“One thing I have encountered recently, is that sometimes with gaming studios-particular with concept art, is that there is a discrepancy in the artist’s I guess you could say “natural” style, or whatever the visual language it is they revert back to when doing personal work, and the different visual styles used to create a game. I’ll often see job postings asking for artists able to work in a number of different styles, from cartoon, to realistic, to photographic.”

I want to contract an artist whose style fits the product I’m art directing.  If you’re looking to get hired by a studio that says, “We want you to be versatile in style”, allot of the time they’re asking you to be a “wrist”.  I stole that term from a friend of mine that is a comic book artist and a professor.   Being a, “Wrist”, means that you’re an extension of someone else’s mind that either doesn’t know how to draw or for a studio that is trying to stretch their dollar and use you for multiple projects covering multiple genres.  This isn’t a bad thing!  If you’re not open to the idea of working in different styles/genres the odds are that you wont be submitting a portfolio that demonstrates your passion for the work or submitting a portfolio to the studio that’s asking for that.  Being versatile can be a good thing to break the monotony or it can be a bad thing if you’d rather be working 24/7 on a specific style of project.

In most cases you’ll be submitting a portfolio that should be geared towards working for company X on license X and hopefully, working for someone that empowers you to inject a bit of your own flair into the work.  When working on an established property this can be a bit challenging for both you and your Art Director.  In addition, if you’re a professional freelancer and demonstrate a knack for working on a certain type of property it will show in your work.  I’d rather work with people that exhibit a propensity to work in the style of genre I’m hiring for.

On the concept art end; Everyone wants to be a concept artist.  This means that your competition is extremely tough.  If you’re not as good as concept artist X you’re going to have a hard time breaking in doing that particular job.  Odds are that you’ll break in as a texture artist and slowly gain recognition for the work you’re doing in your sketch book and dedicating to your artistic development.  Several professional concept artists I know can speak to this.  One way to think of it is that it’s a dream gig for most artists because they’re only required to be a specialist in one aspect of illustration/design.  In many cases a great environment artist might not be as good with characters.  In the reverse a great character artist may not be very good with environments.  In order to diversify it’s best to work on tying the 2 together and seeking work as an illustrator.  In either case it’s important to focus on basic foundation skills.

  • Anatomy
  • Perspective
  • Composition
  • Value
  • Color

“I know that for freelance illustration it seems to be best to have a consistent look to your work, or to have separate portfolios- but I wonder what your take is on that for a concept artist, in particular I guess one who would be interested in a studio job. Should he/she have a variety of work on their website, and then perhaps submit a more tailored and specific portfolio to potential clients?”

On your personal website it’s totally cool to separate your work by genre.  As I said before, please make it easy to navigate  your site and look at the portions of you work that interest me the most.  If you have a break down that covers a couple of different genres like concept art, illustration, (and/or) 3D break them down by specialty.  Make it as easy as possible for someone to navigate straight to the work they are interested in.

“Also I was hoping you might elaborate on one other point, which is keeping in contact with your artist multiple times a week during a job. Generally when I have worked with clients there is a lot of conversation at the start of a job especially when working through initial stages of thumbnails, to sketches, and, if necessary color comps. However once the final sketch is approved, I find that there is generally a period of silence until a final is ready to be submitted. Personally I wouldn’t submit works in progress unless asked to by the AD, because there can be some pretty ugly stages and I wouldn’t want to scare them off!”

Drop me a line once a week.  Let me know where you’re at and if you’re struggling with anything.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Empower me to work with you and help you through artistic road blocks.  I’ve been there!  If you’re too proud to ask for help you’re setting yourself up for a very frustrating time inside the industry for both you and your boss.

“What would you like to see when communicating with an artist during a job?”

Off the bat, I have to say that I’m far from perfect and find myself having trouble sending out e-mails to everyone I’m working with weekly.  From my end, I appreciate an artist dropping me a line letting me know where they’re at.  When I get the chance to review progress I tend to get a bit concerned when an artist has not communicated with me since week 2 of a 4-5 week deadline. I’ve had artists bail on work 1 week before deadline and in these circumstances it has forced me to re-contract work.  That means the follow up artist has significantly less time and, more times often than not, the end product will not be as strong.

When an artist neglects to tell me that they can’t deliver within a week of a deadline, it means that the book doesn’t go to press on time.  The domino effect is that the product is on market a full week less and generates less revenue during the fiscal year. If you use deductive reasoning the end result is far from ideal.

