Matt Rhodes

Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Like most kids I enjoyed drawing, but at one point I saw a "behind the scenes" feature about Disney (this is before dvd special features). The people who made them were... grown ups! Their JOB was to make draw all day making animated movies. That meant... that could be MY job! 

Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
I received my Bachelor of Design from the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD). I firmly believe that you only get out of school what you put in. Thankfully I had a great group of passionate friends and we worked our asses off. I also think it's important not just to draw a lot, but to challenge yourself by drawing the difficult stuff. If you really struggle with something, or you know you're making it up or avoiding it, that's what you should work on drawing next. 

Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
My parents have always been hugely supportive. They were encouraging without offering too much praise so I always fought to improve. They helped me get my first paid commissions, and let me live at home while I went to art school. Their motto is: "Do what you love, the money will follow."

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
My brother. Tom Rhodes. He's an artist as well, and two years younger than me. We would draw together constantly and push each other. Iron sharpening iron. I wouldn't be nearly the artist I am today without some live-in competition. 

Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
I've always loved drawing characters. Through a single character drawing you can tell an entire story, showing their past, their hopes, their flaws, their strengths. 

From the initial client idea to the final work: what goes through your mind when you are designing and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
To me, story is the spine that runs through all of it. What does this person/place/thing say about the story/setting? For example, if we took a dragon, rather than just spinning the aesthetic wheel until you find a random shape that nobody has drawn before, you can figure out the story: What does the dragon represent to the protagonist/audience? Is it the chaos of an uncaring world? Is it the protagonist's self-doubt? Is it the last surviving avatar of a dying age of magic? Once you know what its story is, it starts to design itself.  

What is your process in colouring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
I use photoshop for just about everything (aside from the work I do in my sketchbook). To color, I work in "light layers".

- Starting with the diffuse layer
- Create a shadow layer: duplicate the diffuse layer and darken it, adjusting the colors to the appropriate shadow colors
- Create a light layer: duplicate the diffuse layer and lighten it, adjusting the colors to the appropriate light colors
- Now start making out the top layer to paint the lighting in.

The nice thing about working like this is that you can still change the color/luminosity of the shadows/lights at any time. You can also add new light layers for every new light source.  

What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
The most fun part of the creation process, for me, is the collaboration. I love working with writers, designers, model builders, animators, and then at the end seeing something living and breathing in game. The hardest part is a point that we've come to with every game: tons of things have been designed and built, and you know they're in the system somewhere, but the game isn't taking form yet. You can't SEE it yet. It always works out in the end when everything starts getting plugged in, but you can feel a bit lost in the fog for a while. 

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work/collaborate with?
Grab a coffee and start thinking about what the game needs next. In the early stages you're working with the writer and designers, visualizing what they have in their heads so everyone can see it. My hope is to get a few versions of the story in the garbage before things start to solidify. The opportunity to fail on paper is one of the best things concept artists can offer the team. Once production is going full steam, there are dozens of requests coming in every day. You try to work through the requests, applying the art direction to everything from chairs to pillars to mountains. During production you spend a lot of time with model builders and animators, trying to make sure that the visuals are coming together and actually work in-game. 

What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
I've had the opportunity to work with dozens of talented artists over the last eleven years and they've each taught me a lot. As a group, I think they've all shown me that while personal styles may vary, skill is the great equalizer. I've worked with highly stylized artists and photo-realistic artists, all operating at their best, all able to communicate and tell stories in their own ways. I now believe that it doesn't matter HOW you draw, just that you CAN draw, because then your ideas shine through loud and clear. So, work super hard to be the best version of YOU that you can. 

Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
Dragon Age: Inquisition as a whole is the project I'm the most proud of so far. One thing i'm very proud of is work that I didn't do on that game. We realized that we wanted to use the tarot cards for our menu system, and that it would require a huge amount of work to pull off. The few that I worked on weren't as strong, while the cards Ramil Sunga, Nick Thornborrow and Casper Konefal were creating were phenomenal. I decided to start running defense, taking on all the little requests that were pouring in so that those guys could focus all of their attention on the cards. I drew crates/books/carpets and a hundred other little necessities while they produced card after card, each more gorgeous than the last. It was so worth it, and I still love looking at them. 

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
While at Bioware I've worked on:

- Jade Empire
- Mass Effect
- Mass Effect 2
- Mass Effect 3
- Dragon Age 2
- Dragon Age: Inquisition

As well as a few projects that never saw the light of day. 

What is your longterm career goal and what would your dream project be?
At the moment, I would be thrilled to be doing this for the rest of my career. I love this stuff. There are some personal projects I'd like to finish, but I'm taking my time on those. As for dream projects, I think it would be fun to do something more elaborate with Dune, or Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series, or Cyan's Myst/Riven/D'ni universe. 

Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
I thrive on the studio. The collaboration, the creative energy, the critique, it sustains me. 

What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an art-block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
If you're suffering from art-block, don't sit at the desk staring into the white void. Go for a walk in a forest, watch a movie, lay down and listen to some music, read a book about a subject you're not interested in. If you're still fighting it, change mediums. If you're used to a pencil, try watercolors. If you're used to photoshop, grab some charcoal. 

Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there are lots of choices. When you’re young, sometimes you know only one thing: you love to draw. What should a young artist take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
Industries change, technology changes, artists change. There's a lot out there, but I think that if you work as hard as you can, practicing and finishing work, then you'll be prepared for just about anything. I also think it's a good idea to love the work, not the subject. Whether it's games, comics, film, and whether it's fantasy/sci-fi/Barbie's Dream House, just love the work, the act of designing, the collaboration with a team. There are a lot of projects out there where you can tell that while the subject matter may not have inspired the developers, the team loved the work (seriously, Barbie's Dream House on Netflix is a great example of this. For a start, there's probably 2-3 Indiana Jones references per episode.)

Many art teachers and schools suggest to their students that a commercial artist should always work in one consistent style if they wish to have a healthy career. In your own experience, do you believe this to be true?
I don't think you need to worry about your style. It's like your signature, you can sort of design it, but it's mostly a byproduct of your hand and brain. Just work very hard to become the best version of you that you can. That said, consistency is a useful attribute, because then people know what to expect from you. I would separate consistency from style. You can see this in artists work a lot, they can draw a very stylized line drawing, then do a more rendered landscape, and while the "style" may vary, they are consistent in quality. I think THAT is where your value as an artist lays. 

If you had to recommend only one art book (a comic book, graphic novel, children book, ''how to'' book) to a fellow artist, what would it be and why?
Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier. If you want to learn anatomy, I don't think I've ever come across a more useful resource. Incredibly detailed drawings of musculature, with description, in a huge variety of poses. 

What’s your point of view about the industry today: what are the expectation for someone who wants to make a living with an artistic career?
These days my priority is story. Every medium, when you get past the gimmicks, is about storytelling. Stories are a profoundly importantly element of our lives. We use them to pass on knowledge, wisdom, warnings, and to inspire imagination, hope, courage. When people think of "story" they first go to writers and they are absolutely a critical pillar of storytelling. However, in a visual medium, art has the opportunity to play just as much of a role in the storytelling experience. Artists can tend to get overly focused on "grammar", things like rendering techniques, anatomy, drapery, perspective. These are all important to know and develop but they are just tools used to deliver story. I'm still sorting out my thoughts on this but I think that in games, designers are the third pillar of storytelling, with their own grammar that can distract or help deliver story. If you're looking to get into this line of work, I can tell you that portfolios that focus on visual storytelling are few and far between, and they stand out like diamonds in the rough.  

Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
I love following visual development and story artists from Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks. Their work is all about story, character, performance. It's always refreshing. I have to be careful because I can already feel the landslide of artists that I admire starting to slide out of my brain. There are too many. Mike Mignola, Bruce Timm, Norman Rockwell, Glen Keane, Frank Cho, James Gurney, Robert Genn, Moebius, Gennady Novozhilov, help I can't, Heinrich Kley, Dermot Power, can't stop, Ed McGuinness, Joe Mad, Rebecca Guay, Ralph McQuarrie, somebody help, Nathan Fowkes, Aaron Beck, Massimiliano Frezzato, Hethe Srodawa, Kris Anka, M.C. Barrett, and seriously I need to stop because I could go on for pages. 

We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
I have a soft spot for it too. When I was younger that's what I thought I'd end up doing. I like to think it'll always be done somewhere. No medium ever totally vanishes. At the very least I hope it's an essential part of any serious curriculum for animators.

Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online service, you name it. New media on the internet are connecting the artists directly with their fans like never before. In your opinion, how is this affecting the industry and what are the pros and cons?
When I was just starting out, the internet became a thing, so I've always put my work online to share with other artists or anyone who cared to look. It played a huge role in my development, granting access to mentors and critique that would've been impossible. Just visiting a site like ArtStation, you can see the effects that the ability to share techniques and critiques has had on a generation of artists. Moving forward? I have no idea. I'm always a little behind the curve on these things, too busy drawing. 

Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
My work can be found in Bioware's art books:

The Art of Mass Effect
The Art of The Mass Effect Universe
The Art of Dragon Age: Inquisition

I also contributed a story called "My Hero" to The Anthology Project, Volume 1. I'm pretty sure there are still copies floating around out THERE. Online, you can follow my work at ArtStation and the usual culprits: Artstation ( ), Facebook ( ), Instagram ( ), Twitter ( ), Tumblr ( ), Blogspot ( ) and Deviantart ( ).

Thank you Matt :)