The Glamorous Life

If you’re a regular diner on this little word salad I’m tossing here, you might have noticed some gaps in my updating schedule and that posts seem to be less frequent and creeping closer to the end of the week. A couple of hefty convention trips definitely contributed to the lag, but more than anything, I’ve just been plain busy. (I also find that I’m either very inspired to write a blog, or it’s a struggle to come up with something remotely interesting to say that even passably fills this space, as today’s entry is glorious testament to.)

I know there are those of you that think I while away my days, drifting through azure Caribbean seas on a plush yacht playing WARMACHINE while I drink 25 year old scotch through a straw.( Okay, none of you really believe that, but I would love to prove you right if you did.) As it happens, that’s as much a fantasy as is a steam-powered robot with a magical brain. The reality is that I’m pretty much glued to my computer in my cluttered little office (tastefully decorated in the finest action figures, import robots, and video game collectibles one can find, of course!) unless I happen to taking a meeting somewhere in Los Angeles, which generally results in a driving-to-meeting ratio of one hour of driving for every fifteen minutes of meeting.

So when I’m not stuck in traffic or daydreaming about my fantasy office on the S.S. Privateer, here’s a list of the different kinds of things that occupy my professional time. On any given day, I’ll shift gears every few minutes, and a normal day will comprise anywhere from 10-30 instances of the following activities:

• Art Reviews and Approvals — All concept artwork and much of Privateer’s finished illustration work is sent to me in various stages from initial thumbnail designs to final image. I offer commentary, direction, and do the occasion draw-over or sketch to help keep thinks consistent to our vision and quality standards.

Here’s what passes for a quick sketch when I’m trying to communicate an idea. This was done while working with Privateer Art Director, Mike Vaillancourt to hammer out the composition for the next IK RPG cover. (Really, I’m just searching for an image to decorate this blog with!)

• Reviewing Licensing Contracts — When we license our brands for products we don’t create, or license products into other territories for localization (translation to the local language), I have to wade through the contracts. Not my forte.

• Reviewing Distribution Contracts — Same as above, but all about getting the games into new parts of the world.

• Sculpting Reviews and Approvals — Like the art approvals, I’ll get images of sculpts in different stages  and have an opportunity to provide feedback.

• Story Editing — I get pretty involved with our fiction and like to be present for initial story-forming discussions and then final review on the longer tales. Recently, I’ve been up to my ears editing and guiding fiction creation for Privateer’s settings. If you like to read, we’re going to do our best to burn your eyes out next year (you know, in a good way.) Note: I’m not a proof reader or copy editor, I’m just about story — hence all the spelling and grammar mistakes present here.

• Marketing — it’s a broad topic encompassing a lot of different tasks. Privateer has a whole department for this and I do my best to work closely with them on the many different projects we do. Privateer’s approach to marketing isn’t so much about ‘selling’ as it is awareness building and support of our games. Daily tasks include press releases, web content and website evolution, convention planning, promotion planning, ad copy review, organized play planning — the list goes on. My involvement here is primarily at the inception of new initiatives and then at various checkpoints along the way. But there’s a river of material constantly flowing through my inbox as it’s a big, eclectic department doing so many important things.

• Game Design Review — Oh yeah, once in a while I actually do something related to making games! I used to design them, but these days it’s more about offering creative guidance and adding my voice to the feedback we give throughout our development process.

• Naming — Everything in our settings has a name, whether it’s the next WARMACHINE warcaster or a genetically engineered alien hybrid in LEVEL 7. We take great pains to come up with interesting, flavorful, memorable names. Just yesterday, we wrapped up a four way email thread spanning three days and about 30 individual messages to do determine the right name for a previously undisclosed Khadoran intelligence agency that will be appearing for the first time in a significant piece of fiction next year. All that for one name.

Another quickie done to communicate a pose for an upcoming war beast figure.

• Writing — I do a bit of my own writing as well. These days, I mostly write screenplays that will only ever be read by a select few, but once in a while I drop some words into published work at Privateer as well.

• Film Development — As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m developing a number of different projects. This could spawn a whole new list of tasks, but it primarily involves a lot of writing and art production and liaising with producers about the projects.

• Video Conferences & Conference Calls — Several times a week, I can be found as a choppy, pixelated image with stuttering sound on a small computer screen in the conference room of Privateer’s HQ in Bellevue, WA. When we don’t want to brave Skype, we’ll talk the old fashioned way on a phone. I do a fair amount of non-Privateer conference calling as well.

• Meetings — The live kind! As mentioned above, these generally involve copious driving. I do a lot of pitch meetings, the occasional development meeting, and sometimes really fun meetings like my field trips to WhiteMoon Dreams to look in on video game development.

• Vide Game Development — It’s an ongoing process and someday it will hopefully turn into ‘Video Game Playing’.

• Film Production — My current favorite pastime is being on a set directing. I don’t get to do this nearly enough, but I’m working on that. Not sure how I’m going to fit more into this schedule, though!

• Film Post Production — I have a love/hate relationship with this part of film making. It’s awesome to see the magic come together, but it’s also the pass/fail part of the process where you find out if you’ve made the right decisions along the way. It’s also long and often tedious due to a lot of waiting for things to get done.

• Concept Illustration — Occasionally, I actually bang out a piece of concept art for Privateer or for some film project I’m developing. I keep trying to hang up this hat, but every time I walk away, they pull me back in…

• Executive Management — The least glamorous of my day to day existence is actually contributing to the ongoing management of Privateer Press. It can involve anything from writing new company policy to coordinating physical facilities where we work. None of it has anything to do with making up new monsters or drawing robots, so for me, this is the price I pay to be able to do all the fun stuff the rest of the time.

• Blogging — This and other social media content generation! It seems to take up more and more of my time these days, but that’s because I’m enjoying it so much. Working remotely can be somewhat isolating, and the social media gives me a chance to connect with people I wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to speak with. I can find friendly voices online at just about any hour of the day now!

So that’s a pretty good cross section of what my day-to-day looks like. As you can see, it’s not all gaming and cocktail parties (do those things even go together?). But the truth is I really enjoy about 99% of what I do, even the more challenging tasks. Every day is different and I’m never, ever bored. Wouldn’t mind a little more time to play games, but as I’m fond of saying, no rest for the wicked…

 

 

 

 

The Fishy Business of Show Business

I don’t even like fish.

If I’ve learned anything from playing Hollywood these past few years, it’s that the more projects you can launch out of the gate, the greater your chances that one will actually cross the finish line, but almost certainly most of them won’t. (Actually, I’ve learned a few other lessons about show business as well, but those all lead to a great deal of curse-filled ranting that I think may not be appropriate for general consumption.) Specifically, I’m referring to those projects that are not entirely within one’s grasp to get done without the assistance of those rare few entities possessing the kind of money to get great looking images up on the screen. My past short film projects were self-financed and done for very little, but the objective, of course, is to do larger and more commercial work, and for that, I need someone to write a bigger check than I can write myself.

It’s a little like playing roulette and trying to cover as many different spaces on the board as possible so your odds of hitting anything are maximized. If you’ll indulge a somewhat lengthier analogy, though, I think it’s a lot more like fishing in a lake. Fishing is all about being in the right place at the right time with the right bait. If you’re fishing with just one rod, then you’ve got a single line in the water and just one chance to catch a fish. So if you want to increase your chances of a catch, you need more lines in the water. Only, it won’t do to drop them all in the same fishing hole because you really don’t know if there are any fish in that spot or not, so you have to spread them out all around the lake, hoping that the fish are going to be gathering in at least one of those places and that they’re going to be interested in what you’ve wrapped around your hook. (Hang on, we’re not done yet, this one keeps going for bit.)

