The French gaming and sci-fi concept artist is about to embark on a new adventure.
When Geoffrey Ernault was around six years old, he found himself confined to hospital due to an eye injury. For a while, he was effectively blind. “My father was next to me with Star Wars playing on the hospital TV,” he remembers. “And he described each scene of the film and what was happening. And during all this I had all these exciting sci-fi images coming through my mind – super-cool spaceship designs, stormtroopers and everything.” He smiles at his first real stirrings of artistic creativity. “Then when I saw the movie it was even better!”
Curtain-wipe to 2015, and the now hugely talented artist is preparing to move to the Los Angeles area to join Riot Games as a senior concept artist – following a year’s stint at Guerilla Games at its Cambridge office. In between, he’s lived in Greece, China, Belgium, Russia and back to his home country of France, all the while honing his craft for producing fantastically detailed sci-fi landscapes, creatures and many other designs.
“Guerilla was really great,” he says of his last job. “The company contacted me to develop a new IP for which it needed someone to figure out the overall look, and to explore options. That IP went on to become RIGS, which Guerrilla announced back in June at E3. It was an amazing experience, because I had a lot more responsibilities. It was on Project Morpheus [Sony’s forthcoming virtual reality system], so it meant we had to find ways of creating a good pipeline that would work with the tech, and seeing it evolve was really awesome. I feel like I really learnt a lot.”
more than a game
Geoffrey’s love of gaming, particularly of the sci-fi kind, also developed at an early age. “When I was about seven, I remember discovering StarCraft at a friend’s house,” he says. “It was a revelation to me. I fell in love with the universe, the way the game played, the massive armies and the designs. I just couldn’t stop playing it. I started playing more and more games, mostly Diablo 2, Warcraft III and Earth 2150.”
The real breakthrough came on his 16th birthday, when his parents bought him a Wacom tablet. “I was really excited! While looking for tutorials to use it, I realised you could actually paint with a tablet and not just use flat colour. I focused all my attention on that and any free time I’d have, I’d learn new techniques and learn the software at home after school.”
Geoffrey mainly uses Photoshop, along with 3ds Max, ZBrush and the Unreal Engine as projects or whims demand, though he’s always keen to try new software or less-conventional methods of painting. “For example I like using Alchemy or traditional stuff like contour drawing sometimes. I like to experiment with the picture, because you can’t just add a landscape picture to make a speed-painting in an easy way. But what you can do is try to take a picture of something abstract and find a cool way to use it in an image, for a design for example.”
In any of his concept designs, lighting always comes first, followed by composition, shapes and finally the actual design. This is partly due to his love of the Impressionists and the work of Caspar David Friedrich – building a mood just as much as depicting subjects. “I think it’s kind of easy to create an image that looks good,” he says. “If you have the software knowledge and the technical knowledge,
If you have the technical skills, it’s kind of easy to create an image that looks good
you can do something that looks good, with a lot of detail. But I really like the Impressionists because they can convey a mood using such good use of brush strokes. They don’t need to detail everything because there’s mystery. You have to play with your imagination a bit and I think it just makes the images better.”
His travels around the globe – first with his family growing up, and later for his career – have also contributed much to his artistic worldview. “I feel like being abroad boosts my creativity and makes me enjoy life more, as I’m constantly discovering new things, learning new languages, discovering cultures. “So when you go to Russia and everything is super-grey and there’s a blizzard and its cold and you have big, almost very greyish buildings. Then you go to Greece and you have sand everywhere, it’s hot. Every time I would just leave everything behind and just start all over.”
Indeed, while Geoffrey studied at the prestigious L’Institut Supérieur des Arts Appliqués art school, and has taught art courses himself, he’s a big believer in getting out there and getting on with it. “Even in France, I don’t think there’s a lot of schools that teach concept art. They tell you about speed-painting or Photoshop. But they don’t give you a real-life experience. You don’t know how it feels to work freelance for a client, being paid badly, but you do it for the CV. You have to go through this stage. People don’t realise that.”
Now LA, and the next chapter in Geoffrey’s adventure, awaits. He’s eager to get started once again. “Serge Birault said art is like a drug. It feels sometimes more like a curse – if you don’t paint, you feel bad. And the worst thing is if you finish an image, even if you like it for 10 minutes, afterwards you’re going to hate it because you are going to think about all the things that you could have corrected!” he laughs. “I guess it’s not about being perfect. I think we’re all seeking the feeling of being content with what we’re doing.”
This Isn’t Mars In this personal piece Geoffrey was “practising edges and colours” to produce the atmospheric effect he’s so fond of.
“Having some fun during my lunchbreak, plus a bit of detail after work,” says Geoffrey, who developed a complex backstory for this image.
An evocative image – which Geoffrey is keeping deliberately unexplained – with hints of Star Wars in the design.
“I’d been watching a bunch of Ghibli stuff,
so I went back to colourful subjects for
The Fall This was designed for the game Kerbal Space Program and created with 3ds Max, ZBrush and Photoshop.
No Man’s Valley