Ep.181: How to tell stories in your images with Matt Rhodes (Tellurion)

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Sep 24, 2018 •  Interviews

Hey, guys! In this episode, I am chatting with Matt Rhodes, an Art Director at Bioware. He has worked on Jade Empire, Mass Effect, Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition. His personal project called Tellurion is an attempt to tell a story entirely through visuals.

Get in touch with Matt

Key Takeaway

“I don’t want to be original. I just want to be good. We are all unique by default!”

Resources mentioned

💡 Please note: We are supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you! For more info, please read our disclosure.

Special thanks to Lois for joining me today. See you next time!

All artworks by Matt Rhodes, used with permission

Episode Transcript

Announcer

Creative, artistic, happy! That’s you. There are endless possibilities for living a creative life. So let’s inspire each other. Art Side of Life interviews with Iva.

Iva Mikles

Hello everyone, Iva here and welcome to the next episode of Art Side of Life where I chat with inspiring artists and create bras or related videos. Before we introduce our guests and go to the interview, let’s thank our sponsors. If you are a digital artist, you will love AstroPad app which turns your iPad Pro into a virus graphics tablet for your Mac. So you can use older programs like Photoshop right on your iPad, go to artsideoflife.com/astropad and use promo code artside to get 10% discount. If you’re looking for a top quality print shop and online store to sell your art friends then you should definitely check out imprint imprint has been helping artists print and sell gallery quality prints of their work all over the world for over a decade. Go to artsideoflife.com/imprint and use promo code artside to get 10% discount. And now let’s go back to the interview. My guest today is Metro medicine our director at Bioware in Edmonton, Canada, he has worked as a concept artist on Jade Empire, the Mass Effect trilogy, Dragon Age two and Inquisition. In his spare time, he’s working on a personal project called Hilarion, which is an attempt to tell story entirely through visuals. And now please welcome it. And let’s get to the interview. So welcome everyone to the next episode of Art Side of Life. And I’m super happy to have met here. Hi.

Matt Rhodes

Hey, how’s it going?

Iva Mikles

Awesome. Awesome. Let’s just start right away with your background and maybe some story how you go to art and maybe some fun stories from the childhood?

Matt Rhodes

Oh, sure. Absolutely. Well, yeah, I think you know, like, all of us are the majority of us. Anytime I talk to other artists, we have that pretty similar background where it’s, we just there was art that we loved. And eventually, we discovered that there were actually grownups that made it, and that was their job, that could be a job. And it’s just, you know, it’s a, it’s amazing. And so it’s it’s something that, you know, between movies, and comics, and all that sort of stuff, it was something very much like a big, big part of growing up. And I would say two, I was one of those, it happens every now and then I was one of those fortunate artists that had a sibling that was also an artist, my brother drawers as well. And so we would just kind of get like wrapped up together and and just competing with each other and helping each other along. And so I think that that made a big impact as well.

Iva Mikles

And what was maybe the age or time when you had this kind of like aha moment like, oh, I want to do art for a living.

Matt Rhodes

Well, it actually it really was a moment realizing that grownups did it, I was watching a one of those before there were DVD extras, they used to do like TV features about behind the movies and the movie magic. And there was one about a Disney movie, and it showed some behind the scenes stuff about you know, just how people were talking about story and working on drawing. And I think that it was they brought you know, deer and for animators to draw. And my little, I was probably 1213 years old, realizing those are grownups, that’s there, they are there for their job, that can be something that you actually do, I don’t have to stop doing this. And that was just a huge moment for me and realizing I think this is what I need to I think this is what I need to do. And so from that point on moving forward, it was it was great. I just as I kept leaning into it, thankfully, you know, people would be very helpful in plotting out what the next step would be if I wanted to do it. I met someone who who was able to point me in the direction of art school, because we had there wasn’t there was an art school in the city that I lived in that was was pretty great. So called a GED. And, you know, and thankfully to one of the things I like to say is my dad has a pretty entrepreneurial spirit, and he was also very supportive. That’s something I’m really thankful for. So he saw what my passion was, and he just thought, well, I may not fully you know, understand art so much, but I understand business I understand how to get work and I understand and so he was he helped me get some of my first my first contracts and you know, I drew up a contract and got that first paycheck and so yeah, it was definitely had, you know, that kind of help along the way to take it from being something you know, to take it from being that dream and to act. real tangible work.

Iva Mikles

And did you have also other mentors like your father or someone from school? You know, which kind of helped you to kind of skills or?