Now this is where it gets really tricky. Fishing isn’t all about throwing your line out there and hoping a fish jumps on the end of it. You’ve got to coax those fish a bit, give a little tug on the line from time to time to try and get their attention. Sometimes you’ve got to reel it in all the way and recast the line, adjusting the position or hoping you land closer to the fish this time. While you’re babysitting this one line, though, all your other poles are going unattended. If you get a nibble on a line, you need to be there to give it a tug and try and set that hook or the fish is going to move on. So while you increase your odds of catching a fish with all those lines you’ve put in the water, you also end up running all up and down the shore line managing them each time you see the end of the rod twitch. It’s exhausting to say the least.

Now I could keep running with this whole fishing analogy, drawing comparisons to getting your hook stuck, having a snarl in your line, the frustration with the one that got away, or the abject disappointment of reeling in a bottom-feeding trash fish that wasted your bait, wasted your time, and delivers nothing suitable to the table. But I think by now you get the idea.

I believe this analogy could be applied to just about any sort of creative pursuit in which one depends on a publisher, financier, producing label, or similar entity in order to accomplish a goal larger than your available resources. But how does one keep sane in this kind of maddening situation? Well, maybe this is where the analogy breaks down because I think a lot of people who regularly fish would say they do so because they enjoy the act of fishing, not because they want to eat the fish. But assuming that your primary purpose for fishing is to serve up a tasty filet to a room full of assembled guests, it’s a good idea to know where you can just buy a fish when you need it. In other words, you’ve got make sure you’re not always relying on someone else to be able to satisfy your objective; you’ve got to have a project that is wholly in your control to be able to create, execute and present without the need for that other entity to write a check.

And that’s where I’m at right now: a dozen lines in the water, running back and forth managing the rods and reels, hoping to be in the right place at the right time with the right bait and to get a solid enough nibble I can set the hook.  But in the meantime, I need to be doing something that I can get done with my own available resources. For that, I’ve got a few ideas that I’ve narrowed down to, and I’ll bounce those off you in the next week or two.

Until then, happy fishing!

 

Hi-yo, Quicksilver!

The original Stryker image done for the first Battlebox releases of WARMACHINE.

A couple weeks ago I tweeted that I’d gotten roped into doing the concept art for the next incarnation of one of WARMACHINE’s most iconic characters, Commander Coleman Stryker. The truth is, I wasn’t roped into it so much as presented with the opportunity. It took about three seconds for me to process the idea and agree. Stryker is, after all, a character very close to my heart and represents the very beginnings of WARMACHINE.

In terms of development, the original Commander Coleman Stryker is the first warcaster ever created. He became the baseline by which all other warcasters were compared to and balanced against. In a sense, both mathematically, and conceptually, Stryker represents the closest thing to an ‘everyman’ that a warcaster can be. He’s not ‘the best at what he does’ like the two-gun-slinging Caine, nor is he imbued with the powerful arcane abilities that Haley possesses and develops over time. He’s good at what he does, don’t get me wrong, but he was created with the idea that he’s well rounded and adaptable to a multitude of situations, relying on no single strategy for success. And fictionally, this is represented in the character as well. He’s the consummate soldier and an admirable leader, the kind of guy you want to follow into battle. While victory is his goal, the preservation of life and humanity are his foremost concerns. He’s gallant, shining, brave and ready for anything. At least he was…

Something unique about the WARMACHINE and HORDES miniatures games is the way we’ve woven the sweeping story into the game itself, primarily reflected in the character models. The big story, the one we call the ‘meta story’ started about nine years ago in our first expansion book, Escalation. Through a brief anthology story and several vignettes and snippets of fiction, we exposed the characters of the warcasters. We got to know them better, get inside their heads a little, and we got to see the beginning of their ‘character arcs’.

Andrea Uderzo’s magnificent rendering of Stryker in Prime MkII.

According to the screenwriting guru Syd Field, there are four building blocks or aspects of character, which people like to lump together with the term ‘characterization’. These aspects are a point of view unique to the character, an attitude reflecting how he interacts with life and challenges, a need, want or desire that motivates the character through the story, and last but not least, change. No, not a pocket full of coins. We’re talking about character change. The thing that ultimately connects us to a character in a dramatic situation is our observation of how that character deals with a problem and ultimately changes (or doesn’t in some cases) in order to achieve a resolution to that problem. (Am I getting too heady here? Better get some caffeine…)

So, back to Escalation. We’ve got this character, a hero of his nation, a man revered as much for his courage and martial prowess as he is for his sense of justice and mercy. He’s a veteran of numerous battles and engagements  and has certainly experienced both victory and defeat, but his character is never daunted nor tarnished because his only desire — to protect the kingdom that he cherishes — is utterly selfless. And then he’s confronted by something he’s never had to deal with before. His past wartime experience was always by the book. The rules of engagement were clear and everyone abided by those rules. Then came Khador’s invasion of Llael and everything got turned on its head. As Cygnar mobilized to assist their allies to the north, the long simmering theocracy of the Protectorate of Menoth seized the opportunity to strike at Cygnar’s unprotected flank. The result was chaos that spilled over the confines of any battlefield and quickly devastated the lives of innocent civilians caught in the line of fire. Coleman Stryker was rudely awakened from the dream that war could be a noble method of resolving conflict and forced to face the cold reality that there is nothing noble about it. He watched helplessly as ruthless Khadoran soldiers murdered and looted a defenseless village while Protectorate militia massacred fleeing civilians simply to make a point about their difference in theological preference. This was a war without boundaries, an ugly war like Stryker had never experienced before. Witnessing this inhumanity without the power to stop it became the catalyst for Stryker’s change.

Stryker served a just an honorable king, a service he’d been proud of over the ten years since he’d aided Leto in usurping his brother’s throne and leading the nation into an era of prosperity. But Leto’s code prohibited any action considered inhumane, and this is the catch 22 that Stryker found himself mired in. The enemies of Cygnar were willing to do anything to crush them, but Cygnar had no way to defend against such ignoble actions while still upholding the nation’s values. Realizing he would only be leading men to their death as his beloved country crumbled around him, Stryker laid his sword down at the feet of his king and resigned his command unless he be given the freedom to seek total destruction against the forces that threaten Cygnar’s people.

And so ends Act I of Stryker’s character arc. Met with the catalyst for change, Stryker reluctantly embraces this new reality and makes a decision to change his personal code in order to seek a solution to the problem of his nation. Ultimately, Leto has no choice but to give Stryker his leash, and what happens next becomes the subject of much heated controversy between those following the saga of the Iron Kingdoms. Stryker, the once shining knight of Cygnar, becomes the monster he is trying to defeat.

In retrospect, as the creative director driving the plot of the meta-story, I realized we moved a little too fast from the Escalation chapter to the next expansion installment, Apotheosis. If I had the chance to do it all over again, Escalation would have been a bit more of a prologue and a chance to get to know the characters and set up the conflict, and there would have been another book inserted before Apotheosis in which we take these characters to the brink like we did with Stryker. I think the controversy that stirred around Stryker and what he became in Apotheosis was largely due to the fact that we moved from the starting image of this character so quickly into something completely opposite. It might have felt a little like a bait and switch in terms of his fictional presentation. On the other hand, it was a very dramatic shift, and the fact that it polarized people to the character means that it struck the right chords. Our take on the events in the Iron Kingdoms is that nothing is black and white, it’s all grey area and one’s opinion of a situation is entirely relative to his or her position and point of view. In other words, people SHOULD disagree.

Epic Stryker in full battle rage.

So with a his newly appointed station to Lord Commander giving him authority above the law of the land, Stryker decides that the best defense is a good offense, and he sets out to offend his enemies in every way he can. In doing so, he offends some friends as well, namely his mentor, Commander Adept Nemo, when he uses his newfound authority to confiscate a suit of prototype warcaster armor against the old man’s wishes.

