Be honest about what
you’re trying to
achieve and where
you want to go,
and just try
to push that
Geoffrey Ernault is a French concept artist based in Los Angeles. He’s currently working on R&D for Riot Games, so there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing his ideas come to life in the near future. Of course, this isn’t the first time Geoffrey and his team started from scratch. He was actually R&Ding for Guerrilla Cambridge when the team came up with RIGS: Mechanized Combat League—one of the first games made available on PlayStation VR. He’s only been with Riot for a little while, but in the interview, he said that, “Working at Riot felt like a natural progression to me, as I love being a part of projects at the core.” It seems that Geoffrey is a concept artist through and through.
In my opinion, Geoffrey’s approach to concept art is incredibly efficient because it suggests we focus on the end product—first things first. Making ‘pretty’ pictures will do you no good. You need to think about what it is that you’re actually doing, and really just put yourself in the players’ shoes. This is the best way to figure out what’s best for your game, and what you need to do next in order to help your team. Here’s hoping this interview makes your next project even better.
Please tell us about yourself. What sparked your interest in digital art?
I got into digital art through video-games. When I was seven, we moved to Greece with my parents and I stayed at home and played games. My first game was A Bug’s Life, but our neighbors (on both sides) were playing more ‘mature’ games like Doom, StarCraft and Diablo II, and they let me borrow them.
I became addicted to gaming after playing a couple of their games. Honestly, I just played anything I could get my hands on. At this point I knew I wanted to work in games when I’d grow up, but had still no idea about digital art. I thought games were either 3-D or programming, and I didn’t even make the complete link between art and 3-D.
We’ll fast forward to a few years later. I was already sketching a ton as a sixteen year old, and asked my parents to get me a graphics tablet for my birthday so I could colour my sketches in the style of a comic book. After that, while looking for tutorials about painting, I found a number of things about concept art, and made the link back to video-games. I can safely say that I never stopped after that point.
The Whispering Forest
You’re living in Woodland Hills right now, right? Los Angeles is renowned for being the entertainment capital of the world. What’s it like to work there?
We actually moved to LA for work in 2016. Woodland hills was too much of a commute, but LA is definitely a lot better than where I used to live in France and the UK. It was great, but I feel like the community is so much stronger here. Europe has an event once or twice a year, but here you get a workshop or a place to network every week. We even have a “GameDevDrinkUp” right next to my workplace. There’s a bunch of people that go to that every month.
Let’s talk about your work at Riot Games. Tell us a little bit about the working environment in the R&D department.
Working at Riot is really great, especially in R&D. We basically get to try a bunch of things, fail a lot, learn a lot, and see what happens next. We were tasked with putting the “S” into “Riot Games,” which is fun and terrifying all at the same time.
The great thing is seeing how they’re not scared of putting trust in people. So, if you have a great idea that you want to try for the product you’re working on, they’ll let you try it out, which is something I haven’t really seen anywhere else.
Fans of Telltale Games are going to love next week’s interview!
John Grello—who worked on Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series—is finally going make an appearance on Vox Groovy.
You can expect to learn more about his work on iconic franchises, but we’ll also spend time discussing the art he made at ILM. This is the perfect interview for self-taught artists, like John, who want to get their big break in one of the world’s most competitive industries.
I usually ask people if it’s intimidating to work on sequels to renowned franchises, but I feel that it’s the same with a company like Riot. Do you see the next project being as successful as League of Legends?
Hah! We’ll see! Again, that’s the beauty of R&D. You can’t know for sure what’s gonna stick. You want it to feel like, “Cool! This might be it! People are going to love this!”
On the same note, every company has R&D, and I’m not really a stranger to R&D since I joined Guerrilla Games to work on RIGS from day one, before we even realized it would be a thing. It felt like a natural progression to me, as I love being a part of projects at the core.
How has Riot helped you develop yourself as an artist? You’re surrounded by talent, and it sounds like the creative freedom makes the job more fulfilling.
Yeah, we’ve got some of the best artists in the industry working there right now. It’s very humbling and motivating, and there’s a ton of new things for me to learn.
