Colie Wertz taught himself to draw by copying the characters and vehicles he saw in Star Wars comic books.
“All I had were pictures,” Wertz says. “I bought all the comic books, studied all the ships and read about all the ships. I didn’t really have any big dreams. I just wanted to keep drawing.”
Today, Wertz designs the ships he might’ve copied in those early days as a veteran concept artist and modeler in the film industry. He has five Star Wars films under his belt, including one notable recent addition to the franchise.
“I did a bunch of concept art and modeling for Star Wars: Rogue One’” he says. “It was a passion project for the people working on it. The amount of research each one of us had done over the course of our careers really came into play and helped add to it.”
Wertz has worked on plenty of recent blockbusters outside of the Star Wars orbit. His resume reads like a roll call of the past two decades’ megahits: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Transformers, Iron Man, Captain America: Civil War, Men in Black, Flight and Looper.
Getting to this place in the movie business took some time. When he graduated from Clemson he moved to Charleston to be an architect. There, he made a discovery. “I enjoyed making the models more than I actually enjoyed designing someone’s house,” he says.
Wertz quit his job at the architecture firm and moved to Los Angeles. There, he bounced between his day job at a software company and nighttime training in Photoshop and 3D art. After honing his technical skills, he entered a design contest. One of the judges took a liking to his work and offered him a job at Industrial Light and Magic in San Francisco, a famous visual effects company founded by Star Wars visionary George Lucas. He couldn’t say no.
After 21 years in the film industry, Wertz still feels pretty close to that kid sketching Star Wars comic books. He’s still refining his craft, hoping to get a little better each day.
“Over the years I’ve just gotten better and better at being able to express form through sketching,” he says. “As you put yourself out there, people start talking to you, and you get even more education. I’m a research education junkie.”