After working on both ends, I found it hard to work on more than 3 different assignments at once.  As an AD working with 20+ artists and managing other internal e-mails and responsibilities is not easy.  At my peak I was managing 47 artists over 3 product lines and I will NEVER do that again.  My max comfort level is around 30 (where all I’m doing is managing those artists and don’t have to do extra graphic design work, concept art, or mid-level management things) .  I hope that helps!

If there are any other questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to drop me a line!




What do I do?

Many of you are probably asking yourself, who the heck is this guy?  My name is Mike Vaillancourt and I’m the Art Director for WildFire llc (CthulhuTech, Chthonian Stars, Poo, Nuts) and Sandstorm productions.  I’ve been working in the hobby games industry since 1997 in several different roles.  My initial foray into the industry was as a Information Systems Technician building retail store gaming LAN’s and associated hardware for retail support for Wizards of the Coast.  I also contributed to graphic design on the gaming LAN desktops.  My first professional illustration work for an RPG called Brave New World in 1999.  In 2002 I joined the US Navy.  While on active duty, I helped form a company with fellow industry veterans to develop the award winning RPG CthulhuTech.

While working on CthulhuTech I contributed work as a freelancer working as a graphic designer, concept artist, illustrator, and art director for several clients.  To name a few I have worked for Triad Toys, Catalyst Game Labs, Microsoft/Bungie/343, and Bucephalus Games

As an Art Director I’ve worked with over 200 artists in the last 5 years from both the continental US and at least 10 other countries.  My regular stable of artists is around 30.  The major obstacle for several of the freelancers I no longer work with is that they either work for or have moved on to full time positions in video games.  Contacting them at the right time in their schedule is a bit tricky.   In other cases some of the artists have non-compete clauses with their current employer that prevents them from contributing artwork to my (WildFire or Sandstorm) game lines.  To give an example, those artists work for companies like 343, Blizzard, Microsoft, Bungie, CCP, Volition, EA, NC Soft, and Arena.net.

So what is the purpose of this lecture?  When I was approached to give an hour long demonstration to students and professionals I racked my brain trying to figure out whether I wanted to do a demo on industrial/mechanical design, character design, or graphic design… then it dawned on me.  The majority of the audience (at best guess) would be students. Demo’s are valuable but ultimately there are far more qualified (and faster) professionals out there on the internet that have already covered the basics.  What I felt I could most contribute to is your future as a professional artist.  Those 2 primary tools being your portfolio and how to conduct yourself once you’re employed.

With all that said, and with the show and tell over, let’s dive into building your portfolio.

What do you want to do?

The first question you need to ask yourself is, “What is the objective of this portfolio?”  Who do you want to work for, what do you want to do for that employer?  Don’t put together material to work in a subject matter that doesn’t appeal to you. If your passion is sci-fi, fill your portfolio with sci-fi work.  I would never hire someone to do work on material they didn’t enjoy working on.  If you’re a 3D person and love doing 3D, focus on the things you enjoy doing the best i.e. characters, props, vehicles, or environments.  Don’t put together a portfolio catered to getting a job that isn’t your first choice.

Remember, strong textures can also save a weak model.

Building the portfolio: Image is Everything

A well presented portfolio will make a huge difference and will help you stand out.  What do you mean by “Well presented?”  Taking the time and effort to put together your work in a well presented format.  Think of it like a beautiful art book (Spectrum, D’Artiste, etc.)  If the book consisted of images on a page with no text you, as the reader, would be lost.  Put together complimentary images on the same page or facing pages and label the work appropriately.  Font choice and even a bit of graphic design to spice up pages will also add another level of flair.  Don’t sell me just on your work, sell me on you.  If your portfolio doesn’t show that you put some effort into it, think of what that says to a potential employer about the kind of work they’ll get from you.

What should I show?

Limit the work to your best pieces.  If it’s not your favorite work, take it out of the portfolio.  Get a 2nd opinion on all work from any professional friends you might have and even better, if you happen to know an Art Director, ask them, and your instructor.  If you’re in school your instructors can be valuable resources, USE THEM!

The one thing to be mindful of is that all art directors are looking for different things in a portfolio.  So the question you’re asking yourself now is, “If every art director wants something different, how do I know what to put in my portfolio?”  There’s 2 ways to go about this.

  1. A best guess based on work that the art director has had a hand in during their career.

You may not always know who the art director is and may not get the one you want a review with every time.  In this instance be mindful of the work that the company they work for posts online.  That work, 9 times out of 10, is work that their Sr. AD’s have deemed as the best work from the line or the most iconic.  So if you want to work on Dungeons and Dragons, do work that fits in with Dungeons and Dragons.   If you want to work for Bioware and your portfolio is full of World of Warcraft style images you need to put some time into doing work specifically geared towards working with your favorite Bioware property.