Matt Rhodes

Well, both, both my parents were really supportive. And that’s, that was awesome. And that made all the difference. But aside from that, you know, I would have teachers that would be very, they wouldn’t take my “beep”. They would, they could, you know, sometimes if I was if I was acting lazy, or if I wasn’t, if I was trying to try to hide, I had some teachers who would say, for example, one of them I saw some back in high school, I saw some Glen Keane drawings for Tarzan. And they were beautiful. They’re just those really fast gestural drawings. And so I was trying to emulate that, that style. So it’s like a really messy line work and all that and one teacher came along, he’s like, Okay, that looks cool. But which line do you want me to look at? And it just, like, frustrated me so much. I was like, oh, shoot, he’s right. I, I’m hate it. Like I Glen Keane can do it with confidence, because he’s all about, you know, he was doing the gesture, but but for me, I was just hiding in lines. So it’s like, you know, whichever one’s the most accurate. Just pick that one and pretend that that’s the one that I meant. And so from that point forward, I really tried to make a concerted effort to just draw one line. And either either it works or it doesn’t, but there’s no hiding. So moments like that really helped.

Iva Mikles

And it was there something which helps you develop your art style, because you have like really recognizable, you know, artworks? Or how did it go along the way when you find your

Matt Rhodes

Yeah, well, I know that that’s that’s one that I get a question that a lot of people tend to ask because it is it’s the way that I work seems kind of counterintuitive to the triple A video game concept art world. But here’s here’s how I like to describe it is that it’s, it’s while it may look like cartoons, what it really what it really is, is blueprints. It’s It’s It’s the result of working for years and years and years with a development team, where model builders need accurate description and detailed information. And so while you know a highly rendered painting can work and you know, kids spend a week painting a single costume and all the detail that they would need. A line drawing can act as the blueprint because what’s most important is shape in the design hierarchy of of how things work shape is right at the top. And line can do that faster, faster than anything from eye to me. And so what it’s attempting to do is to be absolutely specific and confident about shape as much as possible to remove that question from take that question onto my shoulders so that they don’t have to guess because often that’s something that model builders are really left to do a lot is guests. There’s a beautiful swoosh of brushstrokes and it’s like I need to build an actual concrete thing out of this what what is what is this and so I just yeah, I’ve had enough 3d model builders say what is what is this that it’s it’s just a way of trying to get very very specific in a timely fashion. And if you’re just happens to look like that,

Iva Mikles

and that’s the difference you know, the difference between when you work in the production and the project for yourself you know, like the art process you always start from line work or a composition we’d like values

Matt Rhodes

right well yeah, I think it’s it’s I really start with you know, the quick quick and dirty thumbnail sketch and and I actually really like how Samantha Youssef put it at one point because she’s, you know, former Disney illustrator former Disney animator and ballerina it really awesome life drawing trainer. And she was saying I don’t draw a line. She’s drawing lines but she’s I don’t draw a line I draw a form. And and I think that was that was putting it really well because it’s, you know, you figure out your composition at the thumbnail level. And then what I like to do I’m not I don’t have the, I don’t think I have it in me to do the Kim Jong Ji thing of basically a human printer and expanding elaborate. It’s I build a really rough and then a rough a slightly more cleaned up skeleton on top of that, and then a slightly more than the anatomy with muscles on top of that, and then costume on top of that, and then inks. Like I I’m pretty methodical with it. But the final goal is to me again, I think, well, here’s another aspect is that is that to me the final goal and the final purpose of any image is the story that’s being delivered. And so there are artists out there who can paint a beautiful image and I love them I’m I’m a huge fan of lots and lots of them. But for me, I would rather tell the story and then move Move on to the next story. And so it’s also an efficient way of getting that across in a way that’s clear. And that that leaves as few questions as possible. But that allows me to move on to the next to the next one.

Iva Mikles

And what is the most important for you in the storytelling?

Matt Rhodes

In Well, I mean, it really is just the storytelling, the storytelling is the important thing. But I think I think that it’s being able to communicate what’s necessary. We all we all come at things with our own backgrounds and histories and understandings. But if you can, there are certain universals and certain things that we can we can recognize body language and expression. Composition, there’s the the impact that shape and color actually have on us on a on a psychological level, as some of that some of that’s deeply I think, human and kind of ingrained. But some of that is also culturally, every culture has different associations, we all grow up with different associations to color, the easy go to example would be the white and black dichotomy between east and west that, in in Western countries, black is typically is a color like white and how we associate it with death. So black is a color associated with death in the West, whereas in the East White is the color associated with death. And so being aware of those things, it’s it is something that because it’s used time and time again, it can be used to code your images, if you know what your audience is and what they’re how they’re going to interpret it. Yeah, definitely. And so, yeah, so So recently, I’ve only I’ve only recently figured out how to articulate this, but the, I think of especially color and shape as being effectively the visual soundtrack. So it’s that it’s that thing that’s playing, it’s like the soundtrack. Hopefully, you don’t notice it, often, but what it does is it helps guide your emotions and guide, how you are seeing the story. And similarly, color and shape are like a visual soundtrack, where even if your front brain doesn’t notice, you know, your brain, your brain didn’t notice it. And it did help to guide how you felt about something and, and how you’re how you’re responding to it. Yeah, definitely,

Iva Mikles

as you mentioned, also, the black and white colors and or I was surprised when I first time heard, you know, when in Europe, you draw like a child withdraw a son, it’s yellow. But if you go to Japan, they will throw it as a read. And I was like, oh, oh, interesting. That’s true. You know, both of them are true, but it’s kind of something you just subconsciously do. And then you can do the whole like, color wheel just with this chi colors, you know, just colors of this guy. So amazing. So yeah, definitely. And do you work with colors as well? Like, you know, the support the mood, as you mentioned, of the image of someone who said that you would maybe use rain or like this overcast day or something like that?

