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Maciej Kuciara is one of the biggest names in the concept art business. He is one of the most prolific and well known illustrators, working with some of the biggest projects in the film and game industry. His body of work includes contributions to such hits as The Last of Us, Jupiter Ascending, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Cyberpunk 2077, Crysis, Alien: Isolation, Halo 4, and Guardians of The Galaxy. It’s difficult to believe that this master of Hollywood started his career in 2004 in a Polish company (People Can Fly) which later became Epic Games Poland.
Maciej is also a wonderful teacher. He recorded a number of tutorials for aspiring and experienced artists (they are available at his website). During our short chat we’ve discussed work techniques, games, films and his special project Showtime.
About Maciej Kuciara
Hi! My name is Maciej Kuciara. I’m 31-years-old, and I used to study Automatics and Electrotechnics but never graduated. I’ve been drawing pictures my whole life and I managed to turn it into professional career right around 2004, the year after I saw Tomek Baginski’s Academy nominated short, ‘The Cathedral’, that turned my drawing hobby into CG passion and career. My first strides towards making a living out of concept art started on Sijun Forums and Max3d.pl forums in 2003 where I would post new sketches almost every day. Posting on forums led to receiving first offers, which eventually turned into a full-time job at People Can Fly studio in Warsaw late 2004. This is when I made first break into entertainment industry.
On Drawing and Life
I’m always hungry for something new. Every time I set myself a goal to achieve I never look at it as an end game, but rather as a tiny step in the infinite staircase of art. I know I will never reach the top, but I’m sure not going to stop or turn back. It’s like climbing a mountain knowing you won’t reach its peak, but hell… who knows what view you might get if you try going a few steps further?
I believe that becoming professional is a mixture of two things – hard work and circumstances. Hard work can help fight some of life’s odds and steer your life towards your very own goal, but there’s always going to be slight element of luck involved. I used to believe in the 10,000 hours rule, but realized that there are some odds that are impossible to overcome (like being born in horrible place for instance).
I had to fight difficult challenges throughout my life through incredibly hard work. Before I got my first full time job, I had to work as a janitor to help my family make a living while being a full-time student and while somehow finding time to pursue my art passion. I had to force myself to compromise on almost everything else in order to change the odds. It was through this process that I built discipline and have acquired the mentality of a hard worker which I use in my art process.
Every time I would challenge myself to do a specific genre or style of art, I wouldn’t look at it as an end game. The more time I would spend on one style the more comfortable I get with it, ultimately making heightening my cravings to experiment and try new ways of work. This way I can always move forward and revisit styles and genres I’ve already learnt whenever it’s necessary.
On Concept Art
When you work in a studio environment you have to remember you are part of a team and video games are indeed a huge team effort. As much as it’s great to see concepts being used almost like a blueprint, you have to remember that something that looks good on canvas might not necessarily translate that well into a 3D model or animation. I treat concept art as a visual representation of what things might look like and use it as reference material for the art director/production designer to help him create the visual language of the game. Does that mean that only parts of concepts will be used or some illustrations will be completely discarded? It’s inevitable, because that’s part of the development process.
I’ve done my share of tutorials. The most recent one talks about environment for video games. I highly recommend that students who want to break into the video games industry and have no experience in production, to watch all tutorials from that series. The last part covers quite a large chunk of production work that you might be facing in video games development. This tutorial talks about breaking down existing concept illustrations into specific elements and props that need to be fleshed out a little more, mainly as blueprint for 3D and environment artists that will take your work and build 3D assets from it.
Games and Movies
There aren’t many differences between illustrating for video games, films, commercials, etc. When it comes to level of detail it’s always per project and per assignment based. Some projects will require more detailed work, especially in production while others that might be in the exploration/pre-production phase will be asking for more loose sketch work. It’s almost mandatory to know how to do both if you want to stay relevant in entertainment industry.
Films are generally oriented more towards building physical things which means there is much more attention to scale and functionality. Everything else is similar. You work with set designers to build environments (which in games would be level design), you have supervisors, and you focus on making art that helps to get the film done.
There are many techniques for concepting and illustrating your work and I treat each technique as a tool to get the job done. Depending on whether I have time limits or not, I would try doing things by hand – but when deadlines are short the easiest way would be to rely on photos, textures, and existing 3D models.
Showtime is my personal intellectual property (IP) that I’ve been developing for a while. I’m currently working on a comic book about two gang girls, set in futuristic cyberpunk world. I don’t want to reveal much past that. There are many plans past just comic books, but I personally need to keep focus on getting things done, one at a time.
Advice for Beginners
If you want to work as a concept artist these days the amount of accessible knowledge out there is unprecedented. Online tutorials, mentorships, schools, YouTube videos, etc. I would say regardless of what industry you choose try to get the fundamentals of drawing and painting, learn perspective, shapes, forms, values, colors, anatomy, and everything else that you will need to know to paint. Fundamentals are most important because they serve as foundation to all of your future work. Once you get a good handle of that, everything else becomes a tool and details that will help you to get the work done.