I am pretty sure I did this LOGO for Lucasfilm games in Deluxepaint II
The burgers in Austin were pretty damn good last time I was there, especially at Top Notch which was a favorite eatery for the art crew at Critical Mass Interactive. The decor was like something from an Andy Williams special when I was a kid and the meat was like warm succulent lipid joy held together with love and connective tissue. The cheese ran like lava from a Hawaiian volcano, further spackling things together. The Lettuce is as crisp as packing styrofoam and the buns as soft as a cheerleader’s thigh. All of this is accompanied by a chocolate Malt that would make Andy Hardy weep and crinkle cut fries.
In this fine establishment I would gather at least once a week with the kids who were working for me in the art department at CMI and we would share this sumptuous repast. I have always had problems talking about what I have seen and done in the industry. I have been lucky enough to see and do some pretty amazing stuff and work with some pretty amazing people so when I just mention who I shared offices with and who I drank beers with it sounds, in the game world, like I am dropping names. As a result I just don’t talk about it a lot. In Austin I leaned on this odd affectation to sit back, munch and listen to the artists who came after me, this chatter often reminded me of other conversations I had taken part in years before.
In “The Elite Artist and Programmer Annex” at Skywalker ranch, otherwise known as the “Art Pit” we talked about pretty much everything and speculated about the same. I was, for the most part, the sole real “Nerd” in the group. The guys I worked with were artists above all else, I was an OK artist but I also came from an engineering background so I was more technical than most. This latter earned me the appellation “speaker to programmers” (never was sure if that was a complement or an insult).
One day in the pit we were all trying as hard as we could to create art using 16 colors in 320X200 pixel resolution. The other guys were much more comfortable with a pencil in their hand than with a mouse (or “bar of soap”) and the conversation was ranging far and wide to speculation about how work could be done in a more traditional manner and ported to the computer. I was drawing NAZIs that days. I always drew NAZIs. I actually was credited as the “Nazi Wrangler” in one Indiana Jones game. As everyone talked about the new WACOM tablets that ILM was using and scanners I interjected a non-sequitur that shut the room down.
“You know guys,” I mused out loud as I tried to remember the correct number of buttons on an SS officer’s Tunic, ”one day there will be artists in this industry who won’t worry about such things, drawing on the computer will be more natural to them then drawing on paper.”
The silence in the room made me think I had farted in church.
Fast Forward 20 odd years to a now grease soaked diner table at the Top Notch. I was breaking bread (well more like breaking BUNS) with those very artists whose coming I had predicted like John the Baptist. Between bites of burger and slurps of Malt I asked the crew how they had come to be there while thinking about my own path to that table. The bright young faces around me told me with unabashed enthusiasm about their own journeys to the table at the Top Notch.
Their tales all started with them in front of computer counsel games when they were young, transfixed by the dancing lights on the screen. What my artsy friends had sneered in the past this new generation had found magical. They didn’t see the blockiness of the pixels and the limited color palettes they saw a whole other world populated with friendly locals and easily delineated bad guys. Rather than a complicated place where they were learning all the strict rules of a society they didn’t understand it was a much friendlier place. In that world they knew the rules and they were given quests to do with clear goals and stimulating tasks along the way.
Those pixels had fascinated them so much that they decided that it was what they wanted to do with their lives. The art that my ARTISTE friends had turned their noses up at (God forbid that things should change between the time of Titian and the Wild West that is the internet) was stimulating a new generation of artists. These were the artists whose coming I foretold back in the pit, that made me smile…which also made me wipe my mouth off as a little cow juice trickled out.
If I went around the table I saw bright eager faces who were working their asses off for very little pay just to be in computer games. All of them had a free flowing tap of enthusiasm and love for their work. All of them were smart and talented and eager, happy to be where they were (despite the hardships). All of them had one more thing in common, All of them had mountains of student loan debt from digital trade schools where they had been taught by guys of my generation, some of them the same doubters I had originally worked with “back in the day”. This led me to think about where I had come from and made me even LESS likely to share it with them.
The first room I ever drew for LUCASFILM Games at Skywalker Ranch. I drew it with a joystick on a Commodore 128
Before I got into the computer games industry I had spent a lot of years hanging with a bad crowd. Ravening artists with only one thing on their minds, doing art. Their second priority was studying and researching art. Beyond that they ate a little bit and maybe found some cute fan girl (or guy) to make out with, but not for long…soon they were right back into that whole art thing. Lather, rinse, repeat, make out etc. Their lives were wrapped around their pencils (and you can take that any way you want). They ate macro-biotic, drank coffee before it was cool and wanted to do comics (or book covers or editorial stuff). The LAST thing they wanted to do was draw with blocks of color as big as your head using 3 colors and a joystick.
One of our crowd though, a more practical artist than most, had gotten a job working at the silent Mother of everything that is Geeky, ATARI, where he started the long tradition of being “brick artists”. He realized that the work though not as ARTISTICALLY stimulating as his traditional work had something attached to it that the others did not. It had a regular paycheck, and a good one at that. Being a good chum he wanted to share the wealth with his pals who he KNEW could use the money. At that time though there was something else he had to learn, It wasn’t just hard to get artists to do this type of work then, it was nearly impossible. There was much scoffing and sneering when he mentioned it to them. Noses were turned up and obscene gesture from indy French films exchanged at the mere thought of doing “commercial” art for “computer games”. If any of them had smoked they would have fired up a Gauloises, blown smoke in his face and forced him to retreat to hails of derisive laughter and squeaky bandoneon music.
On the other hand though there I was, freshly spit out by the Hollywood animation world and packing to head back to Nor Cal, probably back to a print shop. I had made enough of a dent in the illustration world by then to start getting regular assignments from a couple of magazines in New York so returning to So Cal hadn’t been a total loss. Another artist who knew my situation mentioned me to the Practical artists, who was now Art Director at Lucasfilm. He approached at a Science Fiction convention in Oakland California and asked if I would be interested in coming to work for for him. They had to peel me off the ceiling and I immediately said yes, but for a different reason. See I wanted to get into the special effects and animation business and I figured that if I was working in the company I would get a chance to jump ship to that division.
The simple fact of the matter is that I became a computer games artists because no one else wanted the job (including me).