Matt Rhodes

Yeah, definitely, I think I think it lighting is actually one of my favorite parts of of every image, I can add again, the way I come at it is very much a byproduct of just working in game concept art. Because I have some painter friends who to them, they are painting light and they’re painting you know, I’m in Photoshop I’m kind of building my images like a 3d artists or level artists would build a scene where it’s placed a light and then see where that light goes out and bet well in the old days, I should say, place a light and see where that light bounces and where you need to bounce light, you know, put in another light and show where that where that bounces. So I don’t actually often plan my lighting scenarios and images, I might have a loose idea. But I actually like to be surprised by that process a bit. So I’ll have broad strokes an idea of okay, they want this to be overcast or I want to have a sunset light going on here or just like hot sunlight and then just shine the light somewhere and see where it falls and and and it’s fun it’s a fun process. It’s a good challenge and it’s a you know, it’s a fun to try to break down and be trying to think in three dimensions where does the where does the light stop and again at the summit cel shading nature of the of the work that I end up doing is is a result of trying to be pretty direct. I’ll sometimes do soft lights, but I kind of it’s like almost the personal challenge of just a nice crisp line of can I decide where the light really cuts off and make a hard call. Yeah, so as well, all of that. Yeah, and I think I’m it’s, it’s become a bit of a Well, I think yeah, it’s become a bit of a crutch but the idea of of putting in light and there’s always as long for me there’s always this long process of of just balancing all my all my layers to make sure that first of all the light the lighting scenario isn’t getting in the way of silhouette. Because silhouette, the silhouette is the shape and it’s like As the primary delivery mechanism of the story, that’s where you’re getting body language and gesture. And that’s and that’s how you’re telling able to tell what’s actually going on in the image. So as long as the lighting scenario supports the emotional beats of the story, and it supports the soundtrack of the story, and it also doesn’t get in the way of or obfuscate the silhouette, then it’s probably going to work. It should be okay.

Iva Mikles

And very organized as well with your lighting system. Like if you’re working in digital, or you know, like you have like, these are the highlights. These are the shadows and layers forever. Yeah.

Matt Rhodes

I am now I used to not be and I have since learned my lesson. Over the years, I’ve become far more disciplined because every anytime I’ve ever had, I’ve had to go back and make changes to an image or adjust things, having having things still malleable has been, has saved me a lot of time because I used to be a constant, I just constantly would flatten everything, I would flip my images, I would work flat as often as possible. And that led to repainting things over and over again and redrawing things. Yeah, now my file structure is is it’s all nice and tidy. I actually now once I learned that you could color code layers in the Photoshop layers. I would take my shadow layers like color purple and my my highlight my light layers that color yellow and and label reflection layers. I’m pretty thorough now. So yeah,

Iva Mikles

it’s really cool. Yeah. Because sometimes yeah, as you mentioned, when you have to change something, then it’s been Yeah, either find these and then HST.

Matt Rhodes

Absolutely, well there. And there have been some there have been some tillering images where I’ve, I’ve drawn a scene in daylight, send it sent it sent the file to myself later and been mulling it over and realized, oh no, I’ve chosen the entirely wrong scenario. There was one that was in daylight, and I realized this has to be a night scene. This only works as a night scene. And so thankfully, because I had all the layers present, I could take the sunlight layer and just recolor it. So rather than being warm and cold, I could darken it a little and add blue and pull it all the yellow and red reds out. And then there you go. Full Moon. Okay, great. Yeah, it’s the it was it was a relatively painless process.

Iva Mikles

Oh, that’s really good. And do some things that also be the like neutral light. And so you know, like, okay, I can color it or recolor it easier to different scene as you mentioned in the night scene or a sunset.

Matt Rhodes

Yeah, there are some i It’s kind of a it’s kind of a joy sometimes to paint in those neutral neutral environments where it really does just become about the shape and the color temperature and all that all that stuff where because, you know, doing doing highlights and stuff. You’re it’s another layer, it’s another layer of drawing on top of the drawing. So you know, it comes with its its time and effort. But yeah, I think in cases like that, where it’s where it’s really less, where the light is a little bit more universal. It really is then a silhouette game and making sure that it’s it you’re you’re not you’re you’re you’re balancing out your foreground mid ground background and making sure that focus is is still clear.

