Hi Jason, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by us today. So many artists and CG fans will be familiar with your work and with industry giants Massive Black. In fact, I think working for a company like that is probably a dream job for many artists. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up working there?
I am a senior concept artist at Massive Black, where I've had the opportunity to work on a lot of great titles. I am also a freelance illustrator and I do a lot of book cover illustration as well as work for Magic: The Gathering. I love my job!
Growing up, a large amount of my time was spent playing video games, playing Magic: The Gathering with my friends, or reading fantasy/sci-fi novels. When I was in high school, my family finally got internet service and I was blown away with the fact that I could find art on the internet. I would spend hours searching artists' sites and soon fell into some artist communities online. I think this really pushed me to work on my digital painting and had a large impact on my career path.
I went to college at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco as a 3D modeling major with the intent of getting into the games industry. I immediately changed my major to illustration (there was no concept art major at the time) and tried to tailor my education toward working in the game industry. Meanwhile I was still very active online and was posting artwork in online art contests. I was noticed by Massive Black, which was also a local company, started interning there my final year of school and was hired after graduating in 2006. I've been working there ever since.
Anyone who follows your work would have seen the amazing images you have been posting recently, and will be aware of your exciting new project Zombie Playground. Can you tell us where the idea for this came from?
The idea for the Zombie Playground game came from a painting I did back in 2008. I really liked the idea of kids fighting zombies depicted in a way where you weren't sure if the kids were actually fighting zombies or just playing and you were just seeing into their imagination. It turned out a lot of other people were also into this idea. At MB, we've wanted to make something of our own for a while and we've tossed around a lot of ideas. I was actually working on another game pitch when some of the guys suggested that we do Zombie Playground. So I drew up a game pitch.
I notice that you're using Kickstarter to fund this project. Can you tell our readers a little about Kickstarter and how it works? Can you also let them know how people can benefit from supporting your exciting game?
For people not familiar with Kickstarter, it's a website where people can pitch ideas they have for projects or products, and have them funded by individuals on the internet. You can donate anywhere from $1 to $10,000. In return, the people running the Kickstarter project will promise to deliver different rewards to the contributors based on their donation amount. This process for funding small independent game projects has been becoming increasingly popular over the past few months and has generated a lot of funding for a few successful game pitches.
For our Kickstarter, we are offering all kinds of in-game incentives for people once the game is released, such as exclusive clothing and weapons and now even a pet. Higher tier rewards give contributors the chance to actually be a part of the game, where we would model them and put them in as either zombies, NPCs, or even the principal of the school.
I guess creating a zombie game based in a school is kind of like Dawn of the Dead, but with kids and a school, instead of adults and a shopping mall. Is this game specifically for the younger audience or is there going to be plenty of fun and gore for adults to enjoy as well?
We are not really aiming this at kids since the gore will most likely turn parents away from allowing their kids to play this. Although the game characters are cute and colorful, the game is going to be tense and maybe even scary at times. We do plan to have gore. We don't want people to think that we condone violence, especially where kids are involved. This is more of recapturing the feeling of being a kid and playing with your friends, but treating this imaginary game as seriously as if it were real. Zombies were not that popular for me growing up, but I think that if I was a kid now, this is what I would be playing with my friends at the playground and this is how I would see it in my mind.
Developing your own project from scratch must be so much fun. Can you tell us a little about how you go about designing the characters and the weapons for the game, and how you maintain a consistent, fun design when doing this?
This is the easiest part of this game since it's all about kids emulating other roles that they think are cool. It's as simple as thinking of a cool action hero or comic character, then picturing a kid emulating some of those traits as far as pose and weapon choice, but keeping the actual character design child-like and any costume elements limited to things that kids would have access to. So if I were to create a Matrix or Blade-inspired character, I would probably give him a toy gun, a toy katana, sunglasses and a trench coat. To make it fit better in this world, though, I might make the sunglasses colorful kid sunglasses, or instead of a trench coat I could replace it with a raincoat or bathrobe since they are similar shape. Designing weapons for this is very similar to designing weapons for any game. The only real difference is the color. I could take any real world weapon and make it pink and it would look like a toy, even if it wasn't. Another way to make it more like a toy is exaggerating the scale of the important details like the trigger or muzzle. This is actually already done in most video games with fictional weaponry.
Thanks for agree to chatting for us today and I hope Zombie Playground gets plenty of support. I look forward to playing it and seeing your awesome designs in action!