Matt Rhodes, Lead concept artist from BioWare
1- Hi Matt, can you introduce yourself to the French fans?
Hi ! My name is Matt Rhodes and I’m currently the Lead Concept Artist on Dragon Age : Inquisition. I’ve been drawing for BioWare for nine years.
2- How did you start your career?
BioWare found me at art school. I was just finishing my 3rd year when they came to look at portfolios. They took me on as a summer intern where I drew Jade Empire characters and began designing characters for the first Mass Effect.
3- What is a typical day of a Concept Artist?
After coffee and email, the reference gathering begins. In games EVERYTHING has to be built, so EVERYTHING needs to be drawn. Typically we have a list of the highest priorety items to draw from. There is a lot of conversation though. We’ll talk with writers, designers, animators, marketing, etc… to find out what they need visualized. Really though, the bulk of the day is spent at the Cintiq, drawing our butts off.
4- Do you have something to do every day? Sometimes it arrives that you take care of something else than drawing?
There is always something to draw. Occasionally we have some free time, but we typically fill it drawing things we would like to add to the project.
5- Is there a particular universe that you prefer to draw more?
I am really in love with Dragon Age right now. We’ve spent a couple years now designing various cultures and races. We’ve fleshed it out more than ever before and that world building is why you get into this business.
6- What are your favorite characters and places in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age universes?
I’ve always loved the friendship that builds between Isabela and Aveline in Dragon Age 2. It was great to watch two characters who seem to have nothing in common build up a real bond. It felt really natural to me. As far as locations, I love that in Mass Effect 3 you get to smash up the Illusive Man’s office. It was a very abstract space and the artist who built it did an amazing job.
7- How long do it takes you to make an artwork like what we see right now on the internet with DA: I?
For the most part I was creating two beat boards a day. Some are more complex (especially when there are several characters) and those took a day to do.
8- How is it going to create each concept art, is it starts with a meeting in which you are asked for something specific, like a piece of a script, such scene or character to do?
For simple props we’ll often just get a list from level artists (we want 5 chairs, 4 lamps, a fireplace, etc…) but some of the most complex concepts are the followers. We worked very closely with the writers to create the looks for the cast. It started with writing sending us about 40 simple descriptions of potential character directions. We pointed out which ones excited us and did some very rough drawings based on them. The writers then expanded on a smaller group, giving us a paragraph or two. We went back and forth quite a bit. I think that the cast of Inquisition followers are the strongest we’ve ever put together because of that collaboration.
9- Sometimes do you create some ideas on your own initiative and they’re approved to add them in games?
Definitely. The first time it happened was on Mass Effect 1. I was designing Saren, but none of my designs were making any traction. Turns out it was because I was drawing him in t-pose, which was immensly boring. I ended up drawing him in a dramatic pose, dangling Shepard by the neck over a ledge.
The drawing helped to sell Saren’s design, but it also caught the eye of an ambitious animator who decided that that HAD to happen in game. He worked quite a bit of overtime to get that scene in game, but Saren does grab Shepard and it’s a really exciting moment.
Now I try to throw a few curveball images into the mix in case it inspires someone else. Several of the Inquisition beat boards that have been released were purely speculative. Some of them have since inspired level designs, cutscenes, or character designs. But really it’s all a part of the team collaboration because those illustrations are all based off of the world and characters we’ve been designing.
10- How is the division of labor in your team of artists?
We’ve all worked together for a while so we know each others strengths and weaknesses. Some artists are stronger with environments, others with costume, others with storyboarding. We all get a chance to experiment and push ourselves, but we also know who the best candidates are for each task.
11- I guess Concepts Art helps largely the 3D team, do you follow their work to see if it matches with what you drew?
Definitely. We keep with with reviews and provide paintovers when necessary. It’s a strong team and again, we’ve been working with them for a while so we know what kind of drawings, how much detail to give each artist.
12- Can drawings be used as an inspiration for your writers?
All the time. It’s very collaborative. We read their work, they look at ours and there’s a lot of back and forth.
13- Do you have one or more nice stories of work to tell us?
We just got back from PAX 2013 where we had the chance to spend some time with some of our fans. One of the great things about developing relationships with the community is how much their energy and passion feeds back into the game. The cosplayers in particularly have been incredible. I was able to ask them all sorts of questions about the comfort and functionality of their costumes. Videogame characters can’t tell you that kind of info about their costume designs. We’ve taken a lot of that feedback and tried to add that extra layer of function and comfort to future costume designs. Hopefully, not only will our cosplayers be more comfortable but the in-game designs will be more believable than ever.
14- I guess you might be a gamer right? Do you have time to play video games? If yes, what are your favorites?
I don’t have a lot of videogame time these days (especially now that I’m a father). I’ll usually play for a couple hours at a time at work. I really enjoyed Skyrim and Bioshock Infinite. I was feeling nostalgic and dug Thief II out of the games library at work and fell in love all over again.
15- Are you still working on DA: I?
I am. Inquisition comes out Fall 2014, and while we’ve made some amazing progress there’s still a lot to do.
16- Are you on another project now? Or do you have other plans for later?
Well there is a team working on a new IP. That’s all we’re saying so far. Some day they may need a hand, but for now Dragon Age has my full attention.
17-Where can we follow you online?
I have a tumblr, blog and CGHub gallery.
18- A last word for your French fans?
Thanks for reading the interview ! I try to answer any messages I receive, especially about Concept/Production Art so don’t hesistate to send me a note if you have a specific question.
Thank you very much for this interview, it was a great pleasure and opportunity for me, I hope we get to see you often on the internet. Good luck!
I wanna thank Andy for helping me and supporting me during this interview and Emilie for helping to finish this interview.