As an environment artist for film, you have to understand that everything in your set has to help deepen the story and the emotion of that particular
Simon Kopp is a twenty-nine year old Concept Artist and Illustrator from Heilbad Heiligenstadt, Germany. He is one of the up and coming artists in the games industry, getting his first time in the spotlight back when Airborne Studios first released the concept art for the critically acclaimed Ori and the Blind Forest, and not letting go of it ever since. Kopp has since worked with world–renowned game developers like Insomniac Games, as well as having been published in several books by 3dtotal. His most recent project was an animated feature film – Maya the Bee – The Honey Games. He is working together with animator turned filmmaker Noel Cleary, who placed his trust in Kopp and asked him to art direct his new film. In the interview, Kopp tells us that he still can’t fathom the risk that Cleary took when he asked him to do this, but that everyone involved in the making of the film was more than happy with the work produced in the pre-production stage.
As you read this interview, you will begin to learn about the differences between working on concept art for film and games. There is a complete shift in priorities which you will learn more about as you read through this article. Of course, the interview covers a broad range of topics that both beginners and industry veterans would find interesting. We will talk about the new techniques Kopp has learned, how he helped with the concept art and level design for Ori and the Blind Forest, and we will look into giving some advice to the aspiring artists at the very end. Enjoy!
Tell us about your journey so far.
My journey has been very exciting so far. Many things happened after I finished my studies in Nuremberg at the start of 2014. I was already working for different clients during the earlier days of my course. Both, Albion Online and the faith – Marcus Koch put into me – as my first real client allowed me to gain a great deal of knowledge when it comes to dealing with the professional side of art. After my studies, I joined Moon Studios to work on Ori and the Blind Forest. After that, I was asked to work on several other projects, with a bigger one coming around just recently. For me, 2016 has been a great year and I’m very thankful for all the chances I was given so far.
What motivates you to create art?
I don’t know! Everything, nothing? Perhaps my own will to expand my knowledge in fields I think I’m lacking in most, or maybe the ones that are interesting at the moment. I’m not much of a “You have to feel arts!” kind of guy, I’m a much more technical person that tries to get interesting techniques right, do it fast and produce proper work. My work is mostly very client focused, the client’s wishes and the needs of the product always come first, and it’s a big motivator for me to really strive to hit that. And in the end – to be completely honest – it’s all about getting a “good work!” from someone.
Airborn – Housing
How did you go about finding a personal style?
I was never searching for a style, what I’ve got here is a result of the study of other artists I like. My style is simply the easiest way for me to work. It’s ever-changing, because this style is basically no different to a mix of the workflows I have and me trying to understand the way in which my favorite artists work and think. I always thought of an artist’s style as a tool, a way of thinking in combination with a certain workflow in order to help sell a certain product and or emotion. Style is the sum of your painting, what shapes you use and how you design and arrange the elements in your artwork.
Song of the Deep – Fomori Assets for Insomniac Games
Tell us a little bit about the new 360 Panorama pieces we see on your ArtStation portfolio.
The first time I saw one of these paintings was a couple of months ago, I was just browsing and I came across it on Facebook. The uniqueness of the idea really intrigued me. I have never seen anything quite like it before, but sadly, I was knee deep into my projects and didn’t have any time or motivation left to get into this in the evenings. However, I had more time to spare this holiday, so I purchased a tutorial from Jama Jurabaev on Gumroad. It was a real eye opener for me, and it was surprisingly easy! It’s possible to make these using nothing but Photoshop – at least the ones for Facebook. What I found so very fascinating about it was the ability to really get into all the action. You are standing in the very center of your artwork, you can look around and experience it. It has so much potential in terms of storytelling that I’d like to explore it in more depth in the coming months.
I feel that you need to change your thinking when it comes to the composition, and that’s because you’re no longer limited to a single frame. It’s like you have multiple artworks in one – all talking to one another and giving you one big composition. And you have the aspect of time too. Time passes when you look at the artwork, and you’re actively engaged with it because you’re looking around and the world in the painting can change drastically if you decide to do that. Let’s say that the things going on behind you are completely different to the things happening at the front. It could also have interesting implications on production art. It allows you to design points of interest in both 1st person and 3rd person games. You have full control over the whole environment from that point of view. And if you view this point in time as us being at the very beginning of VR gaming, you’ll see that this is a first step into the pre-production for a VR game.
