Area 5’s Jay Frechette and game producer Erin Ali met a few years
ago when they were both working their way through game design programs
at different schools (Jay at The Art Institute in San Francisco, Erin
at The University for Advancing Technology in Phoenix, AZ). In Splash Damage,
the duo discuss their experiences — the positive, the negative, the
insightful, and the just plain funny — at game design school.
Jay: As I mentioned in Splash Damage No. 1, I had very little background in art before coming to the Art Institute, which meant my early fine art classes presented me with an entirely new kind of work flow. Also, I wasn’t aware of all the resources that an artist can use when creating a project. What were some things that inspired you as a burgeoning artist at school?
Erin: At the beginning, I mainly pulled from the stories I had collaborated on as a writer. When I was in high school, I joined this online writing forum, and I ended up being part of a 200-page story in which I created a fully developed character named Misato Anami. From there on, I focused a lot of my artwork on character development. In college I began to write stories about the characters I wanted to visualize on paper in both text and image.
Jay: Growing up, I drew all these elaborate scenarios for a superhero character I created called Zip. For my early character design classes, I used his design and look as inspiration for a lot of other characters, and in my first sculpture class I actually made a full-figure sculpt of him. It wasn’t very good, but it was still fun to see Zip brought to life in a new way.
But most of my inspiration, especially in the early years, came from video games. I remember a lot of my fellow Game Art students had similar influences. I could always tell who the Game Art majors were when it came time to present projects, no matter what class I was taking. In design classes, they’d present a collage of iconic game characters. In character design courses, they’d draw a protagonist who looked like he either belonged in a first-person shooter or an RPG. Was it the same for you?
Erin: Sort of. My influences came from video games and anime. I was a huge fan of Neon Genesis Evangelion (hence where the name Misato Anami came from) and Final Fantasy growing up. So when it came to developing characters or storylines, I drew a lot from inspiration of both titles. Misato came to life so vividly for me she even became my online handle for most of my adult life.
As I’ve grown older, my inspirations have broadened, from books I’ve read to movies I’ve seen. But I’m also now seeing patterns in our culture as a whole — methodologies applied, storylines re-used. I’ve seen what makes something appealing and what causes something to flop. And I’m continuously impressed when I see something I feel I’ve never seen before.
Jay: My influences also expanded in college. I met and looked at work from artists in different studies, which opened me up a lot of new styles I wasn’t familiar with. I started spending a lot of time looking at sites like CGTalk and studying other media. I would cringe every time I saw other Game Art students shoehorning something they were tasked to create into some kind of generic anime art style. I felt like there had to be more out there for art in games. I realized that I didn’t want to contribute to the stereotypes – I wanted to push video game art in new directions.
Like we talked about before, I actually spent less time playing games in college than I did in high school, and I used that extra time to go outside my normal space and explore books, art, film, graphic design, and even fashion.
Erin: The best – and easiest — part about inspiration is that you can find inspiration in almost anything. And the more you expand your knowledge base and focus beyond one medium, genre, or style, the more you’ll have to draw from when trying to create something. The hard part is taking that inspiration and turning it into something amazing.
So I’d like to ask everyone reading this article: What inspires you?