Every game needs talented artists to help bring it to life. One such creative mind is KingsIsle Senior Concept Artist, Kevin Chin! I recently had the amazing opportunity to interview Kevin and get an inside look into what he does. Curious what being a concept artist is really like? Read below to find out!
Vanessa: What initially got you interested in art and what is your art background? (Did you take any classes when you were younger, or maybe just trial and error, etc… ?)
Kevin Chin: I constantly drew as a kid, but especially at my grandmother’s when she babysat me and my sister. I remember always drawing on the blank inside covers of my He-Man story/coloring books.
During middle school, I drifted toward comic books and game and anime influences. I found that drawing things I like was a way to connect and make friends with kids in school.
In high school, I attended a vocational career preparation center which took up half of each day. I focused on commercial art (creating art for employment such as Illustration, advertising, graphic design work). This first introduced me to the idea that artists could get paid for their services.
I went to the College for Creative Studies art school in Detroit, Michigan with concentration in Illustration. I specifically remember a college advisor asking if I liked drawing more than 3D modelling, saying I’d do better in Illustration over Animation. Near my junior year, the chair of illustration allowed me to shift my focus from editorial illustration to concept design.
Vanessa: At what point did you decide that you wanted to break into the gaming industry? Was that always a goal of yours?
Kevin Chin: I played a lot of videogames in high school and always bought the strategy guides. They always had great illustrations and spot art inside them. I had no idea they got them from the concept and marketing art! Games also had unlockable art galleries as well. The Lord of the Rings behind the scenes documentaries were very influential to me as well, showing the visual development process and the art teams working on the films. I knew I wanted to do something similar.
After graduating from college, I set out to move to California and break into the industry either through film, animation or gaming. At the time, the west coast happened to be where game jobs were popping up.
Vanessa: How did you end up at KingsIsle? Had you heard of the company/played their games beforehand?
Kevin Chin: I had just finished working on Disney Epic Mickey 2 in Austin and was looking for the next opportunity. KingsIsle down the street was looking for a concept artist for Pirate101 and more upcoming games. I had seen the commercials of Wizard101 and aware of its popularity but never had time to play before joining KingsIsle.
Vanessa: What exactly are your responsibilities as a Senior Concept Artist and can you take us through a typical day for you?
Kevin Chin: My duties range depending on the stage of development on a game.
During the early pre-production stages, I would work with our Art Director or Lead Artists on visual development of what the game and its characters will look like. We would create a style guide and visual design rules that other artist would follow.
During production is when I work on the majority of character, environment, and prop designs. For AlphaCat, I had a unique broader role semi-managing a talented team of artists in designing the characters/enemies/bosses and background art.
As development winds down nearing a game release, I’ll help out on marketing art for games which consists of illustrations used for banners, trailers, promotional art you’d see on Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes I’m asked to work on UI elements such as in-game icons and buttons. Last but not least, I can be asked to work on the app icon you’ll find in the app stores.
On a typical day, I’ll come in and first check my work email. Sometimes there will be feedback from yesterday’s daily email. I’ll check in with Sean (our art director) or art lead to see if there’s any new urgent task and get feedback on current ones if I need. But in all honesty, he’ll be the one tracking me down if he needs something! Occasionally there are weekly team meetings depending on the project I’m on. For the remainder of the day I’ll be working on concepts and when I feel they’re ready to get eyes on I’ll send them over to the respective leads and start on thumbnails for new task while I wait for feedback.
Vanessa: How detailed are the monster/character descriptions you receive? (Are they very specific or do you have some wiggle room to play around with?)
Kevin Chin: On the MMOs, our writers usually have a description written up giving us a good idea of what a character/boss/NPC do in the story. Sometimes might be a specific character from a movie the writers had in mind to parody or reference, in that sense it’s very straight forward direction.
For mobile games, I feel we are given more freedom if it’s a new game IP. We can explore a little more with ideas that might work or fail.
Vanessa: Does the concept art process change depending on whether you’re working on an MMO or a mobile game?
Kevin Chin: Working on Wizard101 and Pirate101, there’s a certain style that already exists. We know the rules and what the Spiral universe is and isn’t. Shoulder pads and helmets can only go so far without clipping geometry, things like that.
On mobile games, I think we’re given a bit more freedom to explore different styles but still retain the Kingsisle brand of games.
In terms of process, I still go through same: thumbnail sketches, feedback, refined sketch/base colors, feedback, final concept, and final approval.
Vanessa: What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your job?
Kevin Chin: It’s always rewarding to see your work come to life in-game as well as hear about positive response on characters you design or the game you worked on.
There’s always a challenge to concepting multi-tiered objects or characters, for example, bone spikes, golden bigger bone spikes, and . . . sparkly golden biggest bone spikes?
Vanessa: Is there a specific piece of work that you’re particularly fond of?
Kevin Chin: I’m really proud of the visual look of both Rise & Destroy and AlphaCat.
On Rise & Destroy, I was excited to try a new style that had both unique silhouetted shapes juxtaposed with a painted render style that would look great in a low-poly game.
For AlphaCat, I knew this would be a different look than most KI games and I felt this would be something very cool and perfect for a match-three RPG mobile game. We had a good amount of artist who had animation backgrounds on the project and I think it turned out perfectly for AlphaCat.
I’m also fond of the work I did on the initial Pirate101 launch, which was my first foray into the Spiral universe. Most notably, the MooShu character gear and the Kurgha Soldiers.
Vanessa: How closely do you work with other departments within KingsIsle?
Kevin Chin: I mainly work directly with our Art Director, Art Leads, and Lead Designers and sometimes with our Marketing and Creative departments.
Vanessa: Do you have any advice for people who are interested in pursuing art related work in the gaming industry?
Kevin Chin: Regardless of age or stage of career, start on foundation art skills. Knowing the basics of drawing and painting will help in any discipline of art from concept art, to animation, to 3D modelling; all of it will help in the end and set you on any art path.
Look for summer camps or extracurricular courses involving game art, game development or animation. It’s not uncommon these days for colleges or tech schools to have such opportunities for kids now. Its super cool they exist!
There may also be animation/game industry meetup groups in larger cities that can give more direct advice on what to seek in whatever city you live in.
I want to give a huge thank you to Kevin Chin and everyone at KingsIsle who helped make this interview happen. You guys rock! It’s always a pleasure to be able to talk with the people who make these games happen behind the scenes.
If you want to see more of Kevin’s awesome art, check out his website here. It showcases a little bit of everything!