On a day to day basis, being the Art Director on Outer Wilds involves jumping back and forth between a bunch of different processes. For the first few months I focused on setting a visual style through research, concept art, and the creation of all of our initial 3D assets and pipeline. Once the direction was established to the satisfaction of the team, my role shifted towards art asset production and technical art. On the technical side, most of my work is in tandem with Logan, our technical art programmer. He and I work together on shaders and materials, particle effects, and techniques for making the game visually spectacular that often involve a lot of trial and error as well as unusual visual magic. On the art side, I spend most of my time making copious amounts of planetary terrain, as well as putting together the final scenes in unity - doing prop placement, setting up lighting, and getting rid of any art-related bugs we encounter. I have been training our concept artist Alice in 3D modeling, and she is already cranking out props to help fill out our worlds with visual detail. We also just hired Lara, who is a generalist like myself, so that she can help fill out the game with terrain, props, and characters. For those who aren't familiar with the game development process, my job is somewhere in between a painter, a sculptor, a landscape architect, an interior decorator, and an animator.
How long have you been working on Outer Wilds?
I started work on Outer Wilds in pre-production this past July, and my initial role was to make the vertical slice that we used to design our art direction and pitch the game on Fig. Though I have only been working on the game for six months, as soon as I played the alpha demo I felt like I had been preparing to work on this game my whole life. I have always been obsessed with space exploration and I grew up on the grounds of a summer camp, so this job fit me like a glove!
What’s the most fun part of being a Art Director?
My favorite part of being an art director is being able to fill any role as needed to make sure the art gets done to specification. I get to be the first one to jump in and try to solve a problem, and I am usually the last one sticking around to get that last bit of visual polish into the build. I love jumping back and forth between different roles and doing whatever is necessary to make the game look great! I also love working with the whole team - design, programming, production, and art, to make sure that everyone is on the same page and contributing everything we need to get the game done.
The worst part about being an art director is having to make the calls about what needs to be cut in order to get everything finished on time and keep the game running. Many people think that games suffer from a lack of good ideas, but the reality of game development is that there are more great ideas than we could ever have time to implement, as well as many ideas that have to be cut for performance reasons. Having to choose the idea that doesn't look as impressive but keeps the game running (or shipping on time) is always a bittersweet moment, but it's an every day responsibility as an art director.
How did you decide to become Art Director? How did you go about becoming one?
I decided I was interested in art direction early on in my career as a professional artist because I found myself relating more to the art directors I worked with than the other character or environment artists I met. Art direction appealed to me because it is a more varied job that involves working with other disciplines and translating between artists, designers and engineers. I got my job as an art director by art directing on smaller projects while I worked at my day jobs. In school I was always the first one to hop onto collaborative projects, which introduced me to the design program at USC (of which most of the Outer Wilds team is Alumni.) After school I worked on several indie games as side projects, including iPhone game Shove Pro and Shakespearean tragedy game Elsinore. Working in small teams necessitated that I develop art direction skills, so I found myself with several years of experience on side projects as an art director, which made me a good candidate for doing the same thing on Outer Wilds!
My biggest influences creatively are probably Walt Disney, Hayao Miyazaki, and Shigeru Miyamoto, with an honorable mention to Bill Watterson. The idea of entertainment that appeals to all audiences is something that I have always held as a pinnacle of great art, and I think Walt Disney was a great innovator in that regard. Miyazaki and the animation team at Studio Ghibli opened my eyes to environmental storytelling, which is one of the best ways to communicate ideas in video games. Miyamoto is always hailed as a great game designer, but what I learned from him is that he always found inspiration not from playing other games, but through his own life experiences. I think the key to creative art is to draw from unexpected sources, so I love studying history, science, religion, and literature, as well as art movements and cultures from around the world. That desire to learn about the world is what inspired me to work in a creative field professionally, because every day I get to research and expand my own perspective of the world so that I can share that with others.
What is your hope for the future of Outer Wilds and Mobius as the Art Director?
When I first played the alpha demo of Outer Wilds, I was immediately drawn in by a feeling of space exploration that I had only ever encountered in my imagination. The quirky, fun design that smashed together roasting marshmallows by a fire and repairing my ship in zero-g as I flew through a black hole still gets me excited when I play test the game as I put new art in. My goal as the art director is to try and bring that same kind of inspiration to the visuals of the game. I hope that when people play our game, they get to feel the joy of space exploration that I felt when I played the alpha, and that the art compels them to stop in awe and wonder at how cool it is to explore space. I respect and admire all of our team here at Mobius, so I am very excited to get in on the ground level of our next project and help to make it as unique and beautiful as possible.