Spotlight Interview: Han Randhawa [ art director]
Han Randhawa Fact File –
- Full Name: Tarlochan Randhawa
- Twitter @HanRandhawa
- Linkedin Profile
- Moby Games Profile
- Years of Experience: 17+
- Additional Han Interviews:
Art Directors vary from company to company. Some are amazing artists with no game background, others are highly technical (implementation/manipulation-wise), and others are a little bit of both and everything in-between.
With our guest today, you have a person who comes from a pure artistic background, who then fell into game art. This guy can pick up art materials and just sketch, paint, sculpt and all that good stuff, plus, execute all those visuals within a game if he needed to. He’s also one of the most acute artists I’ve met at breaking down techniques/styles and relaying them to his team. Han is the person who takes Joe Mad’s sketches and makes sure the artists on the team execute on hitting the art style, across the board. If you could see the documentation and guidance this fine chap has given to the people within Vigil Games, you’d know exactly what I mean.
Another fine trait of this geezer, is how he can instantly recognize how useful a concept can be for the actual environment or character artists creating the work in 3D form. There’s one thing to create an awesome piece of 2D artwork, it’s another thing entirely to make it physical within a game and look good from any angle.
Han and I go way back. We first met at Psygnosis (Manchester) around 1998. I’d recently left Software Creations to join the company, where I filled the Producer role upon the game. Unfortunately, that game was never released, but Han and I have continued to work with each other ever since. Over the years we’ve worked on these titles together: The Contract (unreleased), Star Trek: Invasion, Star Trek: Project Oblivion (unreleased), X2: Wolverine’s Revenge, 50 Cent: Bulletproof (sorry), Darksiders, and of course, we’re also powering our way through on Darksiders II.
Some of my most memorable times with Han were on Star Trek: Invasion. At the beginning of the project, there was only three of us; Mike Anthony (programmer), Han and I. I came up with the original story and mission briefs, then Han and I spent a few weeks creating concepts for every vessel, weapon and item in the game. We gave the main creatures a name, history and a pretty deep design theory for anything related to them. The process of theory and visual creation is such a sweet moment in a project.
As Han was the only artist at the beginning, he had to burn the midnight oil to produce all the sketches and colour comps before we started hiring people. He also created all the storyboards for the game cinematics; he did a bit of everything and, designed everything with the IP and game functionality in mind. And, although Paramount were known to be sticklers on new Star Trek content (they knocked back a LOT of work on other projects) out of all the concepts Han created, only ONE was not approved (until he removed some rather aggressive “fins” off a federation Valkyrie fighter). This is why, If I could only choose one artist to create a new IP with, it’d be this guy.
Wow, enough of me bigging up the man, let’s hear from the humble chap himself –
Can you remember the moment that you decide you wanted to do art for games?
My first computer was a Commodore 64 but I never thought of a career in Games. I did know though, that I desperately needed an outlet for my burning desire to create SciFi and Fantasy the moment I watched a documentary on the ‘Making of Empire Strikes Back’, hosted by Mark Hamill. Then one day, while studying Art at Liverpool University, I got to look around Psygnosis and I saw amazing 2d artistry, I was literally seeing some of my fav fantasy art coming alive on screen. Then they revealed what their advanced technology group were working on in the backrooms. It hit me like a bullet between the eyes, they had all these silicon graphics machines running Softimage, and showed me high end renders of Star Wars ships and animated T-101 exoskeletons. I thought this was all reserved for movie special FX, I immediately saw the potential for where art could be pushed, that was it! I wanted in!
How did you get into doing the games industry?
I was on the last leg of my 3 yr art degree, one of the older professors( who was due to retire that year) mentioned I should go see one of his ex-students from years ago, who had started a videogames company called Psygnosis. At this time, most of the lecturers were pretty negative about the scifi and fantasy art that I wanted to pursue, didn’t think there was a career in it. I took a few sketchbooks filled with SciFi and Fantasy ideas down. After looking through those sketchbooks and 10 minutes of chatting about movies and games, the AD offered me the job. I was like ‘waaahh?!!!’ I didn’t expect that. I told him I didn’t know much about computers, he said something that I’ll never forget, he replied, ‘ I can teach you how to use those( thumbing at the computers), but I can’t teach what’s in these sketchbooks’. I also was torn, since I had 6months left on my Degree and I don’t like to leave things incomplete, he just said ok, well then I’ll catch you at your final show and we’ll go from there. So I started straight after my degree. Wow! I still can’t believe it to this day, l still feel lucky and humbled to be working in videogames!
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt as an Art Director/Game Artist?
Wow , so many things. ‘Key focus should be on building the scene not the asset, but the assets must also maintain a certain quality bar, since they also make the whole. Great, Lighting, shadows & atmosphere is the biggest win, got to have it. Great VFX, Sound FX/Music can be half of your visuals.
When you’re looking at a potential candidate’s portfolio or websites etc, what things are you looking for?
