Sunday, 27 April 2014

Art Direction - "Alexis, you ROCK man"

As part of my critical studies module for Game Art Design, I have been asked to write up a presentation I produced about art direction which I shared with a small class in a lecture hall a little while ago. I would firstly like to admit now that the whole experience would have made me collapse in a fit of panic had I been asked a couple of years ago, however I rather enjoyed the experience now that my fear of public speaking has died down a little. I believe it was very helpful for us to have to present the way we did in order to begin to let people tackle their fear and see what it might be like to have to present project ideas and such in the future. I really enjoyed watching all the presentations, and learnt a heck of a lot about the art direction in lots of different films, games and artwork, and it was just lovely to see everyone's individual interests when it comes to the art world.

For my presentation, I chose Alexis Rockman, who is an artist working in New York. I mainly chose him because his work has always inspired me, ever since I began studying him through my GCSEs, but also because I recently watched a lecture he did where he answered a lot of my questions about his work and helped me understand and love his work on an even deeper level than I already had done previously.

His work is generally based on topics of concern within our society, and mainly how humans abuse the environment and creatures around us, like with genetic mutation, global warming and deforestation. Therefore, his art direction focuses on highlighting these concerns through techniques and choice of imagery. He's also very interested in politics and has numerous works depicting issues with our society politically as well. One of my favourites of these depicts a world map showing horrible moments in human history such as eco-disasters, introduced species and extinctions. By painting these moments in history he is highlighting the issues with them and showing how his art is directed at pointing out the faults in our society.

One of my favourite things about Rockman's work is its sci-fi feel which doesn't feel too fake. He always gathers reference and research when planning a painting, like game artists do when producing a game, to ensure it is realistic. Often he consults with experts and scientists about the content of his paintings so that they remain as accurate as possible. This means that the futuristic animals and beings you see in his paintings aren't just made up in his head, he has researched and gathered evidence to suggest this is actually what they would look like. It's so important to gather reference and make things seem "real" in games and it's interesting to see that Rockman takes this very same approach.

Rockman also really likes to experience as much as he can to develop his work, so this means that he does a lot of travelling. I personally feel that experiencing life is the best way to understand how things work and what places are like and generally just get a good idea of how the world works. This is so important when producing a game, because the person who has experienced the most life has to offer is probably going to be the one who produces a more realistic portrayal of it. I believe Rockman thinks in the same way, and has traveled the places such as Guyana, Tasmania and the Amazon in the hope to draw animals from life and experience things for himself.

He likes to show the big picture in his paintings, and this all stems from how he has attempted to explore the ways in which a painting can beat photography. For example, some of his images depict plants and such cut in half so the insides are visible to the audience, something which a photograph would not be able to show you. Also, he paints a lot of wide paintings which give an almost panoramic feel. By making these conscious decisions to show as much as possible, he is directing his art in a way which allows him to portray his message even more clearly, by showing as much information as possible in one image.

Rockman likes to use these techniques to show as much as possible of the small creatures that are often overlooked by mankind. He has always had a fascination with rats and the way they live alongside humans without being noticed too much, and shows this fascination of small animals through his work. As game artists, I think it's also important for us to not overlook these small details, because in the end they're what makes an environment feel "real" and often it's the absence of the small things that can make a game not feel quite right to the player.

Although my favourite works of Rockman's are his paintings, especially "The Farm" which has always seemed to catch my eye whenever I view his work, he is more recently known for his concept work for "Life Of Pi". He produced some watercolours for the film depicting some deep sea creatures and some of the carnivorous island (oops SPOILERS). I just thought it was interesting to see how similar the concepts were to some of the work produced for the reef project which was set recently.

And finally, one of my favourite characteristics of his work is the subtle humour flowing throughout such a dark subject matter. He has said that Gary Larson is one of his biggest influences, even though their works are not similar in any particular sense apart from the humour. He has shown a great disliking to Disneyland and anything associated with it, and so often shows a futuristic Disney in the corner that has quite frankly been left to rot which playfully shows his distaste for the place in a subtle manner. This also links quite strongly to games for me, as I believe games should attempt to add little hints of humour into their story lines in order to keep people engaged and add just a little bit of lightheartedness to even the most serious of games. The best games are always the ones that made you chuckle when you least expected it.

I ended my presentation by giving my audience a link to the lecture with Alexis Rockman that I mentioned earlier, and so I shall do no different here, and so if you would like to watch it (which I would highly recommend as it was really interesting) then here you go -

Overall, I like the art direction and decisions made by Alexis Rockman with his work because everything is done to try and emphasise how we are destroying our planet and causing unnatural things to happen. His work is aimed at portraying a message, and every decision he makes based on technique, image, colour or anything artistic is made with his message in mind. I love his work because it has a purpose which I think is worthwhile, and he directs his art to follow and express this purpose as close as possible and I admire him for that.

Bibliography -

Smithsonian American Art Museum (2011) Art and Science Lecture Series with Alexis Rockman [Online] Youtube. Available from:

Alexis Rockman (2013) [Online] Alexis Rockman. Available from:

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