  1. Contact an art director directly and ask them what they’re looking for in a portfolio.  This will take allot of guess work out of it.  The important thing to keep in mind is that they’re busy so be direct and thank them for their time if they respond.


Turn offs

–       3 Ring binder with clear view pages and a bunch of work printed on a low quality printer on standard printer paper will immediately turn me off from working with you.  Leather bound zippered portfolio’s where the zipper sticks, the portfolio is overflowing with work, the binding pops open involuntarily, etc.

I’ll still take the time to review your work and give you some constructive criticism but the odds of me giving you work are slim unless you have some absolutely amazing looking work.  In that case I’d give you my card and tell you to e-mail me digital samples.  In either case you’re off to a rough start if that’s what you’re coming to the table with.

–       An overly pretty cover/case for a portfolio shouldn’t outshine your work.  There are many ways to put together a solid portfolio utilizing POD resources online whether it be via Lulu (a little overpriced) to even loading well designed portfolio pages into a program like iPhoto and having a book printed through iPhoto’s POD facility.  Even a rush job with spiral binding with a frosted cover done at Kinko’s for $15 is worth your time.

iPads and iPods

May be appropriate for showing work for animation but they are inappropriate formats to show an illustration/print portfolio on.  Why?

–       First off, you’re applying for a job where your work will be printed in some medium.

–       Monitors can be deceiving unless you’re working with a professionally calibrated high end monitor.

–       The size is worthless for showing larger pieces.

–       If you throw a dozen images into an image viewing program that tells me that you don’t care about your presentation.

–       If you know that you’re going to want to talk to an Art Director at a convention you’re attending and you don’t have time to go down to a kinko’s or use iPhoto to print a decently bound copy of your portfolio that tells me that you really don’t want the work.

Web portfolio’s:

I spend more time reviewing portfolio’s online than in any other format as do most art directors.  Because of this, it’s important that your website is somewhat up to date (work from within the last year) and that your contact information is easy to find.  There are several artists whose sites I’ve gone to and really wanted to work with but I couldn’t find their contact info.  In some cases I’ve e-mailed the artists at their link for contact and never gotten a response.

On that note, make sure that your e-mails go to a place that you check regularly if you want work.  You can miss out on exciting freelance opportunities by not updating that information.  In addition, make sure that it’s easy to e-mail you.  Getting creative with your e-mail address by putting in spaces between letters and making an AD do extra work cleaning up your e-mail address is inconveniencing.  Some of the best jobs come to you, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by making it hard to get in contact with you.

If you’re not good at web design and you know someone who is, enlist their aid.  If you don’t know anyone there are several resources you can find online to learn how to build a website or use a web template.  A decent template with an easy to navigate interface is better than a poorly designed site with broken links, hard to navigate galleries, and ugly graphic design.

Keys to a good website:

–       Clean and easy to navigate.  Ditch tiny thumbnails that make it difficult for me to figure out what I’m looking at.  A clearly organized site featuring concept art (characters, environments, creatures, ID/Props), Illustration (Commercial, Spot, Cover Art, etc.), Design (logo’s, branding, etc.) is far preferable to a mess of thumbnails or poorly organized work.

–       The first image I see on your sight should be your best work and compel me to look at the rest of your work.

–       In addition, tell me what you do.  Art Director, Graphic Designer, Concept Artist, Illustrator, Animator, etc.  A link to a resume is good.  Make sure you credit any publishers if you have professional work in there.  If I see a logo from a well known game company that will help ad some context to the job.


–       Difficult to show a portfolio but great for sketches, recent work posting, etc.  I love blogs because they allow me to keep tabs on an artist.  They’re also a great networking tool.

Other things to avoid.

–       Animated intro’s and other crazy animations slow down my review time.

–       Music.  I have iTunes running when I’m working, if I’m reviewing a portfolio and your website has music interrupting my  music I’m not going to be happy.  I hate interruptions in my rhythm.

–       Pop ups or links to work that add extra clicks to my viewing experience w/the exception of a simple gallery viewer is just fine.

What do I look for in a portfolio?

The first is how well designed the portfolio is.  If you’re not that great at graphic design but know someone who is, enlist their help.  Much like w/websites, well designed portfolio will go a long way.  After the initial impression of design I do a 10 second flip through and find the worst piece.  After I’ve found that piece if I decide that I could live with that level of work I go back through the portfolio one more time to take mental note of my favorite work.