Iva Mikles

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Matt Rhodes

Oh man, like favorites by other artists. But you? Oh, yeah, well there, there are some I think every every every art project, every game project has come with its own. There’s usually one image that kind of trickles to the, to the top. And, and so there are a few. Their most recent game that I worked on that has been actually released was Dragon Age Inquisition. And there’s this one image that that just was done as part of this series that happened in the middle of the project as a way of just kind of getting a refresher on what the project was and where we were headed. And just to show you kind of the nature of the characters hanging out, there were a few characters hanging out in a tavern. And they’re kind of laughing together. And it’s just meant to be this light hearted comedic moment. But that image ended up has kind of survived the longest and the most people will have internally anyway, I’ve kind of responded to that as being the piece of concept art that that stands out, or Mass Effect to for my, the work that I created. The there’s this image for the elusive man, though it’s kind of the antagonist in the story. And he’s sitting on a chair smoking a cigarette watching this kind of rainbow son die. And that actually came out of an attempt to design him as a character, we realized that his he had to, he effectively had to be just a man in a suit, he had to be fairly neutral. And he couldn’t, he couldn’t be as dramatic as video game concept. Art likes to be usually. And so the story demanded this, this fairly, like even hard to read neutrality. But in order to really sell it, and to make sure that you understood because we had been looking at so many drawings of like, well, this suit kind of works. And this suit kind of works. And this looks futuristic enough, I guess. And it was really hard to make a call. But when you put them in context, and by putting saying, Okay, this normal on non distinct person, in the midst of an environment, that’s incredible. It’s like the environment is the character and the environment elevates who this character is. And so if a guy can just put on a black suit and sit there smoking and watching his son die through giant glass windows, it’s like, okay, that’s a power. That’s a power statement. Exactly, yeah. And so I think that that image for me is still the one that from from, like, say match to that, I would say, has stood the test of time. Yeah, but longer that it’s

Iva Mikles

like, still there. Yeah, exactly. And that’s what helped you to progress the most in your, like, artistic career, if you have someone who’s just breaking into the industry now. And they are just like, Okay, what should I focus on, you know, and just say, something like, oh, yeah, maybe this is like, really good thing to do?

Matt Rhodes

Sure, well, I think I’ve learned now recently, this is something I’ve only really intentionally been doing over the last few years, is that as I’m drawing, when I come to a point where I can tell that I’m faking it, I have to make a note to say, Okay, go, go learn that. So a lot of it will happen when say I’m doing a drawing and drawing the shoulder blade or indicating the shoulder blade on the back, or it happens with hips all the time. It’s like, okay, well, here’s where the leg in the hip bone meats, it’s kind of looks like that. Okay, sure. This, it works. And when I can tell I’m, I’m sort of just squinting and saying, Sure, that’s fine. that’ll that’ll, that’ll be good. I have to make a note and say, okay, clearly, you’re, you have no idea. You don’t know what you’re doing. Go study it. And so I’ll go and do you know, try to take a final model of a pelvis and draw rotations and put muscles on it and do do a deeper dive. And I think by by trying to find those things that you’re avoiding, or you’re rushing through, you’re trying to hide, and really letting those be your guide as far as Okay, what’s next, then you can really start being intentional about pushing, like, you’re really climbing up the ladder of of learning there. So I mean, often, you know, you’ll see with younger artists, the the the incredibly diverse and clever ways that they can hide feet. It you know, it’s amazing, because I know, I found all sorts of ways to hide feet back in the day. But one of the things that I’ve been trying to do, and I think, you know, for anyone who’s familiar with DeLorean or if you go look at it after this one, one of my own personal things again, because I’m trying, I’m trying to almost hold myself to the fire, hold my own feet to the fire. A lot of the images that I like to do are include the full figure, very, very little actually cropped out to draw it like from head to Toe the whole year in action, because I still, I still almost feel like if I try to crop it out, or if I, or if I hide it like unless the composition really demands it, I if I need to focus, I still feel like I’m cheating. And so I just, you know, just trying to do that. But I think being being really intentional about when when you’re faking it, that’s what you need to go learn. But also, I think letting your your own interests guide your research, because it can be intimidating, you get a lot of you get the question and a lot of what should I be studying? What should I be? What should I be learning? We’re all as artists, we’re all storytellers. And there, there are stories that each of us are that are very important to each one of us. And so, you know, I there there are some artists that I know who are deeply in love with horses and horses mean the world to them. And, to them, if they’re not telling a story that has a horse tied into the heart of it, it doesn’t, it doesn’t work just because it’s something that they value. And so for them, that means they’re doing way more horse anatomy studies than I am, where every now and then I might need one and I can go do the research. But but it’s not something that I am in love with. And so I think there’s, there’s this element of finding that thing, finding those things that you are really passionate about, and letting yourself indulge in those. Let yourself indulge the research on those like this one. This one artists that I worked with, he was in love with tanks, like it just millets military technology, there’s something about the the strange, heavy goofiness of it that he was always in love with. And so he would just draw tanks from all sorts of wars and just meticulous detail and all that. But then when he went to go draw something else, you could still see that love in there. And that confidence that came from, he knows how tank engineers have solved 1000s of problems. And so he can take those solutions to those problems and apply them to something else entirely. And so there’s this transference that can happen, that’s great, where it’s like passion and effort and research. It really does. It really does spread around, you’ll be surprising how you’ll be surprised by how much it it leads to. And that’s, I would say two I would I would add to that ties into the style issue, where your passions and the things that you research, I mean, we all have the we all have those artists that we like that kind of helped pull us into this interest to begin with, you know, those, those those heroes that that made us realize this was the thing, and the artists that we follow now and the subject matter that we’re really into. And by studying that, and by researching that, that will also end up dictating what your style is.

