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Thread: Meet the Team #2: Josh Atack (Concept Artist)

  1. #1

    Meet the Team #2: Josh Atack (Concept Artist)

    Meet the Team #2: Josh Atack (Concept Artist)

    Welcome to the second Meet the Team interview! This week it’s the turn of concept artist Josh Atack to go under the microscope. Josh has been working at Frontier for over a year and has been on Elite: Dangerous almost exclusively for that time.

    Before joining Frontier Josh also worked on IPs and projects for Doctor Who, Bethesda, Irrational Games, Square Enix, EA, Tiger Aspect and Sumo Digital, to name a few. Like last time, I began by asking Josh how he became a concept artist and what advice he would give to anyone else wishing to pursue a career in the same field.
    I got into concept art from a mix of my interest in art, science and gaming. Once I realised that someone actually got to sit there and draw this stuff all day I realised that is what I wanted to do. I studied Illustration in Bristol, got my foot in the door in film in London and then bumbled sideways into concept art.

    What advice would I give someone wanting to get into concept art? Learn the fundamentals of art and design: form, perspective, colour, design, rhythm, values, etc. They are universal tools with which you can tackle any subject. Be interested in everything and have an open and curious mind, read books, ask questions. Your imagination is your main tool, as you need to come up with new ideas every day, but you need to be able to transcribe those mental images into reality, so draw as much as possible.
    What programs do you use to produce your work and do you still ever start an idea with just pen and paper?
    I use Photoshop almost exclusively... all my illustrations tend to be done straight into Photoshop, occasionally I'll be painting over 3d assets. I don't often find myself opening up 3d programs these days. That's not really the rule though, everyone works with their own preferred tools; the outcome is what's important. I do sketches on paper sometimes, as different media create different ideas, but these are often scribbles to stir up the grey matter!
    How long does a piece usually take?
    It varies depending on the level of finish and the amount of design work that has already been decided. Much of the Kickstarter work was one in a day, often a few in a day. I think the red docking image took a few hours, silent station and most of the space-scapes take a couple of hours or so. The combat ones take a couple of days. Often the more complex ones are interspersed with feedback, which makes it tricky to judge time.

    How does a normal day at work play out for you?
    My alarm of two adults arguing (Radio 4) goes off slightly before 7 and signals the start of the day. I stumble downstairs, pop the other radio on while I feed the pets, make some tea for my significant other and get myself sorted for the day. I run frantically for the train as I suddenly realise the time, get on my bike at Cambridge and follow the smell of coffee and space dust all the way to Frontier.

    Once I have a coffee in hand, I check my email and get painting, often punctuated by discussions and informal meetings within the team. I supply feedback to anything I'm asked for my opinion on, and some I'm not. I drink some more coffee, and this pattern continues through the course of the day.

    At the end of the day I get back on my bike, cycle home, cook some dinner and sit down to a bit of painting, often accompanied by an ale!
    When you applied to work for Frontier, were you secretly hoping you'd get to work on a new Elite?
    Of course, who honestly didn’t!
    Someone wants to know if we have an office like Google, with slides and stuff...
    We have a small chinchilla farm I've yet to determine the true purpose of, they always look very well groomed though.
    So what are you working on right now?
    I am currently working on all visual aspects of the game, I stuck my fingers into many tasty pies and find myself supplying concept of the insides of stations, ship designs, thoughts on UI and surfacing. I'm also trying to manipulate the biscuit delivery system to deliver fig rolls straight to my desk.
    Are there any areas of Elite: Dangerous in particular that have been tough to conceptualise and design, and conversely is there an area where your brain exploded with ideas as soon as you sat down to work on it?
    When I first came on board I was the only concept artist on Elite full time, and after chatting to the team about what we were planning my brain exploded with ideas. I think this showed in the range of themes in the Kickstarter imagery. The stations giving a sense of civilisation in the great emptiness of space always fills my brain with ideas, along with the plethora of things you could find as a lone ship in space and how that would feel. It's great to have a creative and open world to explore.
    How challenging is it giving Elite: Dangerous its own distinctive style, with so much Science Fiction already out there?
    I think with Elite: Dangerous we are quite lucky; we have a rich history to draw from and a strong spine of hard science running through it. This gives us something to pin our work too. I think glowy space operas are tackled a lot more than hard Sci-Fi.