In both Concept art and 3d art: what I call ‘Art Spidy sense’, that gut instinct for good creative decision making, you can see this in anything from a simple crate to a fortress. Sometimes it’s what you leave out that makes the design. I look for some semblance of solid traditional skills. Individual style is ace, but you want to have the mind set to follow the house style. You can immediately see passion in a folio, you can tell this person loves what they do, that they are on the pursuit for greatness. That’s the artsy fartsy part, from a practical standpoint, I look for good use of colour and lighting. Ability to work loose and fast, and then translate to sharp/tight details that a production artist can use. 3d portfolios, in 3d work the ability to accurately follow a concept. Environments world builders, showing great lighting and composition( Directing the eye).
What advice would you give to those artists wanting to get into the games industry?
If you really want to work in at a certain place, try and mimic their style, copy and asset or expand on their game or universe with something you created. I’ve leant so many 3d packages over the years, but the one constant has been pure art. Draw! Draw! Draw! Go on Forums, share your work, take criticism. Get your hands on free or Trial software. If you make cool stuff, you will get in. If it’s your dream, then be persistent. Evolve your folio if you are getting rejections.
Develop your Art Spidy sense and solid traditional skills. Devote time to these! These are to an artist what is track work is too an athlete. Continually evaluate yourself against the top geezers in your chosen genre, be realistic but also be confident , allow yourself to make mistakes since that’s how we learn. Once you are in, many artists fail to understand that when you go to work for a company, it’s not about your personal art. Operate like a professional art assassin! be passionate and take the shot, then get out. Job done. You may also have to iterate a ton, develop a tough shell, you’ll needed it. Being a long suffering artist and narcissistic will win you no friends on a creative team trying to pull together. Save that for your personal art. A consummate professional to me is someone passionate about their craft but knows when to let go and move on.
Which artist do you think your own art resembles the most?
Man I don’t know, still working on that one I guess, lol. I think, I’ve tried to keep myself free of that, so I can adapt to anything, realistic or Stylized. Art Adams was a huge influence on me, as were Capcom’s ‘Street Fighter’ artists like Akiman and Bengus. Then I stumbled across X-men by Joe Mad! and it was like game over, this is the shit!
I would love my art to resemble the French/anime and European guys. Problem is, I like too much stuff. I have a natural tendency to draw in a scribbly comicbooky way I guess. I’m constantly developing and honing my art.
Name a few artists that you admire, and why their work kicks arseticles?
Joe Mad of course, I was blown away to see how much more is going on in Joe’s thought process, than you can ever see in in his style, the guy is a genius and has amazing design sense. The ability to know what to leave out and what to leave in, he has that. He can take what we think is cool and then just up it tenfold. Some of the French artists I admire, Claire Wendlin, Mathew Lauffrey, Olivier Vatine, their line work is a joy to look at. Xa Houssin and his work on Wakfu, so fun and colourful. Craig Mullins, Paul Felix, Nathan Fowkes, Xiangyuan jie, these guys colour work is massively inspiring! So many more I could write about. I also admire the artist here at Vigil, we have a lot of talent here.
Have you got any good art resources/sites other artists may find useful?
I try and go to these sites when I can, these sites will hook you up with amazing art and artists.
http://cghub.com/ awesome for concept artists
http://www.deviantart.com/ wicked resource for all kinds of art.
http://parkablogs.com/ best art book review site.
If you really want to check out a book properly. This site is dangerous for your wallet!
When we worked on Wolverine’s Revenge, we used Joe Mad’s art as an inspiration for the characters, what’s it like to actually work with him?
I cannot believe that the guy can be this talented, a known figure in comics and, be this down to earth and funny. Joe is a really a cool geezer. He has a really likeable personality and has a lot of time for people, he’s quite the practical joker. He wears his heart on his sleeve. At times we’d be working late into the wee hours and shit would be serious, Joe would start throwing around left over Tortillas from crunch dinner, to remind us we work in games!! Joe’s Art Spidy sense is really super sharp , I don’t mean just the line and style. It’s the creative decision making in asking “what would make this shit cool?” The capture of motion and energy in his art is great. I do feel very fortunate to witness those creative cogs turning. He makes you up your game. Over the last 5 years, It’s certainly made my Art spidy sense way sharper.
What were some of the difficult factors in creating the original Darksiders?
We waited for the right talent, which meant huge pressure on the existing team, some of us were doing 3 man jobs. We were developing the franchise and story, the engine was being coded. We really were uncovering the Art style as we went along, even thought it was Joe Mad influenced, I had to figure out how to best leverage the art team’s skills and talents, without stopping art production in its tracks and teaching it for 6months. I Art directed as we rolled, it was kinda Guerrilla Art Direction! I implemented the daily WIPS just so I could stay sane. Everyone too take a screen grab of their progress each day and place it in their folder. I would then paint-over their work or, speak to artists individually. Now we have that all automated into a Webpage and it’s an extremely valuable Art Direction tool.
