Tell me 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 was born and raised in the microscopic state of
My high school years were spent in central
I soon realized I could apply most of what I loved about comics to a career in concept development for games. Beginning with Singletrac Studio, and now Insomniac Games, I’ve been fortunate to work and learn from some of the most talented folks in the industry. Each day with them has had a significant impact on how I view design and style.
Well, I grew up south of
I was fed up, and after a very cold winter of surfing in Nor’Easter storms, my girlfriend and I decided to get out of Dodge and move to
Eventually, I landed a job with Doug TenNapel as a sculptor on one of his stop-motion projects. But when it came to an end, I found myself again without a job. My now wife supported us while I looked for my next gig. I applied at a local videogame house and was offered an entry level position based on my traditional drawing and sculpture background. The company had some political problems, so a couple years later, I applied at Insomniac Games. I received an arduous interview from none other than Dave Guertin, and quickly realized that he and I were on very similar pages. He asked me to join the team, and it’s been five years of the best projects I could have ever asked to work on. Oh, and I did finally finish my degree a few years ago.
How do you go about designing a character, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?
Earlier in my career, I would make every effort to attack a design— including shape, detailing, pose, and attitude— in one broad pass. While some days were better than others, for the most part this workflow lead to “expected” and “safe” designs. Over time, I realized I could maintain greater focus by compartmentalizing each major stage. If you imagine your creativity as a battery, the more you split your attention, the tougher it becomes to find the energy needed for solving design issues.
As a result, I start virtually every character with a host of silhouettes and tiny roughs. I think often about the iconic shapes and posture that will illustrate the personality I’m shooting for. Balance, line of action, and asymmetry all play vital roles in maintaining clarity while defining the character’s overall mood. Depending on the character (and how much sleep I had the night before) this process can be quick or torturous. If you can hit strong personalities at such a small scale however, you’re off to the races! From here, I move to the detailing stage where I explore the internal shapes of the form including costumes, anatomy, and facial expressions. I spend the majority of my time defining the visual hierarchy to ensure the focus stays in the right places. Contrasting clustered detail with areas of open space are common techniques that do a world of good for clarity. In addition, I “mirror check” often by flipping the canvas horizontally. This really helps my eyes see the drawing fresh while highlighting all the terrible areas needing attention.
I wrap the design with a final linework pass. I do my best to hold to a “less is more” approach while highlighting the lines that matter and dropping everything else. My focus remains largely on stroke and line weight while pushing the overall line of action for the character. In the end, fingers crossed, I hope to have a character that works.
If not, I smack myself, and move back to stage 1.
Games offer up a lot of challenges that a cinematic medium doesn’t have. I begin first with trying to really define the functional aspects of a character. I make lots of notes, just little bits to get me inside the history of the character and what purpose they will serve. Then I begin scratching out little doodles on scraps of random paper. I’m not very organized at this point. It looks a lot like DaVinci’s notebooks if he was 6 years old and had mostly bad ideas. But through it all, I find design elements I like, silhouettes that are interesting or poses that embody the characters personality.
I then try to rough out some poses to start refining while adding the required elements needed to support the game. Recently, we have also worked in tandem with the creation of 3D rough models to outline flaws in the character design. Games offer up a unique challenge: You never really know where the camera will be on screen. So, once we have found a form that really works from all angles and the animators feel that they can bring it to life; I try to do more resolved drawings. The images are akin to model sheets that help establish the final direction of the character. If it’s approved, I stop. If not, I start over again. It’s great, I think, no it is, yup, best job ever.
What is a typical day for you?