Concept art

– Strong design skills:  Can be inspired by other existing art but the strongest design goes back a bit in history and takes cues from real world design.  Silhouette is important but if something doesn’t make sense in the overall design, ditch it.

i.e. A sci-fi suit of armor can be inspired by hockey equipment, Space Suits, Motorcycle armor, medieval armor, etc.  Mechanical objects should look like they could work even with a bit of hand wavium technology.


–       Composition, anatomy/perspective, design/emotion in characters, value, and color.

Composition: The most important part of an illustration.  A strong composition can put you into the action, detach you from the subject and overwhelm you, and in all cases it should help you feel something.

– Anatomy/Perspective: The 2nd most important aspect of an illustration.  “It’s my style” is no excuse for not knowing anatomy or perspective.  Those are the 2 most important details that will kill your work.

– Design: In many cases for illustration you’ll have to come up with costumes, characters, and props on your own.  There are style guides and some reference to work from but it would be insane to try and concept hundreds of different costumes for a setting and have them available for an illustrator.  I generally send out style guides or inspirational reference.

In every illustration the old adage “The bitch is in the details” couldn’t be more true.  A well thought out piece that the artist obviously had fun with is going to stand out.  If your design skills are weak and you want to be an illustrator you should spend more time on concept design.  Building a strong image reference library is incredibly important.  My image library clocks in at over 100 gigs of low res jpgs.  Google images is your friend.

Reference is insanely important to successful illustration.  No one can draw everything from memory and have it be believable.

i.e.  If you’re going to design a sci-fi tank it’s good to look at actual tanks.  Find out how they work, why they work, and then dive into design.

Here are a few great places to check out for tutorials and inspiration

–       conceptart.org

–       cghub


Things You Shouldn’t Say/Do during a portfolio review

–       “This isn’t my best work but…”

–       “I just found out about these reviews so I quickly threw this together to give you a decent idea of my work.”

–       “Sorry I’m all out of business cards.”

–       If you have leave behinds as the AD if they would like said material.  I can’t tell you how many stacks of post cards, business cards, or flyers/sell sheets I get from artists at convention that get round filed.

–       Don’t argue with constructive criticism or feedback.

Good things to have for a portfolio Review

–       A way to take notes based on feedback you’ve gotten.

–       Plenty of business cards or a leave behind for the person doing the review in case they request it.

–       Questions to ask the reviewer.

Closing: Questions AD’s have after the review

“How long did this piece take?” “What was this done for?  Was it an assignment or a personal project for fun, speed paint or did you have nothing in particular in mind?”  Knowing the details of a piece will help me better determine what kind of work I can give you.

When it comes to time frame, be honest.  If the piece took you 3 days to do with breaks in between, tell them that.  Don’t tell them that you did a piece in 8 hrs. when it was actually 2 hrs a day over 4 days.

Knowing your working habits helps them gauge what work to give you.  If you say it takes 8 hrs and you’re available all month for freelance they might give you 12 pieces assigned to you.  That scenario WILL kill you.  Odds are, you’ll turn in work late and it will be sub par work at that, and they wont want to work with you again.

You Got the Job:


  1. Respect the Art Directors time.  They’re busy people.
  2. Be clear in your communication and ask pointed questions.
  3. Let your AD know if there are any issues IMMEDIATELY.  Don’t put it off until the last minute.
  4. Stay in communication with your AD at least twice a week during a job.
  5. Follow Instructions:  If an AD sends you a document on instructions, follow them.  Before you ask questions about your contract, review the documentation before sending the message.  In many instances documentation has already answered your question.  This also comes back to being respectful of the AD’s time.
  6. Be receptive to feedback, they’re paying you.  Disrespecting the clients demands can have some nasty consequences.  There is a right and a wrong way to debate whether a change is in the best interest of the client.
  7. Deliver on time.
  8. Turn in your paperwork if you want to get paid.


  1. Call your AD outside of listed office hours unless approved in advance.
  2. Don’t leave threatening voice mail message on your AD’s home phone if you haven’t heard from him over the weekend. (true story)
  3. Drop off the face of the planet and not respond to e-mails.
  4. Wait until the last week of a job to bail on an assignment because another job came up that paid more.
  5. Don’t price yourself out of a job: Understand the market.  The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines does not cover all levels of freelance.  There may be some room for negotiation with rates but understand that a small client may not pay as much however, it could lead to much bigger jobs in the future.
  6. Don’t tick off the AD doing any of the above.  They may know the AD that handles your dream property.

One Last but Extremely Important Note:

This industry is incestuous.  Art Directors talk to one another.  If an AD had a pleasurable experience working with you they’ll put in a good word for you with other AD’s.  If they had a less than pleasurable experience and another AD sees that you worked with someone they know.  They will generally ask them what they thought about working with you.

