Behind the Art: An Inside Look

Adam Roush is a well-known artist who community members will recognize from Twitter and from seeing his work in recent game newsletters. Adam is a Concept Artist II at KingsIsle who's responsible for a vast array of in-game items, gear sets, and characters we all know and love.

Hi, my name’s Adam Roush, Concept Artist II at Kingsisle Entertainment on Wizard101.

This year marks my ten-year anniversary working in the video game industry. I got my foot in the door at a small start-up called Blue Frog Gaming in Akron, OH, working on Facebook, mobile, and web games. Like most small studios, I worked in a jack-of-all-trades art capacity, primarily creating concept art and illustrations, but also being able to dip my toes in things like UI/UX, graphic design, and game development. My favorite game from that time was Stardrift Empires, which, while simple, enabled us to push out a ton of fun and unique illustration and concept designs for an entire sci-fi universe from scratch.

After the unfortunate closure of that studio in 2015, I spent a couple of years doing freelance for various games, most notably concept art for the Shadow of the Colossus remake, and UI art for Just Cause 4. It feels like so many stars had to align, art tests and interviews go south, and potential jobs fall through for me to eventually find my way to KingsIsle. I actually applied and completed an art test 3 years prior to working here, which while disappointing to not get the job initially, gave me the time to improve my skills and gain critical experience.

Wizard101 has been my favorite game to work on in my career, with its constantly shifting content from the Celestian Mech mount to Karamelle architecture to the Warrior Mage player gear. Almost every day brings something new and different, constantly pushing me to improve my skills and think outside my comfort zone. I’ve come to really enjoy concepting cute pets and props. Plus, painting complex illustrations is always fun.

When it comes to making art, I get a decent amount of creative freedom. The writers and art lead usually come up with ideas that are handed off to me to develop corresponding visuals. My art lead typically provides either a specific direction he wants for the look of an area, or simply general visual cues to adhere to. For example, in the case of the Karamelle Whisk wand, I was given simple direction. But in researching ideas, I discovered a chocolatier's whisk, whose twisted, intertwining wires provided a more unique solution than the typical utensil. Painting it as polished brass added a higher level of class and sophistication.

When developing concepts or illustrations, I’ll typically create a lineup of several rough ideas and directions that the art lead, writers, and/ or the marketing team can choose from that best fits their vision. I do some research on Google, Pinterest, and ArtStation to collect reference and inspiration. (The best places to get Wizard101-specific ref is from fan sites like yours 😊.)

From there I get to work. Depending on the task, I might start with quick sketches in Photoshop or jump straight into 3D. I like to use the most efficient tool. Gear and weapons are faster to draw, whereas environments, mounts, and props are faster to just model or sculpt. 3D sculpting is a fantastic tool to think about form from all angles, but whatever I make always ends up in Photoshop for the final painting to give it more flair and personality.

What I love most about painting is being able to polish the heck out of the materials: thinking about texture, how light and color interacts with it and stylizing it to match the game’s style. I’m REALLY happy with how the Kit-10 looks, the areas of mirror-finish metal against the matte metal and figuring out the best way to convey a light inside a glass ball on its tail.

Reworks and revisions are a part of the job. I created a ton of ideas for the Celestian sword and Zorphie Pet, but all but one made it to a final design. Sometimes I’ll combine features from a few ideas into a new mish-mash design, which in the case of player gear might be the general design from #1, the hat and cape from #4, and the peppermint details from #3. It’s important to stay objective and not get too attached to one idea or composition, and use whichever design best fits the need.

For other artists who aspire to work in the games industry or who have gotten their first gig, my advice is to keep learning and look for new ways to improve your craft. You never know what skills you pick up might come in handy in landing your dream job. Spending a couple years learning the ins and out of UI, icons, and graphic design at my first job helped me land a contract with Avalanche on Just Cause 4. Even now, I’m immersing myself in 3D art, which has been monumental in improving my process in the last couple of years.

Thanks to Adam for this post!

Thanks for reading and see you in the Spiral!

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