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URL: http://www.loonygames.com/content/2.4/uc/


Vol. 2, Issue 4
December 1, 1999
Under Cover :
Dhabih Eng

by Rowan "Sumaleth" Crawford

Does the name, Doc Holiday, ring a bell? Sounds a bit like a character from that Brat-Pack movie, Young Guns, perhaps? Keep guessing. A decidedly average Michael J Fox comedy? Nope. Maybe the reason you can't get your broken arm checked out on a sunny day? Come on, we're talking about games here!

Doc Holiday, in times past, was the handle used by a young art school student who, in his spare time produced a small series of fan-art images based on the id Software game-in-development, Quake 2.

A Gunner portrait was first to appear, accompanied by the soft hum of enthusiasm from a receptive Blue's News readership. The image seemed to resonate the look and feel of the (at the time) still largely under-cover sequel to the immensely popular, Quake, and it was promptly put into good use as Windows wallpaper everywhere.

Time goes by, the world as a whole settles back down into the previous daily grind, and Windows is once again reintroduced to the bikini-clad female form.

And then another image is released by Doc Holiday, this time an atmospheric image of a mysterious flying character from Quake 2. The online community begins to hum again, although this time it feels a little more like a buzz; the Doc had proven that the first picture wasn't merely the result of luck.

Readers of Blue's News and other gaming news sites during that that period will recall the regular flow of quality images from Doc Holiday; more Quake 2 pictures at first, but eventually other themes began to

appear. And even though they occasionally had little to do with games, the fan base was well enough established that they continued to appear as Images Of The Day on a variety of gaming news sites.

Eventually the Doc's work was spotted by gaming magazines who saw in his work a style of image highly suited to gaming magazine covers; large, bold designs, smooth shading and colors, and quite often quite adventurous designs. He has since gone on to produced 7 magazine covers for a variety of gaming magazines, including Electronic Gaming Monthly, PCGaming UK, and Game Developer Magazine.

With the change from hobbiest to commercial artist came another change as well; the signature on his images. He gave the Doc Holiday moniker back to the Val Kilmers and Michael J Foxes of this world and

chose to begin signing the images with his real name; Dhabih Eng.

'Dhabih' is a name that you'd never guess how to pronounce, there's just no way! The correct pronunciation is like 'ZA-BEE' (and the Eng bit is 'ENG'). "For those wondering where my name comes from," Dhabih explains on his website, "it's because my dad's half Chinese, half Scottish; and my mom's Persian. Hence the name Dhabih."

As well as producing magazine cover images, Dhab (Zab) also created a logo for the gaming news site, sCary's Shuga Shack, and was also asked by Valve Software to produce a pair of images for their long-time-in-production but hugely-successful first person shooter title, Half-Life, a game that, at the time, was beginning to create an incredible buzz of it's own.

"I had known a couple of people at Valve (John Guthrie, Steve Bond) casually before they were hired. One day they invited me down to check out Half-Life and while I was there I was asked to do some freelance work."

For Half-Life, Dhabih was tasked with creating two major images of the Half-Life Man-Of-Action, Gordon Freeman (OK, Gordon's really a bit of a nerd, but give him an enviro-suit and a crowbar and you've got a very hard man indeed!). The two pictures were; the loading image, seen whenever loading a previously saved game, and the portrait of Gordy on the box cover.

All the while he was still at university, doing an "Interdisciplinary Art major at the University of Washington".

"That's a fancy way of saying 'general art'. So the courses ranged from painting to jewelry design to furniture design. Some courses were just fun to try, like the metal classes and clay classes. It's really interesting to get into other fields of art other than just 2D. I think the oil painting classes aided me the most in learning about light shapes, negative shapes, and stuff like that."

During the time he was at university he began to work with Evolve Software, an internet based game development company that began life by creating the Quake deathmatch mod, Pain Keep, and then went on to create the commercial (though, unofficial) Quake 2 mission pack, Zaero, and also an official mission pack for the groundbreaking action-strategy game, Battlezone.

Dhab worked on a range of tasks for Zaero originally, such as textures, skins, and monster concept art, but found it increasingly difficult to work on Zaero while also trying to keep up with the continually growing requirements of his schooling. "What's mine in the final product is actually quite little. Just a couple monster designs and a few textures."

Dhab's work for Evolve was cut completely when, at the end of his university course, another opportunity presented itself: a fulltime position at Valve Entertainment. Valve had loved the work he had done for Half-Life and had subsequently offered him fulltime work, an offer that didn't need to be asked twice, especially considering the incredible (and well deserved) public response that Half-Life received.

Dhabih has been working at Valve now for 9 months, tasked with creating "promotional artwork, logo treatments and things like that" for their near-complete (and highly anticipated) multiplayer game, Team Fortress 2.

"I'm having a real great time here; it's laid back, the people are friendly, and the kitchen is always stocked."

On the differences he's found between magazine artwork and game artwork;

"The approach is different in that, for [magazine] covers, there is a specific subject matter that needs to be shown, and most of the time there was a pretty clear idea in the magazine art directors mind what he want. In game design, there is more freedom to create things that you think would look cool (with the art direction in mind)."

Dhabih continues to create big, adventurous images, for both commercial (magazine) uses and just for the fun of it. Just recently, one of his oldest fan-pictures, an alien from Half-Life no less, was touched up and used for the cover of Game Developer Magazine, creating some sort of strangely unnatural cycle in the way his professional career has stemmed from what was originally a hobby, and then looped back on its self.

Dhab's web site, http://www.sijun.com has been a big draw card over the several years he's had it running, due originally to the artwork, tutorials and the short lived CelebMorf series (Warning: seriously freaky stuff!). But more recently the hits have been mounting up for the message boards he's been running for a few months, particularly the one devoted to digital art that draws a crowd of digital artists from all walks of life (at last count it had more than 240 registered users).

His approach to digital art recently went through a major rethink (a TechniqueMorf?); gone are the days of beginning an image with an outline, and in comes an approach based around shapes and forms;

"I used to start with line drawings colored in flatly, and then I shaded each individual area [..] this way had a more cartoony feel to it. Now I treat the screen as a canvas, like oil painting; putting in large shapes of color and light and then going through to better define shapes."

"I started this new way soon after starting at Valve after I ran across Craig Mullins' site."

Ahh, Mr. Mullins strikes again (remind me to get him onto a cover sometime!).

Future projects for Dhabih at Valve Software are currently under wraps but with the huge success of Half-Life it wouldn't take a genius to hope that a sequel will figure into it somewhere. And the future of his art?

"This is something that I've just recently started thinking about. The dust has kind of settled from all my excitement of getting a new job and graduating from school, and so I'm looking into new ways for me to improve my art, and also see what I can do with it in a non-work related form."

We can't wait.

- Rowan "Sumaleth" Crawford is loonygames' Supervising Art Director.


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Credits: Print CGI is © 2000 Square Eight. Used with permission. Article is © 2000 its original author. All other content is © 2000 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited. You got that??