In the freelance world you don’t fall under the standard employee limitations of what can and cannot be said about your experience with that individual. Ultimately some AD’s may work well with certain artists better  than others.  In either case, being flexible is an important part of being a professional.  Some AD’s will allow you to do whatever you want with a piece, others will require very specific things.

Another AD site to check out:

Art Order http://artorder.blogspot.com/ (Jon Schindehette) Sr. AD for Dungeons & Dragons (Wizards of the Coast)

Posted: December 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

So how bad do I suck?  Since accepting my position as Sandstorms full time Art Director my workload has increased quite a bit and has taken up allot of time that I had planned on using for art, blogging, etc. over the last couple of months.  Things will slow down a bit after we finish the 1st quarter push for 2011 in the next month or 2.  There are tons of new and exciting things coming down the pipe for both Sandstorm and WildFire related game lines that I’m looking forward to talking about more after the new year.  In the mean time I’m posting the preliminary cover of the next CthulhuTech book entitled “Burning Horizons”(Art by Ty Carey) and Alex’s finished mini-mech design.  Think of them as an early Christmas present. 😉  I’ll be spending the holidays with family over the next week so I wont be posting much or spending allot of time online. If I don’t post anything before the new year I wish you all happy holidays!



Posted: December 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

So what the heck happened?  Over the last few months we’ve seen the major con season come and go.  Halloween descended upon us.  November/Movember came and went along with Illuxcon and then came Thanksgiving.  Now with Christmas around the corner things continue to ramp up here at work for first and second quarter 2011 releases.  My wife and I have found out that we’re expecting a child in the next 9 months and I also accepted a full time art director position at our (WildFire’s) publisher’s office with Sandstorm.  With that I’ve added 10 new family/hobby/casual games onto my responsibility schedule along side of Chthonian Stars and CthulhuTech with a few more RPG titles to come.  Things have been a little crazy to say the least.  I’m also working on for a charity event on the side and a hush hush cell phone game with some old friends.  I’ll go into more detail tomorrow on several of those items but have to keep it short for today.  In the mean time Alex has finally had some time to work on his mini-mech and he sent me a progress shot last night so I figured I’d throw that up for you to look at before the more detailed update tomorrow.

So I ended up getting a rather large volume of portfolio’s over the last couple of days thanks to Jon Schindehette hooking me up over on Art Order.  Thanks again Jon, you rock!   That being said I didn’t get my sketches done.  I will be spending time on Sunday to get them finished.  So we’re about a week behind at the moment however, we should be able to catch up fairly quickly.  I’m going to life drawing on Saturday morning so the beginning of the traditional portion of the blog starts this upcoming week and at the end of the week I’ll be wrapping things up with the updated power armor.  So what else is going on?  Production on the Shadow Wars miniature game has started.  I just sent out e-mails a little while ago to artists to knock out orthographic illustrations for a small portion of the first release batch.  I’m really pumped to get the ball rolling on the visuals for this one.  There are going to be some design improvements to some of the tagers and dhohanoids just to bump up the awesome factor of them.  They wont be dramatic changes, more detail related.

On that note some of you may be aware of a setting we’ve been developing for Traveller called Chthonian Stars.  I had done a significant amount of online hyping up for CthulhuTech before it came out and for some reason the hype machine hasn’t been there for Chthonian Stars… which is rather sad considering it’s a setting that we (Chris Dorn, Rob Glass, and Matthew Grau) are really pumped about.  It’s dark, gritty, and near future pseudo-hard sci-fi.  Don’t dwell on that line too long.  Regardless I wanted to show off some of the art going into the book to get people pumped.  Inside of the setting you’re primarily taking on the role of a Warden.  Wardens are like spec ops investigators sent out to various locations around our solar system to investigate mysterious events taking place on various planets, space craft, etc.  That’s just a quick teaser.  Think of it like Dead Space, Event Horizon, The Myst, a dash of Avatar for tech, and Aliens.

Without going into detail on the creatures below, the design modifications from traditional Lovecraft descriptions are intentional.  If you want to find out why they look so different you’ll have to read the book!;)  As for the art, I did the logo, the creatures and other art posted below were done by…

Adam Schumpert with the Bhole.  Adam is an awesome guy to work with and an up and comer that you should keep your eye on!

Tom Garden for the Mi-go.  The major design work was done by me, he took my work and ran with it.  I’m pretty proud of the final design.  I’ve worked with Tom for years, he’s one of my favorite artists to work with these days)

Marco Mazzoni for Anatstacia being attached by…   You guys know Marco’s work from the blog already.  Marco’s always fun to work with and has been a good friend of mine for the last 3 years.