He proceeds to march across Cygnar, rounding up civilian sympathizers of the Protectorate (specifically, anyone that worships the Protectorate’s god, Menoth), then shipping them off to a prison island. It’s a dark turn for our once gleaming hero and obviously not something the Protectorate’s religious tyrants would ever expect from Cygnar. Then Stryker leads a brutal assault against Sul, a city filled with the downtrodden and oppressed citizens of the Protectorate. Stryker’s metamorphosis is underway. He has officially become the monster he wants to destroy. It’s a conscious choice, one born of noble intent and complete self-sacrifice but it’s a dark path and comes at the price of Stryker’s soul and very nearly his life.

His sights locked on a particularly vile priestess of the Protectorate, Feora, Stryker lets vengeance take hold of his actions. But Stryker’s hubris comes back to haunt him when the prototype armor goes on the fritz. Were it not for the quick intervention of Stryker’s least favorite ally, Caine, he would have been skewered on the ends of Feora’s fire-breathing blades. So consumed by his rage at this point, Stryker learns nothing from the close call and shirks the aid and counsel of his friends, determined to destroy the entire city.

An early version of the Stryker in-game model by WhiteMoon Dreams.

There are readers that empathized with Stryker, realizing he was doing what he thought he had to do in order to protect Cygnar from destruction. Others were disgusted with his actions, disappointed and let down that the noble hero could fall so far from grace. But that’s the point. In order for Stryker to achieve his own apotheosis, we would first have to destroy everything that he was. I hear players of the games criticize the fiction from time to time, claiming that the stories aren’t dramatic because the main characters don’t die. But I’ll argue that physical death isn’t nearly as meaningful as spiritual death, and right then, Stryker was on the express elevator to hell.

When we next meet up with Stryker, he’s cornered Feora in a temple full of Protectorate civilians seeking shelter from the battle and he’s about to get the vengeance he’s been seeking. But  Feora commands a warjack to unleash a barrage of rockets to cover her escape, bringing down the temple on top of the heads of the cowering Menite civilians. Suddenly, Stryker is hit with the realization that the civilians of the Protectorate are in just as much need of protection from their tyrant leaders as his own people are back in Cygnar. And herein lies the final fork in the road for Stryker’s soul. Pursuing Feora and leaving the civilians to die means completing his transformation into the monster. The blood of innocents on his hands can never be washed off. Victory would be his, but there would be no return to the man he once was. Instead, he places himself in harm’s way, buying time for the civilians to escape as the temple comes crashing down to bury him alive. The path of darkness has led him to new enlightenment just before he finds redemption in death.

Okay, not real death. Symbolic death. Death of a particular existence, illustrated in the action of being buried alive. We all know Stryker lived or I wouldn’t be getting the chance to concept a new model for him. But the change the character goes through over time, from courageous hero of the people to a monster, to being reborn, enlightened with the ideal that no existence is worth the compromise of values, humanity, or one’s soul is a defining theme of WARMACHINE and in my mind makes Stryker the very heart of WARMACHINE. He might not be your favorite character — there are so many to chose from, after all — and you might not even care for Cygnar as a faction, but as both a game piece, and as a fictional character that has endured and emerged victorious in the battle for his very soul, Stryker is the touch stone by which all other characters are measured in this setting.

And that’s why there was never a question about whether or not I’d do the concept art for his next incarnation.

If you made it though that long winded essay, you must really be interested in what exactly Stryker’s next incarnation actually is — that’s the real reason you’re reading this! I’m sure some of you have guessed it by now, anyway. The big change is that like the latest version of Vlad, Stryker will be mounted. Rules-wise, I’m not at liberty to speak much and honestly, I’m not sure exactly where he’s sitting in development. But the concept brief calls for his horse to be clad in heavy powered armor and there’s a suggestion that Stryker’s own armor might be heavier than his original epic version, by virtue of being mounted on the horse. Presumably, Stryker’s prototype armor has been tuned up by Nemo and he’s no longer a danger to himself, so there’s an opportunity there for some visual change. The brief also suggests that he retain his iconic blade, Quicksilver II (now you get the title of the blog!). I’m thinking this is the right call as I haven’t been able to come up with an idea for any other weapon that feels right in his hands.

It’s quite a few years back when we wrapped Stryker’s character arc in Legends, after he killed Hierarch Voyle and repelled the Protectorate invasion. He’s long overdue for a new model incarnation and this will be a return to the shining knight, but representative of the change he’s undergone. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure yet how I’ll approach it. There’s something missing in the idea that I haven’t discovered yet— the pose of Stryker atop the horse, some affectation of his armor? Would it make sense for a warcaster to carry a pennant into battle? Or is he dual wielding Quicksilver with his disruptor pistol like his original sculpt?

Concept art for Epic Stryker

I got a lot of great feedback on the Eiryss 3 concept and it was a fun process to sift through and harvest the suggestions, several of which found their way into the final concept. I’m interested in what you’d do with Stryker’s new image and look forward to sharing this creative journey with you again.

 

 

 

Lessons from Hollywood: Clean Energy Will End the World

“Look honey, another playboy billionaire just tried to save the planet!”

<DARK KNIGHT RISES and AVENGERS spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned!>

The development of clean, renewable energy sources is one of the greatest challenges facing our planet today, or so I’m told.

Now I’m no physicist and to be honest, I’m about the furthest thing from being politically aware that you’re likely to find in someone who actually has access to the internet. But here’s something I do know: clean energy is bad for humanity. It’s going to cause the deaths of millions, if not the destruction of  then entire world. I know this because Hollywood has told me so.

Thanks to a number of highly successful box office blockbusters, I have become absolutely terrified at the prospects of breakthrough clean energy technology, and you should be, too. Over and over we’re told, as soon someone develops a machine that can supply pollution-free power to civilization, some psychopathic jack-off is going to come along and either turn it into a bomb, or worse, use it to open up an intergalactic portal for a horde of homicidal alien invaders.

Here are a few case studies just off the top of my head:

SPIDERMAN 2 — Doc Ock sets out to perfect fusion power under the pretense of benefiting mankind, but unfortunately, he doesn’t have it all quite figured out. So when a short circuit fries his brain-pan, he decides to follow through with his experiment and blow up New York. Well it was the thought that counts, right Octavius?

THE AVENGERS — Tony Stark is set to unveil his new latest creation that will solve humanity’s energy crisis forever. Then along comes a Norse God who mindfucks another scientist into rewiring the whole thing to power a cosmic superhighway for a pissed off legion of alien assholes who apparently have nothing better to do than wreck New York. Way to go, Stark!

DARK KNIGHT RISES — At least when Bruce Wayne realizes that his own clean energy reactor prototype is capable of being weaponized by probably just about any lunatic who might feel like blowing up Gotham, he has the good sense to mothball the project. Except that he leaves it plugged in so that when that lunatic comes along he’ll have no problem turning it into a giant, fucking bomb with which to blow up Gotham (which we all know is really New York). That’s thinking ahead, Wayne!

WATCHMEN — Do I even need to mention this convoluted mess? Dr. Manhattan gives free energy to the world in the form of a bunch of nuclear reactors, which some maniac then wants to BLOW UP so that he can teach the world a lesson and avert a nuclear war. WTF??? Thanks for nothing, Dr. Manhattan.

So, what can we conclude from all of this?

First, New York may be the greatest city in the world, but if someone actually develops a source of clean energy, I would get the hell out of Dodge, ASAP.

Second, despite all the celebrity campaigning to save the world, Hollywood wants us to believe that solving the problems of society, namely the whole energy crisis, is actually a very, very bad thing for mankind. We’ve got a billion dollars worth of ticket sales to prove it and I’m pretty sure I’ve left plenty of other examples out.

So until someone comes up with a new plot device or at least shows us a possible future in which clean energy technology actually benefits the world, I say stock up on sunscreen, burn those fossil fuels, and let’s take our chances with the global warming. It beats getting vaporized by some maniac or eviscerated by a roid-raging alien, right?