Ori and the Blind Forest – Game Art
Ori and the Blind Forest – Game Art
Ori and the Blind Forest boasts a unique art direction. Tell us a little bit about how you and the team at Airborn Studios developed it.
The basic art direction was first established by Maximilian Degen who was later joined by Johannes Figlhuber. Both of them came up with the style you can see in the actual game. My part involved polishing and adding lots of little details and small stories, as well as points of interest around the world. I created documents for each part of the world to get themes and stories down and so that I can communicate that to a few other colleagues. We polished the entire game with those little things in the forefront of our minds. Our main focus was always to help with the gameplay or the story.
Each area had some sort of purpose. If it was an area focused on the story, we tried to get the attention of the player to the important story beats, and nowhere else. This was a very artistic and had a very illustration-heavy side. The other side, which was the gameplay, was a lot more technical. The top priority was always the readability of the gameplay sections. Character readability, how high you can jump, where you can wall-jump and where you can’t and so on. The backgrounds had to be darker in important areas in order to make it easier to read. We were very focused on these things and I think the game benefited a lot from all of this.
Frontpage of the cover for Albion Online’s first book “Landfall”
What are some of the more exciting projects you have worked on this year? Is there anything we should be looking forward to?
2016 was largely dominated by two projects for me. Fortunately for you, both of these have already been announced. The first one, starting in late 2015, was Shardbound by Spiritwalk Games. I worked on this project as an environment artist up until late April. In May, I started working on the animated feature film Maya the Bee – The Honey Games as the art director. I had the honor to choose my own small team of four concept artists and run with them through pre-production and into production. I’ll be back on the project next year for two months to give direction on lighting and texturing. This was an amazing project and I learned so much! I have never art directed before and I still can’t fathom the risk Noel Cleary, the director, took with choosing me as the art director. But he did say that it all turned out amazing and they have been very happy with the work the team did and my ability to direct the art. The movie will be released in late 2017 in Germany, I’m not sure if it will be screened anywhere else.
Most of the work you’ve done in the past was for games. Is working for games any different from working on a feature film like Maya the Bee?
It’s a bit different. The biggest difference is the shift in priorities you have when designing the world. Games have the priority where the art has to help the gameplay first, and then the story. You have to get your gameplay areas right artistically. The clarity, readability, everything has to be there for the player to understand intuitively. He or she has to see what needs to be done next in order to progress in the story.
On the other hand, when you’re working on a film, your primary focus is the story, and the character readability comes into play a little later down the line. As an environment artist for film, you have to understand that everything in your design has to help deepen the story and the emotion of that particular scene. The environments in games also have a bit of a different value. You tell a big part of the game’s story in through the environment and the characters talking in those sets. The environment is very present and takes up a lot of the screen-space. In film, the character interaction and dialogue do this for you. The environment has to take a step back, and that’s because it’s only there to enhance the meaning of a scene.
Having said that, I know you’ve worked on a lot of different stuff now. What kind of projects are you wanting to do in the future?
I don’t really know to be honest. I like trying different things and I like working on many different projects. I like concept art, I like art directing and I like illustration. All of that! I do hope that there will be a VR project in the next few years, I’d really like to try my hands on one of those. There are so many new ways to design open for exploration, and that’s incredibly exciting! I’m a bit envious of Goro Fujita – he is at the forefront of VR design right now – and he’s doing amazing stuff.
Any advice you’ve got for people who are just starting out?
Don’t do a million random artworks, work on projects. Clients want to see if you’re able to work on a project and deliver great work within the set boundaries. I suppose you could even explain your thoughts and go through the boundaries you set for each piece in the description, it just shows the thought you’ve put into each and every one of your designs. I guess that’s more advice for people who are looking to break into the industry though.
What’s next for Simon Kopp?
I’m gonna be working on a small 2 week project which I’m really looking forward to. After that, I’ll be back on Maya the Bee at some point. I don’t really know what will happen afterwards, but I’m really looking forward to 2017, ’cause 2016 was a good year for me.
By Vox Groovy staff writer;
All images used with permission by the artist.
© Simon Kopp or their respective copyright holder.
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