Iva Mikles

And did you find also your patient or specialization or this kind of thing like this? Or was there something else? You know, like how did you find your patients?

Matt Rhodes

Yeah, well, I came at things mine mine is is very well fairly simple. For me it is really people so I spend most of my research and study time doing anatomy studies and faces and performance like drawing, I tried to draw like dancers and stage actors and things like that, where you’re really trying to tell the story with the whole body. And, and so that’s something that that’s something that means a lot to me, but I also my dad actually made was a tailor for 11 years and he worked out of the home and so we were surrounded by clothes and one thing that he was actually really passionate about was this idea of of crafting an image crafting a message through clothing. And so while he was mostly doing men’s suits, just the choice of color and material and shape, you could actually portray a particular message you could put on a suit that said I am dependable and trustworthy or you could put on a suit that said I am I am made of iron and nothing and I cannot be negotiated with you know and there are messages that get that can be made and so that at a young age taught me just what storytelling potential even just clothing had so close it costume design has always been something that’s that’s been huge for me is that that story through costume has been is something I love to do.

Iva Mikles

And how do you do your research you know for your storytelling do you go out and you notes or you know like moments you like?

Matt Rhodes

Yeah. Well, I think there’s there’s there’s a few there’s a few parts to it. One of them would be just keeping keeping your like casting a wide net all the time. So fall following all sorts of stuff I’ve recommended. I would I would suggest just just because I’ve only started doing this recently too and I found it’s really Great is, say on Instagram, following the widest possible spectrum of things that you can, like, you know, don’t just follow stuff that’s cool, follow or that you think is cool, but follow stuff that. And this is what I’ve been saying is that, you know, I’ll follow beekeepers and sheep farmers and Flint nappers and archers and gymnast’s and people like that. So that so that you’re just kind of constantly taking in the world and, and so broad strokes, just a general interest in everything. But then when it comes to, let’s say, drilling down on costumes, for example, there’s, I am a big fan of historical costumes. And so trying to find the context of there’s there are certain motifs and images that we all know, but we don’t often know the reason behind them, or the origin behind them. And so being able to learn as much as you can about that sort of thing, so that you know, you can say, what, what did nobility what would a noble at this time with this access to these resources? Consider valuable? consider important? How would they dress themselves? And how do you dress yourself if you have servants versus don’t have servants, and there’s different things that you can use different knobs you can start turning the volume on. But then also, I just because I’m a, I’m a big fan of storytelling, I love watching behind the scenes, conversations about film costume, because they always have great insight into why they picked materials and what they’re attempting to do to support the story through costume. And I mean, one of my favorites is still the Lord of the Rings, one because it’s so comprehensive, and they go into such great detail, talking about why they pick certain materials and how they, how they, why they relate it to the characters. And and it’s just, it’s huge. And it and it really, it all goes back to intentionality. Just being intentional. Where we have this opportunity, I think, you can just make up what you want. And that and that will usually just be fine, but it will only ever be fine. From everything from costume design to composition, if you think of composition is where you place your camera. If you watch the work of cinematographers, the good cinematographers they think about the why of every time they place the camera and every lens they choose in every scenario that they set up, there is a reason and it might even be somewhat arbitrary, but they can they have at least picked a reason that’s consistent with the story from their perspective. And it’s that intentionality that I think makes a huge difference.

Iva Mikles

And do you have like a favorite movie with this? Like composition or Kameelah camera angles from the old movies maybe?