 

 

 

Two Generals Battle Report

<Spoilers Ahead>

I did not win.

<End spoilers.>

From left to right: My indomitable opponent Chris Kluwe, moi holding a ‘Fire of Menoth’ cupcake, and the event mastermind, John DeShazer. (Photo stolen from Mercenary Market’s FB page.)

I didn’t think there was chance in hell that I would, there was never really a question about that. My hope was that I could get through the game without thoroughly embarrassing myself, and I think I managed to do that. In fact, I think I made Mr. Kluwe work for it…or at least he pretended to. Either way, let the record show that I did not go down without a fight. Neigh. I brought the fight to him!

Here’s how it went down…

If you’ve been following this blog or my recent tweets/facebookings, you might know that this past Sunday I participated in a great WARMACHINE/HORDES event at Mercenary Market in Coasta Mesa, hosted by the stores owner’s, John DeShazer and my magnanimous opponent for the day, Chris Kluwe. What made this even so fantastic was the unique format, something that I expect will very shortly become a mainstay of WARMACHINE and HORDES events around the world. Twenty eight players showed up and were randomly divided into two teams, each team to be lead by a General — the Generals being Chris and myself. Through four escalating rounds, the teams faced off and during each round, Chris and I were given a limited number of advantages that we could dynamically bestow upon one of our players (whom I will refer to henceforward as ‘champions’), once per player, per round. The advantages could take the form of:

• A boosted die roll
• A re-roll of any die roll
• An automatically successful morale check

As the battles raged across the tables, our champions would call out at pivotal points in the battle to request our support. Several times, the advantage turned an otherwise negative situation into a positive, and more than a few times I witnessed it as the winning die roll in the game. Since each champion only had access to one advantage per game, the effect was not staggering or unbalancing, but the turned-hand of fate was felt throughout the day, to be sure.

Each round, the winning side gained an advantage for their respective General. I’ll try to remember what they were:

• Round 1 — 2″ of additional deployment
• Round 2 — Bonus to the initiative turn order roll
• Round 3 — Player gets to place a wall on the battlefield before deployment
• Round 4 — Player gets one instance of a bonus, as described above.

I gained all four.

My champions were amazing. Or maybe I was just an astounding General! Every player on both sides gave it their all and rallied behind their General yesterday, but round after round, my champions managed to bring home the victory and deliver the advantage to me. The rounds were close and competition was fierce, to be sure, but fortune graced me with the winning army that day, and as a whole, they accomplished a flawless victory (which I squandered with my own incompetence, but we’ll get to that part of the story soon enough).

Chris definitely had the height and reach advantage on me…

An entertaining side note to this is that the organizers of the event surprised Chris and I with a challenge for the Generals following the completion of each of the first three rounds. This added a bit of interaction and I think, comedy, to the day’s events. The General challenges went like this:

Round 1 — Chris and I were tasked before the round started with learning the names of each of our champions before the end of the hour. This was a great challenge because it thrust us onto the battlefield with our champions and required us to engage with them. Immediately, both of us began taking notes, working hard to associate the names with the faces. Impressively, when the moment of truth came, we both scored a perfect 100, memorizing each of our champion’s names. The success awarded us each an additional bonus advantage to hand out in subsequent rounds, but the playing field was still level. I’ll add though, that the greatest advantage was knowing the names of my champions after that, and this served me well.

Round 2 — For the second challenge, an army was selected at random from one of our respective champions. Chris and I were tasked with reciting the name of each model or unit in the army. You might think this is a slam dunk for the creator of the game, but after 15+ books worth of models, even I get stymied on a name once in a while, especially in the heat of competition. Amazingly, Chris and I went toe to toe again, but we both got hung up on one character solo: Sylys Wyshnalyrr. Incredibly, neither of us could dredge the name of this misbegotten elf from our subconscious, and the challenge again ended in a draw with each of us gaining the additional bonus advantage. I’m not sure what this says about ol’ Sylys, but even after multiple ‘sudden death’ rounds, he was the only one that we both failed to name. (Does anyone even know how to pronounce his name? Good grief!)

Round 3 — The humiliation round! The challenge was to lead our champions in a song or chant about, I think, our faction or our army or something. Interpretation of the challenge seemed to vary. Chris and his champions, to his credit, chanted something charitable about Privateer Press and their appreciation, and for that, I must thank him. But this was a juried challenge and I knew I’d have to dig a little deeper to pull this victory out, so as the round played out, I scribbled notes on a 3 x 5 card and subsequently lead my graciously cooperative team in the following chant (keep in mind that I knew I’d be fielding Cygnar today, but my players were made up of a random assortment of factions from both WARMACHINE and HORDES):

Cygnar, Cygnar, you’re our team today,
We might not like you but that’s okay,
You’ll kick Kluwe’s butt if you hope and pray,
Then you can pack up and go away.

My gambit payed off and self-deprecating humor won the day…or rather, the challenge. There was still much left to play out this day…

Instead of winning an advantage for the third General challenge, the losing team was forced to don the pink Privateer bandanas for the final round.

After seven hours of our champions waging bloody war, Chris and I finally got down to our death match. As I said above, I had all the advantages that my champions had won throughout the day. The table was set, and the scenario was revealed, but I won’t even worry about describing the scenario because I don’t think either Chris or I ever had an inclination to try and win by the scenario conditions. It was something about zones and objectives and contesting something or other, but you already know how this is going to go: Caster Kill.

My army. Cavalry painted by Bob Ladd as a commission a few years back. Everything else painted by me. Only Stryker, the Journeyman and the Cyclone existed before last week. I was doing some serious speed painting!

After a week of frantic painting and army building, here’s what I brought to the field with my 50pt force:

Commander Coleman Stryker
Stormwall
Cyclone
Journeyman Warcaster
Stormlancers (5)
The Black 13th
Stormsmiths (3)
Harlan Versh, Illuminated One
Eiryss, Mage Hunter of iOS
Gunmage Captain Adept

Here’s what Chris brought:

Goreshade the Cursed
Kraken
A shit-ton of banes

Okay, he had some other stuff, too. UAs for the banes, the Combine, Tartarus…what’s it matter. I couldn’t target any of them anyway!

In a final advantage granted to the Generals, the champion from each team with the day’s best strength of schedule became the Lieutenant advisor to the General. I’m going to say right up front here, and I’ll say it again, this saved my bacon. My Lieutenant, Alex, who kicked a ridiculous amount of ass throughout the day, was pretty much the only reason I didn’t look like a complete idiot. Though I studied and crammed for this event for a week leading up to it, 90% of what I had loaded into my grey matter went right out the window as soon as I stepped up to the table. I leaned heavily on Alex’s expertise, and to my great fortune, he had played a very similar Cygnar foce that day and was expertly familiar with everything I was fielding. His counsel made the difference between me looking like a chump and actually making a decent show of it, and for that, I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

My stalwart Lieutenant, Alex and me with my eyes close (ugh). Had Alex been in command of my army, things might have actually turned out a little different for Cygnar…

 

Now, I’m resurrecting this from memory without any notes and I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies. Anyone reading this who might have witnessed the event should feel free to correct me on anything I have mistakenly reported, but to the best of my recollection, the battle unfolded like this:

Though we tied with the initiative roll, my advantage gave me the choice to go first, so I took it. After we deployed, I used Stryker to snipe the Stormwall and the Journeyman to Arcane Shield the Lancers, then pushed everyone forward, spreading out across the board to meet his advancing horde of banes.

