The first day keynote of G-CON X IGC, a conference co-hosted by G-Star, G-Star and Inven in 2021, was held by Shift Up CEO Kim Hyung-sik. As a representative illustrator in Korea, CEO Kim Hyung-tae prepared a lecture titled ‘From Illustrator to Director’ based on his experience as an art director and a game director.
CEO Kim Hyung-tae who visited the company’s booth the day before the keynote.
Prior to the announcement, CEO Kim Hyung-tae decided to talk about his personal development, growth as a developer, and essence while everyone was talking grandiose stories such as NFT and blockchain. The following contents are written from the presenter’s point of view for convenience of understanding.
The story I’m going to talk about today is a kind of latte talk, and since it’s a story based on my personal experience of nearly 20 years, it doesn’t apply to everyone.
This is my first painting, and I learned how to color on a Macintosh in 97 and worked with Photoshop. At this time, it was pure amateur painting, and everyone started that way. It was the time when I thought that it would be good if this could become a profession because I like drawing. Naturally, I tried to knock on the door of game companies while preparing my portfolio. The work at this time also retains the present taste.
And like that, I joined Mantra in 1997. It was a company that made a game called Rhapsody Acculteller. The paintings from this time do not remain personally, but for the first time I did a painting for which I was not the owner. Based on the limited sheet and coloring base, the key was how much charm could be extracted from the illustration. How to extract an identity based on a simple design
At that time, I still did not have a professional mind, so a lot of unfinished drawings were exposed. It was a time when I wasn’t able to become a professional as a painter yet. Although this game didn’t come out, I took the first step like this, and I got a call from Softmax.
In fact, when I joined Softmax, I had one interview and was rejected. At first I thought it was a scout, but there was an interview, and I didn’t prepare at all, so I was blocked from introducing myself. Then, after receiving recognition for painting again, I started working at Softmax as an outsourcer. The first work was The Tempest. Tony was the main illustrator, and the sub illustrator was in charge of the story behind the scenes.
At that time, I did my own design. The mindset that people who draw often have is that people will find me and find my picture, so whatever I draw, if I draw what I like, they will like it. I was no different back then.
And through this process, I was recognized by the company, and immediately moved on to the next project. That’s what ‘Genesis 3’ is all about. In ‘Genesis 3’, he was a full-time employee and the main illustrator, and finally he was equipped with a mind as a developer, office worker, or professional. It’s a kind of realization, but it’s a really insignificant realization.
So this is it. I think I’m pretty good at drawing. So, wouldn’t it be nice if he could draw exactly what he wants? such an attitude. Thinking about it now, this is one of the basics of a pro. We create results according to the needs of our clients. However, at this time, the industry history was short, and the job of an illustrator belonging to the company was unfamiliar, so it did not spread widely. So at that time, I learned how to draw well while meeting the client’s requirements.
For example, I continued to draw until the general manager Choi Yeon-gyu, who was in charge of the development of ‘Genesis 3′ at the time, confirmed it. Saladin in the main poster was retaken almost 100 times. From sketching to coloring, through every step. It was very difficult, but at that time, I approached it with the thought that I would definitely achieve what that person asked for and I did. And like that, I had the heart to draw as a professional, and moved on to Genesis 3 Part 2’.
As you know, Part 2 has a sci-fi taste. Another thing I realized at this time was that if I bought the trust of the client, I would be given that much opportunity. From Director Choi Yeon-gyu, that friend can draw what I want. So I gained the trust that I could leave it to you. The more I build that trust, the more freedom I get. So from then on, I was able to draw out whatever style I wanted. As it is SF, a strong fluorescent theme gave a strong contrast to the style, and everyone accepted it. The retake at this time was the part of whether or not he could understand himself, and everyone had faith.
This is where I achieved the greatest growth as a painter. I started out as an amateur painter, but now I have become a game concept artist and illustrator for a bit. Anyway, at this time, I was able to design freely as I wanted within the limits that fit the setting.
