I think, most importantly, the best illustrations always make me feel something,
whether it’s […]
Ignatius Tan is an Illustration Art Lead on Legends of Runeterra at Riot Games in Hong Kong. He grew up in Singapore, and as a kid, found influences in Studio Ghibli, old-school anime, and western animations like He-Man, X-Men and the ninja turtles. The signature style of Ghibli is most noticeable when you scroll through his portfolio where artworks and sketches celebrating Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away catch your attention almost immediately. It’s fun to see how the spirit of Miyazaki’s animated films lives on, shining through in the art of a whole generation of illustrators like the one we’ve interviewed here.
During Ignatius’ law studies at university, he came to the realization that drawing took his attention away from the classes and left shortly after. He never took or went to any art classes, only finishing a degree related to games for certification. His current work as an art lead on LoR, which, using his words, “can be little less glorious than people might want to believe,” involves a lot of meetings, planning schedules, admin work, data crunching, etc. But he says he finds it incredibly rewarding, too, mainly because all of the coaching and feedback he has to give to his team allows him to see them grow exponentially over time. And this is how he came to find that teaching is his potential next step.
Today, Vox Groovy offers you a talk with Ignatius, allowing you to take a closer look at the workflows he uses for LoR and his personal art, early influences and observations, as well as a peek into the future of his art and personal philosophy.
What sparked your interest in digital art?
Actually, this was more of a necessity than an interest. At that time, it felt like the next progression for working in the industry. When I started, I was mostly exclusively doing stuff like concept art in traditional art mediums like pencils and so on. I think this was also around the PlayStation 3 launch, which was a time where things were moving towards the 3D side of things, at least in Asia, most of the job’s requirements asked for 3D knowledge.
Though, as well as that, the big boom of the mobile game industry was also a factor at that time to start moving to digital. However, the transition for me from traditional to digital wasn’t really that smooth, I didn’t have a very professional tablet at that time but I think more so, as with traditional, I’m more used to very clean line drawings and very defined and detailed stuff.
As such, I found it really hard to pull it off in digital as I was not used to it and it didn’t have that “traditional look” so to speak. I guess that’s why my digital stuff looks a little different from my traditional back then because of how loose it looks. I just decided that, well… if I can’t get it to look like what I want I’ll just embrace how I naturally do things when it comes to digital which I guess makes it look like what it looks like now.
Were you formally trained or self-taught?
I never took or went to art classes, I do have a degree that’s somewhat related to games, but that was much later when those courses actually became a thing, and I had already started freelancing. I mostly went through with the course for the certification more than anything. Back when I first went to university, it was to study law. I left after a few weeks, haha. I guess I can consider myself as self-taught, most of my time spent drawing was doodling stuff in class when I should be paying attention, but I was sketching my favourite characters from movies and games for myself or friends, you know the usual stuff.
Also back then there wasn’t really a place where you could get tutorials like YouTube and the schools that taught art were more on the fine art side of things. It wasn’t till later that schools started doing those game art courses. Though, I think the first incarnation of those in Singapore was a bit lacking in my honest opinion. I think where I grew up, which is Singapore, the arts were also a little less valued when compared to other disciplines like economics, medicine and law. Although now it’s a totally different thing, with so many resources available online and so many artists pushing the bar, it’s a really wonderful time to be an artist as you can learn so much and everything is so readily available.
Though, I do sometimes miss the mystery that surrounded game art back when I was growing up… like I just couldn’t wrap my head around or figure out how those artists got to work on a game and draw for a living. Also, looking at the art for a game in a magazine and going “wow how do they draw like this?” Then trying to copy and imitate it. I think that mystery and discovery is one of the things I miss. But back to the topic on self-teaching, I mostly just drew stuff I liked and just kept doing it until I was somewhat competent. I think a lot of artists started this way.
Your portfolio is full of artworks and sketches based on Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, etc. And seeing all of this makes us want to learn more about your influences from Studio Ghibli. Please tell us what makes their movies so special to you.
Well, I think the Studio Ghibli films hold a special place for me because back then in Singapore, I mostly grew up on old-school anime and western stuff like He-man, X-men and the ninja turtles so everything was very over the top. Like tons of action poses, flashy effects and the overall rule of cool. I believe it was when I saw a Studio Ghibli film, I can’t remember if it was Whisper of the heart or Totoro, but there was a lot of natural nuanced animation and treatment in it. Like it just felt more natural, and everything didn’t have to be over the top poses and exaggeration. There were a lot of moments of calm where I think the emotion of the piece really shined through.
I think back then I didn’t even know they were allowed to do that because that would be boring, I always thought back then more was better, the flashier the better. The characters were also very everyday characters or children, so it was super relatable to me in that sense. I think that is what really left an impression on me. On the craft side, it was also the use of colour in the films, I can’t really explain it that well but I think what I felt at that time was they just felt natural and believable but also a little otherworldly to me? Haha, I guess it’s a bit hard to explain what it felt like. But in short, love the use of colour, and their storytelling is simple but very compelling.
© 2017 Fantasy Flight Games
You’re working as an Illustration Art Lead on Legends of Runeterra. Please tell us about your experiences with being an artist at Riot Games. Did you learn a lot from the team? Were there any memorable challenges that you had to tackle?
Haha, well my work as an illustration art lead at Riot on LoR is a little less glorious than I think you guys are believing it to be. It’s actually a lot of meetings and planning schedules and admin work and a lot of data crunching. I guess I can explain how it works, I am the illustration art lead on LoR at Riot Games Hong Kong which is our overseas development studio. I work with a partner vendor called Kudos Productions to produce art for our game LoR. (Here is the ArtStation we made with them where you can check out the work they did which my team and I did direction on – https://www.artstation.com/kudos3d).
