Pixars Brave

X-Men Legends 2 Art Director

Dan Hay: Art Director/Animator

Tell us about yourself Dan; where are you from and how old were you when you discovered that you wanted to be a 3D animator?

I am from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and animation was something I stumbled onto after realizing I didn't want to be a lawyer.  

Are you a traditional artist turned 3D animator or did you just jump right into the 3D Software?

I jumped right into 3d software. I had taken art courses as the majority of my electives all through high school and university, but never made it a full time commitment.

Are you formally trained as an artist or are you self-taught?

I completed a nine-month animation course in Toronto and then landed a job on an animated feature shortly thereafter.

Do you think that artists with a formal education in animation or illustration have an advantage over self-taught artists?

Although a formal education is a definite boost to your chances of landing a job, two of the best animators I ever worked with were both self taught.

What Programs and Hardware do currently work with? And why do you choose to work with these software packages?

X- men Legends 1 and 2 used 3d studio Max and Character Studio exclusively. Both programs gave us exactly what we needed.

Who's work do you admire?

I recently got a chance to work with the guys from Blur Studios and I would have to say that they jumped to the top of my list.

Where do you get the inspiration for your art?

This is going to sound funny but I would have to say " tight deadlines". I tend to come up with better stuff if the crunch is on. Maybe that's more "motivation" then "inspiration" but that's my answer.


How did you get your start in the video game industry?

I was working as an animation director for commercials and film when the chance to lead a team of artists on a good portion of the James Bond Night fire cinematics became available. It turned out to be a tough 6 months but I enjoyed it so much that I started thinking about doing it full time. When I got the call from Ravensoft to work on X-men Legends I just couldn't pass it up.

How hard is it for a self taught artist to break into the video game business?

It's not easy. The good thing about school is that you have the benefit of being taught by people who have been in the industry. They usually know how to present your work in a professional manner.
  What steps should an aspiring Animator or Artist take to break into the video game business?

1. Animate or paint as much as you can.
2. Post your work on forums and listen to the advice you get.
3. Focus on a specific area of production: animation, modeling, lighting, or texturing.
4. Send in only your best work.
5. Get some sleep....you're going to need it.

As Art Director of a major video game company what skills do you look for in an artist?

1. 3d skill: the ability to produce cool looking stuff in a standard 3d package.
2. 2d skill: a natural ability to paint
3. Ability to economize: getting the poly count and texture size of a given asset as small as possible while making use of every inch of the base page.
4. Presentation: sending in a reel or portfolio that is professional and represents only your best work.

What classes or programs would you recommend an aspiring artist or 3D Modeler take?

I think there is value in getting an education at any place that offers courses specifically geared towards game production. As for actual software....I am a pretty big fan of both Zbrush and Maya.

How long did it take you to become Art Director?

Six years.

What's it like working for Ravensoft? What are some of the projects that you've worked on?

Raven is a first class place to work. It's really cool to work at a studio that prides itself on the ART side of making games. As for projects, I started on X-men Legends, jumped right onto XML 2, helped a tiny bit on Quake, and am currently hammering on something new.

Take us through your typical day as Art Director at Ravensoft?

It's fairly straightforward. I have the art Dept divided into sub departments:

1. Tile building (backgrounds)
2. Character models
3. Skins
4. Tile textures
5. Object modeling
6. General texture
7. FX
8. Menus
9. Animation

We usually get together every other morning to kick ideas around and make sure we are on track. The rest of the time I basically bounce back and forth between these groups while keeping one eye on the schedule.

Could you take us through your creative process when starting a new project?

Well first off, we sit down with the project lead and the story guys and explain what "looks" we really want to try to tackle, and why. Then we concept like crazy for about a month. We have multiple groups of artists working on characters, objects, tiles and anything else we think we might need. Once the majority of concepting is complete we compile all the concepts into a giant book. The book is used as the art template for the game. It gives all parties involved a solid idea of what we think the game will look like and also serves to as the primary approval stage. From that point on we are knee deep in 3d production.

When working on a video game how much creative input do you actual have on the projects? Are all the look and feel aspect of a game set in stone or are the projects constantly evolving?

We have boatloads of creative input. One of the cool things about Raven is how much they listen to the ideas of employees. I would have to say the projects definitely evolve. We may design an environment with a very specific layout in mind but a designer may see something different. You have to be flexible and try to foster collaboration more than a singular vision.

How much interaction do the artists have with the developers on projects?

In our case Raven is the developer, so the interaction is fairly seamless.

You were Lead Animator, Cinematic Director and lead lighter on the hit X-men legends, could you give a brief description of these roles and what they meant to the project?

As lead animator I was responsible for all movement of the characters and objects. As Cinematic Director I was responsible for all aspects of cinematic creation: cameras, lighting, animation, you name it. As the Lighting Lead I was tasked with defining the color scheme for the final render of the game.

Is it normal in the video game industry for one person to take on multiple roles on a project or are must jobs pretty specialized?

Honestly I'm not sure. All the responsibilities listed above plus the role of lead artist are now included in the art director title.

What are some of the common production problems you run into when creating video games?

1. Not enough time
2. Not enough memory

You are Art Director on the much anticipated X-men legends 2 could you tell us a little bit about X-men legends 2? What can us gamers expect?

I think people are really going to enjoy it. It's a little darker and meaner then the original, and we went out of our way to try and double the texture resolution. A lot of effort was spent on powers, lighting, and creating original level looks.

How long has X-men legends 2 be in production?

About 10 months.

What software packages were used in the creation of X-men legends 2?

The art staff utilized, Max, Photoshop, and Vegas.

Did you run into any major production problems during the creation of X-men legends 2?

I can honestly say that this was the smoothest project I have ever worked on. When we started we thought we were in for a rough ride just based on the sheer volume of the game. We sat down and made some solid changes to the art pipeline to get it down to a science. All tolled we delivered roughly 20 new environments, over 4000 unique objects and about 270 skins. That's roughly double what we did on the first one. The cool part was that we managed to ship the game with artist and animators working almost no overtime for the last 7 months of a 10-month project.

Are there any other projects your working on at the moment for Ravensoft?

I got a chance to briefly help out with the cinematics on quake 4, but art directing the undisclosed title I spoke of earlier takes up most of my day.

What do you think of the next generation of console game systems (Xbox 360 & PS3)?

I can't wait to start producing art for those platforms. A lot of what we currently do as artists is about economizing, and can be very restrictive. The next gen consoles are going to allow us to make some spectacular stuff.

The production values of today's video games are so high they rival Hollywood block busters do you have any interest in work on a motion picture?

That's a tough one. Sure it would be cool to say that I worked on Kong, Return of the King, or a PIXAR film, but that would mean getting out of games. I'm really enjoying the stuff I do so I would have to say no.

What's next for Dan Hay as an Artist?

I am currently working on an unannounced project that is going to kick ass.

Do you have any advice for the hordes of people out there looking to break into the video game industry?

Make your demo reel as tight as possible. If you want to animate then don't worry about creating a killer model, just make focus on quality of motion. Keep the camera work simple and don't put anything on your reel that you don't think is top notch. Artists should focus on providing samples of base pages that are easy to read. We are always looking for a person who can utilize as much of the page as possible, and not section it up into a thousand pieces that are tough to paint. I will be providing examples of what I mean in upcoming post in the tutorial section of my web page.

Thanks to Dan Hay ) for agreeing to answer the questions I had for him. Please visit www.DanHay.net for more of Dan's Art work.

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