Thanks for sharing and detailed production breakdown
i thought there wouldnt be anything better than akeytsu for creating easy animations. im happy if i am proven wrong.
Keith, I just wanted to stop by and say: Thank you.
Chances are you have heard of Roman ‘Amok’ Papsuev. He’s an incredibly talented game industry artist, who has been working hard on a series of incredible images of the Russian folk heroes, recreated in his signature videogame style. This project is called “Tales of Old Rus‘”.
His drawings conquered a lot of media websites and became a huge hit on 9GAG. We couldn’t pass this opportunity and managed to talk with Roman about his career, his collaborations with George R. R. Martin, the search for great authentic references and the whole philosophy of the “Old Rus‘” project.
Could you please introduce yourself and talk a bit about your work?
Well, I’ve been working as an illustrator for quite some time, since the beginning of this century you may say (chuckles). I was making illustrations for books of famous local fantasy authors: Vera Kamsha, Nick Perumov, Dmitry Kazakov.
Then, just as a hobby, I began painting portraits of A Song of Ice and Fire characters. Later George R. R. Martin took a notice of me and recommended me as an artist for Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). So I got a job working on a card game based on A Song of Ice and Fire series.
It was great getting a direct email from Martin himself and getting his feedback. With his help I was able to fix some of the portraits. All in all there were around 120 of them. Now you can find most in various Game of Thrones related wikis and resources.
Eventually Martin and FFG asked me to contribute to the “The Art of Song of Ice and Fire” artbook. The writer was kind enough to give me some exclusive descriptions of the Targaryens and I was happy to create their portraits. Good times.
Anyway, I was quite busy, making illustrations for books and fantasy novels. In 2008 I got the “Best Artist” award at Eurocon. Later I got an interesting proposal from local Russian company Astrum-Online. This is how I got into game industry.
The thing is that being a freelancer I had a chance to work on various tasks and was lucky enough to collaborate with “13Roentgen” studio, headed by Leonid Sirotin (a well-known Russian game producer, mostly specializing in mobile and social games). He was the one to bring me into game industry, and I’m still incredibly grateful to him. It was interesting working in a completely new field. Right now I’m the Lead Artist in ITT Territory Studio, which is a part of Mail.ru Group.
I’ve been able to contribute to a various projects, including such browser games as «Juggernaut», «ThreeKingdoms», «Legend: Legacy of the Dragons». Also I did a lot of art for «Territory-2»: concept art, promo art, you name it. This project was closed, but all the content did not go to waste.
Our team switched to mobile games and we’ve managed to use some of the Territory-2 concepts in «Evolution: Battle for Utopia». This game was very successful and even got a custom page in AppStore.
I also used to be a writer back in the day and managed to publish 4 novels and a couple of short stories. Thankfully I knew when to stop, because I finally realized I wasn’t good at it. During those days I was studying a lot of mythology, medieval history and other historical sources. So you might say I have a long interest in folk tales and couldn’t resist the temptation to work with our local folklore.
How did you come up with this idea of folk heroes reimagining?
Being a CG-artist I sometimes get back to the roots and have fun drawing with a pencil. I spent a lot of time working on a sketchbook “MonstaPanopticum”. It was a collection of various monsters, sort of my imagination practice, just a personal project. The sketchbook was done but I still had a lot of ideas. I thought about Russian folk tales and mythology. There’s a ton of very cool characters there and not a lot of video games exploring this amazing setting.
My initial idea was to develop the theme and try to look at it at an unusual angle. Then I figured I could try drawing Russian classical characters in a hardcore fantasy-style game setting.
It all started as a mind exercise, but slowly grew into something much bigger. I’ve started researching folk tales, read some related books and the whole project became much more interesting. I got an opportunity to make videogame interpretations of the Russian tales. I tried to be not constricted by stereotypes or so called classical vision. You can study the descriptions of some of the images and figure out how much time I’ve spent researching the details.
I do not just make up these characters. Everything is in the Russian mythology. I just try to interpret them in my own way, finding some common features, keeping the images in one general style. If it works, we’ll get the feeling of one giant living and breathing fantasy world, populated by these creatures.
I got to be honest – I don’t believe that these characters need any particular reimagining. It’s a huge layer of Russian culture and I truly believe you should read these stories to kids: these tales are full of magic, positive characters, happy endings. Then, when your children grow up, they may have a look at my paintings, read the descriptions and learn a lot of new stuff. Because original Russian folk tales are far more complex and brutal than you think. As well as all mythology, as a matter of fact.
