Q1. First of all can you tell us a little about how Fox3D Studios came to be formed and your motives behind starting the company? It wasn't a decision made in one day, this is for certain; it was the culmination of several years of freelancing, art managing, building contact lists and securing clients. I began from just being a hobbyist and went through each progressive phase myself before I realized that I have enough of clients and contacts with great artists and was ready to start raising my own child - Fox3D studios. I was always looking for something new and fresh in my day-to-day jobs and I believe this is the main point about my nature that helped me to form my skills into something bigger. Once I felt that being just an artist is not enough and I need more interaction and drive, I started to provide QA services to some of my talented fellow Artists and provide them assignments from my clients and this was only the beginning. I started to involve more people in this endeavour and build internal structures based on different skill sets and abilities of the artists I connected to; and this is what I continue to do right now. People believed in my skills while I was freelance artist and I further proved that I can guarantee them quality even if work is not made by me personally. Having all the experience and contacts in the game industry I had the perfect foundation to start my new company and I was lucky enough to do it smoothly. I am now satisfied working with really talented artists, providing QA and creative directorial services at my own studios and this is just amazing... It wasn't my aim to make company; it just formed by itself. Luck prevailed. In reply to Q1. Your job it seems has shifted to more of a managerial role from that of an artist but do you ever find that you miss the creative aspects of freelancing and do you ever think you would like to work on your own game ideas or does the whole notion of a long incubation period of development sound daunting ?
Actually I am working on some assets from time to time too, to feel myself in the artist role really helps to communicate with the other artists correctly and to understand their needs better. It also a great fun to have minimal or no communication from time to time and to feel myself in the calm artistic universe being pushed by some hardcore music. I love the variety in my work so being only a manager would kill me for sure...
As to the second part of your question, yes, I think about my own game from time to time and I do have one really nice idea in mind... but it is a bit too soon to let people know about that ;) Q2. It would seem as though your company is essentially an "Art Department" for hire. What do you feel are the main reasons why there are demands for such a niche market nowadays? We mostly work in game industry so I will be talking about that market mainly. We know that there are tons of games that are being developed at this very moment and there are always opportunity that some game developer would like to speed up the process of development for any reason. No mater what it is game developer's objective or aim - whether to achieve the best results possible to some investor or publisher - we are always ready to help. We have the artists and knowledge and always ready to start immediately. You don't need to increase the amount of fulltime workers for the short-term goal and we know how it is usually hard to find the right candidate for immediate work. Finding the resources to create a specific element of a game can often take longer than the task itself. When you sub-contract some part of your work to some studio like Fox3D, you can be sure that we are motivated to provide result as fast and as amazing as possible, because there is really big competition between such "Art Departments for hire" (which means quality) and we want to complete the project to satisfaction to receive compensation as well (which means quick turn-around). There is no other way to fulfil the client's objective but to complete his project with quality and on time. If we are talking about small clients, there are some game developers that do not have a stable art sub-division in their structure and they hire workers from project to project to save money, trying to occupy their time in between projects. It is much easier and faster to hire someone who can provide everything in one bottle; a team of artists that can provide every type of artwork. Then the client keeps this contact until the next project and there are much more possibilities that they will have the same team and quality again. If we are talking about big clients and huge projects; the game art become more and more complex, the demands and quality are higher, and standards rise dramatically lately. So sometimes it is just impossible to find THAT amount of great artists in that very same area of the world where the game developer decided to start it's company x years ago. If no possibility to build more offices in other areas then there are 2 ways; to relocate the necessary amount of great artists or just to make them work externally/remotely. Relocation is a really complex process and really is a tough job in itself so it is much more easy to build an internal department that would control outsourcing. I believe these are the main reasons why we have a steady stream of work coming. In reply to Q2. Do you find that you attract developers of particular genres and do you ever turn down work because it may not suit the company profile of skillsets you have nurtured ?
I can't define any particular genre that we usually work on, but I would tell you that we are mostly into realism rather that cartoonish style. Speaking about skillsets of our artists, I can assure you that we can handle every type of game art and we never turn down work because of that but realism is definitely our forte. Q3. Your website states that you have 15 fulltime employees. Can you give us a breakdown of the key roles they fill and how the team is divided and tasks allocated?
