A lot of work goes into a game like Thief. The attention to detail and the commitment concept artists make when they take on projects like this is remarkable and unequaled.
For Steambot Studios, that undertaking was no joke. Steambot Studios’ Co-Founder and Visual Director Joël Dos Reis Viegas said the Steambot team was responsible for “designing the whole [Thief] universe.”
“We created an impressive amount of concept art, approximately a thousand artworks during four years of production,” said Dos Reis Viegas. “But we also worked on the gameplay and the game design aspect of the game, as well as the cinematics and the cameras. We had the chance to really influence the game, artistically speaking.”
Under the guidance of Thief Game Director Nicolas Cantin, Dos Reis Viegas, Steambot Studios’ Montréal Studio Manager Sébastien Larroudé, and Concept Artist Nicolas Ferrand teamed up to tackle the franchise’s fourth installment.
“When you work on a game like Thief, which is a big franchise and an AAA game in the PC gamers’ community,” said Dos Reis Viegas. “You have the responsibility to understand what the expectations are from the gamers, from the production and [you have to] have a clear vision of the game.
“Concept artists are the starting point of everything in production; your art is supposed to inform, stimulate and guide the rest of the team.”
Although a project like this might have intimidated some, the Steambot team was not fazed. Larroude said that each member had his own responsibilities, but the result was a collaborative effort.
Larroude said he focused on mood and concept design, while Ferrand “pushed the environment, mixing 2D and 3D techniques” to create pictures similar to a matte painting.
“I knew that the project would be huge with a lot of architecture and prop designs,” said Ferrand. “So I decided to work a lot with 3D, creating assets and designing the world directly in the 3D software.”
Ferrand said his process took a little more time because he had to build up his assets.
“When I started to produce, my database started to grow, and I finished the project with almost all the city and props,” said Ferrand. “So when you have different views of the same environment, your workflow is really fast.”
Dos Reis Viegas, on the hand, worked on all sorts of designs, said Larroude.
“The work of Joel is particularly impressive because he did a variety of designs—from characters, concept, interface and animatic with After Effects,” he said. “To be honest, we totally got out of our comfort zone and produced much more than concept art.”
Concept artists always bounce from project to project, Larroude said. When he started working on Thief, Larroude had just finished the movie Tron: Legacy. He said he let Dos Reis Viegas and Ferrand lead because the project was already underway.
One of the most important elements when creating a game of this scale is the relationship an artist has with his or her director. A trusting relationship allows the artist freedom to develop his or her own process of production and push ideas to influence the game design, said the Steambot team.
Dos Reis Viegas and Ferrand said they have always been creative individuals.
“Playing videogames in my young age was part of my creative learning, as much as watching movies and reading comics,” said Dos Reis Viegas. “To me, being creative is more a way of thinking than properly doing creative things.”
“I have always been playing video games and drawing, like Joel,” said Ferrand. “Watching movies, anime, and reading books is important to have references and to construct your database of ideas.”
Larroude said that creativity was something he had to hone.
“I remember being a curious child, very aware of my environment, and I still am,” said Larroude. “This is a major step to creativity. However, creativity should be regularly encouraged otherwise it can decrease. It’s a fragile thing easily affected by the slightest thing—good or bad. Maybe creativity finds its energy in this tension, this balance between the fact of finding or losing.”
Hard work, curiosity and passion are all factors that make a concept artist. Larroude said to be good requires practice.
“Everybody can be good. We don’t come into this field as artists, but we can become artists,” said Larroude. “If you regularly work every day you will be good. A good artist is a hard worker. That’s it. No secret and no doubt about it.”
Ferrand has different advice for an aspiring concept artist, and he said being shy and having an ego are not options.
“Confront yourself with people on the internet,” Ferrand said. “Critics and comments are essential to progress. Also, work and work!”
Dos Reis Viegas said artists should never settle with their work.
“Never think you’re the best or what you do is sufficient,” said Dos Reis Viegas. “There are always things to refine and to improve. It’s a good mentality to have. Be curious to learn and be positive, whatever the situation.”