The freedom is really healthy, too. It feels like you can wake up in the morning, have an idea and just think, “Cool! I can just have a quick cup of coffee with our lead designer at some point today and chat about it!”
I think what helped me develop myself as an artist the most there is actually thinking more about the context and what exactly I’m trying to achieve. I used to make images just so they look nice, but now I try to focus on what I’m trying to solve. What’s the context? What does it solve for the actual gameplay? Would this be clear to the player? Is it easy to understand? Do we have the resources and tech to do that?
I think a lot of young artists tend to like adding a bunch of random ‘noise’ that adds a lot of texture to the image, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really do anything for the game aside from adding to the mood.
Mood is important, but I think that if you’re working on a specific product, having a deep understanding of what you’re doing not only helps you make great images, but also helps the players (or consumers—depending on the media you’re working on) have a better time with the end product.
what language you speak. The team at Vox Groovy will make it so that everyone can hear your interview on the radio.
Our new programme Art Relax (EN) will be launching soon.
You’ll know that this is the go-to place for every art enthusiast as soon as you tune in!
No man’s valley
Could you describe your personal approach to concept art?
My approach is mostly get as much context as possible, make sure I solve the main points first, and then make it look good. That’s if we already know what we’re doing. If we don’t know, then it’s mood first, then design, then gameplay.
Of course, it shuffles around sometimes. Maybe you do a mood image people love, say a dragon in a city, and then you have to think, “Okay, we like that, what do we need to change to make it work with the product? Like, if we’re doing a resource mining game, does the dragon have to be defending a mine instead of a city because that’s the player’s goal?”
I think stuff like that really helps narrow down what exactly you’re trying to solve and just helps the team so much more than if you just sit there making ‘pretty’ pictures. I want to try and make sure that everything in my image is based around that core idea.
So for instance, “Okay can people read that the dragon is defending the mine, does it have enough depth, does the perspective read, is there interesting things to look at, is it too noisy?“ It’s basically a mental checklist until you’re at a point when you can’t really think of things that are worth fixing. And by not worth fixing, I mean things that will take you twenty hours to fix, but the fix only makes the image 1% better than it already is. You can just put those twenty hours into trying to solve something else for your team.
What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for aspiring digital artists?
I think a huge advice from me would be, be honest about what you’re trying to achieve and where you want to go, and just try to push that envelope. If you really just want to focus on making the best image possible, then constantly re-evaluate where you’re at, what’s next to learn, and practice it.
And on top of that, I think it’s very important to try and add things to your workflow to change it around often, and discover what you’re about and what you want to do with your work.
I’ll use myself as an example, so I know people like my light and color, but I actually enjoy game design a lot, so a lot of my free time goes into learning coding, animation, level design, etc. And then I feed that back into my art. I think it’s important to find what you love and implement that in your work.
you ever wonder – yes, we do play analog quite often.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar
Which contemporary game impresses you the most?
Star Citizen because Cloud Imperium Games are actually starting to get closer to their original goal, and if they can achieve it, it’ll be pretty impressive. I mean, it’s extremely ambitious because they want you to have a world where you can free-roam and just just ‘be yourself’ in space.
Star Citizen would allow you to get in and out of your ship at any time, anywhere in the universe. And they’re getting to a point where you can seamlessly go from space to landing on a giant procedurally generated planet, kind of like No Man’s Sky, but with AAA graphics and actual quests for you to do. On top of that, it’s all multiplayer! This might just be the most ‘novateur’ project in the games industry.
I’ve already had some crazy things happen, like players trying to hunt me down and shooting at my ship, and me ejecting and grabbing on to their ship, getting inside and shooting them while they were trying to fly away. I love seeing how players make their own stories out of complex systems like this.
What’s next for Geoffrey Ernault?
I’ve been R&Ding to see what’s next! We’ll see, man. I definitely want to do my own project next, whatever that may be.
By Vox Groovy staff writer;
All images used with permission by the artist.
© Geoffrey Ernault or respective copyright holders.
Article in Slovak language;