Matt Rhodes

Well, I I’ve been it’s been great. I’ve been working with this with this amazing animator named Paul Dutton, who had worked on the illusionist and triplets of Belleville and and he has been coaching me through the storyboarding process. Because the concept artists at Bioware we started doing storyboards in a way more comprehensive way on Dragon Age Inquisition. And it’s something that we very much enjoyed, and we found very beneficial. So we’ve been learning a lot about the language of film in in doing that, and so there was this library of image of things that he wanted me to look at. And so for, very dramatic if you if you want to get a it’s better to if you’re going to start looking into it, for those of you who might go and start looking into this, to go with the really strong flavors first because they’re identifiable. And so like working today, Roger Deakins is a cinematographer who has a very distinct voice. He has very stark, usually very, very simple compositions. And he works very, like his most iconic shots are usually in silhouette. So like Skyfall, or true grit or Blade Runner, the recent Blade Runner and I’m pretty Yeah, yeah, pretty sure that was him. Or if you go back to like, the black and white area, there’s, there’s a there’s a movie called The Third Man. And and it’s yeah, it’s a film noir and it’s really exciting. It’s it’s it’s a cool one but it because it’s film noir, and it’s very dramatic. They’ll have like you know, the a character running down the street and then a shadow cast on a three story building behind them and and it’s a lot of silhouette, really dramatic angles and and Shadow Play. And so I would say the third man’s a good one to watch for, for for just picking telling the story visually with just a shot.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, I have to put it on my list. I haven’t seen that either. So yeah. And going back to your art career, maybe at the beginning or during the time. Have you ever had like a hard time when you had to fit fit? You’re out something like or maybe you were not sure what you want to do. Or maybe what was the hardest time of your art career?

Matt Rhodes

Oh, I know that one for sure. I talked a little bit about this, I gave it I was lucky enough to give a talk at my old art school. And I was I was able to pass this on, I feel like I want to pass this on to as many people as possible. So this is good to talk about. I crashed and burned at one point. And it was maybe about six or seven years ago now maybe six years. And it’s it was four. At the time, for some reason, I felt like, I couldn’t actually do any I couldn’t draw, I put my pencil on the paper and nothing would come out. It would just be absolutely nothing I could, I could draw things that work as needed. But But I there was no drive, no passion, no push. And I would I would seize up. It was it was almost literally like I could make lines on a page. But I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even draw a face. And it really freaked me out. It was because it was genuine, genuine, I couldn’t I couldn’t do it. And so in talking to putting the question out to the art community, but mostly in talking to my wife about it, she helped me realize that I had oversaturated myself in, in the world of art. And so I was constantly taking in the artwork of other people. And I realized that one of the things that would hit me was, let’s say the example I’ll use, because it’s arbitrary, but now it’s stuck in my head is a giraffe, I’m going to draw giraffe, okay, fine. As soon as my pencil would hit the paper, my brain would go to seven other or 20 other illustrations of giraffes. There were way better than anything I knew I could do. And I think the world doesn’t need another one of these. Like we already we already have this I’m not constrained, I’m not adding anything to the world. And so it was impossible to make personal work for that because it’s I just really like telling stories, but there’s that feeling that it’s all been drawn before every every knight in shining armor, every dragon every every alien, you know, unless I want to get into just pure abstraction, but that’s not really, you know, that wasn’t didn’t feel edifying. And so I, I just thankfully unplugged, I stopped taking an artwork, and I started doing other things. And I started going for more walks in the forest. And I started some pretty amateur gardening, it’s still pretty immature, or, you know, taking trips out to the mountains or whatnot. And I found that that actually really helped to reset. And so now I feel like I you know, I, it’s part of the reason why I cast a wide net as far as my research and reference material goes. Because I think just maintaining maintaining an interest in lots and lots of stuff and stuff outside of art is helpful, because then you become the filter. Because if you’re looking at if you’re looking at other people’s artwork, it can be great and amazing and totally inspiring and beautiful. But you’re looking at at the post filtered world, like they’ve looked at their research and their ideas and their inspiration and they filtered it into something new. And so yeah, exactly. Yeah. And so I think it’s important for myself to take in real stuff and to take in other stuff that’s interesting so that my own brain can filter it in its own way. And plus two I think there’s there’s an element of, of release of saying, I quote, I quote, The designer Milton Glaser all the time, because this is one of my favorite quotes is that I don’t want to be original, I just want to be good. And I you know, it’s so freeing, because because he realized, you know, there’s, if everybody draws, we look at you look at the art contests that go on where it’s like mermaid or Star Wars, like May the Fourth be with you whatever. Not a single person draws a stormtrooper the same way not a single person imagines a mermaid the same way or draws a mermaid it all, each one of us just by virtue of our of our inspirations and our techniques and our histories and just the shape of our hands. We’re all going to bring something different to the table. And so it always feels like worth just trying. Yeah, definitely.

Iva Mikles

Do you have something you do daily, which contributes your success and freeing your mind and all of that, like maybe meditation or?

Matt Rhodes

Right? Well, I’m the I mean, I do try to, I am drawing pretty much every day. And I don’t I don’t do research and reference stuff every day. But I do try to do life drawings on it. Even just from photo reference if I can’t get to a session, which is usually even just from photo reference, if I can, if I can do it, but outside of art. There’s I’ve just been trying to be really intentional about spending time. Like for example I have I have kids, so just blocking everything out and spending time with them, or blocking everything out and spending some quality, like just good time with my wife and, and hanging out so, so that I have these moments that are completely separated from from the art world. And that were you know, that’s that is not, you know, it’s a good reminder that that that’s just one thing I do that’s not my identity. And and I think in separating art from your identity that it frees you up in a big way.

