Playable Profile: Steve, lead character artist

This month, we’re chatting with our Lead Character Artist, Steve! He has decades of experience in the game industry creating characters for many of your favorite games! In this Playable Profile, Steve talks about how he got started as an artist, what his favorite part of working on games is, and shares some great advice for aspiring artists looking to get into the game industry. Check it out below!

VioletLight: Thanks for joining me, let’s start off with an introduction!

Steve: My name is Steve, and I’m the lead character artist at Playable Worlds. My role is to develop the pipeline for characters and figure out how we solve various challenges related to what the game needs. I also help develop the look of our characters by doing concept sculpts and building final assets. I work closely with another character artist, Nick, and we just have fun making characters, critters, props and stuff like that.

V: What got you interested in doing art as a career?

S: My mom, primarily. She’s an artist, and when I was young, I watched her make models for storefront displays, or paint, draw and sculpt. She was very creative and I just wanted to emulate her. I remember going to a fair, and there were some posters of Marvel characters. When I got home, I asked Mom to draw Spiderman. She drew this sick version, and got it perfect. I decided to start drawing to basically copy my mom.

V: How did you end up creating art for games? Is that what you set out to do?

S: That was an accident! I was obsessed with getting into the animation industry, because I loved Disney. In the 90s, there was a big resurgence of animation. I saw all those fun movies they were making and I wanted to be part of it. I went to the Academy of Art in San Francisco, and studios would come to the college to review students' work and pick artists to hire as interns. Many of us dreamed of getting to go work for Disney or something like that.

There were a bunch of studios doing portfolio reviews one day, so I showed up, hoping to get a job with Warner Brothers. They weren't interested in me, but there was a small games company called Totally Games, and they wanted to talk to me. I landed my first art job there, and I've been in games ever since. I found out that games are what I like, and I'm glad I stuck with them.

V: What would you consider the biggest challenge of working as a character artist on games?

S: Without revealing anything, I would say that right now we're trying to break the mold of established stereotypes for character body types. That's challenging because we're used to doing things a certain way, and we know what works in that method. Now, we need to look for new approaches to how we depict our characters, how we proportion them. We want to make appealing characters, but we also want to break away from the “overly sexualized” clichés. That's one of my challenges right now, it’s a bit of new territory for me.

V: That sounds really fun, though, having an opportunity to change how things usually are. That can be a good thing!

S: Absolutely, I'm having a blast. I'm working on stuff I can't talk about yet, but the challenge is a lot of fun. It’s good to break molds, it's good to try something different. There's a level of uncertainty there, but it’s a rewarding challenge.

V: What are your favorite aspects of working in game development?

S: Simply put, creating a world together. The act of creating a character and then basically bringing it to life. It's a team effort, but you're part of the process of bringing this thing to life. I get messages from people about certain characters, and they tell me how much they love that character. It's really cool to me that people will bond with that character, and it goes beyond just being an asset in the game. It starts to live, breathe and have feelings in our mind.

There are TV shows where, intellectually, you know it's a fantasy. But on some level, your mind actually takes off, and the show becomes real. You really care about these characters, in your mind they live and breathe, and you worry about their fortunes and what happens next.

V: Yes! Whenever I finish a book or series, I wonder, “What are they doing after this?” You become friends with them and you want more time together. So I totally get that.

On a similar note in regards to people connecting with your art, how do you feel about fan art?

S: I love it. It is the greatest form of flattery. It's beyond somebody telling you, “I really liked that character you worked on.” Even better, people liked it so much that they would try to recreate it, or do their own version of it. That’s a lot of fun.

V: Can you tell me about a rewarding experience that's happened during your career?

S: I worked on The Walking Dead series by Telltale, I was on that project from the ground level. I've worked at both big studios and startups, and one of the cool things about startups is that you have more power, more agency, more opportunities to be involved and affect things.

On The Walking Dead, I got to help craft the look of the characters, along with the concept artist and art director. It was great to start from a blank sheet, design these characters, build them, and bring them to life. That particular season was extremely successful, it put Telltale on the map and I was part of that, which was just really cool.

V: What is your all time favorite game?

S: Space Invaders! That's the first game I got hooked on. I was visiting the US in 1981 and we were watching the Super Bowl at my dad's friend's place. They had an early computer with Space Invaders on it. At the time, that was a big deal, right? Computers were very expensive, not everybody had them. The only way you could play a game was to go to an arcade, and here he had Space Invaders, and it was free to play all I wanted. I played that game until they got fed up with me and pulled the plug out of the machine.

V: What kind of hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?

S: I love the ocean. I used to go scuba diving a lot, and surfing, although I was never good at it. I've been out of commission for a couple of years now, but I'll go to the beach for a swim.

V: One last question! What advice would you give to someone trying to get into the game industry?

S: My advice for artists would be that things are always going to evolve and change, so you need to be flexible. Your most valuable asset is your creativity. Train your mind and eye by keeping a sketchbook. It doesn’t matter if it’s a physical book or digital, but it helps you learn, study anatomy, record ideas and express yourself. Even if you’re a sculptor and like spending hours on a piece, a sketch is a quick way to study something, and learn faster. Doing lots of quick sketches teaches you to make decisions faster and with confidence. Regarding art production work: when you get feedback, it can be hard to make revisions when you’ve become attached to your work. I have two tricks that enable me to take feedback better. First, I resist the urge to respond. Instead, I’ll take notes and go away to really meditate on feedback before I allow myself to argue. If I really like something I did, I make a copy for myself. I may never look at it again but it’s always there if I want to return to it. Lastly, I always have personal projects going where I’m free to play and can take or leave critiques. Ironically, it’s my professional work I’m most proud of and that’s because I got good feedback from others! :D

V: Awesome, thanks so much for chatting with me, Steve!

We hope you enjoyed this latest Playable Profile! Have other questions about character art or want to hear from a certain discipline in the future? Let us know on social media!

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