Monday, October 1, 2018

As an artist, it seems like the landscape is ever-changing from simply the tools, to the aesthetic. I intend to be an artist that never wants to stop learning, and as such, I find more and more interesting artists every day. Each artist has a unique insight and point of view, no matter the experience level. New views help open my mind and teach me there are many ways to utilize my skills and I hope that sharing our stories will help others in the same way. I believe there are many paths on an artistic journey, and each interview will help to show the stories of the artists that tread them.

Today we'll be interviewing Gordon Neill.

Kaminski: My first question is typically the same, but what made you pursue art? And in that vein, what KEEPS you pursuing it?

Neill: Hi, Mathew, and first of all thanks for taking the time to interview me. I'm usually on the other side of the interview chair with my podcast.

Art, for me, has been a lifelong thing and I've always enjoyed it. I used to sit around my parents house and sketch Teenage Ninja Turtles or He-Man in the hopes that one day I could be a "cartoonist", not knowing much about the industry. My career took a sleeping pill around eighteen when i left high school and didn't really know what I wanted to do. I knew I was passionate about games and so wanted to find a career somewhere in that world. I started out in college soon after, studying journalism as I had aspirations to become a game journalist, but soon after the course started my father told me of an engineering job coming up in the railway industry that paid good money and provided a decent education.

Some time passed (well a lot actually) and I was 27; I had been working in the railway for about ten years and mostly enjoyed it, but always did some creative projects on the side. I tried to make music videos for bands I played in. In some of them I was also as drummer or vocalist. I also made album covers with Photoshop and tried my hand at running a few YouTube channels for games. Each of these projects usually fizzled out, or I came across something new and shiny so I wanted to evolve each time. I guess i never felt challenged and standing still always bored me.

(Making of God of War 3)

Just as Christmas 2010 was about to hit I was having more and more thoughts about leaving my job and pursuing some career outside of it that would make me happy. I actually began watching documentaries about art and making games - mostly Halo 3 and Gears of War and of course my favorite doc which was the Making of God of War 3. I had made up my mind. I then talked to my parents and my partner at the time and decided I was going to hand in my resignation as soon as possible. There was only one problem: I had to find a course with an art college before I could leave.

I managed to get an entry level course at a local college Forth Valley College (Shout out to Julie Parker for having faith in me). The course was very basic and I felt it wasn't 100% what I wanted to do. I worked through the years after that obtaining an NQ in Art then an NC in Art & Design and finally an HND in Visual Communication (the lecturers and staff were amazing! Shout out to Brian, Hannah, Dee, Staci, Steph and Pam).

After i finished my HND I was still hungry for more and didn't feel like I was staying true to my original vision of concept art. I looked into university's that would offer courses kind of related to the industry so i signed up for a B.SC (honors degree) in 3D animation and digital art. This course was good in the sense that it equipped me with some skills I still use today, mostly using 3D software like Maya and Substance Painter. I also learned about Axis Studios in Glasgow and found them online. During my third year, through networking events, I managed to get an internship with the Studio and helped with recruitment and admin tasks for the studio team whilst they were working on several cinematic projects. I recently graduated with honors and found myself in my first job with Red Essence Games working on Mask of Semblance. I contacted Nik about working on the game and after an art test I was offered a role as a junior artist also because of my networking skills I've been put in charge of their PR for the game.

What keeps me going really is always wanting to not let myself or my family down. My parents mean everything to me and they've afforded me so many opportunities and helped me so much along the way all I want to do is make them proud. I also want to have a sense of accomplishment in my work and my life, I would rather honestly be happy than rich and the people and artists around me always make me feel motivated and want to push forward constantly.

Kaminski: Incredible! The commitment to your education most likely shows through in your work ethic. Having multiple degrees myself, I share in the desire to constantly be pushing!

Looking through your work, your definitely portfolio driven! That being said, you touched somewhat on your journey through college and above, but what was your personal experience like? Do you have any advice either way on someone wanting to jump into the field following in your footsteps?

Neill: I definitely kinda covered this in the last question. I had training of sorts on the courses I attended, but at night I was always looking online at certain courses and other things I could do with my time. Especially when I hit university things like Learn Squared and Schoolism were really coming into their own, and of course I always looked at other artist's work on ArtStation and wondered where I was going wrong. I just really looked into things like artists Gumroad's and other tutorials I could get my hand on, plus there is already so much content online for free through YouTube!

Advice really is stuff I've now come to terms with MAKE ART THAT YOU LOVE! Honestly it's as simple as that. I looked at so many portfolios and other artists work and was always like, "If I make cool realistic sci-fi stuff like that I'm bound to get work!" But, every time I tried to be like someone else or copy their work to gain inspiration I wasn't being true to myself. What did I want to do? Where was my art going and how would I get there? These are questions I constantly asked myself during my journey. In the end, I make art that makes me excited and that makes me want to make art. When I tried to impersonate realistic stuff or photo bash I didn't feel whole and it made me not enjoy the process. I didn't want to learn or produce anything due to not enjoying it. Now I'm going back to my roots and trying to pump out daily studies from games like Hearthstone as well as working with Red Essence Games.

Kaminski: I can agree tenfold on the point of making art that you're personally invested in. Every once in awhile, to remind myself, I take on commissions that are out of my passions and I can say that they are typically not the best work that I can do, and so I return invigorated with fury on projects that I'm invested in! Part of this can sometimes bleed over into fan art work and things, but again, on IP's that I personally love. Speaking of which: what is your take on fan art as a whole? Some see it as a means of self-promotion, some see it is selling out, some see it as simple copyright infringement. Do you have any viewpoints one-way or another?