Iva Mikles

Do you work five days a week or seven days a week? Or do you always take a weekend off?

Matt Rhodes

Yeah, well, I work five days a week. So for Tillery. And it’s, it’s being able to just where we get to get a few hours a night, a few nights a week. And so it’s a very drip feed kind of a project. So I would, honestly, I would, if I was working on it full time, I would probably be doing at least two or three images a day. But as it stands now, it’s maybe at best, you know, once a week feels good, sometimes two a week. And that’s and that’s just it. So it’s the kind of thing that it’s probably going to take a few years, but But it’s been it’s been a really good exercise for me and something that I’m pretty passionate about. So, so I’m willing to give it whatever time I can. And so that actually acts is great practice and, and it’s also a chance to draw the things that that you can’t draw at work. Which really helps because there’s there’s a lot of restrictions in video games as far as what’s technically possible and technically buildable, but it’s nice to stretch out a little bit

Iva Mikles

with the story you started with the characters or the environment, or what was the trigger for this project?

Matt Rhodes

Ah, yeah, it was very much the story, it was still very much like there was a story that I wanted to, I wanted to tell, and that really helps streamline the design of everything else. And actually, that’s one of the things that in in concept art. There’s writers, designers, animators, character artists there. Even marketing gets into it, there’s all these different groups that are all trying to make the same thing. And it’s great. And it’s a really cool process. But and it’s very collaborative, and that is creatively creatively exciting. But it also means that every everybody has a voice and exalt you know, every design has to be a solution to 10 problems, and takes a lot of negotiation and all that. Whereas working on my own thing, I know the story. And so character design can happen almost immediately, you know, a few a half an hour or an hour of sketching and have been able to figure it out to the point where it’s actually almost a little eerie, it’s almost a little spooky like this, I feel like this is right. Should I is this is this right? And there’s look around to say like, is this right? Anybody? No? Just me. Okay. Yeah, that’s right, I’ll approve that. And so, so it’s really neat for that. And it really is also a chance to try to put my money where my mouth is, in that talking about story guiding everything. So so every character design choice, every environment design choice, I’m really trying to base it in story first.

Iva Mikles

Do you have a plan for the publishing or the like a date or something like that?

Matt Rhodes

I don’t have a date. And I don’t have a plan. My My only plan so far, like I have an outline for the story. And so I have a very general idea of how far along I am in it. I’m open to changing and shifting and adjusting as I go. But I think when it’s done, I would like to publish it for sure. I just don’t know what form that will take yet. Whether that will be through a publisher or a Kickstarter, or who knows I’m not sure yet. Still exploring options. So so we’ll see.

Iva Mikles

And do you have some experience from this project? Maybe as a tip like what to avoid?

Matt Rhodes

Oh, well, thanks. Thankfully, so far, not not hugely yet. I mean, it’s the nice thing is it? I mean, it’s been it’s been the most ambitious thing I’ve ever taken on. And this has been by far the most personal work I’ve ever made in my life. And thankfully, I haven’t been getting tired of it. And I haven’t I haven’t wanted to stop yet. So I’m just kind of just going to keep going. There have been illustrated, there have been there are images within Tiller in that now looking back, I can say no, maybe I would have done that differently. Or maybe I could have combined those or, or whatnot. But, but I’m really also trying to have a very forward thinking I just keep going kind of mindset that once an image is done, it’s done. And I can’t go back and change it. It’s it’s finished, move on to the next one. And so I’m trying to take each lesson and move forward. And so it really has actually helped to streamline my process and make my process more consistent. Because I’ve just realized, Oh, if I had given myself that step, maybe I could have avoided that problem more if I had. Yeah, so I I think I’m definitely learning more and more as I go along. And it is kind of funny to look at the first images and realize that at this point, those were a year and a half ago. And it I’d like to think it’s still consistent, but I can, I can still see how naive I was when I started.

Iva Mikles

Also, like a color screen, then storyboard and all of that before we started the project, or were like, okay,

Matt Rhodes

yeah, not a color script. But I do have a very, a fairly, I want to say both broad, but also comprehensive outline, it’s, I know where it’s going, I have it all beat, I have all the major beats. But in the kind of moment, by moment, drawing to drawing, I have a lot of freedom to explore. And if I get inspiration, then I can, I can usually find a way to weave it in. And then there are some I’m actually already thinking about the project that I might do after to Larian, so every now and then there’s things where it’s like, oh, wait, that gives me an end it not that doesn’t work for this. Save it for the next one. See if you can fit it in. So yeah,

Iva Mikles

do you have some elements or like icons, which go through the whole story and all of the images like maybe special rock, which is everywhere with the icon or something like this?