Chris countered with a tactical advance that used the fewest number of banes possible to thwart any subsequent charge on my part, while pushing his ferocious Kraken straight toward the center of my army. A well placed shot from the Kraken surgically removed Lynch from the Black 13th, diminishing their potential by a solid third, but my force was otherwise unmolested as the Kraken was the sole ranged attack he possessed. Now what followed almost seemed like a gift from heaven. No, it was a gift from heaven, but one that would soon be mocked by less benevolent forces. For some reason, Chris, despite the counsel of his Lieutenant, left Goreshade exposed without the advantage of his Occulation spell, well within striking distance of my sniped Stormwall’s Big Guns. I was practically salivating. For a moment, I thought it was a ruse. Could he actually make such a huge mistake so early in the game or was he baiting me into some diabolical trap?

Turns out, it was a complete underestimation of my position, and the game almost ended there. I loaded the Stormwall with focus and then, biding my time, set up the rest of my force. I walked my lancers into the front ranks of his banes. Meanwhile, I sent Eiryss up the left side of the field, only to come up a quarter inch short on Goreshade — almost plugged him with a disruptor then and there. Needless to say, she was bane-chow on his next turn, but it was worth the risk to try and get that shot off on him. Finally, it came down to the Stormwall. Honestly, I thought I had it in the bag. I had a perfect shot with both guns, well within the Stormwall’s sniped 18″ range. Goreshade had one focus point on him, but it seemed to matter little at that point. The whole round, my marbled green Lock & Load dice had been rolling nothing but 5′s and 6′s, so frequently I was beginning to get a little self conscious about them. A couple of average rolls from these Big Guns and I was going to pack up and head to Disneyland.

Two Generals facing off across the battlefield. You can see by the gesture Chris’s lieutenant is making that this is where I just flubbed my damage roll!

Now, I don’t remember what the rolls were, exactly, but needless to say, I used my focus to boost the hit and damage on the first roll, then to hit on the second. I hit both times. But for the damage, I rolled crap. The second gun rolled nothing but 1′s and 2′s, and when my Lieutenant Alex saved me with a reroll, I rolled the same thing again. I did a total of eight points of damage on Goreshade, and that was the last I ever saw of him because for the rest of the game, he had Occulation up and there was no getting near him.

I think a lot of people were holding their breath during that series of rolls. It looked by all counts like the battle was going to be over before it really started, but that wasn’t what the fates were looking for that day. To be honest, I’m kind of glad it didn’t work out that way because I wouldn’t have been able to claim a victory from my own good playing. I’m not above exploiting a mistake from my opponent, but I think the whole thing might have felt a little anti-climactic, and we would have missed out on a great amount of bloodshed to come.

In Chris’s next round, he deftly maneuvered around the covering fire I was laying down from the Stormwall and Cyclone. Eiryss evaporated in a fine red mist, but otherwise things didn’t look too bad. I had forced him into a conservative advance, or so I thought. In reality, in true Nightmare Legion form, Chris maneuvered cooly and comfortably in the knowledge that time and the numbers were on his side. And then came the Kraken.

This one turned out to be a bit of a twist. For a moment, it looked like the Kraken was going to invalidate the existence of the Stormwall with a weapon lock. But thanks to some rules referencing on the part of John, we found out that the imminent Kraken threat wasn’t quite in range. I was going to get another chance.

As I went into my third turn, I faced down the Kraken and a wall of banes as wide as the battlefield. Goreshade, though, was safely concealed behind his stealth-providing spell. At this point, the Kraken became enemy number one. I lead with the Stormwall, battering it with a pair of massive, Voltaic fists (zapping a necrotech in the process), then followed with a lancer assault, connecting with four of the armored cavalry while the fifth member split to take a target of opportunity on a nearby bane. I also knew it was now or never and I popped Stryker’s Invincibility feat, enveloping nearly my entire army with his +5 ARM bonus. By the end of my turn, the Kraken was a smoking heap and thanks to Versh and some Stormsmith triangulation on the Stormwall’s lighting pod, a good chunk of banes had left the table. But not for long.

At this point, though, a serious problem reared its head: being terribly rusty at my game, I was moving horribly slow. Even with the counsel provided by Alex, I was moving through my turns at a snail’s pace, and we were on the clock. The Death Clock. We’d started the game with 50 minutes each, and by the end of my third turn, I had just over 7 minutes left on the clock. If I recall correctly, Chris had over 40.

The Kraken was a smoking wreck, but I was no closer to victory…

Chris’s third turn, despite him taking his time, is a bit of a blur to me. Banes started coming back. Lancers were dying. The Combine stripped my protective spells away. And a host of undead began carving up my beloved Stormwall, despite his Invincibility bonus. It was ugly. By the end of the round, I was surrounded on all sides by a sea of violet-clad banes and the left half of the Stormwall as well as its entire superstructure had been rendered scrap. And there I was with 7 minutes on the clock.

I think at this point, the clock was simply highlighting a foregone conclusion. Goreshade was safely walled behind an impenetrable curtain of undead unless I got very lucky, so that’s what I tried for. With a power-attack sweep, I took out several banes surrounding the Stormwall, but it wasn’t enough to clear the charge lanes for the lancers. Even if it had, the rough terrain created by the Kraken’s wreck kept Goreshade safely out of range. As my minutes and seconds slipped away, so did my hope. There was nothing I could do and the game was about to be decided by time.

Screw that.

With one second left, I slapped that Death Clock and initiated Chris’s turn. I wasn’t going down because of a clock. I might not have another turn coming, but if I was going down, I was going to go down in the proverbial blaze of glory. Chris would get his victory that day, but he’d have to earn it, and I know that’s how he’d prefer it anyway.

Chris had burned a good chunk of time on his last turn, but I think we was still sitting around twenty minutes or so; plenty of time to formulate a good killing strategy on Stryker, and that’s exactly what he did. The crushing force of his bane army obliterated the Stormwall and coiled around Stryker. In the end, Stryker fell to their shadowy axe blades while I watched helplessly from the sidelines.

The day was done. Chris Kluwe and his Cryxian army had cut a bloody swath through the land, striking deep and painfully into the heart of Cygnar, robbing the kingdom of their most cherished protector. Cue the violins. It was all over but the crying.

Being competitive by nature, I do love to win. But more than winning, I love a good competition. I know I wasn’t even close to the toughest opponent that Chris has faced, but I’m happy to say I didn’t hand him his victory on a platter. As I mentioned above, I have my Lieutenant Alex to thank for that because I would have been making mistakes out of the gate if I didn’t have him watching over my shoulder. I also have an entire team of champions to thank for earning me the advantages I had from the beginning of the game. But what I came away from all of this with was a renewed desire to play this damn game. It’s been too long for me and I’ve missed it. I missed painting these models and I’ve missed the challenge of playing the game itself. It’s time to get back in the saddle and I’m looking forward to it!

Thanks again to Chris for the great game and competition throughout the day, and thanks Alex for being my wingman through that battle. And last, thanks to John, Nicole and Greg for organizing and hosting the event and to all the champions who came out and gave it their all, whether you were on Chris’s team or my own. The best part about this game has always been its community, and I’m thrilled to have had a chance to spend a day as part of it.

Until next year, Chris Kluwe, until next year…

 

There’s a storm coming…

As promised, I’m posting a few shots of my completed Stormwall colossal. What this post will mainly do is serve as proof that just because you own a hobby game company, it doesn’t mean you’re great at the hobby! Even though I have little time these days to paint and model, I still love doing it. More importantly, I can’t stand playing with an army that isn’t painted, even if it’s painted poorly! And with my upcoming game against Chris Kluwe at Mercenary Market this Sunday, I’m not about to go out there with unpainted models. If I’m going to get my butt kicked publicly, I’m at least going to do it with my own, fully painted army, which of course MUST include my very own Stormwall.

I haven’t ever written a hobby article and this doesn’t pretend to be one. But I will share with you my own technique for getting models ‘table ready’ in a short period of time. Mind you, this isn’t going to get any awards, and it might even raise a snicker or two, but what might be impressive is that the whole thing took just under six and half hours to complete, from unboxing to basing.

