3DTotal: Hi Justin and welcome to 2DArtist! Can I kick-off this interview by asking you to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how you came to be where you are today? Justin: Thanks for having me on here! I’m Justin Albers, one of the concept artists at Vigil Games. I’m a graduate of the Art Institute of Dallas and have been working in the games industry since 2004. I started out working for a company called TKO Software in Dallas, then moved to Austin to work for NCsoft and am currently at Vigil Games working on the Warhammer 40,000 MMO.
3DTotal:Sounds like you’ve been pretty busy over the last few years! Was there one particular moment in your life when you decided that you wanted to be a 2D concept artist? And did you always intend to work in the games industry, or was that just something that you fell intor? Justin: After I saw The Matrix for the first time when I was in high school, I was fascinated by the pre-production process involved - all the concept designs, production paintings and storyboards that went into the making of the movie – and that was what pretty much sealed the deal for me. I really enjoyed the designs Geof Darrow created for the look of the machines – I had never seen such meticulous work. For a long time I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in the art world but after that I knew where I was going. I wanted work in the games industry when I started out; it seemed like it offered the greatest variety of projects, the most stability, and was the most accessible to me. Having played video games for the greater part of my life, and drawing a lot of my inspiration from games like Zelda, FinalFantasy and Starcraft, I was definitely thrilled to have the opportunity to finally work on the development side of things and give back to the gaming world.
3DTotal: It must have been amazing to get the chance to follow your dream - not many people are lucky enough to be able to do that! Was it a difficult industry to break into? Justin: I was able to make some great friends in the industry through the school forums and I was offered a job as soon as I finished my studies. It’s a hard industry to break into for sure; there are lots of artists out there but only a limited number of openings. Regardless of schooling or degree, I think it all comes down to having the best portfolio possible, getting your name out there and networking every chance you get.
3DTotal: I can see from looking at your website (http://www.justinalbers.com/) that you recently spent several years working as a concept artist on the development of Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa. How did the experience of working on such a huge MMORPG compare to other projects that you’ve worked on in the past? Justin: On a project like Tabula Rasa there was a lot of ground to cover – from different planets, races, and architecture down to individual trees and foliage. There was a lot to consider and there were many different artists working together to flesh out these visuals. I was coming from TKO, where we had three concept artists including myself, as opposed to the entire department of concept artists they had at NCsoft (including those on contract). The longest I had been on a project at that point had been a few months, whereas I was on TR for a good two years. At TKO, I worked with my art director to determine the look of the games in production; on TR there was a whole team and an entire pre-production schedule dedicated to just that purpose. Although being at TKO was a learning experience for me and I met a lot of great people there, I was happy to move onto TR because it was more ambitious and exciting in terms of scope.
3DTotal: The concept designs that you produced for Tabula Rasa are fascinating - did the futuristic, sci-fi setting of the game give you free rein to be as creative with your concepts as you wanted? Or were you restricted by the need to consider the working practicalities of what you were designing? Justin: Thanks! For everything on Tabula Rasa, and I’m sure games in general, there’s always a balance between creating what would be cool and what would be attainable with time and hardware limitations. There’s an opportunity to come up with some genuinely innovative designs when working in a genre with as few limitations as sci-fi. When I started on TR, style guides had already been established, so it was more designing elements based on those already existing visuals. I created mostly production drawings and breakouts based on designs that the other artists came up with in their concept paintings. I had the chance to create designs for a few different landscapes, terrain, and new architecture later on for a certain area of the game and that was really rewarding for me.