We have 2 2D Artists, 3 Character Modelers, 2 Environment Modelers, 3 Animators, 3 Texture Artists and 2 Leads (Lead Texture Artist – Den Fox the onewho is talking to you right now ;) I am also responsible for creative direction. And Lead Modeler - Fabricio Torres; one of the craziest modelers in the game industry. His Gorilla Bust talks for itself!) that perform all the QA work, management of assets and all the rest to make sure workflow is as smooth as possible. We didn't have separation between the modeler and texture artist positions before. Everyone was an 'all-purpose' artist and that was great for PS2 type of games. But once we started to work on Next Generation titles with Unreal Engine 3 technology we felt that it is right time to change this common organization model. The amount of work that every object required gave us a great opportunity to separate tasks further. We really feel now that this kind of separation increases the quality and speed of the work on complex assignments quite a
lot, by I would say 30%. So that really adds to our competitive prices ;)
Once we receive the task from the client it goes to one of the Lead artists and he prepares the task for the specific artist so everything is as clear as possible. Then it goes through all the necessary stages of development, being reviewed and approved with every stage, before it goes further. At the very final
stage of development we review it one more time and then it goes to client with the Seal of Approval.
Depending on the client's needs we may have their reviews with every stage, which is good as well, and guarantee the fastest and best result.
Q4. What proportion of your work is dedicated to 2D Artwork?
Clients usually like to prepare reference material and sketches on their end and use our services as a 3D development resource purely. So we usually use our 2D artists to help out in the texturing process. But once we have this great and rare opportunity to be involved in the creative process, we are 100% truly happy and do our best. I would tell that 2D Artwork is about 5% of our everyday tasks.
Q5. In the list of projects you have worked on I notice that there are quite a number in which you mention "material setup". Can you explain what this involves?
That is what I would call a Texture Artist now - Material Artist. Some objects that we develop for the Unreal Engine 3 have really complex material setup so it is not only about making the diffuse map now but to make the full set of maps like: Diffuse, Specular, Glossiness, Reflection Mask, Emissive, Normal etc and combining that through the Engine material options to make the object look just right in the game. It is mostly about realistic type of games, where we need to achieve the same effects on surface, as we would expect to see while interaction with the object in real life.
Q6. Do you use any freelance artists at all to help meet deadlines?
Yes, and that really helps. We do not only use separate freelance artists, but we also have experience in collaboration with other studios, when the scope of the project is too big. Most projects we can handle with our general team though. In reply to Q6. How easy or difficult is it working with not only development studios but freelance artists and other companies such as yourself. Can it become problematic liaising between all three ?
Usually it is pain in the ass but it is top secret... don't tell to our Clients! Kidding... No actually I think we managed to steam the process of development and outsourcing quite well, so once we need this additional force we use it and feel really comfortable. Lead artists work much more concentrated at such moments though.
Q7. Estonia is an interesting if not unusual location to be based. What are the advantages of being there from both an employment and social point of view?
I know just 2 studios that provide this kind of services in Estonia. I think the reason of that is we are very small so it is pretty hard to find talented artist here. But we have good connections with Russia and Ukraine and Lithuania.. all the old soviet union countries. This area has really competitive man-hour cost so this is a biggest advantage I think our location really helps us to utilize resources from this area very effectively. Being part of the Europe Union also helps to make business easier here.
Q8. Have you any ambition to branch into the film sector at all?
Yes we have ambition for that and the closer game art becomes to film quality the more we think about that. Games are great and it is a lot of fun to work in this sector, but I know that most of my artists would prefer to work on something that shows their skills in the best light and to amaze people even more. Really, sometimes it hurts when you see some character or object in game play once it received all the optimization to fit real-time game restrictions. But we will definitely want to stay in game industry as well,
so probably a mix of both in the future. Q9. Which have been the most demanding projects to date and why?
I think “Killzone 2” that we are currently working on right now and “Aliens: Colonial Marines”. Mostly because of quality standards and complexity of assignments such projects demand. And this is really good, the more time we spend for some object the better we nail our work and the bigger satisfaction from that we receive - that all helps to grow as an artist.