And the next title is ‘Magna Carta’. This title makes me feel complicated in a number of ways. It was a successful work as an illustrator, but a failure as a developer. In the beginning, ‘Magna Carta’ was the title in 2001, ‘Genesis 3’ was in 1999, and ‘Part 2’ was in 2000. One game came out every year, and it was a nonsensical schedule. It was a very difficult time as a developer, but on the other hand, as an illustrator and as an individual, it was a time when I was able to grow rapidly through the accumulated experience.
‘Magna Carta’ was a time to find my own color beyond freeing up illustrations. At this time, the theme color was green, and the color tones were unified by giving green tones to most of the dark sides. And through this period, I gained a professional attitude and identity as an illustrator.
And from then on, I became interested in real-time 3D. In addition, the freedom of expression in the game was very wide at that time. It’s a pity that it’s a difficult time right now.
I first experienced console game development through Unreal Engine 2 with ‘Magna Carta PS2’. At this time, all the backgrounds were applied in 3D to the illustrations. While making this game, I created real-time characters and characters that are used in the game in earnest, but since I am an illustrator, there are too few areas where I can interfere with the game. So I learned 3D. Real-time CG is my future, I thought. It was the time when character modeling, for example, was created using a method called hand map.
I had a goal to express my illustrations in 3D at some point. At this point, it wasn’t perfect. Looking at the paintings of that time, his development as an illustrator is not conspicuous. But while learning 3D, can this character and this picture be realized in 3D? Is it attractive even in 3D state? A lot of consideration was put into it, and I drew that part in consideration. At that time, I did all the illustration and modeling myself, so if I draw like an idiot, I am the only one suffering. And I thought about whether to express the bulkiness and thickness rather than the thin feeling of 3D.
And then Unreal Engine 3 came out. It is a monumental and impressive object for me and for many people in the gaming industry. Through normal maps, a much more natural expression is possible beyond polygons. At this time, I made a sample character with Unreal Engine 3, and I saw plenty of potential.
And around this time, I joined NCsoft. It was not an easy decision to move the enemy from Softmax, where I had been attending for 7-8 years, to NCsoft. My friendships, business partners, and geographic location were all intertwined, and at that time, all game companies had not even gathered in Pangyo.
At that time, an acquaintance of a developer gave me advice. When you move, you get nothing. You have to say I’m crazy and then something will happen. So I gave up everything and moved to NCsoft. And the first work that NCsoft did was ‘Magna Carta 2’.
I would do something, but Softmax and Bandai Namco signed a contract before I left, and one of the conditions was that Kim Hyung-sik would participate as an illustrator. So Softmax asked NCsoft to do the illustrations for the work.
And after a while, Blade and Soul came out. This is probably the title I spent the longest time making in the golden age of my life. It’s a title with a lot of really good people. It was a game made purely with the will to make the game cool and fun. Since I was an art director during the development period of 6-7 years, there are not many paintings themselves.
Originally an illustrator, I also did CG rendering, I had a willingness to listen to anything I wanted, and an understanding of real-time 3D, so I gave up on NCsoft. I know how to direct art. do. I’ve never actually done it though. Of course, who is the director from the beginning? Just like there are no experienced newcomers. So, I think the time to correct these utterances was the development period.
An art director is not just a painter. How this will fit into the plan, what kind of image will be delivered, how to establish a visual identity, how many frames will be secured, how to display battles, how to give gimmicks or character identity, etc. All of them are in charge of parts that are very closely related to the game itself.
I don’t think I’ve played all of these roles perfectly, but I worked really hard on it nonetheless. The goal was clear. The 3D character should resemble my illustration and be attractive. Of course, the most important thing for this was lighting. The current ‘Project Eve’ staff were the people who studied this part together at this time, and in addition to basic lighting, various tools were installed to implement backlighting and various 3D lighting.
