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Marc Taro Holmes Interview
Marc Taro Holmes is an Art Director, Concept Artist and Illustrator with over 15 years of experience in the games industry and feature animation. His credits include Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2, Neverwinter Nights II, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Empires III and A Christmas Carol. His illustrations have appeared on the covers of PC Gamer, Computer Gamer, Play Magazine as well as being featured on the E3 Expo banner.
After an amazing fantasy illustration workshop Marc did for students of Syn Studio, we invited him to come do a podcast with us. He sat down with us on the 20th of February, 2012 for a brief interview followed by an extended (about 1 hour) podcast which is published on the Syn Studio Web site. Marc is renowned for his work in the video game industry, mainly on fantasy and role-playing titles, and has since decided to quit working in-house and go freelance. In this interview, we discuss some of the aspects of his transition.
Can you tell us what it’s like being an Art Director for a video game project like The Lord of The Rings Online?
Well, basically what I do is direct games and create 2D concept art. I work with big teams of incredibly talented people who really bring the concept art to life.
Ironically enough, the director is probably the worst artist on the team. If you’re an amazing artist, then you should be making the game. The director does the spreadsheets, buys computers and goes to meetings and gets somebody a better chair, they do that manager stuff so that the team can just focus on making an amazing game.
My niche is 2D pre-visualization concept art. The fact that I could draw meant that I always kept one hand in the concept art side of things. I knew I was training for the day I could get out of the meetings and just draw… That took ten years.
How old are you now, if you don’t mind my asking?
Oh Jeez, I’m terrible at math, I was born in 1967 so I’m either 41 or 43, I don’t know, that’s how bad I am. That’s why I draw…
Well, this is 2012, so that makes you 45; I’m guessing you’re not big on birthdays?
Well, I’m half Japanese, so, the way I was raised, after hitting eleven you don’t care about your birthday, and then once you’ve made it to 77, you’re allowed to care again. They call it a second childhood, 77, 88 and 99… Those you’re allowed to celebrate, but in between you just work, work and work.
Tell us where you’re from, and how you got started.
I’m originally from Western Canada, and I went to The Alberta College of Art & Design, taking a program called Visual Communications that mixed Illustration & Graphic Design together. That’s rare now, but 25 years ago you took everything together so I took lots of digital work aimed at design, drawing, and painting. It turned out to be a natural background for games, though I didn’t know that at the time.
Did you start in freelance right away after school?
Well, you’re not going to turn down freelance work in the beginning, but it’s a hard way to start your career. You need the contacts, and you need to develop your work. That’s one great part of working for a company: you get paid, have benefits, and your art improves over the years.
If I had tried to freelance after graduation I would have been terrible. I couldn’t draw yet. I had to work for ten years while I learned to draw. It was when I came back to Montreal, after having done mostly in-house work in the U.S., that I started to focus on my freelance work.
So, how would you describe your occupation now as a freelance artist? What’s the coolest thing about it?
For me, it’s working for myself. I do the same things I did before, concept art and video games, and mostly for the same people I worked for before I went freelance, but I do it on my own schedule and from home. I also get way more control over which projects I work on.
When you work for a company you can be three years on a project you wouldn’t have chosen. So the best part of freelancing is being able to decide what you want to do, and then going and doing just that.
Do you have a favorite project?
I recently worked on a fully illustrated ebook, Resurrection Man by Sean Stewart. My job was to take the manuscript and break it down, figuring out how best to represent the story. I got to make all the art design choices, such as where each of the 80 interior illustrations should go, what the subjects were in the art.
There are samples of Resurrection Man and other figure drawing and gaming related art on my blog at http://tarosan.wordpress.com . (Editor’s note: Marc’s urban landscaping art can also be found at http://Citizensketcher.wordpress.com )
Who was the most interesting person you’ve worked with to date?
Well there have been tons of characters. I worked with this guy, Tony Goodman, for about two years on a MMO set in the Halo franchise. It was eventually canceled, but you might still see elements of that work in other projects.
Tony was a narcoleptic, with attention deficit disorder (ADD) – it could probably best be described as ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’, but he was brilliant. He could motivate a team like nobody I’ve ever met. And he was a millionaire many times over: he built and sold all these companies. Talking to him was almost brain-twisting, you had no idea how he got anything done, but he brought in the most amazing projects. He was one of the most interesting guys I worked with.
Would you ever go back to in-house work?
I’m not against it, but it would be tricky now. I can set aside time for personal projects as a freelancer. You could never do that in games. You work a crazy hard schedule; you can end up with 100 hour work-weeks in the final stages of a project.
I could maybe be tempted if I was to have total creative control, but companies aren’t really into that; they’re into owning things, and you work for them. I’d always rather have it the other way around: I do the work, and I own it. The future is in the work you create for yourself.
Thank you very much for sitting with us for a conversation, Marc!
You can see more examples of Marc’s figure drawing and video game related art on his blog at http://tarosan.wordpress.com . Check out the podcast we did with Marc on the Syn Studio Web site. Also, we’ll definitely be doing more workshops and classes (starting Fall 2013) with Marc at Syn Studio (www.synstudio.ca ) in the future so keep checking the Web site or sign up to the newsletter for details. Future workshop ideas include photo collage creature design and class ideas include expressive watercolour painting and creature design (let us know what you’d like to see).
This interview is part of a series of exclusive Concept Art, Illustration, VFX, 3D and Comics Podcasts created by Syn Studio. If you enjoyed this podcast please share it with your friends. And please sign up below for our newsletter to keep informed about all of our great podcasts, interviews, tutorials, articles, videos and other material created for you: the artist.