Alex Iglesias for the Warden weapons spread.  You also know Alex from the blog.  He’s an incredible talent and is looking for sci-fi freelance work.  If you have a mech game you honestly couldn’t pick a better guy to work with.


The Mi-Go

Feel free to drop me a line with any comments, questions, etc.!



So the post title needs some significant work.  I actually want to turn this into a weekly sub section of posts.  i.e. I’ll cover a bit of design here and there but once a week I want to focus on fundamentals i.e. artistic growth and development.

Think of it like a daily sketch book but focussing entirely on foundation.  Everyone can follow along with my growth and in addition I had a bit of a brainstorm on the mentoring front.  Doing these weekly topics if anyone would like to follow along and participate both the artists I’m working with and I will critique work every step of the way.  Feel free to spread the word.  I’m no master or even grizzled vet by any stretch of the imagination however, I do generally know what I’m talking about and if I don’t know the answer I’m sure that one of the several dozen artists and art directors I either know or have worked with would be willing to help out.

For those of you that have seen my critiques you know that I do invest some significant time and effort into giving what I consider a valuable critique.  The standard critique format I follow is, “Warm and fuzzy, cold and prickly, warm and fuzzy”.  What that means is I start with basic overview of the things I like and were done well (IMO), I then move onto the things that need improvement and I didn’t care for, and then wrap it up with suggestions on what the artist can work on and words of encouragement and acknowledgment of skill and development.

Thoughts?  Feedback?



Kicking things off, I have allot of available freelance coming up that my regulars and off and on artists wont be able to fill all of.  Most of them are illustrations, some are orthographic pieces for miniatures, some are concept illustrations.  Check out the image below for more details and feel free to head over to the CthulhuTech website to check out some more of the work that’s gone into the books.  A Chthonian Stars site should be up soon.


So Alex and I chatted for a bit, knocked around some thumbnails and quick sketches and this is the result.  I liked Alex’s, he liked one of mine so we decided to do 2.  Alex’s sketch A with the arm placement of B and he liked my silhouette for B.  Normally I go from silhouette and then work out sketches for the silhouettes however, in this instance Alex and I have worked together long enough that he knows what phase B would look like.  I’ll work up sketches to post on Monday of my power armor unit that are a bit more detailed and leave less up to the imagination. 🙂  Alex was inspired and decided to create a couple of transport vehicles as well.  His ID stuff makes me want to focus on that aspect of my work a bit more.  That said, your comments, questions, etc. would be extremely helpful.  I’m sure that some of you want me to go into greater detail about our process, getting some specific questions will help me compose a good post for that.  I’ll post all the answers on Monday when I update with stage 1.5 sketches.

First things first, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks post PAX.  Speaking of which, PAX was a blast!  Met a lot of cool people, did alllllot of 15-30 minute sketches for folks.  Ran a CthulhuTech mech game demo, stayed up late allot, and thankfully didn’t get sick like I did at Gen Con.  I’m really looking forward to next  years PAX.  Here’s one of the many sketches I did at the con that the owner thankfully scanned and e-mailed to me!:)

Moving along, since that time a little game called Halo Reach came out.  For those of you that don’t know, I did the illustrations for Dr. Halsey’s Journal in the collectors edition.  It was challenging getting out of my head and into someone elses.  What I mean by that was that I had to think like Dr. Halsey would and do my best to not draw like a professional or frame shots like I might.  Overall I’m really pleased with the final presentation of the journal, the team I worked with was incredibly skilled and really made the collectors edition something really special for the Halo fans out there.  Images taken from Bungie and Game Informer respectively.

So you may be saying, “What happened to updating your blog?”.  I’m not a fan of excuses and with that, I can simply say I didn’t plan things out properly and got a bit swamped with work updating packaging design for reprints of our card game Poo (monkey’s in the zoo throwing poo at each other) and designing card backs, backgrounds, packaging, logo, etc. for our up coming card game Nuts (squirrels scrambling to get nuts).  They were originally slated for October deadlines and were bumped up 2-3 weeks respectively and that threw a monkey wrench in my scheduling… no pun intended.  In addition I took on mentoring an artist and I did spend some time over the last few weeks planning out the next months worth of posts with a talented mech/tech designer and friend, Alex Iglesias.  We’re teaming up to do a start to finish concept design of a Power Armor unit and will be detailing the process for everyone.

So here’s the basic run down of how this is going to go down.

  • SEP 30th: Concept write up post.
  • OCT 7th: Silhouette’s and coming up with the a rough visual design direction.
  • OCT 14th: Revised design, 3/4 and rough Orthographic.
  • OCT 21st: Final presentation and graphic design.