    How hard is it to backwards design a ship from the vague 3D outlines of the original Elite, and do you feel a weight of responsibility to the old games?
    The biggest issue is what do you see in this shape? It became obvious people projected very different ideas of the actual ships onto those wire frames, almost like an early Rorschach test for the Sci-Fi game world.

    I know we are working with a lot of history, to be honest that's usually a good thing. Starting from a blank white canvas is much harder than coming in with a set of boundaries and history to jump-start your ideas. But I realise I probably shouldn't make all of the Vipers be powered by unicorn vomit!
    When designing a ship, how do you balance design with functionality?
    Generally the key is to know the type of ship, a brief idea of what its role is and its manufacturer. Then I'll try and start just coming up with ideas of shape and form and refine it from there. Starting with a broad variety of ideas is pretty key to coming up with a good design, your first few designs are usually things you've seen before, and so not interesting. Functionality is always present in the major forms and then comes back again later as you think about the panelling, heat-sinks etc.
    Where do you draw inspiration from for your designs? Do you have any major influences?
    I hope I draw inspiration fairly broadly, from books I've read, NASA photos, to friends who work professionally in science and from other Sci-Fi media. I'm sure repeated viewings of Star Wars, The Last Starfighter, Flight of The Navigator and Star Trek have caused long term damage to my development though!

    I grew up watching so much Sci-Fi that I'm not sure what I like because of the design or because of my emotional attachments. I basically destroyed our VHS copy of Return of The Jedi watching it over and over. I admire what Greg Broadmore and Weta did with District 9, it was such a refreshing change of aesthetic. I also really like Blade Runner and its future-old styling. Aaah there are tonnes, I'm sure I can find something in all IPs I like, Sci-Fi is awesome.

    Did you have any experience with any of the previous Elite games prior to working for Frontier?
    I played the original Elite, but I hadn't played much Frontier prior to working here though.
    What sort of role do you see yourself playing the most in the final game?
    Based on my current ability vs. the rest of the team, I will primarily be playing debris. Although I'm not too shabby at docking!
    How much of a challenge are you finding the lack of artificial gravity in Elite: Dangerous when it comes to designing the space-stations? Does it constantly get in the way of great ideas, or does the challenge inspire you further?
    I think it's great, it keeps me on my toes and as I've said it allows you to use interesting ideas as work-arounds that are still believable. I think it's a shame people haven't done it more. It's not just the space stations either, on the ships there is a lot to consider that brings up innovative solutions.
    How much change happens between your concept designs, and the final in-game model?
    Well, I'm a concept artist that tries to provide a quite heavily broken down model sheet. I like to keep up with the design as it goes through the pipeline, providing paint-overs and making suggestions. But I'm always open to input, recently John Kelly completely remade my landing gear on a ship, but he made it so much better. I think it's important to fully explain your idea but be aware that on a very creative team your ideas may not necessarily be the best for a particular asset.
    What is your favourite ship from the Elite series?
    Oooh, that’s a difficult one, I'm not sure I'm allowed to pick favourites. I've grown quite attached to the Adder though, something nice about the little fellow.

    How much does scale matter in your designs? For example, a ship is much smaller than a planet, how do you incorporate both in a design without the ship looking impossibly small or the planet impossibly large?
    Sometimes I feel that this is actually easier to achieve in a still composition than it is in-game. In a composition you can use repeating elements such as a similar ship but smaller and further away to show a sense of distance, also changes in detail and lighting help, Scale is very important. I think space should feel vast; vast and unexplored.
    In terms of on a ship, the way we design them helps inform the scale in itself; the cockpit size, the window size, how big a pipe would look all quickly give the ship its own sense of scale and mass.