Neill: Fan art is tricky because I know I love it and have definitely made some in my time. In fact there is a Hellboy sketch on my Artstation right now. I think fan art servers its purpose of inspiring artists because, I mean, come on we are all fans right!? That's why we do this stuff! We all sat at the cinema and watched Star Wars then went home and started to sketch Yoda! Or... Maybe that was just me? Seriously though, I really believe it can be a positive force. Where it becomes a grey and shady area is attending cons making prints and selling stuff. I've done it in the past, done sketches for people of a super hero they loved or sold a print, but I actually found I had more traction or sales when I printed out my landscape paintings and sold them. I think each year at a con people see the same kinda stuff over and over so when something unique and new pops up they kinda pounce on it to be different. It's not a black or white situation and every story is different but I definitely think there isn't any harm in it because we are all fans.

Kaminski: I love your refreshing take on the subject of fan art.
Switching gears: from your experience all the way to college and before, it shows that you're so well rounded. It's amazing how you've spread yourself so thin and yet still maintain quality across the board. Do you have any advice on artists trying to pursue multiple disciplines?

I would probably advise that people start with a strong foundation in their core skill (3D or Drawing) then slowly try to move and expand from that base. 

Neill: Multiple disciplines is a tricky one because of course as a modern and up and coming artist you really need to know everything, but it also dilutes your skill set. I would probably advise that people start with a strong foundation in their core skill (3D or Drawing) then slowly try to move and expand from that base. It's tough but of course we all know modern artists need to have a multi tool set approach.

Kaminski: Related to the previous question: what's a typical schedule like for you? How do you manage to keep everything on time and in order?

Neill: In honesty, it can be a bit chaotic now with Red Essence Games taking up most of my time with PR and of course art, but I try to balance my hours between that and of course learning/personal work. I'm currently building my first game in unreal and trying to burn the midnight oil pursuing my Hearthstone challenge, part 2! The best advice I can give is trying to just do a little everyday and eventually it always adds up to an overall success, Rome wasn't built in a day!

Kaminski: I'd love to hear about any non-NDA projects that you might be in the middle of: Do you have any projects you'd like to promote?

(Mask of Semblance trailer)

Neill: My main focus at the moment is of course Mask of Semblance which was announced at PAX EAST this year with Red Essence Games, we are currently working towards Alpha build and the next version for PAX 2019 you can find more info on or check out our trailers and game play on YouTube by searching Mask of Semblance.

Also, as always, I would love to promote Digital Artcast my online podcast where we speak to industry professionals and have just launched an online teaching episode for Cinema 4D demonstrated by Leon Tukker

Kaminski: Mask of Semblance looks beautiful, and incredibly intricate. I can only assume that there's a ton of cogs bouncing around in tandem to make that project come to life. That being said, It's so incredible that you work in the games industry - it's an industry that I would love to be fully vested in. That being said, what's it like? For someone looking from the outside in - I would love to get insight into the day-to-day of working on the industry.

Neill: Working was always a worry for me. I think working for an indie developer really takes some stress off me. When I was interning at Axis Studios in Glasgow I felt the place moved at a thousand  times normal speed and I always felt I was running to catch up. This being said it did teach me some life lessons and ideas of how you should present yourself in any company. Also, it prepped me for what it would be like in a day-to-day AAA studio. Most days at Red Essence Games I chat with my boss (Nik) on what our week's objectives are and work some PR to make sure we are getting exposure or beginning to strike deals with influencers or other people that can help our brand. As our game is 2D and hand animated it's kinda old school Disney where I work on in-betweens and cell animation. Like any job you work long hours and I'm lucky I can have the weekends off!

Kaminski: It's kind of funny, recently I've been hit with a realization about being an artist in or out of the industry. If you're working a day job, be prepared to work your ass off until you can make both jobs become one! In some ways that's something that I've been working towards myself. Speaking of, what goals do you have for the immediate? And long term?

Neill: Finishing Mask of Semblance would be great as I hear so many horror stories (especially from Nik) of working on games that never see the light of day. This wouldn't be completely true as we are an indie developer so we have free reign on what we can and can't show. I would just like to get at least one title under my belt before I take my next leap. Also in the future, maybe within two years, I would like to move into a bigger studio, whether that's with Red Essence Games doing another game or sequel or moving into another development house I've yet to see, but my overall dream would be working for Blizzard Entertainment. I think a lot of people share this dream and I mostly think it appeals to me not only because of the games they make, but the style they produce in their artwork.

Kaminski: Any push you can make, big or small will help push your name further and further out. And lastly: what's the best piece of advice you can give to upcoming artists OR what's the best piece of advice you've received this far as an artist?

Neill: One of the best pieces of advice I was given from an art friend was simple but always overlooked, "BE YOURSELF". Honestly, so many times when I was starting out I tried to imitate someones style or approach to learning or producing art instead of what I wanted to do. I've finally settled on something I feel is my representation in the world and I wanna see my goals and styles moving forward in games, movies, animations and more. Really it's just about being true to yourself and never really looking back. Each step takes you somewhere new and you should always remember that this is YOUR journey and no one else. You set your own expectations and goals and you decide when you cross the finish line.


Thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Gordon Neill.
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You can view this interview, and many more, HERE.

You can find view more of Gordon Neill's work at:
You can also learn more about his interview series Digital Artcast, HERE!

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