Homeland. Kupelian has also directed music videos, including “Honking Antelope” and “Reconstructive Demonstrations” for Serj Tankian’s Solo Album releases. Kupelian also has collaborated with Tankian by providing illustrations for Tankian’s upcoming “Glaring into Oblivion“, dist. by Harper Collins.
One of the peculiar side-effects of having lived in several, very different parts of the globe is the likelihood of running into people who have also lived in those places, wherever one happens to be. I have gone to school with someone in Cyprus, only to find her again years later as a student in England – crossed paths on several occasions with people who once lived in the same town as I did, sometimes in the same suburb, though we are both now on the other side of the world. That tendency for me was further exacerbated by working in special effects, a career pursued by a relatively small number of people who often freelance in different countries.
By the time I came to work at Weta Digital, I was regularly meeting people I’d lived down the road from or gone to school with, whether in Toronto, London, Washington D.C. or Paris. (I began to have nightmares of them all turning to me at once and saying, “you can’t possibly have lived near every single one of us. You didn’t go to those places. We don’t believe you.”)
Up till then, one country had been conspicuously absent from the list. I had not yet found any special effects workers from Sierra Leone, where my family lived from 1984 to 1986. But at Weta, I finally met a talented digital matte painter who had grown up in Freetown. Roger Kupelian’s background is Armenian and he was born in Lebanon, but his whole childhood was pure Sierra Leone. In him, I felt I’d found a long lost brother – after all, how many other people did I know whose parents had left their ancestral homes to wander to the same countries mine had, and who greeted me with the Freetown “how di body” and “kusheh” when I came to work in the morning? Here was a kindred soul.
Roger and I have kept in touch since we both left Weta Digital. He has moved back to California with his family, where he set up an effects and filmmaking facility, Fugitive Studios. I have watched his career develop with great interest over the years: a versatile artist, he is equally at home in VFX, design, graphic novels and film production. He has made videos for Serj Tankian and produced proof of concept reels for his own historical epic, ‘East of Byzantium.’ A graphic novel for ‘East of Byzantium’ is also in the works, and Roger’s collaboration with Serj Tankian on a book of poetry and illustration, ‘Glaring Through Oblivion’, is due out in March.
One of the great perks of being a fantasy writer is to see one’s creations brought to life by artists, whether on book covers or in other formats. There’s something very special about a creative person taking the time to conjure up marvelous images of your own, invented worlds – a sort of ultimate vote of confidence from one kind of artist to another. Imagine my joy when Roger indicated he would be interested in illustrating a scene from ‘ Tymon’s Flight’. (I’ll give you a hint: my reaction involved a fangirl squeal of excitement.)
Last week, when I received the finished piece, I sat for a few moments just looking at it, imagining the scene of the battle for the Freehold as he had depicted it – the smell of smoke and burning tree gum, the desperate Freeholders, the vast, menacing majesty of the Argosian airships. I did not post the image on the blog at once because of the Christchurch earthquake. But now, I feel I can give it its due. Without further ado, I would like to share Roger Kupelian’s vision of the epic battle that closes ‘Tymon’s Flight’ with you. I hope you enjoy discovering the Chronicles of the Tree through his eyes, as much as I did…