Through the Eyes of Designer-Director Warren Fu

“Sorry I’m late!” my cousin Warren apologized when he showed up for our interview. “The Jimmy Fallon taping with Julian [Casablancas, lead singer of The Strokes] ran a little long.”

I wish I could have that kind of excuse whenever I’m late to an engagement. This was, however, simply another day in the life of Warren Fu, director and designer.

One of Warren’s most notable designs is of General Grievous, the villain in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  He also designed the motorcycle terminators in Terminator Salvation. Remember the beaming effect in the recent Star Trek movie? Another look developed by Warren.  Most of his work, however, goes unnoticed by the ordinary person. As a former art director at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), a subsidiary of Lucasfilm, Warren was there to help visualize concepts for feature films.  From skeletal creatures in Pirates of the Caribbean to a futuristic cityscape for Artificial Intelligence: AI, Warren’s talent has been called upon for projects large and small.

Warren has always loved art, ever since his mom taught him how to draw Snoopy at an early age. She first noticed his talents when he started pointing out minute details in the pictures of his storybooks. “It all starts with observation. You have to be able to find things you like, and then process in your mind why it’s good.”  “By the time I started elementary school, my notebooks were filled with Star Wars, Robotech and sports car drawings. It was just a way for my friends and I to express our inner geeks.  When I got to high school, I began getting into graffiti; that was when I begin to come up with my own ideas instead of simply duplicating what I saw.”

After high school, Warren went on to attend University of California- Berkeley where he pursued a major in economics. He credits his childhood friend Christine Yamashiro for encouraging him to apply for an internship at Lucasfilm on a whim. Originally applying for a marketing internship, Warren hesitated in putting artwork in his application portfolio, especially his graffiti. After seeing his work, however, Lucasfilm recruiters immediately recommended him for the art department.  “According to David Nakabayashi [visual effects art director for Episode I: The Phantom Menace], the graffiti was what caught his eye,” Warren states. “He said that those were the pieces that set me apart from the portfolios he came across from the art school graduates.  That’s where he said he saw the potential.” After that it was a fast climb from intern to art director in the span of a mere four years.

Pretty cool, right? It still boggles my mind how differently we think. I mean, when I look at a Windex bottle, I see… a Windex bottle. When Warren looks at a Windex bottle, he sees an early concept for General Grievous, a prominent villain in one of the greatest sagas of all time.

Most people would be satisfied with the design career that Warren has had, but he continues to press ahead with another career in directing.  “Filmmaking encompasses everything I like into one art form. Music, acting, visuals, editing. All those art elements working together at once really create a stronger emotional impact. It’s an experience.”

After directing a TV commerical, based on the album cover he designed, for the late r&b/hip-hop artist Aaliyah, Warren worked with The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas as the creative director for Julian’s solo album. Warren managed all things visual from beginning to end of the promotional campaign, including sleeve art, merchandise, print ads and music videos.

His relationship with Julian began after submitting a treatment [a concept for a music video] for a song titled “You Only Live Once” by The Strokes. “The Strokes caught my ear, because their sound reminded of some of the best music from the past, but modernized.” The treatment caught Julian’s attention. Even though The Strokes had already hired a director for the music video, they got funding for Warren to direct the alternate version. “As it turns out, we [Julian and I] have very similar sensibilities. Favorite color combinations, favorite car, etc. It has made for a great collaborative relationship.”

Warren has been getting more and more offers to direct as of late. He recently signed with Partizan Films to helm a music video for Mark Ronson featuring Q-Tip.  To Warren, music videos are an opportunity to experiment. It is filmmaking without any boundaries, because you don’t necessarily have to tell a narrative story. “Anything goes, really. At the end of the day your only assignment is always to ‘make it cool.'”

Warren’s ultimate goal is to direct feature films of all genres.  He lists 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick and Cinema Paradiso, a small budget Italian film, as his two favorite movies. “Kubrick’s movies are known for being cold impersonal. 2001 is exactly that, but also philosophical and beautifully designed and shot. Cinema Paradiso is purely nostalgic, heart warming and heart breaking. I guess these films represent the wide range of interests that I have.”

“Music and graffiti was my escape from the intense studies of my AP classes. The city of Berkeley was a culture shock: potheads and homeless intertwined with the scholarly. My good friends at Lucasfilm introduced me to the artist culture in San Francisco. Collaborating with Julian and The Strokes in New York has been a refreshing change of scene.  I’m back in LA for now, but I’m still observing and gathering enough life experiences to hopefully tell some interesting stories down the line.’

Partizan Films:

For more information on Warren, please check out his website:

Aaliyah Anime TV Spot for MTV and BET:

“11th Dimension”- Julian Casablancas music video:

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