Essentially, my recipe is to liberally prime the entire model black and then dry brush the hell out of it with Privateer’s Formula P3 paints, naturally. I started with the metallic bits, then the white, then then the blue. The white and blue each have a darker base coat and a lighter top coat. (Morrow White over Menoth White Highlight for the white, Cygnar Blue over Cygnar Blue Base for the blue, of course).

I dry brush fast and loose, with full intention of destroying the poor brushes I’m working with. The goal is to mottle the color a little, giving it a worn and beaten texture. When it’s done, I do a little cleanup and hit some small details like eyes and bolts with a fine brush, then finish it all with some ink washes. The ink washes really bring it all together. First, they knock back the vividness of the whites and other colors, and they dirty it all up. But the best part is that the wash sort of blends the dry brush mottling together, smoothing it all out, and then of course it gets into all those littles cracks and crevices and pulls out the detail of the model. What you end up with, hopefully, is not something that looks like a pile of slop, but rather, something that looks like it’s been in the field for a while and needs good wash.

Disclaimer: this is not a studio approved technique and if anyone from Privateer is reading this, they’re probably falling out of their chairs laughing, or groaning and trying to figure out how to keep this from becoming a PR scandal! But painted is painted, my friends, and that’s a hell of a lot better than unpainted!

But it’s not finished yet — a model needs to be based. I’ve never been an elaborate baser, but these colossals have so much surface under them, they’re screaming to have some beautiful diorama constructed at their feet. Time is of the essence right now, though, and I needed to get this done fast. I also discovered that my basing materials didn’t make the move to California last year, so I had to improvise. In a pinch, I raided my son’s sandbox (Does that make me a bad daddy?) and then scavenged some interesting crumbled gravel from the backyard that was broken up in a consistently angular fashion. The idea was to try and construct something that resembled a low, rock wall that the Stormwall might have just absent-mindedly walked through. Again, it’s not beautiful, but it fills up a little of the space on this massive 120mm base. The rest I covered with sand, then I hit the whole thing with a mottled brown, yellow, green and black wash of the P3 inks to keep it from looking like he was just taking a stroll on the beach.

For someone who used to spend several days painted a single, man-sized figure, pulling this off in 6.5 hours was a minor feat. Actually, a major one. The big trick is to stop worrying about the nit-picky details and just to get it done. Unless you’re winning the Grand Master painting competition, no one is comparing your stuff to anything except unpainted pewter and plastic. This isn’t pretty, and there are a few embarrassing mold lines that I didn’t catch before the paint was on there, but if you are in a crunch for time and don’t think you can get this stuff done, believe me when I say you can. A couple hours a day for a few days and you can have a beast like this table ready.

All that said, I think there’s another one of these in my future. These colossals are, in my humble opinion, are the best models Privateer Press has ever created. The detail and craftsmanship of the sculpts is amazing, and I’m almost sorry to have insulted such a beautiful piece with such a sloppy paint job. It’s been so long since I designed the Stormwall that I’ve completely disassociated any ownership of the design from the final sculpt and I’m enjoying the piece as a true fan. Someday when I’m not feeling the time crunch, I’ll take another stab at the Stormwall and try to do it justice.

 

 

Eiryss 3: Work Complete

Still reeling from Comic Con 2012, I’m a little late getting this post up. But after some pointed discussion on the practicality of the new pistol-crossbow/gunblade (Awe! See what I did there?) and a little dialog on how to handle the two different hood and head options, I’m happy to present the final concept for the third incarnation of the Iron Kingdoms’ most beloved, feared and hated mage-hunter, Eiryss.

In the interest of time, I’ll go against my nature and let the drawings speak for themselves. This has been a fantastic experiment and there were more than a few ideas that found their way from the online discussions to the final concept. Naturally, it’s impossible to accommodate the first choice of every single person and some of the choices here will be polarizing, to say the least. But that’s how you know it’s a delicacy and not a cheeseburger, if you follow what I mean.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment and offer suggestions. This one is done (as in, I’m not touching it again, so don’t even think about it!), but I’ve got another concept coming up that I’m really looking forward to, a new Cryxian warcaster (of sorts), and I’ll give you this one hint: HE is HUMAN.

Stop speculating and look at the pretty pictures. Hope you like it!

(As always, please feel free to post a link, but do not re-post the images, puh-lease! Thanks!)

Working Illustrator Pro Tip #1: Know Your Enemy

Okay, technically your employer or client shouldn’t be considered an enemy, but if you’ve ever been an illustrator combing San Diego Comic Con or Gen Con for freelance work, it can feel a little like going to battle. You spend months, even years training, honing your skills. You build up an arsenal of imagery designed to render your targeted art director speechless with shock and awe. Then you wade into the fray, adrenaline pumping, determined to beat out all comers for those few choice art contracts out there. And competition is fierce!

As someone who has worked on both sides of the trench, as both a freelance illustrator and the art director that hires them, I have a perspective shared by only the few other fellow illustrators who have also been in the position to give someone their first break or ensure that someone could pay their rent next week. I’ve lugged my portfolio around conventions, stood in line to meet art directors, sent off samples to publishers, and have scrapped for work in places no one would even look to find illustration work, much less want to. But I’ve also spent almost 18 years as the audience of those portfolios. I’ve worked with literally hundreds of artists, the best in the biz. And I’ve rejected more submissions for work than I’ve hired. The simple truth is that there are exponentially more artists looking for work than there are jobs to feed them and thanks to the internet and the incredible digital tools available to illustrators these days, marketplace globalization has increased competition to an all time high. You’re not just competing with the other hopefuls lugging their portfolios around the convention anymore, you’re up against everyone on the planet with a broadband connection and a copy of Photoshop. So you’re going to need every weapon in the armory if you’re going to come out on top of the heap — and I’m not just writing the longest introduction to a blog ever here, I’m going to give you a weapon born of almost two decades of successful professional combat. Eventually…

Your portfolio IS your weapon!*
*Took this photo 5 minutes before posting the blog, so don’t mess with me if you don’t want to lose a limb.

Different illustrators break into the fantasy/sci-fi art industry (including book covers and packaging, concept art, interior art, card art, etc.) in different ways. The internet has removed the necessity to physically get in front of an art director (when I say things like that, does it make me sound old?), but there’s still a great deal of value to meeting face to face. First, your sparkling personality can go a long way to making sure you’re remembered and you might even convince an AD to give you shot at something that your work alone would’t have. Relationship building, which is much easier to accomplish in person, is a key component to establishing repeat clients and consistent work. As well, you might receive a helpful critique in person  (if you keep your mind open to it) so even if you don’t land a gig this time around, you’ll have a place to begin the conversation the next time you see the art director, and eventually it may lead to paying work. But the most important reason to meet an art director in person is that you will be one-hundred-percent sure that the AD actually saw and looked at your portfolio, which mail-ins or links to your DeviantArt gallery are never going to confirm. While this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any closer to getting paid work, I have found in my own experience that it preserves some sanity. If you’re anything like me, indefinite waits and not knowing whether or not someone has even taken the time to check out your work is far worse than a door being slammed in your face. But this isn’t the tip, it’s just a benefit of going out and pressing the flesh. The tip is  about how to make the most of it.

I’ve seen as many different kinds of portfolios as I have met artists. No two are the same. Some are printed as leave-behinds, others are neatly ordered. I’ve seen handmade, cut paper pop-up books, and I’ve see portfolios that looked like someone dropped the Sunday Times (Newspaper reference— that definitely makes me look old!) in a puddle before they scooped it up and handed it to me. I’ve seen portfolios with three pieces in them and portfolios with three hundred. But more than anything, more often than not, I’ve seen the wrong portfolio. Wrong as in, the portfolio contained work that had no relevance to the type of work that I, as an art director representing a specific company and its product line, am hiring for.