Oh, gosh, well, I’ve got a couple of young kids. So I get up pretty early, 6am or so, get hosed off and head off to Insomniac. I go through upcoming designs and write out what the functional needs are and possible solutions. I get together with designers, animators, programmers and project management to work out the major dependencies a design has. In addition, we try to define the technological limitations and the overall timeline budgeted for both concept and production. But most importantly, I try to extract everyone’s ideas of what their guts tell them the design should look like. Next I try to do as many roughs as possible, or if the roughs have been decided on, we resolve the current direction. That then is opened up for review— first by other artists, then, once it passes that marker, we bring it back to the designers for final approval. We then send it to production. Any portion of this process can easily consume my full day. Simple designs can go for days, complex designs can be approved on a napkin sketch, you just never know. If I can get through that, I head home to my family. At night, after the kids are off to bed, I hit the Cintiq for a few hours of drawing. Mostly doodles, I like to work out some of the ideas I always seem to get while on my way home from work. 1am, I get kinda woozy, so I try to find my bed, I usually get lucky. 5 hours later, I do it again. It’s a long day. People outside the art world think we all have it pretty
I tend to start each day the same: I give my wife a big hug, and then I’m off to Insomniac. (Somewhere in between lives a tumultuous commute down the
On the marketing side, I work closely with our Marketing Director and Sony to create a host of illustrations and renders for the campaign. For the most part, this involves covers, package design, and general campaign strategy. We tend to take a close look at the market and do our best to carve out of small chunk of “visual identity” for the game as we move through the end of the year. When it’s all said and done, I head home (with another tumultuous commute up the
My groovn’ nightlife is often spent in front of the laptop or Cintiq as American Idol rambles in the background (she makes me watch, I promise). I still have no clue how Greg pulls it off—I can barely handle the two cats who give me dirty looks as it is. All that said though, I get to draw for a living which is pretty tough to beat.
What are some of the things that you have worked on?
Dave and I both have worked on a number of game titles. Primarily, over the last several years, we’ve been focused on the Ratchet and Clank franchise developed by Insomniac Games. The series includes: Ratchet and Clank, Ratchet and Clank: Going Comando, Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal, Ratchet: Deadlocked and currently Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction for the PS3.
As an aside, I did just finish up my first graphic novel called PATH. I created the characters and artwork along with penning the script. To that, I will also mention, took me 3 years to complete.
Is there a character design you have done that you are most proud of?
We both agree that working on the second title in the Ratchet and Clank franchise, “Going Commando”, is where we really hit our stride with successful character designs. The arena challenges provided a great venue for bosses and minions while the weapon upgrades allowed us to add more personality to the arsenal. There were obviously some designs that were better than others, but as a whole they were the ones we’ve been most proud of. Our jobs tend to focus heavily on creating collections of interlocking characters that act in many respects as a single design—it’s tough to separate out one in particular.
Towards the end of Deadlocked, we had an interesting opportunity to create some comic work involving a new character in the franchise. For the website we created an online adventure for Captain Starshield where we split duties between drawing and painting. We’re both big fans of comics which made for a great collaboration.
Fortunately for us, it didn’t stop there. Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction is turning out to be just as good if not better than any game we’ve done before. For the first time, we had a pre-production period where we could explore new directions for the characters. We fell on our face a couple times but, in the end, we had a clear roadmap for the project. In addition, the team is larger including a host of really creative artists full of new ideas. This latest project is sure to deliver Insomniac’s best character lineup yet.
Who do you think are the top artists out there?
My first year of college, about ten or so years ago now, my girlfriend took a trip to
Like Greg I have also been a big fan of European story telling. The painting work of Fernandez and Frezzato continues to blow me away. Throughout the American comics scene, Adam Hughes, Durwin Talon, Mike Mignola, Andrew Robinson, Travis Charest, (just to name a few) have been fantastic to watch. On top of it all, the blog explosion has really been remarkable over the past year and a half. I’m constantly amazed and inspired by all the great artists popping up each day online. I can’t get enough of Silver, Nevarez, Satzinger, and others. My favorite in the current animation scene however has to go to Ben Balistreri. His stylistic range and line quality are top notch.
Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?
Virtually all the designs for Ratchet 1 and 2 were created with pen and grayscale marker. On the plus side, this allowed us to move forward quickly. On the down side, I never experimented with color as much as I should have. A couple years ago I made a concerted effort to focus on the impact color has upon designs. When approaching a painting, I tend to adopt the “less is more” workflow from my linework. I realized how powerful neutral hues can be allowing the remaining colors to take center stage.
My two major tools of choice include Alias/Autodesk Sketchbook (I’m praying they continue development) and Photoshop. I tend to begin each painting with color block-ins to establish the overall color relationship for the piece. I keep my eye towards tone and saturation to promote the mood of the character while retaining focus in the appropriate areas of a design. I then move on to rendering forms while making every effort to define a clear light source. I work initially with hard brushes to preserve the graphic vibe of the linework while adding depth to the shapes. With the shadow masses defined, I wrap the painting with a “softenting” pass across the shadows where appropriate while adding final post effects including glows and color unification layers.