Anyway lots of things in flux made it a herculean task. We survived it and it came together!
What are you most proud of art-wise, in Darksiders II?
It has to be the fact I truly think that we have a coherent and consistent visuals here. The environments feel like they fit Joe Mad Characters. It has a painted and colourful quality with a grungy edge. A testament to a very talented art team I can tell you. One of our Senior Programmer’s once said he’d hate to be an Artist here, since its sooo scrutinized. I laughed, because that’s the exact reason why I’m glad to be an artist here. It can be painful, but that’s how you go from good to Blisteringly awesome.
Talk us through the art process from concept phase, to finalized implementation of a creature?
We would potentially start with a JoeMad Scribble, that could be a wipeboard scribble, a pencil sketch or a detailed drawing. Depending on how loose it is, we’d have one of our concept guys, such as Avery ( super talented bloke!) make it production ready; tighten it up, add colours and make a production turnaround after rounds of feedback. Then, it’d go to one of our ultra-talented Character Artists for sculpting, low rez model, textures and normal maps. After this, it goes to rigging and that’s a task and half, our rigs are bloody complex as you can imagine( have you seen a JoeMad creature!??) Then finally our eager animators get to animate their crazy combat moves. This is where I believe you get involved Haydn, Design & Combat kicks arse.
Which is harder; creatures or environments?
I think each has their own difficulties. Soz this if this sounds like a cop out answer, lol, but it’s what I believe. Environments are huge endeavors, it’s like a huge creature that needs an entire team of artists to create. So many things can go wrong with it; memory, design implementation of lots of moving parts, Lighting composition, puzzles. That’s the hard part. I believe we are making the ‘Scene not the asset’, so assets dont all have to be pimp, they do need to be of a certain standard, but I think you can get away with some lesser assets in environments. A Character is too commonly mistaken for being easy, yep, making a standard character is easy, making a ‘GREAT’ iconic Character is NOT easy. Not everyone can do that. A great character artist has to have knowledge of body language, anatomy, costume design, style, colour and, injecting personality. There is also very key element that makes an character ICONIC and not everyone is able to create that. Sure substandard character art? Thats easy. Awesome Character art is not easy.
I know you like kick-ass action, give us some pointers where to find some?
I love Anime Fights!, Ninja Scrolls, Naruto! Jo Jo’s Bizzare Adventure, Bleach, Afro Samurai, Samurai Shampaloo! and the list goes on. Also, Hong Kong Cinema, check out Iron Monkey, IP Man, Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. Kiss Of the Dragon is overlooked. Always been a huge fan of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, so it would massively rude not to have them on the list. On Western action, I rate 300, ( best slomo fights). I loved the over the top 80’s action movies, Lethal weapons, Die Hards and Indiana Jones.
Most people who’ve been in the games industry a while, have a few games that were never released. What are yours?
Wow, I feel pretty lucky as most of the games I worked on were released. But yeah, I worked on Mega Drive ‘No escape’ and ‘Mary Shelly’s’ Frankenstein’ , these were based on some atrocious Movies, first was a Ray Liotta film and the second was that DeNiro as Frankenstein. lol Oh yeah, The game we worked on at Manchester Psygnosis Office, Contract, that got canned when the studio closed. All the others the good, bad and the ugly went on shelves.
If there’s one game, or piece of art that YOU could’ve created, what would it have been?
It’d be a tossup between the Original Starwars Trilogy! OR LOTR/Hobbit!
Answer a question I should’ve asked?
What do you like and dislike about the industry?
Heh that’s good question matey, lol. I like the unfettered creativity, it’s still an immature industry where we can still make crazy creative calls. I dislike how long games take, I’d like for art tools, and Applications to move to a and even greater level of WYSIWYG, great artists can come in and be running in 1 hour creating awesome shit. Something where the creative time spent on any creative task is maximized and time spent on making it production ready minimized. So much precious creation time lost that way in just making something engine ready. Most great artists are Right Brained, creation orientated, juggling Left hand sided tech is currently a necessary evil. Of course we do have a need for ‘GOOD’ Tech artists, tech tinkerer’s, they are definitely worth their weight in gold when working with their artist brethren.
Quick fire round here; 5 questions that require only the answer; no fluff & reasoning –
- Most visually appealing game?
- Dofus Wakfu Shh! secretly, I’m going to make that game one day.
- A great artist we may have never heard of?
- Xiangyuan jie http://jsbrush.blogspot.com/
- Favourite art book?
- Art of The Empire Strikes Back – my first realization that concept art existed.
- A must of trait for ANY artist?
- Be Humble, Brace yourself to iterate a 1000 times.
- Most exciting part of your job?
- Any moment I get to draw, paint or sculpt.
…and, that’s a WRAP! I hope you liked what Han had to say (he does like to go on, you know).