Ian Bowden, former Grand Theft Auto rock-star and current Art Director at GameDuell, in a delightful interview about sketching people on the subway, his favourite games and how your background defines you as an artist.
Olga: Question of the day: do you play games yourself or do you only make them?
Ian: I do both. My favorite game of all times will probably be Psychonauts. It’s just brilliant. Another game that I keep coming back to whenever I find anybody to play with me is Quake III. Not a great Quake player, I must admit, but I love this game so much!
I’m also quite pleased, by the way, that some of the bigger companies, like Microsoft, are now trying to improve the gaming eco-system and make more indie games – this art game genre is really exciting to me, actually. My favorite recent indie game is probably a three-way tie between Thomas Was Alone, The Unfinished Swan and Kentucky Route Zero. The first one will make you laugh and cry at the same time. The second one is just incredibly beautiful, very slow paced. And the last one is a game for artists, a game for gamers, game makers and everybody who is interested in the history of gaming. It’s a little David Lynch kind of thing.
Olga: Do your children play games, too?
Ian: Yes, as the matter of fact, they do. The oldest one is 17 now, and she used to LOVE playing games. When she was a little kid, I once found her playing GTA on the PSP underneath the bedclothes. I remember I had to confiscate the PSP from her… Gabriel, her younger brother, was never a big game player – he’s an artist and an actor; he reads (Ian rolls his eyes). And the other two have been utterly addicted to Minecraft for a couple of years now. The youngest one would watch Minecraft videos on Youtube all day long if you would let him.
The kids get what’s been decided to be a “healthy amount of time looking at the screen” and then the iPads and the consoles get confiscated. But some of the most fun times playing games as a family was with the Wii – especially playing Mario.
Olga: There’s a popular opinion right now, especially coming from the elder generations, that gaming is a waste of time. Do you agree with it?
Ian: First of all, I think this is based on a wrong assumption. Up until recently video games were considered to be like toys for children. And if you assume that video games are something for kids, then when you see an adult playing a video game it is obviously going to shock you. But is it really a massive waste of time? I don’t know. Three centuries ago they said that reading books was a waste of time.
Olga: Why do you think people play games? Visual inspiration? Story line? Multiplayer experience?
Ian: It can be all sorts of reasons. Look at the games that we’re making at GameDuell – people play them to pass time, they play them when they’re on the tube, they play them when they’ve just got five minutes. They also might play them to compete with other people. Or you can use games as distraction from a difficult day... It’s important to understand that the game industry has many parallels with the movie industry – and it’s also important to remember how during the Great Depression the box office takings actually went up. The world was basically going to hell so the people, trying to escape the realities of it, went to the movie theatres. Today we can do exactly the same thing but with games.
Olga: So games are a form of escapism?
Ian: They can be, yes. But as we’ve seen, nowadays we trend towards everything becoming multiplayer, which is actually wonderful because you’re joining other people in that escape. It’s not a solitary experience anymore, it’s a community experience. And that’s something that we’re here at the GameDuell Studio are very interested in bringing in.
Image source: @QualityLobster
Olga: How did you find your style as an artist? Did it just emerge on its own from the hours of practice?
Ian: I can tell an interesting story about that. There was one of the concept and character artists at the Rockstar North studio, Ian McQue – wonderful artist, amazing person – and our styles were somewhat similar. There was a game that we were both working on, doing some character design, and sometimes you couldn’t tell who had done what. Funnily enough, sometimes even we couldn’t remember which one of us did it! When Ian and I got to know each other, we found out that we had lots in common: we had the same comic books influences, we liked the same artists and we’ve acquired the same line work from them. So your style has a lot to do with your background, your surroundings, and the type of things you grow up on. But of course, the hours of practice is a must.
Olga: How often do you practice?
Ian: Always. For starters, I always carry my sketch book. I sketch people. In the subway. All the time. People in Berlin don’t really do that, actually, but up until now nobody has ever asked me to stop. So far there were just two people who wanted me to show the drawings – and they both liked it. I was kind of pleased about that, by the way, because one of them was the scariest-looking man you can ever imagine. It was quite courageous of me to sketch him in the first place, but he just laughed and tapped me on the shoulder. A lovely person, it appeared.
Image source: @QualityLobster
Olga: Why do you prefer to sketch people?
Ian: Because I like the fact that people constantly move. If you can capture their movements in one spill, somehow you fill the whole drawing with life. Those times when you just hit it – when you create something in few lines and it’s perfect and there’s nothing to add –are my favorite drawings.
Olga: Do you draw with a pen or with a pencil?
Ian: Always with a pen and almost always with a marker pen, actually. I don’t like to have the safety of being able to rub the drawing out. When I’m sketching on the U-Bahn in Berlin, I want the drawings to be spontaneous – I don’t like to keep going back and erase this, edit that… If it doesn’t actually look like the person, I don’t really care because the most important thing is to get the feeling down, capture the moment, and let the drawing speak on its own. That’s what I’m really after.
Before joining GameDuell, Ian Bowden was Founder and Art Director at Rockstar Leeds, where he was responsible for the visual style of such world-famous games as the Grand Theft Auto series, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire and Max Payne 3. In summer 2014, Ian took a position of Art Director at GameDuell. Read more about his previous work here.
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