Wednesday, August 4, 2021

When Your Best Isn't Enough - Part 1

This is the first of two posts sharing work that has never seen the light of day. The work was for a video game I worked on in 2012 and involves extensive concept and design work for two creatures. For a long time, I wondered if I would ever share any of this work. One of the main reasons for not sharing the work being that this project didn't go well for me and ended up squarely in the fail column. Another reason I never shared the work was that I believed the work was never used, and I no longer knew who to reach out to to secure permission. The game sessed operations in 2017, and about that time, I received a somewhat cryptic email stating that all NDAs were lifted. That covers my secondary concerns. Getting over the fact that I feel like this was a failure was another thing entirely. Needless to say, I now look at this as a learning experience, and that is why I am here sharing the work finally. 

I think some backstory would be in order to put this work, and my performance on it, in context. While 2012 feels like a long time ago, it doesn't feel more than a year or two ago. Around 2011/2012, I was seriously considering going full-time freelance with my art. I was receiving more and more offers for work, and the work was increasing in notoriety and pay. In an attempt to see if I could successfully transition away from my day job, I was taking more and more work to see what it would take to make it work financially. For about a year, I worked day and night on various projects and my day job to make it work. If it was offered to me, I said yes. This was one of those projects. Designing monsters for a video game has been a dream of mine and one that, even to this day, has never fully worked out. I have made art for several video games, and every single project has either never made it release, or the work was never used. 

I will not mention the game, the studio, or who I worked with on this project. At this point, it is not relevant. I am focusing on my work and how it didn't hit the mark.

I was brought on to design some support creatures. The style guide was thorough, and I had a lot to go through. If I remember correctly, we could pick the type of support creatures and the environment they go in. That said, they needed specific creatures as well. I wanted to do something for the swampy environment and got to work on some thumbnail silhouettes.

Phase 1 thumbnail silhouettes
More phase 1 thumbnail silhouettes

Right out of the gate, I apparently looked at the wrong stuff in the style guide and misunderstood what they wanted from me. I thought I was working on some of the crazy cool monsters in the style guide when I was supposed to be making more mundane but weird animals. I needed to reign things in a lot. I remember feeling so overwhelmed and out of my depth while working on these pieces. I had taken on too much work, and it left me with little time to devote to any given project. It also was effecting my creativity and motivation. I recall really stressing out about these concepts. I was not happy with any of them, and I didn't have any good ideas. Me, the guy that loves drawing monsters. Here was the second round of thumbnail silhouettes that I submitted.

Phase 2 thumbnail silhouettes

These were better received, but not by much. As I mentioned, I was having considerable trouble finding my way with these and coming up with ideas. When I looked at all this again to make these images for this post, my mind was full of ideas and options that never occurred to me at the time. I attribute this to two things, one - I have nine more years of experience under my belt, and two - I am not under pressure and deadlines as I was then, and I have space and mental room to concept and create. If I could redo this over now, it might have all turned out differently, maybe. The center thumbnail was picked, and I got to work on a weird possum creature.

Concept pass 1 and 2

While there are many images here, this was just the tip of the iceberg that went into this design. Copious notes were coming from the art director/lead designer that included draw overs, reference, and general suggestions. The game had a very distinct visual style, and at the time, it was a chore to stick to it. Especially when the style seemed to change from one iteration of my designs to the next.

Concept pass 3 and 4

I felt things getting out of control early on and was beginning to doubt myself. While this has happened previously in my career, there didn't seem to be a point where I felt like I was 'getting it.' That I was beginning to understand it all better. Every single drawing I did was not correct and needed revisions. I know that I am doing concept work and that there would be iterations and failed directions, but each pass was received as if I was getting very close to the end, and then I would be given notes and suggestions to take it in a new or different direction.

Concept pass 5

Some of these versions might seem very similar, but they were involved updates and changes trying to hit a target I could not see. At this point, I still liked what I was making, but I felt no closer to the unseen goal of a successful creature. I was implementing every bit of feedback that I was receiving, and with each pass, I felt more and more like a pair of hands doing someone else's work.

Concept pass 6

At this point, I feel like I lost any connection with the work. While I had been working on this cool possum monster with a club tail, the feedback and directions kept taking me further and further away until the creature became a giant fat rat monster.

Concept pass 7 and 8

Even at this phase, I was being corrected on nearly every mark I would make. Every angle, turn, curve, and line was not correct. It needed to be more dynamic, or angled, or convex, or concave. I was worried that I had made a terrible mistake in taking on the job. I was afraid that I was jeopardizing my career. I was concerned that I was not a good artist or designer. I was literally concerned while working on these designs that I was not a monster maker, and I was not cut out for this work. And yet, things continued.

Concept pass 9

More and more feedback came to me, and I implemented it all. Version after version. I have no memories of putting any of myself into these at this point. I was simply doing as I was asked. You might be wondering how things got so bad so quickly. The issue was that this didn't happen quickly and there was so much happening beyond these drawings. As I mentioned before, there were scores of emails, draw overs, notes, revisions, and work happening in between these official stages. And from thumbnails to final render, it was at or just over twenty days worth of work. I doesn't take me twenty days to complete a painting, but here I am, working on a single concept for that long. This was unheard of to me at the time, and it hasn't been repeated beyond this project. And yet, the work goes on.

Concept pass 10 and 11

Finally, things were getting to the point that the folks I was working with were happy with what I was doing. I finally had a creature profile that they were approving. Looking back now, I am not sure I should use the word happy or approved. They accepted it, and I could take it to the next stage.

Concept pass 12

While some of the final designs were in color, many were black and white renders to give the modelers an idea of what they needed to make. I was finally feeling a little better. I was at a point I could sit back and finalize the concept and put it to bed. I got to work on rendering, something I had plenty of experience with and it is straightforward for me.

Render pass 1

Even the rendering didn't pass without revisions. It was felt that the render was too dark, and I had to lighten the entire piece and make additional updates. Once that was accomplished, the piece was marked approved and accepted, and I turned it in. For some reason, I even accepted a second assignment, and that will be covered in part two next week. Here is the final render for the possum rat monster.

Render pass 2 and final?

There is no point trying to hunt this down in a game. Even though it was approved and I was paid, I know that another artist was brought in, and they completely redid this piece with my version as a starting point. It went in a totally different and cool direction. One that I would have gladly taken it if I hadn't had my drive and motivation crushed with nearly three weeks of revision grind. I am not blaming anyone but myself, but it all didn't go well, even from the beginning, and I had another creature to design after this.

That's all for another exciting Wednesday on the blog. See you back here on Friday! Until then... 

For more samples of my work or to contact me regarding my availability, head over to my website:

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