Freelance artists, especially those starting out, often take a very desperate, shotgun approach to finding work. Armed with their portfolio, they get it in front of every art director they can whether they have any interest or knowledge of what that AD’s company produces or not. They’re just looking for a break and a paycheck. I’ve had illustrators walk up to me at conventions, artwork under their arm, and ask, “What do you guys do here?” It doesn’t matter what I tell them. The next question is always, “Wanna look at my portfolio?” Diplomacy always wins out, but I assure you that at this point, my inner voice is screaming the same thing that every other AD who’s ever been in that position is thinking: No fucking way.

So here’s the big tip, fellow mercenaries — pay attention because it’s a two parter:

KNOW WHO YOU ARE SUBMITTING YOUR WORK TO

and

TAILOR YOUR PORTFOLIO TO THE CLIENT

You get one chance to make a first impression. It’s true, just like you’ve heard all your life. So make sure you apply this to the ONE opportunity you will have to meet an art director for the FIRST time, and make the best goddamn impression you can.

Not everyone out there will agree with me, but my advice is, don’t hunt randomly. Pick your targets, research them, and then take very precise, calculated shots. Find out the name of the Art Director before you go meet him or her — it’s not hard to crack open a book or look online for the Art Director’s credit and trust me, this little tidbit will jump you to the front of the line when it comes to making a good first impression.

Then, look for companies that publish work like you want to do, and more importantly, that you are suited to do. I love comic books, but when I was art directing Magic: the Gathering, we weren’t looking for sequential artists. Still, I can’t tell you the number of portfolios that I looked at from artists who were exclusively comic book ‘pencilers’. Look, if you can’t tell a sequential story, you’re not going be drawing comics for Marvel, and if you can’t paint an entire picture ready for publication, you’re not going to be doing card art for Wizards of the Coast. If you want to paint book covers, you need to have book covers in your portfolio. If you want to do concept illustration, make sure you have a great selection of concept work. If you want to do comics — look, you get the idea. Above all, make sure the AD you’re submitting to is looking for the kind of work that you’re applying to do! It’s basic arithmetic but for some reason they don’t seem to be teaching this in schools.

But it doesn’t stop there. If you don’t show a creative aptitude for fantasy work, you’re also not going to be doing any work for Magic. It’s not just the style or mode of work that is important, the subject matter is equally relevant. If someone shows me a bunch of gothic romance cover paintings of vampires in lingerie making out on castle balconies, it doesn’t matter how beautifully rendered they are, I don’t necessarily know if they’re going to be able to pull off an image set in the gritty, combat-heavy setting of WARMACHINE. You don’t have to show samples of the potential client’s actual intellectual property, but the closer you can get to the genre(s) the client represents, the quicker you’re going to convince the AD to give you work. Art Directors are famously busy, living and dying each day by the deadline. The downside of meeting them in person at a convention like San Diego Comic Con or Gen Con is that it’s hard to get and keep their attention; the environment is loud, lit too brightly or not well enough, they’re hung over and exhausted from the night before and they’re tired of looking at shitty portfolios. So you’ve got to be on point, man! Show them what they want to see, which means showing them something as close to what they put in their products as you possibly can muster. You want to work for a fantasy RPG company? Show them fantasy work. You want to do science-fiction book covers? Show them science-fiction! Can you show them other stuff, sure (I’ll retract this in a moment) but make sure you show them a decent cross section of relevant materials —3-5 pieces in a related genre should cover it.

In my book, ‘versatility’ is not a good thing. I like to see a portfolio that represents the artist’s specific voice and style because I want to know exactly what I’m hiring in an artist. If an illustrator’s work is all over the place with loose watercolors, tight pencils, thick oil paintings and photo-realistic digital work, I don’t know what I’m going to get if I hire this guy. The biggest hurdle you have to overcome is the AD’s inherent skepticism that you will actually be able to deliver what they want in the timeframe they need it. So if you are a master of different styles, organize your work by type, style and medium and make sure you show, again, a substantial quantity of each so the AD who is hiring for a futuristic space combat game knows that the one super-slick vehicular design you did isn’t just a fluke. But for my money, I say streamline as much as possible. Only show the art director work that is relevant to the work you are applying to do. Nothing else is going to matter.

Also, be economical! If you’re lucky, you’re going to have 5-10 minutes to talk with an art director, but keep in mind the environment/busy/hangover/tired-of-crap thing. Those portfolios with 300 pieces in them? Yeah, they’re not as uncommon as you might think. A generous AD will look through every page, but many don’t have that kind of time. You don’t want them to get tired of looking through your work and never make it to the good stuff. My recipe for a good portfolio is 10-12 pieces. I don’t care if you’ve got a hundred masterpieces under your arm, I don’t want to look at an art book, I just want to be convinced you can do the job I need done so I can get back to my Gatorade because what I’m really thinking about right now is replenishing all of my lost electrolytes before the show is over so I can get through another night of after-hours convention socializing. Are you getting the picture? Be a tactical nuke. Get in, blow them away, and vanish as fast as possible. Don’t go too light — six pieces minimum. But twelve pieces, max. Make the hard decision to show only your best work. The AD won’t know what he or she is missing.

“But I’m going to be at Comic Con for four days!” you say. “I need to hit as many art directors up as possible!” you lament. “How can one portfolio do everything I want it to?” That’s the thing. It can’t. If you’re heading out for a marathon work-hunt, be prepared to either customize your portfolio between meetings, or carry multiple books as needed. Either way, take the right load out for each mission. Don’t be lazy about this and it will pay off.

And leave the naked boobies at home.

Again, there are those who won’t agree with me, but unless you’re meeting with an art director for HEAVY METAL or a company that produces content of an adult nature, then you don’t know what might or might not offend an art director. If I only had a dollar for every time I opened up a portfolio to the first page, only to see some naked barbarian chick posing over her fresh kill! While I’m a huge fan of masters like Frazetta and Bisley, YOU are not Frazetta or Bisley, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. So I don’t care if your buck-naked bareback dragon-rider has won the gold award in Spectrum (which it hasn’t, because it’s a buck naked bareback dragon-rider), leave it out of your portfolio. Again, the art director isn’t going to miss it but it might color his or her opinion of you in a negative fashion right from the start. Self censor so they don’t have to. Maybe the art director for a children’s book company has a collection of wind-blown, short-skirted anime schoolgirl comics, but that’s not what that AD is going to be hiring for. Stay on target and remove anything from your portfolio that might turn off this stranger you’re trying to impress.

My other pet peeve? School work. It’s easy to spot and it makes you look inexperienced. An art director with a limited budget and tight deadlines doesn’t want to take a flyer on a kid fresh out of school, so don’t set yourself up to look like one. Get rid of the life drawing charcoals, the old-master oil painting reproductions, and anything that looks like a Coca Cola advertising illustration. These scream ‘newbie’, which even if you are, you don’t want to let on. Art Directors want to hire illustrators with field experience. They want people who are used to working on a deadline without an instructor helping them along the way. The discipline to be a reliable freelance artist is so hard to come by that you don’t want to give the AD any sense that you might not possess every ounce of it necessary to deliver on time. You don’t have to possess a portfolio full of paid work, but you need a portfolio that looks like it’s full of work you got paid for. Even ‘fan work’ (eg. your painting of Batman that you obviously did for fun) is going to resonate better than something that looks like it was produced as an assignment in a classroom. Give the AD the confidence he or she needs that you don’t need to be coached every step of the way, and leave your school work at home.

Summary: Know who you’re submitting to and customize an economical portfolio with work relevant to the client’s needs. Less is more.

And knowing is half the battle! We’ve all heard Duke say it a thousand times. But the other half of the battle in getting hired for an illustration job is employing the right weapon for the fight, effectively. So put down the shotgun and pick up your sniper rifle. From here on out, it’s nothing but head shots.