The question I pose to all of you is, should we make this a contest where artists can participate and possibly win some original sketches?

To give some of you an idea of our work, I’m posting a few of Alex’s pieces as well as some of my mech designs from CthulhuTech.  Alex has worked on a few video games and done a whole bunch of art for the BattleTech RPG and CthulhuTech.

First up are some of the Engel units (creatures covered in armor, think Evangelion) base unit NEG mecha, and a sketch I did for a German fan site around the same time.  Line art by me, paints by Yi-Piao Yeoh.  Designs done circa 2006/2007.

Now for some of Alex‘s work.  Here are a few of my favorite pieces he has online.  In addition he recently did some ship designs for our Traveller supplement entitled Chthonian Stars and should be out next month.

Power Armor Design Requirements

– Total Height: 14′
– Pilots Compartment Height: 6′
– Pilots Compartment Width: 6′ shoulder to shoulder
– Compartment Requirement: Must allow for natural range of motion inside.
– Cockpit details: Exterior cameras project images into pilots helmet visor w/low opacity HUD information projected over image.
– Power Source: Electrically powered turbines feeding into a RAT Gen backup that also charges an algae battery  system.  Not sure about the redundancy, seems plausible.

– Movement Requirement: Digitigrade legs to absorb impact for weight.  Feet must be set up in such a way to evenly distribute weight.  Visual inspiration is prawn power armor from District 9.  It is capable of minor jumps and has built-in jets to help cushion impact from low-level aerial drops.
– Other details: 2 exterior rotor drones mounted on back for additional field intelligence gathering.  Launched out of armored mortar tubes.  Can be concealed, don’t need to be cylindrical or obvious.

As per the usual, let me know what you think by clicking in the little word balloons on the upper right portion of the post.  If you have any questions, suggestions, requests, please don’t hesitate to send them my way!



Posted: September 1, 2010 in Uncategorized
I’ve known Marco for over 3 years now and did a road trip from Seattle to Atlanta with him… I don’t remember there really being many dull moments during that trip.  He lives in Atlanta now and works for CCP and ever improving.  You may recognize his work from various web art community activities or even from some of the work he’s done with me on CthulhuTech, Dog Fight (WWII Air Combat), and recently on Chthonian Stars.  He’s easy to work with, always goes above and beyond the call of duty, and you know that no matter what the subject material is, he’s having a blast.  He largely lets his art do the talking for him so his answers are straight and too the point.  If  you have any specific questions for him you can drop him a line or ask me and I’ll grill him!;)  Without further ado, Mmmmmmarco Mazzoni!
When did you first figure out that you wanted to work in the game industry?
Probably around ’96-’97 when I first started playing around with Quake mods.  I had a minor obsession with re-skinning the models in the game.  I would sit in the back of class and come up with new designs in my notebook complete with orthographic views.  I had a lot of fun doing this for a while, but eventually my focus drifted towards other interests which put me off course for illustration and concept art for a few years.
What’s your favorite thing to draw/paint?
Well, mentally I’m still 14 years old, so I always default to monsters and robots.  Lately though I’ve been slightly obsessed with near future deep space exploration and really thinking about the technology and emotions that come with it.
When did you get your first professional job as an artist and what was it working on?
My first paying gig was doing wildlife illustration for Arizona Game and Fish.  There was nothing glamorous about it, but it really taught me how to appreciate the subtle relationships in physiology between different species.
What do you think sets an artist apart from the rest of the crowd?
Not that much to be honest.  I think it all comes down to whether or not you gain a deep sense of satisfaction from creating something and if you have the motivation to make that happen.  There seems to be a misconception that you need to be born with “talent” to be a great artist, but what does that even mean really?  A superior understanding of spacial relationships, color harmony, design sense?  Those can all be learned, it just depends on how much of yourself you’re willing to put into it.
Biggest influences?
You’ve heard it before, but there really is too many to list.  I would have to say I’ve been more influenced by film than anything else, particularly sci-fi and horror classics.
You seem to do really well with organic shapes, especially when it comes to creature design.  Where do you look for design ideas?
Well, nature has done a pretty good job of making things functional and cool to look at, so of course that’s my first stop.  One of the main things I try to do though, is stay away from obvious design choices.  Say I wanted to use some elements from a crab, for example; I would probably avoid the first two things I notice, the claw and the distinct body shape.  Instead I might focus on how the legs transition into the body, or maybe the surface texture.  If I’m designing something more outlandish, I’ll think about the environment it evolved in and what features I can exaggerate to emphasize that.
What’s your favorite game?
I don’t really have a single favorite, but a few recent games that I could probably play forever if there was enough content would be Half Life 2, Red Dead Redemption, Dead Space, and the Mass Effect series.
If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, who would it be?
No one, I only eat brunch.
Anything else you want to say to budding freelancers out there?