My images do not destroy the classical visions of these characters. Russia actually has a huge visual heritage and my project is not trying to substitute it. It’s just the way of looking at well-known heroes a bit differently. Yes, I do break stereotypes but I do not mean to change the way we perceive our historical or mythological heritage. I feel that it’s time for us to try and integrate our folk tales in the contemporary life. This is a chance to remind young people in Russia and all around the world about our cultural inheritance, to help them gain a better understanding of the classical characters of Russian folk culture.
I believe that since we live in 21st century it’s useful to get rid of some of the stereotypes and patterns we have. Try to imagine our classical Russian bogatyrs standing next to Khorne from Warhammer universe. Just visually try to figure out which character looks stronger? Who would win the imaginary fight? See what I mean?
To be fair there was a number of great games which tried to take some of Slavic folk heritage into the world of interactive entertainment. Let’s take Allods Online for example (I didn’t play it). I heard Witcher 3 is also awesome (I didn’t play it either). In my works I tried to put the characters in a harsher, grittier visual reality, giving them my own personal artistic interpretation.
Can you shed some light on how does your creative process works? Where do you get all those incredible ideas for details of your character?
It was easy to draw the first images. I’ve been creating them almost on the spot, based on the childhood impressions I had. By the way some of these drawings will go through a small modification later, because they really stand out from the general style of the project which is now based on more mature tales and character descriptions I’ve found in different sources.
I use a whole bunch of various ways to research the characters for my drawings: Wikipedia, some Mythology encyclopedias, dictionaries, scientific articles and so on. I try to work only with authentic original folk texts. Believe me, it’s much harder than just letting your fantasy go wild.
I usually start with reading the original folk tale about the character, then I go to Wiki and start digging: scientific sources, books, websites. After gathering all the information I begin drawing.
Details are obviously very important. Having worked in the game industry and knowing its requirements I always try to add as much visual information about the character as possible. It’s the basis for character design. Obviously these guys and girls don’t carry around all that stuff, but these details, these little things help me to tell their story. You can deliver maximum amount of information with minimal effort: just one picture can tell you a lot. All this fantasy equipment, runes, weapons have nothing to do with reality, so people, who don’t play games, can’t figure out why there’s so much gigantic armor plates. I try to explain it all and I even compiled a FAQ for those who are interested in these images. Tastes differ, so there’s bound to be some misunderstandings. I always say – please just try not to take it all too seriously. These are just the artist’s fantasies on the subject.
I guess you get this question a lot, but I can’t help myself: what were the main inspirations for developing the style of the characters?
Since I’ve been working in game industry, I’m pretty good at understanding all the visual patterns in character design, but I haven’t really played any Warhammer, Allods Online, DOTA 2, The Elder Scrolls, Dark Souls and even World of Warcraft. But I do know how these games look. A lot of people just glance at my images and start naming games I haven’t even heard of. Sometimes they mention movies: “Oh, this dude looks like a Transformer.” Most of them are sorely wrong.
If you need to simplify, you might say I’ve used the style of Warhammer, which is very dark, epic, unrealistic and visually shocking. Sometimes I add more cartoonish characters like spirits of the forest or domovoy (Russian house spirit), just to vary the world I’m drawing.
As an artist, I think every image must tell some kind of story.
A lot of my inspiration comes from my experience. I’ve seen a lot of artbooks, watched tons of movies and learned visual styles of different games. All this baggage is the foundation of my works. I don’t have any visual references next to me when I’m working, just dictionaries, encyclopedias and original texts of Russian folklore. Every visual aspect of the character comes directly from my head.
I’ve got two notebooks. One is my personal Sketchbook of Ideas. This is where I develop my characters, work on the images. I share some of these WIP stages in my Instagram (amokrus).
When the character is ready I finally draw it in my “Tales of Old Rus’’” Sketchbook, scan it, throw in a bit of Photoshop and publish it in Internet.
How will this project develop in the future? Do you plan to make a videogame out of it?
Actually, I haven’t really thought about the project’s commercial potential. For now I just want to draw. There are a lot of opportunities to turn this project into a product and I have a lot of offers. There’s definitely going to be an artbook, that I can say for sure. Maybe a board game. There might be a video game (I don’t really care about the genre). Time will tell.
You know, the funny part is that this project is unique because it has sparked an incredible interest for Russian folklore all around the world. I did nothing to promote this series of images. I just drew to my heart’s content. Actually my collaboration with George Martin began the same way. I never really struggled to get into the spotlight. I don’t do any PR stuff, I don’t really care for it.
We’ll see how this project will go. I’m definitely going to continue my work. It’s just so much fun!