 

Eiryss 3 — Work in Progress

With the deadline for the concept of the new incarnation of Eiryss rapidly approaching, I’ve been trying to carve out the time to make some decent progress. San Diego Comic Con is looming right in the middle of this timeline for me as well, which means that I’ll lose most of next week to work on it. What this really means is that my delivery date has moved up from July 16th to next Wednesday, or I’m going to be late! Time to get cracking.

The image below shows my progress so far on coming up with a new look for Eiryss’ trappings. This is drawn entirely in pixels on a Wacom Cintiq tablet in Photoshop, which gives me a lot of flexibility to work back and forth in layers as I refine the drawing and the rendering at the same time. I end up wandering a bit during the process, but I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to explore the concept in a more time-economical way than generating multiple drawings. It’s easy to get caught up in the anatomy and pose and lose focus on what’s really important here, which is what the character is wearing. In retrospect, though, I chose a poor angle on the figure because I was trying to be a little too dramatic with the drawing. The low camera perspective prevents a good square look at her chest (no snickering, please), which means I’ll need to do a second front detail shot to make sure the sculptor and artist have all the information they need to interpret the design accurately.

Being her third costume design I wanted to present some sort of evolution from her previous looks, but as this is also the first time she won’t be operating as a solo, I wanted to make sure that some of that evolution was drastic and really sets her apart from the first two solo versions.

At this point, I’m sticking with a very similar silhouette, as the fashionistas would describe it. We’ve got the familiar cloak, the armored boots, sleeves and corset over a fine set of light-weight but protective mail coverings that more or less mimic the shape and rhythm of her previous designs. The big change here is the styling of her armor. Early on, Eiryss established a particular beat in Iosan armor design that included flexible segmented rings and panels of leather armor held in place by button-like fasteners. This design beat shows up on her two previous incarnations as well as many of the Retribution of Scyrah model designs that would come years after her first appearance. You can see this beat on Adeptis Rahn under his heavy armored plates, or in various places on the battle mages, mage hunters or storm fall archers. But, new Eiryss isn’t a standard trooper. I’ve always seen her as a bit of a trend setter, and while she’s very much part of the Retribution army now, I want to keep a sense of her individual identity. Where I’ve ended up is a much more organic approach to that segmented armor, treating it now like larger panels that have been created by many pieces joined together as opposed to overlapping. The button-like fasteners still hold everything closed, but I think there’s something much more fluid and beautiful and the lines of the armor. It’s almost got a touch of the art nouveau.

The original Eiryss is fairly utilitarian in her look. With the Angel of Retribution incarnation, she gained a little more style with the decorative wing/feather motif on her cloak. In this new version, I want to push that styling toward a more embellished and personalized look. Though there is much to decide and do with the concept design, things are starting to settle in place.

A lot to get done in a short period of time, so I’m getting back to work on this right away! More to come soon…

(Please feel free to share the link, but please don’t repost the image. Thanks!)

 

Eye of the Tiger time!

Last week, I had the opportunity to help plan what I think is going to be the WARMACHINE event of the summer and if you happen to live anywhere in Southern California, you’re not going to want to miss it. The deets:

July 22, 2012 , 10 am PST
TWO GENERALS
Chris Kluwe vs. Matt Wilson
In the tabletop throw down of the year!

Presented by
MERCENARY MARKET
2263 Fairview Rd. Ste P
Coasta Mesa, CA
(949) 722-8342

So this is how it’s going to go down: players signing up for the event at Mercenary Market will choose (or be assigned) a team — mine or Chris Kluwe’s. The two teams will face off through four rounds of WARMACHINE bouts, each round escalating in point value. As the generals, Chris and I will be able to dynamically allocate benefits during the games. The winner of each game will earn a benefit for his or her general, which Chris and I will be able to use during our own final, winner-takes-all match.

Sounds simple enough, right? Should be a walk in the park for the guy who originally designed WARMACHINE. Hell, I might field an army at random just to keep things interesting, or maybe an army of all Trencher Chain Guns — how about that? I mean, who even has a chance against ME? I AM WARMACHINE! Err…it’s not so simple…

For those of you who don’t know who Chris Kluwe is, he’s one of the most successful punters in the NFL and plays for the Minnesota Vikings. He’s also famous for being an avid gamer. As a gamer, one of his pastimes is miniatures games and by all accounts, his WARMACHINE flavor of choice is Cryx. Okay, neat, but what’s the problem with all this? Hang on, there’s more…

According to Wikipedia, Chris is 6’4″ and 215 lbs. Now, that officially makes him the most physically imposing opponent I’ve ever played against (Sorry, DevilSquid!) but that’s not what has me shaking in my boots. No, in my enthusiasm for this exciting event, I forgot something.

(Drum roll for the dirty-secret confession…)

I don’t know how to play.

(record screech)

Whoa, whoa, whoa, you say! You’re the original designer of the game! How do you not know how to play? Let me qualify that: I don’t know how to play ‘well’. Designing games and playing games are two totally different animals. If I can be so gauche as to use a tangentially relevant sports metaphor, the Coach with his years of experience and study might know exactly how to beat the other team, but he’s not going to go out on the field and throw the winning pass. I know, it’s barely the same thing, but you get the idea. Just because I can design games, and just because I conceived of this thing ten years ago, doesn’t mean I’m any good at it.

I don’t know what Mr. Kluwe’s win-loss record looks like, but I don’t even have one. Well, that’s not entirely true — I have played one recreational game with the MkII rules of WARMACHINE against the game’s current designer and mastermind, Jason Soles. Now, unlike me, Jason possesses incredible courage and never hesitates to wade onto the battlefield to slug it out with anyone who comes at him. And he’s good. Damned good. Jason is a ruthless, cold-blooded killer with laser-like focus who takes sadistic enjoyment not just in winning, but in making you watch while he feasts on your insides. I’m pretty sure Jason was the kid who pulled the wings off of flies just because he could, but somehow that kid grew up into a strategic and tactical genius and one hell of a game designer. If you’ve had the pleasure (or have endured the opportunity) to play against Jason, then you know how tough he can be. At conventions, I like to stop in and see what Jason’s score is, and while he wins the vast majority of his games, I’m always surprised to find out that there are some that he loses. And if Jason can be beat, I have no chance.

In the past two years I became a father, moved states, and finished two short films — oh, and I did a few things for Privateer as well. It hasn’t left a lot of time for playing games, even my own. That one recreational game I got in against Jason two years ago was a blast, but it obviously didn’t go well for me. I  ran a Tier 4 Siege list — The Big Guns — that was more an exercise in how much artillery I could get on the table than anything else. And yes, I maxed out my FA of Trencher Chain Guns. But every figure on that table was painted, I’ll have you know! Even so, each one died a valiant death to Jason’s assaulting Cryxian horde.

I’m having flashbacks to the massacre that was that game. Cygnar vs. Cryx. It’s always been a tough one for me. I love a standup fight, armor against amor. Taking apart Juggernauts and Destroyers at range with a battery of Defenders has always been my strong suite. But tricky armies, and armies with hordes of infantry — those I have a harder time against, even if I did help come up with the rules for those things. I don’t have much intel about what Chris will be fielding or how he plays, but he said he’s bringing Cryx and he mentioned his ‘Banes’. That’s not a lot to go on.

But I’m not giving up! Oh no, it’s Rocky Balboa time! (Cue Eye of the Tiger, please) I’m having my army shipped down from Seattle right now and I’m going to spend the next four weeks tuning it up and training. I need to get some games in, shake the rust off, get my mojo back. I’m going to run up and down some stairs, tattoo ‘Page 5′ on my forehead and get my head back in this game, from a player’s perspective, not a designer’s. I’m not going down without a fight. Who knows, I might have a great team and maybe I’ll get some lucky dice rolls!

Wait a second…Rocky lost, didn’t he.

Shit.