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Darek Zabrocki is a giant in the modern game art community. For years he’s been contributing to some of the biggest games in the world, including Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Halo Wars 2, Magic the Gathering. He did art for CD Project & 2oth Century Fox. He’s also doing some incredible educational work with LevelUp! – huge platform for artists. In this interview he talks about his life, his take on art direction, style and visuals in games.
Hi! I am Darek Zabrocki and I am a concept artist and illustrator working in Film and VideoGames industry. I worked and contributed to projects such as Asassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Halo Wars2, Magic the Gathering, and many more that are still unannounced including Movies from Fox and Warner Bros. I work closely with companies such as 20th Century Fox, Framestore, CD Projekt Red or Blur at the moment doing it all from my own private studio.
Working as Concept Artist
I think all the tasks you are handling throughout production period are important in a way because every part of production pipeline is crucial and affect the final result. I specialize mostly in Environment designs but apart from that I can do work on wide range stuff from props to characters designs, ending up on vehicles and guns. Of course all of them require one important thing- RESEARCH. Without proper research and immersing yourself in the task you are not fully capable of creating interesting and convincing designs.
At first I try to understand the project idea and get into the mood it represents. For instance you will be working with quite different attitude on project reflecting traditional, oriental setting than sci-fi alien alike project. I always do catch ups with art directors discussing the project requirements and possible additions I would like to incorporate. I treat myself as one additional art director within myself too, so I am able to give also something extra to my clients and inspire them too. Working as concept artist is not only about realization of others ideas with your hand and mind, I like to contribute and try to push my ideas through as well. If they are not suitable I can get it, but it happened many times that my add-ons sparkled some ideas in clients mind and we did something they weren’t even thinking of before. I love working with other people and treat it all as natural way of exchanging ideas and being inspiration for each other.
Creating New Worlds
Regarding specific details that I need to keep in the scenes/environments it all depends on the project but I always care about composition, interesting lighting, believeable architecture, interesting shapes and mood of the concept. It all contributes to a quality look and supports the designs I create.
Importance of Color
By color you can actually design whole worlds. World without colors is washed out and less interesting for me. I always notice it’s kind of hard to incorporate all the colors from concepts into game, there are many restrictions from technical point of view to the team of people who are working on location. Also timewise these days are super harsh and fast paced world put much limitations that results in quality of the final product. We (concept artists) only give a hint of how could that be, how to make it nice looking and visually convincing. Technical limitations often cause obstacles to degree that not every visual aspect from the concept artcan be transferred into the final product. It shows how important communication is and reflect that big projects are always back and forth process. Although, sometimes you are forced to resign from some ideas for different reasons. On the other hand, and as far as I sawand my friends told me loads of stuff we did for AC:Syndicate looked almost exactly like on concepts which made me super happy and proud of!
Again, depends on project. I am more like a realistic concept artist so I use all range of tools to show my concepts as real as possible but that’s what my clients want to see. I have never really worked on stylized looking project and to be honest don’t know if I wanted to haha. I just love realistic environments, beautiful architecture and believable lighting conditions. I don’t say no to a bit stylized or exaggerated environments but if it’s too much it’s definitely not my thing.
I used to draw and paint traditionally in the past, I wish I could bring it to the table sometimes since I miss old good pencil haha. Anyway during my production process I use mostly Photoshop, my Wacom tablet and a bit of 3d software (3dsmax, Zbrush). If I go with 3d in the end I still do some touches in 2d (Photoshop), some of my concepts are fully painted, other ones photobashed etc. All depends on time and what clients want to see.
Maybe that’s just me but I only play games ocassionaly and if I do I like to walk around and get inspiration from what I see on the screen instead of spending another 10h on leveling up and unlocking new achievements. I am not really a game player, I don’t like playing them to be honest but I love to have a look into some productions and get some inspiration for my art and concepts rather than just playing. I think art in games is important for many people, it helps them immerse even more. The best example is how Cosplayers market big is atm. The visuals and art in games really DO make change. I love to see that, that’s a really positive side of gaming instead of some bad influences that games were associated with for many years in the past.
Check Level Up! Platform I am co-founder of. The website we launched consists of many interesting links and resources every wannabe (and not only) concept artist should check out but also hundreds of live sessions we recorded via Youtube with Top artists from Movie and Games industry.
Darek Zabrocki, Freelance Concept Artist & Illustrator