Even if you’re already getting work, make sure you’re still dedicated to improving yourself.  There’s nothing better than watching a decent artist grow into something amazing over the years.
Thank you Marco for taking time out of your schedule to answer a few questions for me.  Always a pleasure!  For everyone out there reading, here’s a link to Marco’s CGHub gallery.  Go swing by and let him know how he’s doing, or as per the usual, you can add a comment here by clicking in the little word balloons on the upper right portion of the post.  If you have any questions, suggestions, requests, please don’t hesitate to send them my way!

Next up:  Graphic design!:)

The Art of Anna Christenson

Posted: August 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

Greetings fellow artists, designers, art directors, art lovers, and gamers!  To start this week I’m sharing an artist who I was fortunate enough to meet in person at Gen Con, the talented Anna Christenson. Anna and I have exchanged a few messages this year about art and was one of the people that helped push me to get this blog rolling.  Anna’s sense of composition, color, and atmosphere are spectacular!  If you’re interested, you can see more of her work at http://www.annaeatspaint.com (love that url!;)   Now, without further ado, a brief Q&A and a small sample of Anna’s art!

What inspired you to become an artist?

Anna: I have to say there is no one thing that inspired me to become an artist, but probably a few little things that added up to me finally choosing to pursue art seriously. To start with, both of my parents are artists, and then after my parents’ divorce, my stepfather’s an artist also, so I came from a very artistic background- there was never any shortage of materials in the house, or encouragement. My dad would take me to the college where he taught, and I would hang out in the ceramics department playing with clay. We even had a giant plywood wall in our house just for coloring on; something I keep wanting to do again.

All the artists I knew growing up painted mostly abstract work, so I think thematically the first thing that really caught my attention was Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s book Faeries which I discovered pretty early on. Really excellent illustrations- after seeing that book I was hooked. I think the next thing that encouraged me was collecting Magic cards. I never learned how to play, I just bought them for the art. After that it was just wanting draw all the characters from books I’ve read, games I’ve played (I have some really awful renderings of my characters from Morrowind), or stories I came up with on my own. Oh, and I also only ever drew strong, attractive women- I could probably count on one hand how many men I drew until I went to college.

After going through high school doing that, it was off to college, my first freelance work…and then where I’m at now, still cranking out art.

When did you get your first professional job as an artist and what was it working on?

Anna: Well, my first paid gig that I really remember in was in high school when someone payed me a pretty decent sum for a private commission. I had a number of private commissions, book covers, and character illustrations throughout late high school and some of college. What I’d call my first professional job however was working on A Game of Thrones LCG for Fantasy Flight Games. I got the call for work my senior year of college, and I was so excited! Since then I’ve done a lot of work for FFG, and all of it fun.

What is your favorite medium?

Anna: I’d have to say my favorite medium is gouache. I do however, like digital and do a majority of my professional work digitally. If I have time I like to play around with oils too, but just for myself for the most part.

What is your dream project?

Anna: There are a few dream projects I could think of…but the major ones would be landing a position as a concept artist with Bioware or Blizzard. Next to that, doing some cover illustrations for a good novel would be pretty sweet, or a position drawing lots, and lots, of characters.

What are your current inspirations?

Anna: I’ve always found reading to be inspiring- right now I’m reading the Horus Heresy series based off of Warhammer 40k and my mind is just on astartes (basically genetically engineered super fighters if you are not familiar with the property) and daemons and the warp…. Basically give me a good character description and I’ll probably be inspired. Aside from that, I really enjoy science and the outdoors, and also gaming can help get my mind into a particular genre.

What’s your favorite game?

Anna: I enjoy playing World of Warcraft if I have the time, mostly pvp now since its easy to do on a limited time scale. I also really liked Mass Effect one and two.

My all time favorite however? Diablo.

Light or dark?

Anna: I’m really starting to gear towards dark, evil, and will-crush-your-face.

If you could have lunch with anyone in the world who would it be?

Anna: That’s a tricky question, one I’m not sure I really have an answer for! Perhaps Joe Abercrombie for being such an awesome writer? Or, if Gene Roddenberry was still around I’d at least like to shake his hand.

That wraps up the first artist feature for the week, be sure to drop by Anna’s site and let her know how awesome she is!:)  As per the usual, any comments, questions, criticism, or saved rounds can be added into the comments below!



Next up: Functional Design for Mecha and Robots