Lucas Staniec talked about the way concept artists work with level designers and game developers while creating awesome game art.
Lucas Staniec talked about the way concept artists work with level designers and game developers, while creating awesome game art.
Hi, I’m Lucas and I am a concept artist born and raised in Poland. My road to work professionally in the industry has been rather twisted. At the moment I’m working in Techland on an undisclosed AAA project, as a concept artist. I also had an opportunity to work on some other yet undisclosed projects. Occasionally I do some freelance illustration jobs.
I started my journey pretty late: after my studies when I was 26 years old. Ever since I was a kid, I was interested in drawing – it just made sense to me more than math or physics. During my studies I had these “hunger for art” days where I had to draw something, and I would redraw Victor Lee’s Diablo concepts. His drawing style actually inspired me to make my own Slavic bestiary – you can check it out at the link below. Even though I loved drawing, I never got serious about it until much later.
After high school, I went from a Bachelors in psychology in London to a Masters in European studies in Germany, studying what I thought would be the most profitable and the most interesting. And after all of that, I ended up working in one corporation after the next. I felt frustrated and depressed, to the point that I started wondering about the point of life. It felt like I wasn’t cut out to do anything. After I got fired from two jobs in a row, my morale had reached 0. My roommate asked me one day what I would like to do in life if money didn’t matter. I was 26 then. I said art, but I’m too old to do that. He told me that the time would pass anyway, and in 5 years, I wasn’t going to feel any different, so I may as well just start drawing now. So I did! And 5 years later, here I am – working in the industry.
Mainly at my work I am responsible for world creation and design. In general I see myself as the idea man and problem solver. Drawing is just a language I use to communicate with others. My tasks vary; it really depends on which production phase we are in and what we need to be designed. At the beginning of production we do a lot of research and exploration. We are searching for the visual language of the world – what this specific world is going to look like. That involves a lot of postcards, which are the pretty concept art you see online. In later stages, we go more into specific, problem-oriented tasks. It usually works that we get a list of problems that need to be solved. At this point, we are creating the core concept art, which you don’t usually see online. Most of these drawings are ugly, but as long as they answer a specific question, it’s okay. So in general I design and concept stuff that varies from things like barrels, buildings, and equipment to things like pictures of the horizon in the game, locations, or what empty white boxes on the map could be.
When I start an illustration, I like to nail down the composition first and the general movement in my painting. This is harder than it sounds. Then I work on light. Sometimes I try to tackle light and composition at the same time (2-value sketches). It is a really good exercise that I would strongly recommend it to anyone. When you operate with only 2 values, you have to make some decisions that will affect the image’s readability. If you’re interested in this, you can look up Robh Ruppel’s book Graphic LA. Then I go to color and textures, although lately I try not to use too many photos. I am fond of Richard Schmid and his “alla prima” panting style, however when I do illustrations for clients they rather like work the “clean”.
If it’s concept art, I like to do something that would engage my imagination. If it’s a spaceship and I have no specific requirements or limitations, I like go bold and explore a lot. So I would start with abstract shapes to get the character of the ship. That is good for visual/shape language exploration. What I like to do is to get 3 shapes I like and then make a couple more just in case, because I may hit something good. Then I like to combine them together just to see shapes I wouldn’t necessarily come up with. That’s what I did with the 30day spaceships challenge. Those serve me to get an idea which direction I would like to go with my further designs, sometimes some of the sketches inspire me more than others. One of the problems with that approach is that the functionality of an object or vehicle or whatever you design, may dictate different shapes, e.g: cargo ship will need space to hold cargo. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. After all, you are not designing real spaceships! So starting with a silhouette is a good approach at the beginning if you have no idea what you want to create.
Here are some examples of the spaceships I did for 30daychallenge and example how I did all of them:
The other way is when you have specific information from a client, for instance. Let’s say you know that you have to design a smithy this time. So what I do in the beginning is to collect a lot of reference photos of real existing smithies and some reference that would define this place’s character. It could be architectural style like art deco or something as silly as a leaf. It is also very important in that case to understand how a smithy works, what things define it as this specific place, e.g: furnace, shed for tools, anvil etc. It is difficult to create a well-balanced design that also looks awesome. I have to say it is something that I struggle with a lot, but I enjoy the process and challenge a lot! One of my biggest inspirations is Ralph Mcquarrie. The designs he did almost 50 years ago still hold up to this day. Simply amazing.
I wish I could show you something from current project that I am working on. Unfortunately, it is still undisclosed. However to give you a glimpse of the process I will share something I am doing in my free time, after hours.
It’s a knight’s tower, built long time ago, abandoned now taken over by barbarians. Before I did basic 3D model, I did little research and planned what this tower was like before. Please note that it is not finished.
At my work I am not required to do matte paintings, but I surely use a lot of photos to speed things up. Apart from tons of ugly sketches, I help myself with 3D. I think it is absolutely necessary when you do geometrically complicated objects/locations, unless you are insanely good at drawing in perspective.
At work I will use our game engine to block out 3D models for myself. It is pretty limited compared to Blender or Modo, but it’s enough for me to block things out with primitives. Blocking out things in 3D not only shortens your time of drawing things out but also allows you to feel and see the scale of the objects. I particularly like the option of checking everything from every angle, to see if it’s visually appealing to me. You wouldn’t believe how many problems you may run into while blocking something out in 3D. Once I am done with the 3D block-out, I am ready to sketch or paint over it. Another good thing about 3D blocks out is that Level Designers can take them and push them further, or when your art director comes, he is able to “walk around” the place and see whether he likes it or not. 2D art does not have that possibility.
If it comes to the overall mood when I create postcards (the concept art you usually see online), I keep in my head the visual requirements for the project, what we have done so far, and I treat that kind of work just like an illustration. Thank god we use Photoshop because you can fix color, contrast and other things in 5 minutes!
How is your work with the 3d artists and level artists organized?
We work together almost on a daily basis. In a big and general shortcut, my drawings are used by the 3D artists and level designers. When I prepare concepts for them I try to make it as clear as possible so they have a so to say “blue print” that they can make things from. I don’t think a good concept needs any explaining; it should be clear enough for the people who take it. Sometimes though, due to time pressure, some things may get lost and the concept needs some explaining.
When I search for a mood I like to write down the emotions I want to capture, like fear or sadness. Then I write down words that come to my head when I think about that specific emotion. I will also take my time to try to figure out how I am going to capture it. When you see that on the paper it will help. Then I try to figure out how I can use perspective, light, and color to my advantage. If I’m stuck, I try to do some research by looking at some movies. Some of the films have incredible cinematography and it is always a good idea to see how others have done it. Then I will analyze light and color, composition, camera angle, design and how those elements are used to engage the viewer emotionally. I also like to look at some paintings; there are so many great painters you can learn a lot from. Lastly, music also helps!
I feel emotionally engaged when I look at some of these painter’s work: Zdzislaw Beksinski, Joseph Zbukvic, Isaac Levitan, Edgar Payne, Joaquin Sorolla, John Singer Sargent and of course almighty Anders Zorn. Movie directors like Tarkonsvky and Akira Kurosawa are super good as well! There are of course so many more great masters out there so go ahead and explore!
Painting done by Beksinski