Thursday, October 13, 2005
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1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?
I currently work as a character artist for a games developer in Brighton, UK. My role includes concepts, creation, texturing and rigging of in game characters. Occasionally I'm called upon in a purely concept capacity, the task I enjoy the most. Prior to games I was briefly in graphic design, where my fascination with text and logos was explored. Before all this I was a comic artist, working for the UK published 2000AD (a weekly science fiction anthology title featuring Judge Dredd).
As for education, after a brief attempt at art school, I decided a more academic approach would be better, and studied film at Stirling University, Scotland. This was a purely theoretical course, so was only able to practice my art in my spare time.
After University, I gave myself a few months to gather a portfolio together specifically aimed at comic books. I was lucky and gained some strip work (personally I can't stress the 'lucky' enough).
I often wonder on how things may have turned out if I'd continued at art school, and I believe I would be a better more rounded artist if I had, but all choices contribute to making one the artist they are today.
2. How do you go about designing a character, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?
More often than not, I will be given a brief. This will outline the character's role, personality and all being well, a physical description. Where some of the above may be somewhat vague, the artist must use his/her knowledge of the project to create appropriate and fitting designs (but it's always the most fun to push the limits). This knowledge should also include technical requirements appropriate for the projects medium, whether that may be film, animation, or games etc. Beyond these requirements I attempt to imbue the characters with recognizable 'personalities'. This may be as simple as a facial expression, but the whole body and pose should reinforce this too.
I'll sketch out some thumbnails or roughs and present these to the art/game director for any feedback necessary to continue. From here on I'm normally left to complete the pieces in an appropriate manner for the job. Whatever the finish, I'll always ink my sketches. Once scanned, I'll either under paint for that 'wash' effect, or over paint for a more traditional finish (this later being the most popular with clients in my experience).
3. What do you think really helps you out in designing a character?
Any information and reference that may be relevant to the time period, setting or character role is essential. Even characters that may inhabit fantasy worlds can benefit from some real world influence though this may be in an abstracted form. I have shelves of reference books and a hard drive full of photos, from figure poses to Russian rocket parts, inspiration can come from anywhere.
4. From your own experience and maybe from some people that you know, what should we put in our portfolio and what should we not?
It may sound obvious, but always include relevant work. Show the development of a piece; prove your work is consistent and focused; show you can apply yourself across a wide range of genres.
5. What are you working on now? (If you can tell us)
Recently I've been juggling 3 projects: pure concept work for a game pitch, all high sci-fi stuff; character concepts and 3D development for a quad bike game on the PS2 and next gen. creation of GP bike characters. I wouldn't recommend this type of intense job swapping, but it certainly ensures I never get bored!
6. Where is the place you would like to work if you had a choice?
Ideally to be purely concepting and films have always been an aspiration, yet the diversity and challenges of the games industry are constantly appealing.
7. Who do you think are the top character designers out there?
Unfortunately we work in a rather anonymous capacity, so forum's like CA.org are great places to meet fellow industry workers and observe the breadth of talent out there. Many artists inspire me out there across the full range of genres, comics, animation, graphic design and fine art.
8. How do you go about coloring the character, what tools do you use?
All my coloring and finalizing is done digitally these days and almost exclusively within Photoshop. For a simple wash effect I will drop out the white of a scanned image leaving the outline only. Below this I will fill with flat color then add shadow shades. The painted look requires somewhat more effort, as with traditional painting: a dark multiply layer is added over the line work where I can add shadows and over paint highlights. Textures are added as overlays to add punch and reduce the 'digital' look.
Additionally, I use Illustrator for logo and text work, and in my 3D character role, Maya.
9. What helps you the most in designing a character?
As above (3): a good brief (an open brief can almost be too hard to fill) good ref and just the right amount of time.
10. What part of designing a character is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?
The development process is always fun. I don't necessarily find any of it easy, but that's the challenge and that's the appeal. The hardest part can be to find that certain factor the client requires, and of course due to the very nature of our work, the majority of what we do is rarely seen. A thick skin is one of the most useful tools to be armed with.
11. What type of tools or media do you use?
I sketch out my designs on standard art paper with a mechanical pencil using blue lead. I trace off these sketches onto tracing paper with a 005/0.05 Staedtler Pigment liner. If the design is to be continued, it's all digital from this point.
12. What wisdom could you give us, about being a character designer?
Absorb all aspects of the world that surrounds you, observe, learn, and practice.
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