So the relationship with this vendor is a little unique, they aren’t like normal vendors where we contract them for work, Kudos Productions functions as a partner with us where we handpick the artists for our team, we also directly manage the artists as our own direct reports, such as evaluating performance and all that boring stuff, haha. As such, a lot of my work is actually coaching them and directing them. Doing things like paint overs and feedback, training sessions and what have you. As we have a lot of illustrations, my day-to-day is spent mostly tracking these illustrations, giving feedback and direction and paint overs or coaching on their illustrations. I am really grateful for this unique opportunity however, as the years of working together and growing the Kudos team from just a handful of artists to a full-sized studio has been very rewarding for me. Although it was my job to coach and teach them I actually learned a lot from them and with them in the process, through the failures and successes, the long hours we had to pull sometimes and everything.
I think the one highlight of my career, I would have to say is watching the team grow as artists from when they first join to seeing the phenomenal work they are doing now. Work that I firmly believe exceeds my own artistic abilities, and it’s just, well… wonderful and incredibly rewarding. For challenges, well, I guess I can elaborate on that. When we first started working with the first handful of artists, we started with the Taiwan studio so many of the artists’ styles were more focused on Japanese anime or Asian mobile games stuff so it was challenging to have them adjust to the style we use in Legends of Runeterra. I too, have my own style and to break everything down and I guess sort of re-learn all the elements needed to create a piece for LoR. But in the end, it was all worth it as I think you can see with the illustrations for the game. I hope everyone can look forward to more amazing art that we will share in the future and as well enjoy the game!
What’s the best piece of advice you could offer to the artists who are striving to work for Riot Games?
Well, I would say, for advice it wouldn’t be specific to just working at Riot games but if there are artists out there who really want to go to Riot specifically, then I would say, tailoring their portfolio to stuff that we do would do well. For example, if they would like to come to Riot to be a splash artist, then we should see more splash related stuff in our style or close to our style in their portfolios and likewise for any other discipline. It will help tons if let’s say we are looking for a splash artist, to see similar or equivalent work in their portfolio and thus we can instantly see from the portfolio that it checks a lot of the required boxes that we are looking for in say, doing a splash art. Things like render fidelity, dynamic composition, use of colour or in the case of LoR contextual storytelling present in the illustration. I think this is kinda the same for all other studios really.
However, that aside, I believe an artist should have a general goal of what they want to be doing or working on in whatever they do in the future for their career. It doesn’t have to be laser specific like Splash artist for League of Legends on Riot games, but a good feel and direction would help a lot. That direction is most likely fuelled by what the artist loves to do already and naturally because they will be already competent or very willing to push the boundaries and grow in that aspect. As such, I think the improvement will only be natural, and motivation will always be there. It will only be a matter of seizing opportunities as they come at that point. What I wouldn’t advise is doing something you know you don’t like because it will get you a job in the industry.
Like for example, oh there is a shortage of tech artists or riggers or environment artists, I’ll go do that even though I’m not very interested because then it’ll be easier for me to find a job. I would say focus on things that you want to or love to do, and that natural motivation will get you there. It’s all a matter of time really as there is always a need for artists in whatever discipline, artists shouldn’t feel they have to compromise or rush to get into the industry that way.
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What makes a good illustration in your eyes?
Well, I think that is relative and very subjective to an individual, but I don’t really subscribe to the whole “oh the lighting must be accurate, the anatomy must be perfect, the rendering has to be whatever” and so on. I think in general for me, a good illustration should fulfil its intended purpose, be it if it’s drawn for professional stuff or personal. A promotional marketing illustration should fulfil its purpose to inspire and draw attention to the game. It’s marketing.
Likewise, a piece of fan art should portray the respect and love of the subject by the artist and a personal piece, even if its a doodle, I guess should still portray the intention the artist is feeling when they are drawing it. However, I think, most importantly, the best illustrations always make me feel something, whether it’s “oh wow that is really cool!” or I think they’re beautiful or wow how was this effect achieved and so on. I think it should invoke an emotion.
GHOST IN THE SHELL
Please walk us through your current favourite workflow from start to finish.
My approach to personal work and professional workflow is a little different. For stuff like Legends of Runeterra (I believe you can see it on ArtStation) we all follow the same process, which is a number of sketch compositions followed by some colour comps and then render on the chosen one. Usually, for the colour comp stage, we will define the lighting direction as well as warmth and intensity this will make it easier for the render stage. As such, we usually refine the sketch comps a little more with more value structure in there to make it able to display the lighting and colour better in the colour comp stage. As always, we would keep the characters on separate layers and the background on a different one as well as things such as VFX, this is so changes can be easily made and tweaked or if the character needs to be placed in a marketing poster or some other use like motion graphic animation.
For personal art, I don’t really do the black and white stage. I start with a comp which is really loose like the ones you can see here on Twitter (https://twitter.com/mujumonster) and then I move to straight colour. I don’t really use flat colour but I render the initial colours under the sketch with the sketch at a lower opacity, since the sketch is usually very loose, a lot of data will be painted in at the under paint layer. Once I can sort of see the whole piece, I will merge the sketch layer with the under paint layer and start painting on that one layer.
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What’s next for Ignatius Tan?
Well, for me, those years spent coaching and working with Kudos Productions and the amazing artists there have been very rewarding as I said. I would like possibly in the future to maybe go into education and start teaching as I believe I actually prefer that over actual production work and drawing. I have been speaking with my colleague and dearest friend Kan Liu ( https://www.artstation.com/666kart) about possibly doing an online class together hopefully soon in the future.
Visit Ignatius Tan’s ArtStation
By Vox Groovy staff writer;
All images used with permission by the artist
© Ignatius Tan or respective copyright holders
Article in Slovak language;