3DTotal: Thanks for your time with this interview, Leonid. Could you tell us about yourself please, and
how you started your career as a concept artist and illustrator? Leonid: Well I’m from Irkutsk, Siberia, and I’m 30. Compared to other artists, I don’t consider “art” as my career; my real specialisation is IT, telecommunication and satellite technology (GNSS). I hold a Ph.D in technical science and am currently working at the Transport University of Irkutsk. I’ve been drawing since childhood but I haven’t done a special degree in art, except for nine months of art school and architecture courses. I started to paint digitally with a Wacom tablet in 1999, and I joined the legendary Sijun.com forums where I came across Craig Mullins and other amazing artists who have all contributed to
changing my creative life forever! A few years later I got my first job as a freelance artist. I’ve worked on various video games designing characters, locations, vehicles and props; I’ve also painted covers and promotional posters – pretty much everything that a 2D artist could do!
3DTotal: That all sounds really interesting! Okay, so moving away from your job at the university and as a freelance artist, do you get to produce any personal work for yourself these days? Leonid: I’m always painting personal stuff. I’ve noticed that most freelance artists at some point find themselves painting only commercial art. I keep my brushes busy all the time, no matter if I’ve clients or not. It’s just like a sport where you have to train daily – otherwise you’ll quickly get out of shape. On the other hand there are so many interesting things that you’ll never get a chance to explore and realise in commercial projects. Plus there is no pressure, art direction or deadlines – just a creative paradise! But seriously, it’s not so easy since you’ve also got to deal with the worst critic inside of you, as well as time issues!
3DTotal: I understand what you mean by “the critic inside of you”; I believe this is something all artists suffer from! So leaving the critic aside, you have worked for a long time in the games industry with different clients, so which aspects of your work do you find most interesting and prefer to spend most of your time on? Leonid: It’s always great to see how the idea translates into the real world. You have an idea for a character or location in your head and then later you see it on-screen coming alive... Fascinating! The most interesting part is dealing with a challenge whilst performing a creative task. If a solution is too obvious or easy then there is not so much “fun” as you just process the task like a machine until it’s done. But if you’ve a challenge like a super-tight deadline or an exotic, unusual theme, then that’s where the fun begins! Technically speaking, I like to dive into details and spend hours painting tiny bits and pieces. The nature of the digital painting process allows you to zoom in and refine very small things. I like to work on design and functionality as well. If it’s fantasy or sci-fi painting then I like to make it look real; to make you believe that it could actually exist.
3DTotal: It is quite obvious from your work that you really enjoy painting… and you’ve created some really amazing pieces of art! Could you tell us how many hours, on average, that you tend to spend on a painting or a character? And what are your favourite tools/software choices for your artwork creations? Leonid: It highly depends on the project I’m doing. I was once given 1.5 days to paint a picture for Play Magazine’s “Girls of Gaming” issue, featuring Ayumi from the X-Blades video game. It was very refreshing for me since I hadn’t had such an experience before. Usually, my typical cover artwork takes a couple of weeks to produce, including subject research and communication with clients. Speaking in terms of hours, it varies from 15-20 hours up to maybe 50-60. My traditional tools are pencil and paper for brainstorm research and sketching. I used to work in traditional media long ago, but now it’s way too time-consuming – except for sketching. In the digital realm, my best friends are Photoshop and Painter. I’m testing other software from time-to-time, too (like Paint Shop Pro or Open Canvas), but 99% of my work is done with Photoshop and/or Painter.
3DTotal: Great stuff! Looking at your portfolio, it is very fascinating to see that your works vary from fantasy art to sci-fi. What are your main inspirations when creating these kinds of artworks? And are there any particular artists whose works have had an impact on you? Leonid: Simply everything and anything around me can spark my imagination! An artist absorbs tonnes
of stuff – just like a sponge! I like to work on futuristic themes; the future is a reality ahead of us, so it’s interesting to imagine how it will turn out. Working in the fantasy genre allows you to play with myths,
fairy tales and impossible things. And fantasy is also a way to imagine a better reality. If you look at, say, the video games market, then you’ll see lots of fantasy-based titles. Popular MMORPGs are mainly fantasy. In reality, there is no place for cute fairies or elegant elf ladies… unfortunately! Many artists also inspire each other – and I’m no exception! There are lots of fantastic, creative people around the globe, and so I’ve created an online resource, called the “Link Collector”, to share my inspirational sources.
But if I should mention contemporary artists that have had a significant impact on me then they
would have to include Craig Mullins, Syd Mead, Yanick Dusseault, Kagaya, Jun Tsukasa, Suemi Jun, Hyung-Tae Kim, the guys from Massive Black Studio, like Jason Manley, Andrew Jones and Nox. Traditional artists like Boris Vallejo, Brom, Iblard, Shigeo Koike, Luis Royo, Hajime Sorayama are influential, too! Japanese manga is another “secret” source of inspiration. You can find so much stuff, from stunning character design to great storytelling. Fantasy manga, like Claymore, Bastard or gritty Gantz, the famous cyberpunk Ghost in the Shell series by Masamune Shirow, or even adult manga like Ragnarok City by Satoshi Urushihara, can greatly inspire and create a proper creative mood. I’ve also looked at the Deff Skwadron comic, drawn by Paul Jeacock. It’s based on the Warhammer 40K universe and it’s quite unusual, with tonnes of humour and twisted drawings. It’s fun and inspiring, too! I like all
the stuff from the Games Workshop.