This was a much bigger job than I was capable of, and that was the most dramatic growth. I think this was the first challenge I could say that I am still a game developer. Before that, I was just a painter and a professional illustrator, but now I can say that I am a game developer.
And finally, in 2015, he founded Shift Up. The start-up was not as grandiose as I thought it would be. Rather, I would not have been able to establish a company if my goals were grand or specific. It was a very simple reason. After making a 3D game for 7-8 years and playing it live, I wanted to make a 2D game that uses my drawings directly. Now I didn’t want to even look at 3D games. I want to leave for a while, and I want to return to my main job as a painter.
And coming back like this, I faced many challenges. When ‘Destiny Child’ was the first title, there were a lot of areas where I grew up in unexpected places.
The main character illustration went through several changes, but I made a character with horns because I thought it lacked identity and strong impression. This way, you can see at a glance which game it is coming from. It was completed by discarding and fixing through numerous designs to see how intensely this character would be recognized by users even when making one character.
The two on the left of this Darby illustration are also early versions of Darby, but they were not used in the game. Besides working again as an illustrator, the biggest learning from Destiny Child was UI/UX. It can be said that it is the system closest to the user’s fingertips.
I was worried about whether this button looks like it would be pressed, if I pressed it, it would fit in easily, if it was in an appropriate location, if it was to express the identity of the game, etc. It was a part that had no contact with my work as an illustrator so far. There was a lot of arrangement to make it like this, upload it, test it and refine it to the final form.
The battle screen also had a lot of different trials and developments. At first, like a cartoon cutscene, later on the bust-up shot, I went to the center of the button, and then made sure it was focused on the button. Can you see the button well? So I put it in big, and because it wasn’t stylish, I turned it into a revolver and varied it. Of course, it’s very different from today’s games. However, I really liked the design of this time, and I understood the flow of how players approach and play the game.
In this way, as the developers stacked up, I gained confidence and learned how to make a game. ‘Destiny Child’ has changed the director 3 times, and I finally finished directing it, and although it was a half-experience, it was a good experience to think about how to approach this game in a fun way. Of course, since it was the first challenge, there were many things that were lacking. So, it is ‘Nike’ that has been prepared by definitely supplementing it.
In ‘Nike: Goddess of Victory’, there are also many characters that suit the taste of those who do not like the characters I drew, mainly with attractive characters. The game screens are clearly improved compared to the previous games, ‘Destiny Child’. UI/UX also fits the current trend, making the battle screen look like a real battle screen rather than an abstract one.
It’s hard to say much about ‘Project Eve’ here. However, it is an extension of the basic skills mentioned earlier, the challenge of real-time 3D, and the concerns about the intrinsic fun of the game.
While I was walking this path, there was no such frontier in Korea that I could follow because the reference was just right. So in Korea, you have to shovel hard. Nevertheless, the shovel worked well and dug well. Again, this is actually a joke. I can direct the game. So, I am working hard with the company people. We are going to make this myth a reality.
● When I played Blade & Soul, what impressed me was that, as you said, the difference between the original picture and the 3D modeling was small. Can you explain more how you implemented it?
Kim Hyung-tae: When creating Blade & Soul, of course, new people were recruited from the beginning, and not everyone had the same vision. The two most important things were objects and lighting. First, when creating an object, we made a standard for modeling. When expressing details, how to engraving and embossing, how to finish when the fabric is finished, how to express hair like this, and to what extent in physical expression. I set the rules in this way so that I could match what I expressed in the illustration. And as those who know my drawings know, I tend to exaggerate the thickness, but I made this possible in 3D. With these rules, even newcomers can learn and use it right away.
I also used a variety of lighting, some of which make the lighting realistic but also ugly. In addition to directional lights, we used several light sources for the characters. I adjusted the intensity of the light according to the lighting similar to the light I use when drawing, and the point of view of the camera. Adjusting the light source of the illustration was also applied to the game.