In the end, I try to find the balance between ensuring the image is malleable enough for production edits while keeping the layer count under control. The cleaner and less cluttered the better.
Color for me is a strange beast. I love it, but I still suffer from my adolescent need to do things quickly, so when I can avoid it, I do. When I find the time and patience to resolve a piece, I like to bring the design into Photoshop where I set up my layer masks and overlays. I start with my base local colors, and block them in. I think that’s pretty typical. Then I move on to establishing the appropriate lighting scheme by laying in where the shadow will end up, what is a hard shadow, and where it will be more gradual. At this point, I like to play on the shadow masses by first establishing concentration of the reflected light and what color it might be. This gives me a good cue to guide me as to how intense the light mass will be, how warm to make it and whether I would expect to see a rim light in this piece. Finally, I like to use my line-work more like a mask and lay in color to the line rather than leaving it straight black all the time. The technique can really soften a form, or make it seem more important, though mostly it unifies the fill color with the line-work rather than keeping them discreet.
What part of designing is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?
For me, the most challenging aspect of any design is the initial silhouette stage. Considering how many memorable characters there are, it can be very tough to not step on toes with your work. There is always the fine line between familiarity and cliché which needs to be tackled at the start of any strong character. The easiest part of the process tends to be the linework refinement stage. By this point (if I’ve done my job) the character is just about ready for primetime which tends to put the focus on craft more so than creative problem solving.
In terms of fun, that’s a tough one to answer. I really do enjoy each step in the process and stay heavily involved throughout the entire design. Sometimes it’s a blast to throw shapes around, other times it’s great getting involved with details. What can I say, art is fun.
For me it’s pretty simple. The most fun part of any character is taking on an interesting design or concept that has to solve a particular problem. As it turns out, this also tends to be the hardest part of any character. It’s the journey that keeps me going. The sense of accomplishment you get for pulling off a good design is great, rare, but great. You keep trying, and once in a while you stumble across something you didn’t mean to do, but when you see it, you know it fits. Fortunately, you still get to take credit for it. I’m half kidding of course, but I don’t know an artist out there that wasn’t excited by the wild happy accidents that occur throughout the design process.
What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?
I would say competition. I’m actually not that competitive, but I force myself to be to keep getting better. We go out and draw from life, you know, people standing around smoking and talking on their cell phones, life. We do weekly caricature competitions with a bunch of guys at work; I always seem to lose, but some day, oh some day. Mostly, it’s a real abstract thing. You just have to get those first obvious ideas out that you know have been done before so you can start solving the problem with greater orginality. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, but it’s at least different, and it feels more creative.
I try to allot some time at the beginning of each day to warm up. I’ll usually start with abstract shapes, lines, and arches to wake up my stagnant arms. This then leads to another set of warm-ups of characters and related objects. I actually try my best not to think about the design tasks of the day. I use this time as an opportunity to get comfortable with drawing and slap my brain around a bit.
When approaching the characters or illustrations for the day, I rarely look at other designers. Instead, I use the infamous images tab in Google to hunt down shapes and reference materials. In many instances, the reference has little to do with the actual character but the process forces my head to apply ideas I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
In my off hours, especially the evenings, I enjoy checking out the character design community as a whole. Seeing the talent is very motivating—it’s great to experience thousands of artists attacking similar design challenges each day.
What are some of your favorite character designs which you have seen?
Hellboy, Calvin and Hobbes, Sky Doll, Kim Possible, Bastion 7, Bone, Earthworm Jim, Monsters Inc, Krazy Kat, The Incredibles, Triplets of Bellville, Stitch, Animal, The Coyote, Citizen Dog, Scud, Disney’s Silver, Disney’s Tarzan, Popbot, Iron Giant, Gorillaz, Fred and Barney, Optimus, Tom and Jerry, Ren and Stimpy, Gossimer, Big Guy and Rusty, Spongebob, Where the Wild Things Are, Pink Panther, Droopy, Aeon Flux, The Maxx, Jack Skelington, Buzz Lightyear, The Star Wars Animated series, Insanely Twisted Rabbits and on and on and on…
What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?
I’d say retro future. Or monsters. Wait, superheroes? I know, retro future super heroes battling crazy monsters! I like it because it’s the world born from all the influences I’ve really enjoyed and have been molded by. I want to invent that world in a new way, maybe to feel the way I did when I saw it for the first time as a kid.