    When designing concepts for game assets do you tend to look towards fictional art or realistic/real-world art for inspiration?
    I look at both, but real world inspiration is usually the most important. I think coming from games and looking to games creates a game that looks the same as all the others. You should try and understand the function of an asset and translate that to the considerations of the world/universe you are designing for.
    That’s it for another week, thank you to Josh for taking part and to you all for reading! Next week we’ll be bringing you the producer’s perspective and interviewing Kickstarter favourite Michael Brookes! Michael is not only executive producer on Elite: Dangerous but also the head of fiction and writer of the long-awaited sequel to ‘The Dark Wheel’. If you have any questions for Michael, or feedback on this interview I’d love to hear from you below!

    Many thanks, Ashley

  2. #2
    Great update Ashley ... Josh, good to meet you

  3. #3
    You sir have the best name evar!
    Great update again guys!

  4. #4
    Double Elite Global Moderator Sir.Tj's Avatar
    Yep, great interview again, this is fascinating stuff, cant wait for the next one

  5. #5
    Excellent post thanks Ashley once again.

    I'd say welcome to the forums Josh but you've already made yourself part of the furniture!

    I was dead impressed (and perhaps made to feel a little inadequate) when you said that some of the (it has to be said, truly fantastic) artwork you've done was done in Photoshop in the space of a few hours!! It takes me all that time just to sort out a decent banner type thing for a corporate website!

    I was kind of encouraged when you said that, in game, you'd mostly be taking on the role of debris which boosts my morale as my skills are somewhat rusty. Look on the bright side though, if you make the Debris Artwork really good you could at least be proud to be displayed in game reasonably often

    Finally, does your 'Significant Other' know about your attempts to wheedle Fig Rolls (disgusting things, I prefer Jaffa Cakes, but each to their own) out of the office Tea Boy?

    Finally (really, this time), I think you may have let slip about a new game feature that's not been announced.... I think we'd all like to know where the Vipers are going to get their Unicorn Vomit from, and how....?

  6. #6
    Great update, I am extremely envious of talented people who can draw stuff!!

    Question for Michael would be how are you handling the pressure of writing the follow up to "The Dark Wheel" as well as your everyday job and also where the heck do you start with something like that?

  7. #7
    Great posting Ashley and Josh... nice to read and nice to meet you again..

  8. Click here to go to the next staff post in this thread. #8
    Hey, thanks guys! You are all very welcoming.

    MikeSnos We have an office tea boy!? that would make things so much easier, I reckon he's kept in the cupboard round the corner. To answer your first question, I think she is aware of my fig roll fancying, just not quite the scale.

  9. #9
    Wow good range of questions and some great informative and intriguing answers.

    Thanks to both.


  10. #10
    Love your work, Josh. During the darker days of the kickstarter, looking out for new concept art raised our spirits - and some of it was absolutely beautiful.

    My personal favourite is Stanford, purely because I'd love to visit in RL.

    I'm tempted to arrange a Sainsbury delivery of fig rolls. Address? Follow the smell of coffee and space dust...

  11. #11
    Uh, Josh, are you ... are you aware that you are literally a few seconds away from being mauled by a particularly fearsome looking Badger in that photograph? I mean... talk about incentive to work. I didn't realize FD was under such harsh conditions to crank out Elite Dangerous!

    Also, Michael:

    1. How does it feel to be writing the follow-up to The Dark Wheel? That must be some serious pressure trying to measure up to the book that really helped define the game's universe for us players.

    2. Writer's block. You have to deal with it? What do you do to 'cure' it?

    3. Favorite Elite ship?*

    4. What will you be doing when the game launches?*

    5. What authors have inspired you over the years?

    6. What is an 'executive producer' ?

    7. How can I grow such a righteous beard?

    *These should be apart of every interview imho.

  12. #12
    Agree, really enjoyed what Josh had to say, sounds like a whole lot of love going into his creative work, like.
    I was also trying to see what was on your display screen, looks interesting but just cant make it out!

    Still i could see alot of ship designs on the far wall(looking good) i just have the local Curry/Chinese take away menus on mine!

  13. #13
    Is it just this browser, or was that first image cropped post-post?
    Trying to hide something?

  14. #14
    The concept art looks great!

  15. #15
    Another really great interview.
    Is the office always that neat and tidy?
    If not how long did it take you to sort it all out?
    Or do you run a tidy desk policy excluding badgers?

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