(character art by Jen Zee, background art by Joanne Tran, animation and logo by myself)
So Hades is finished, after three years in development and two in Early Access. The response so far has been very positive and it’s been humbling and rewarding to read so many glowing comments about our work. I’ve never felt more appreciative to have had the opportunity to work with such a passionate, skilled team, and to have contributed my small part to its success.
On a personal level, working on Hades has been something of a transformative experience for me as an artist. As we came closer to the 1.0 launch I found myself looking retrospectively at my career, and moreover my experience working with Supergiant for past seven years (and man those years have gone by fast!)
When I joined in 2013, mid-production of Transistor, I found it fairly easy to hit the ground running, at least from a stylistic standpoint, as I was well familiar with the general style and execution of sci-fi/cyberpunk aesthetics. I remember feeling a bit of cognitive dissonance at the idea of working Art Nouveau elements into my very mainstream idea of what a sci-fi UI should look like, but with enough guidance from our visionary and inimitable art director Jen Zee, we found a way to make it work. But I remember it being one of my first professional experiences in a long time that required me to break the molds I’d been so comfortable and falsely confident in for years.
On Pyre, there were definitely moments where I felt out of my element, maybe even a bit of imposter syndrome. I could no longer rely on my old comfy tool-based tricks of pixel-perfect vectors, glows, Layer FX and photographic textures to produce all of my assets – it all really needed a more organic, worn, hand-drawn touch and the workflows I’d become so comfortable with were no longer quite so directly applicable. But necessity is a powerful motivator and at some point I reluctantly picked up the old Wacom pen and attempted to mimic some of Jen’s impeccable line work in a way that hopefully wouldn’t stick out like an awkward sore thumb.
While I couldn’t put a finger on it at the time, leaning too heavily on tools also presented a difficult mental barrier to overcome. Even in the weeks that we spent freely experimenting during Pyre’s pre-production, I found it hard to try to simply do something new with what I had at my disposal. The limitations of the tools I had spent so much time learning and staking my livelihood on had ironically become something of a creative block.
Of course we got the game done, and the art was well-received, but I think a subconscious part of me was left with a nagging feeling that I’d done my work despite my failings and weaknesses, rather than having overcome them.
So at the start of production on Hades I felt like I wanted to break free from that – to execute work that was immediate and impactful, visceral and satisfying, and to do so with boldness and confidence without endlessly noodling away, mentally hand-wringing over unnoticeable details. While it didn’t happen overnight, I think the subconscious idea of that motivation helped guide my work, especially as necessitated by the pace of our Early Access releases. There was no time to second guess myself, much less time to noodle and lose the forest for the trees.
Thankfully to that end I was also aided by Jen’s endless encouragement and, on the VFX side, some inspiring and badass concepts by my old friend Andre Mina. Not to mention the awesome work done by the rest of the art team, all of whom are inspiring in their passion, skill, creativity, and dedication to their craft: Joanne‘s beautiful environment art, Paige‘s meticulously detailed and faithful 3D models, and Thinh‘s stylish character animation, breathing life into the models in a way that makes each feel unique. It’s been a pleasure working and growing with this team and I hope to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
To paraphrase the wise words of Napoleon Dynamite, “It’s pretty much the best drawing I’ve ever made.”