Matt Rhodes

There? There are. But the thing why here? I can mention this that with DeLorean there’s, I feel like I can’t even say what they are. Because with Solarian because it’s a visual story. I’m purposely not adding words I want I want the story to be told purely through the design and body language and color and all that stuff. That I would say what those things are. But it’s like even to say it, it feels like it takes away from what people should look for the visuals. Yeah, it’s like, oh, yeah, it’s go find it. Go find it. Because yeah, I want I want to, you know, it’s like, for example, the one thing that I’ve been asked is, is like, what are the characters names? And I just say I can’t I feel like I can’t tell you. I feel like that would even that would would, would break it. Yeah.

Iva Mikles

That’s a really cool idea. Yeah, I actually didn’t know I felt that they have names. But yeah, so that’s awesome.

Matt Rhodes

Yeah, I mean, they do have names, but I’m not gonna tell ya. In my head. They have them. But But yeah, yeah.

Iva Mikles

And yeah. They have like, different versions. names of the characters. Yeah. Yeah. Forums. Cool. But that can be one of the discussions people can like, look for these special items and all of that. Perfect. Absolutely. Yeah. What about in like, five to 10 years, if you cannot fail, and everything is going according to your plan? What is your dream scenario?

Matt Rhodes

If this all works out super well,

Iva Mikles

yeah, not only this project, but any other projects. Or basically, if you can do whatever you want.

Matt Rhodes

Sure, well, in five to 10 years, honestly, I am, I’m very thankful to be able to say this, I’m in a pattern that I would be happy to hold for that long. I’m really enjoying my work at Bioware. And I am really enjoying having as a side project to work on in my spare time and to tell, to tell my own stories, not to be telling someone else’s stories. And so I could see doing this for quite some time. Eventually, I mean, eventually, if if Tillery and ended up doing surprisingly, shockingly well, and I could actually devote myself full time to creating things like it. I would probably really have to think about that long and hard. I would, I would, I would definitely have to consider that. But we’ll see. We’ll see. And then

Iva Mikles

what about the really far, far in the future? You know, what would you like to be remembered for? In like, 100 years and more?

Matt Rhodes

Yeah, yeah. Well, I think that that is a good one. It’s funny, I think this is this is I know, this is the podcast is called the Art Side of Life. But I guess well, I guess life is included in title. So we can talk about this, that years and years ago, I realized when my when my first child was born, that there was this definitive moment where I was trying to work on a personal project earlier, it was actually the project that eventually became Tillery. And I made an attempt at it years ago, that didn’t work. But I made this realization, I had this realization that I was I had to kind of choose, do I want to put this aside for now and focus on my kids? Or do I want to, you know, take some time away from my kids to focus on this. And I put the project on the shelf. And I’m so glad I did. I mean because at this point, now my kids are a little older, they go to bed at a regular time. I have much more legitimate time to make art. There’s just this there’s this idea that I have in my head, that like when people are giving your eulogy when they’re talking about who you were, that, I think, between the two models of having a whole bunch of artists come to my funeral and say, oh, yeah, he was really good and influential and did a bunch of stuff. And my kids be like, Sure, okay. We kind of knew him. He was our dad, I guess. There’s that, or there’s having artists show up and be like, Well, we, I, a few of us knew him. But he just did his work, and my family to be able to say he was a great dad, and he was loving and was there for us all the time and inspired us and blah, blah, like, that’s a life well lived. And so, so I think my longer term goals are, I think art is kind of in the background, it’s, there’s, you know, zero desire to be in any history books, or like there once may once have been or to be, you know, known by everybody that says, I think if I just get to draw, and that gets to be my career, until until I’m done here. I think that’s enough. If it means that I get to support my family and and be there for them. So

Iva Mikles

part of you and yeah, but it’s not the Yeah, just the only thing. Perfect. Before we say goodbye, maybe you can show last season advice or key takeaway what people should remember?

Matt Rhodes

Sure. Honestly, I will just keep harping on it. Because I know this is a repeat, but really, I truly believe that story is the most important thing that we do. And you know, to change up a quote by George Lucas, who said that especially effect without a story is a pretty boring thing. I think art without a story is a pretty boring thing. And it’s amazing how much you’ll see art without a story. art, art that tells a story is the stuff that lasts and stuff. It’s the stuff that makes an impact. So figure out what stories are important for you figure out what the story what stories you want to tell and just do everything you can to tell those through art.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, definitely. I totally agree. So yeah, awesome way to like finish the conversation. And thank you so much, again, for being here. It was so nice. Thanks for having me. Oh, yeah. Yeah, it was super cool. And I love storytelling and color and light and all of that. So like super inspirational. So everyone is also inspired, who was listening or watching. So thanks, guys, for joining us well, and see you in the next episode. Hey, guys, thank you so much for listening. I really appreciate you being here. You can find all the resources mentioned in this episode at Art Side of Life. Just type a guest name in the search bar. There is also a couple of free artists resources ready for you on the website as well. So go check it out. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher so I can reach and inspire more artists like you. If you want to watch the interviews, head over to artsideoflife.com/youth you continue to inspire each other and I will talk to you guys in the next episode. Bye.

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Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.

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