For whatever reason, I find myself always drawn back to science fiction. I guess the hold Spaceman Spiff had on me when I was 12 never let go. I’ve always enjoyed the blend of familiar, fantasy, and pure creativity that can live within the subject matter. From crazy monsters, to Rayguns, to Visons of the Future, science fiction for me has always been a sandbox that’s a heck of a lot of fun to play in.
What inspired you to become an Artist?
In many ways I cannot remember a time where cartoons, games, and comics were not part of my life. There was always this great appeal to the larger than life characters and stories. These days, the art community as a whole continues to be a driving force for me. I’m continually reminded how powerful this medium is especially when working alongside fellow artists. I guess at the end of the day, I couldn’t imagine a more enjoyable way to spend my life.
That and my Dad knew I wasn’t very good with power tools.
Being an artist for me didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was an accumulation of many events and desires. First, just liking to draw and create things. Next was the content I witnessed as a kid in the form of comics, animation, paintings, sculpture, music, you name it. Then, most importantly was the support I had from my family and girlfriend (now wife of course) to do something that I truly wanted to do. And because of that support, and the excruciating reality of the limited time I had left, I was not willing to fail.
What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?
We’ve been very fortunate to work with a host of extremely talented individuals at Insomniac. Regardless of craft, each guy and gal on the team really knows their stuff. This creates a great environment where artists regularly share their techniques and expertise while pushing each other to implement new ideas.
Over the last several years we’ve collectively learned to truly care about the characters we design while digging deep to “know” them inside and out. There can certainly be a distinct difference between a good drawing and a good character—with the completion of each design; we hope they’re one in the same.
What are some of your favorite websites that you go to if you have the time?
This whole blogspot.com thing is amazing. We can’t really pinpoint any one particular site; it’s more about looking through the links of artists’ pages that you have recently discovered which then lead to even more artists. It seems endless right now—just so much content, so much good art. In many respects it’s almost viral in nature as you’re surfing around. You don’t really know where you’re going to end up almost like a virtual scavenger hunt. We do tend to frequent the digital art forums: Drawingboard.org, ConceptArt.org, comicartcommunity.com; wherever we can find sites that showcase lots of artists.
What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?
Not to sound too serious, but you have to care. You don’t have to be the very best, but you have to want to be. You have to want you’re characters to be the best every time. And you have to care enough to do it a lot, all the time, whether in your head, on paper, or on a computer. The more you can consume yourself with it, the more your characters will benefit. Now, that doesn’t mean everything will always be the best, in fact it’s quite the opposite. I can truly attest to that. So the best tip from me is to not be offended by input, actively engage critiques of your work, and listen. Sometimes receiving feedback can be tough, but it really isn’t about you, it’s about the design. My wife is an artist; I value her opinion above all. She has this look she gives my work that lets me know it sucks, or she’ll say, “Are you going to send it out like that.” And to that I say, “No, of course not…” and humbly start again. It’s torture, but man, if you nail a design, its heaven.
I know this has been beaten to death but, to me, persistence is the key. I think it can be difficult for people outside the art field to understand how difficult this road is. In virtually every respect, the journey is endless which makes for an exciting but challenging career. Drawing and designing has very rarely come easy for me(the days it does, I place in a lock box). Far more often I find myself smacking my head against the LCD screen in search of that next form or visual hook. Without persistence and determination it would be impossible to make it through the tougher days. Fortunately the support of friends, family, and the global art community provides a great deal of energy to make it through the long days (and nights).
At the root of it all is finding what you love to do. Many times attempting to become the “jack of all trades” can do more harm than good. I understand the desire to cover as many bases as possible when starting a career (even with disciplines you really don’t enjoy). Everyone pays their dues in one way or another but the sooner you find and work towards your passion, the happier you’ll be.
If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?
For all the latest updates on our work, stop by creaturebox.com. We’re always looking for feedback, so if you have some, let loose! In addition, in our Contact section, you can sign up for our mailing list which is certain to yield all sorts of wondrous updates and exclusives.
Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (Books, sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?
We don’t have any items for sale quite yet but we have several ideas in the works. If there are any bits and pieces you would like to see, please feel free to let us know. Our Downloads section will continue to be an area where we’ll pass on freebies including postcards, wallpapers, and other fun projects. Keep your eyes peeled!
In the meantime, be sure to check out PATH when it hits shelves later this year.
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