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2, Issue 3
November 22, 1999
What does this issue of loonygames have in common with Presto
Studio's recently completed game, Star Trek: Hidden Evil?
answer is, as you may already have guessed, Francis Tsai, concept
artist on the aforementioned game and this week's loonygames
I'll admit it, there's actually no "subtle link" between
Francis Tsai and this weeks feature article - RadPipe's
interview with Barrett "Bear" Alexander, CEO of
Rogue Entertainment - but you have to admit, Francis draws a
damn cool bear!
Francis started his career on a chemically
orientated path, picking up a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry
at the College of Natural Sciences (University of Texas, Austin)
with some side interest in fine arts and the Japanese language.
His intention initially was to move from there into pre-med,
but well before he finished the course he realized that a future
in either field - science or medicine - was not one that particularly
interested him any more. "It was obvious to me that I was
not med school material, and the prospect of spending the rest
of my life in a lab was making me queasy," he explained.
life long interest in art was looking to be a more suitable
path, but he still stuck around to finish the science course
before moving on. "When I approached the assistant dean
of the architecture school with my intent to change majors,
he advised me to finish my degree and apply to the graduate
school in a year. Initially, I was crushed, but in the end it
proved to be very good advice."
the science degree in his hand, he moved onto a more art-orientated
degree, and within three years had acquired himself a Master
of Architecture (now that is a cool degree!) with "extensive
course work in the School of Fine Arts." So two degrees
and 8 years of tertiary education but the future was still uncertain.
found that the things he most enjoyed ("sketching, rendering,
science fiction, computer modeling, etc") were of little
use in the work environment he found himself in, and the skills
that were needed weren't ones that he possessed. "I found
that although I was working in a design profession, I seemed
to spend a lot of time memorizing codes, schmoozing clients
and dealing with bureaucrats. The architecture profession was
very different from architecture the academic pursuit."
dissatisfaction with work lead to a growing interest in other
fields, such as multimedia, virtual reality, games, film design
and visual effects, and he also began to again draw the sort
of images that he liked to draw - science fiction and fantasy
images - something he'd done very little of in past years. Next
came a deeper exploration into the various facets of computer
art, such as (2D) Photoshop, web page design, and more recently,
then, as if by magic (wait for it), word comes by way of the
SIGGRAPH mailing list that a local game developer, Presto Studios,
the company behind The Journeyman Project and other similar
titles, were having a tour of their residence. Francis and his
wife, Linda (a talented architect in her own right), took the
tour and, at his wife's urging, Francis spoke to them after
the tour and gave then the link to his web site. One interview
later and Francis was finally working in a profession that he
initially working on one of the Journeyman Project games,
Francis moved on to became one of the conceptual artists on Star
Trek: Hidden Evil, a pre-rendered (with real-time characters)
third person adventure game set around the Star Trek: Insurrection
movie storyline (although the game doesn't follow the movie's
plot). Being a conceptual artist on the project also meant that
he got to work on other areas of the game.
was involved in the design of all aspects of the game beginning
shortly after an initial storyline had been proposed. I participated
in story and gameplay meetings and produced design work based
on ideas we came up with in those meetings. During production,
I worked with Victor Navone, our creative director to oversee
the actual modeling and animation of all the assets."
a Star Trek game, the assets mentioned were to be either
based on canonical Star Trek elements, or elements that
were to become canonical elements. I asked Francis what it was
like working on a franchise as massive (and potentially finicky)
as the Star Trek one:
"Very exciting. Paramount and Activision were both very helpful
in terms of providing us with a wealth of reference material and
original sketches and designs from the movie. Paramount is very
selective about how their property is treated. Luckily, almost
all of us on the team are pretty hard core Star Trek fans,
in particular our writer Eric Dallaire. We started out with a
pretty good story concept, and with all the reference material
we had, it really was a labor of love."
this Q&A format is working out pretty well, I asked Francis
what his favorite book and favorite movie of all time are:
now, my all time favorite SF book is Snow Crash, by Neal
Stephenson. On the surface it's cyberpunk, but the book is about
so many things besides that, and on so many different levels.
Neuromancer would probably be a close second."
movie at the moment - I'd have to say The Matrix. I really
enjoy seeing a science fiction movie that doesn't make me wince
with embarrassment at any point in the film. Blade Runner
is a very close second."
actually don't play a whole lot of games. The games that do come
to mind are Starcraft, Half-Life/Team Fortress,
Grim Fandango and Myst/Riven."
art "style" is really unique - I've certainly never
seen anything like it before - so I asked where the style came
from, whether it developed of its own accord or whether it came
from any particular influences; "I'm not sure where my "style"
comes from. I never really set out to create a totally new drawing
style. I think it's really a matter of having a wide variety of
influences, and trying to incorporate those bits and pieces of
each that really spoke to me. I haven't really seen other artists
who draw exactly like me, but I'm sure there are others around
who are at least similar."
topic of favorite artists, Francis has a long list;
too many to mention, but a good cross section would be (in no
Shirow - mecha and vehicle design, the "sketchy" style
of his ink work, watercolor/paint stuff.
Thomas Schaller (architectural renderer) - watercolorist;
I really like his ability to capture mood and light quality.
Woods (architect) - architectural design.
Bachalo - characters and layout/graphic style.
Mucha - technique, layout/graphic design.
Mullins - Photoshop paint technique.
- seeing comic characters rendered in a realistic style.
- character design, graphics/layout.
Charest - draftsmanship, attention to detail."
approach to artwork uses both traditional and computer based techniques;
"Typically, I will scan a pencil drawing and paint it in
Photoshop. There are two approaches to painting I use:
get a comic or anime effect, I will leave the line art in the
final drawing and use more "flat" coloring, although
I do add some highlights and shadows; an example of this would
be the "Seven
of Nine" painting or the "Konoko"
achieve a more painterly effect, I will use the pencil drawing
as an underlay and paint over it using higher opacity. I then
add lighting, shade and depth using different levels of opacity.
An example of this style would be the "Borg"
painting in my portfolio.
past I've used a variety of processes although prior to starting
with Photoshop I pretty much stuck to pencil and watercolor. An
example of this is the "Saul"
Francis' professional career he has continued to work as a freelance
artist under the moniker of Team
GT, working on a variety of projects, "typical projects
include vehicle airbrush art for custom automotive body shop,
T-shirt and logo art, murals, interior design and signage for
retail, comic book art and advertising story board art."
In recent months Francis has also produced some 'fan art' in his
spare time - such as the previously mentioned Konoko drawing which
is based on the upcoming Bungie title, Oni - and has had some
of his images shown on the game orientated fan-art site, GameArt.
does the future hold for Francis Tsai?
currently working on a new project with Presto Studios that will
last through most of the next year. This is a pre-rendered adventure
game which requires a lot of pre-production work. After that,
probably a real time third person action/adventure game, and after
that, who knows?
more of Francis' art, and you really should, there is a portfolio
of his imagery on the Team
GT site, including architectual drawings, characters, comic
art, and a funny little animated Captain Picard. Star Trek:
Hidden Evil is due for release this coming friday (26th November),
although there are reports that some stores have it on sale already.
Rowan "Sumaleth" Crawford is loonygames' Supervising
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