3DTotal: Hi Raphael! Now we last spoke to you back in January 2006. What have been the main developments in your career since then? Raphael: Hmm… since 2006, yes! Well I got a VES award in February 2006 for my work as AD on the cut scenes in Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones - it was one of the most important moment of my life, along with the birth of my two kids! After a few other productions in the cinematics studio of Ubisoft, I joined the production team for Assassin’s Creed and acted as the Senior AD on the game. I worked mainly on the environments until the end of production. It was a great project, but hard to manage with a lot of level design and game design challenges!
After Assassin’s Creed, I left Ubisoft to work for a young, small (but still great) visual effects company called Rodeo FX in Montreal. There were some amazing people there and we worked on several big movie productions!
I recently came back to videogames with the challenging project of creating a new IP for Electronic Arts and I’m now Senior Art Director for their Montreal division. The best thing about this is that I have a lot of concept art to do now – I get to be involved with the creation of a lot of the ideas, which is great. Alongside that, I still take on the odd freelance project for films or for book covers.
3DTotal: Look like you’ve been pretty busy then! Ubisoft has produced some prominent titles over the years, a couple of which you’ve already mentioned such as the Prince of Persia series and Assassin’s Creed. As Art Director on these titles, and now for Electronic Arts, how did the job differ from your role as Senior Concept Artist/Matte Painter and Production Designer for Rodeo FX? Raphael: My work in the film industry was just really different from what I do now. Working as a matte painter I had just one boss and had to deliver quality work. It was challenging but it was great to have all that time to draw. And best of all I didn’t lose any time in meetings and political fights! Working in an older industry was also a great impetus; I was able to learn a lot about art and creation from the senior artists. Even now I feel I still have a lot to learn from the film industry.
As an art director, my work is very creative at the beginning of production and less creative, sometimes frustrating even, in the middle and towards the end of production. Trying to maintain a high level of artistic quality across the board can be very time consuming. But I’ve come back to it again and again, so I guess there must be something there that grabs my attention!
3DTotal: You mention having to put in a lot of time in order to achieve a good overall level of art; what are the key difficulties associated with this task? And what are the main challenges facing someone in this job position? Raphael: Working on a big production, as much as you might like it, you can’t get 100 percent senior artists. So it becomes your job to push and help the younger artists to reach a good level of work. Fortunately, I’ve got a few key people on the team to lead and help the juniors in their progression.
But it is always a constant fight to get the best possible visuals.
I also spend a long time in the engine myself to set up the mood and lighting in the game, with the engineers to help them to create the right tools for graphical needs, and in a lot of meetings with the technical art director and the level designers in order to make fun, but also beautiful and real-time, stunning visuals.
3DTotal: With regard to when you were doing matte painting, how often did you build a 3D scene as a starting point? And did you ever block in the composition purely in 2D beforehand? Raphael: I usually draw a rough sketch to start, and if the matte contains some architectural elements, use 3D for final composition. If the matte is a natural environment, like mountains, valley or desert, I will work only in 2D. 3D is also great to setup your camera, and if needed, track the camera of the shot and match it!