3DTotal Interviews
An interview with Mark Gibbons, lead artist on Sony Computer Entertainment Europe's Game Primal
by Mike Rickard

Primal is Sony's latest game to come out of their Cambridge studio for the Playstation 2. The main character Jen, is a young woman whose world is turned upside down when her musician boyfriend dissapears. She leaves the physical 'real' world of mortalis & enters oblivion, a realm of demons where a war rages between order and chaos. Aided by a living gargoyle known as Scree, she must travel through four realms, battling for her life and the life of her boyfriend.

3D Total: Tell us a little about yourself.

Mark Gibbons: I'm a 37 year old illustrator who, more by luck than judgement, has found himself Lead Artist at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. It all began some 18 years ago when I dropped out of Art College because they made me paint with custard and gravy. I touted my portfolio around Cardiff (my home town) and eventually the nice folks at HTV gave me some freelance work, providing illustrations for Welsh language children's television. I suppose my 'big break' came in 1990 when I began working as an artist for Games Workshop. I consider the ten or so years I spent with them to be something of an apprenticeship. People like John Blanche and Jes Goodwin taught me an enormous amount about illustration and design. It's certainly where I learnt my craft and developed an artist's eye. I look back fondly on what I've come to describe as my 'Spiky Period'. As far as video games are concerned, I'd been playing games since the Mega Drive but it wasn't until the release of the original PlayStation in 1995, that I began to realise that here was a potential avenue of creative employment opening up. Games like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil demonstrated a new, exciting visual sophistication that I thought someone with my art background could contribute to. When I first entered the industry, just five years ago, it was very rare to see Concept Artist vacancies advertised - developers usually had a 3D artist or two who could hold a pencil and rough some sketches out - but today, most studios worth their salt employ a full-time Concept Artist on each of their projects. I joined Sony Cambridge in 1999 as Concept Artist. The role grew gradually over the next twelve months until I became Lead.


This Ferai sentry shows Mark's skill with a pencil.

3DT: Explain the role of a Lead artist - what do you do?

MG: The role can vary depending on the team dynamic. Essentially the Lead Artist's job is to set the artistic style for the game and then supervise production of the game art by the rest of the team, ensuring that the fundamental style is adhered to. One of the most challenging aspects when working with a team of fifteen artists, which was the size of the Primal art department during much of the production, is to ensure they're all producing work of a consistent style and quality. The Lead Artist should also expect to contribute to the core game design, offering creative ideas along the way. From a day to day perspective, the work can vary greatly. Since my background is in traditional illustration I spend much of my time producing concept designs for characters and locations. I came to Sony with no 3D experience but am now producing a small amount of in-game models and textures when I can find the time. Primal was the first game I'd been involved with from initial design phase right through to completion.

A concept painting of Solum, one of the game's worlds.
3DT: What were some of the main challenges for the art team on Primal?
MG: Developing for a new console was probably the biggest overall challenge. Not being sure of the PlayStation 2's capabilities and not being sure of how to get the best from it. The first year of Primal's development was spent writing the core game engine. During this time test environments and characters were created and put through their paces. Inevitably, all the graphics produced during this time were revisited later in production once we'd all found our feet and grown in confidence. As I've already said, ensuring consistency and quality across a relatively large art team is a significant challenge. In addition to providing concept designs, I created a reference library of books and photos for all the artists to refer to when modelling, texturing or lighting and I think that helped. The sheer volume of art that had to be created was also a challenge. Primal's a physically big game, with many open, detailed environments and filling those spaces with architecture and characters took a lot of time.

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