Thanks to this, I think that even if I am not present, it has become the basis for the production to come out the same. Other than that, there are several technical techniques hidden, which are too long, so I’ll be able to tell you in detail next time I get a chance.
● As an illustrator, how did you communicate with 3D modelers?
Kim Hyung-tae: showed a concrete vision. I made a rough model and aimed to form a consensus, saying that this form is not good. Because we didn’t go to hyperreal, we had to follow the illustration style to some extent.
Of course, this is not a universal theory. As an illustrator at the time, I was well-known, so it became the basis for receiving consensus. Of course, apart from that, there must be a certain output. It was as if I was able to make a research work in 3D and say, “Oh, this quality is coming out.” You have to give them trust in the output, and, of course, you have to get along well. Must have social manners. Of course, there were many times when this wasn’t the case.
● As an illustrator, director, or developer, if you have any advice for aspiring or working professionals
Kim: I think that’s the kind of advice I’ve been talking about so far, but to emphasize once again, it’s good to use my time wisely. I have been at the company for a long time, except for sleeping time, and I am overwhelmingly long at the company. During that time, I work as much as I get paid, I work as much as I get paid, and if I add up, I lose. Then I think that it is my life that flows and throws away helplessly.
At the end of the year, when I look back on myself, I am living to see whether this year was the most important to Kim Hyung-sik. Some might think that it is because I am the representative, but this is something I have always thought about since the days of Softmax. Until I understand myself, I do it until I get it. You should only do as much as you get paid, isn’t it hogu? However, in the end, all that time is wasted is my life. I think it’s important to be active. Where I spend the most time and how I spend it is up to me.
It’s a kind of stance. Rather than cherishing life, it seems to be appropriate to actively cherish life. Then it will definitely develop. The more advanced you are, the more you can do. I never thought I would be able to create a company. I think it was possible because I worked hard every moment.
● Some people say that the sex appeal is excessive after looking at Kim Hyung-tae’s illustrations. It is not possible to satisfy all the public, so what kind of paintings do you think Kim Hyung-sik sells?
Kim Hyung-tae: What I draw is commercial illustration. If all the illustrations were the same, the world would be really boring. I am an illustrator who features illustrations that express sexuality. There are many people in the world who are not like that, and there are many people who are worse than me. I am just one of them.
Society must be able to embrace diversity. I use it to show that I have committed a crime or something I shouldn’t have shown, and I don’t do it. I just draw what I want and provide it, and if someone doesn’t like it, just cancel the selection. Everything equally, equally, that’s impossible. How boring would the world be?
Of course, I like paintings that sell. Of course, there will be people who don’t. I just express what I like in my work. If people in the world really make a work that is not uncomfortable for everyone in the world, for example, if it is a movie, it is as good as a crime, and everyone is just living an exemplary life.
Society must be able to embrace this diversity. It is important not to be too sensitive about freedom of expression across cultures.
● I started as an artist and did one-person development, but when I do art-led development, I worry a lot about the process. Could you share your know-how on this?
Kim Hyung-tae: As a developer, the important thing is to design the pipeline. I think every development team is different. When making Blade & Soul, it is very important to establish such rules and standards so that outsourcing can be done under them, and new actors have built such a pipeline, and it is very important to form a consensus even if such detailed rules are not written.
Nowadays, most of the work is done non-face-to-face, but I think face-to-face work is much more efficient. This is something that requires a lot of consensus building. We need to share information, talk about problems and figure out how to solve them, and create a consensus and put them into practice.
It is important not to be silent. The worst thing is to be consistent in silence. I’m developing it, but it doesn’t work out well. If I say this, maybe I’m just making things up? The team over there is very busy… This attitude is really bad. Then the problem remains forever. Actively speaking and talking to each other is the foundation of the pipeline.
|By Lee Myung-gyu, staff reporter [email protected]|