Stu­dio pro­file

Find out why Atomhawk is keen to de­velop its artists.

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Contents -

Launch­ing Atomhawk in 2009 was what CEO Ron Ash­tiani de­scribes as a “leap of faith”. He found him­self out of a job af­ter games de­vel­oper Mid­way closed its Gateshead stu­dio, in north-east England, where he’d been work­ing along­side graphic de­signer Steve Pick and artists Pete Thomp­son and Corlen Kruger. But in­stead of go­ing their sep­a­rate ways, the four de­cided to team up. “If I was ever go­ing to make a break from games devel­op­ment and ful­fil my dream of set­ting up my own art and de­sign stu­dio, this had to be the op­por­tu­nity I’d been wait­ing for,” Ron says. They haven’t looked back since. Based in Gateshead, and re­cently launch­ing a satel­lite stu­dio in London, Atomhawk now has 40 re­leased projects across games, films and dig­i­tal me­dia, in­clud­ing Avengers: Age of Ul­tron, Mor­tal Kom­bat X, Guardians of the Galaxy and JK Rowl­ing’s Pot­ter­more. So what’s the se­cret to their suc­cess?

In short: artist devel­op­ment. “We don’t just hire great peo­ple,” says Ron. “We take the time to de­velop their skills. For ex­am­ple, we have reg­u­lar learn­ing lunches where each artist gets the chance to share their ex­pe­ri­ence and skills in a par­tic­u­lar area with the rest of the team.”

It’s not just about for­mal in­struc­tion, though. Atomhawk has gen­er­ated an open, in­clu­sive at­mos­phere where se­nior artists don’t just hide away in si­los, but in­stead share their knowl­edge and skills on a daily ba­sis – some­thing that con­cept artist Michael Mowat greatly ap­pre­ci­ates.

“Get­ting to work with some se­ri­ous tal­ent is grand,”

Michael says. “There aren’t any egos, so every­one is open with their pro­cesses, and how they ac­tu­ally make the awe­some. Very handy for a nosey artist like my­self.”

The found­ing team ini­tially fo­cused on re­al­is­tic ac­tion and hor­ror vi­su­als, on projects such as Mor­tal Kom­bat, Ryse: Son of Rome and Dead Is­land. But as the com­pany grew, they de­cided to add more range. “So artists like Char­lie Bowa­ter were key to more stylised projects like Pot­ter­more for JK Rowl­ing and Project Spark for Mi­crosoft,” Ron ex­plains. “Our cre­ative team is now 14 peo­ple with a di­verse range and so we no longer have a house style; we’re fo­cused on ex­celling across the field.”

di­verse projects

That sense of va­ri­ety has been a thrill ride for con­cept artist Daniel Pea­cock. “Be­fore I started work­ing here, I as­sumed it was mainly movie and game stuff,” he says. “But I soon learned that Atomhawk pro­duces art for all sorts of things. I’m work­ing on some im­ages for a chil­dren’s read­ing app, for ex­am­ple.”

In the eight months he’s been there, Daniel has worked on ev­ery­thing from mar­ket­ing art to char­ac­ter con­cepts, en­vi­ron­ment de­sign to logo cre­ation. “My proud­est mo­ment has been de­sign­ing crea­ture con­cepts for an in­die hor­ror game,” he says. “I love draw­ing mon­sters, so it was the per­fect project for me.”

Michael tells a sim­i­lar tale. “Since join­ing Atomhawk in April 2015, I’ve worked on ev­ery­thing from stylised in­te­ri­ors and char­ac­ters to more re­al­is­tic en­vi­ron­ments and char­ac­ters,” he says. “It changes week by week and keeps you on your toes. I’ve even seen the process of mak­ing art it­self chang­ing: we’ve been do­ing a lot more VR stuff, and many of the artists have moved into im­ple­ment­ing 3D into their work­flows.”

That’s a sen­ti­ment echoed by se­nior artist Sam Hogg. “There’s more cross­over be­tween 3D and 2D in con­cept art now,” she says. “As the tools for cre­at­ing 3D be­come more avail­able, I can see it be­com­ing a vi­tal tool for a lot of con­cept art cre­ation. The rise of VR is go­ing to make the cre­ation of con­cept art in­ter­est­ing too, as it’s such a dif­fer­ent thing be­ing phys­i­cally im­mersed in a world, ver­sus look­ing at it on a 2D screen.”

Atomhawk has even made for­ays into pub­lish­ing. In 2011, it col­lab­o­rated with 3D To­tal to pro­duce a 192-page hard­cover book, The Art of Atomhawk, and this year it re­leased a sec­ond vol­ume un­der its own im­print. The cost of its pro­duc­tion was funded by a Kick­starter cam­paign, which raised £17,675 from 393 back­ers.

“All the de­sign and con­tent was done in house, with every­one play­ing a part, so it’s some­thing we’re ex­cep­tion­ally proud of,” says Ron. “We also learned a lot through the process, and hope to put that knowl­edge to use again some­time soon.”

Join the team

If this all sounds like an en­vi­ron­ment you’d like to work in, then good news: Atomhawk is hir­ing. “Right now, we have roles open for in­ter­me­di­ate and se­nior level artists,” says Ron. “Ob­vi­ously tal­ent is key, but we also look for artists who are keen to learn and de­velop. We want peo­ple to be pas­sion­ate and take pride in their work, but we don’t have room for big egos.”

It’s not all about work, though. “There are also plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­lax, too. Games get played in our break­out area most lunchtimes, and we’ve had every­one try­ing out a new VR head­set re­cently, which has been a lot of fun,” re­veals Ron. “There are also plenty of nights out and cel­e­bra­tions, in­clud­ing our com­pany birth­day party, which has a ten­dency to get a bit messy to­wards the end of the night.” We’re sure they’ll be plenty more birth­day par­ties for Atomhawk in years to come…

We want peo­ple to take pride in their work, but we don’t have room for big egos

Art­work by Tommy Kin­neru for In­jus­tice Gods Among Us, a fight­ing game based on the DC Uni­verse. Char­lie Bowa­ter and Roberto F Cas­tro worked on this piece for Mi­crosoft’s game cre­ation sys­tem Project Spark. Lo­ca­tion: Gateshead and London, England projects: Avengers: Age of Ul­tron, Mor­tal Kom­bat X, Guardians of the Galaxy, Kinect Sports Ri­vals, THOR II: Dark World, Kil­l­zone Mer­ce­nary, In­jus­tice, Devil May Cry, Pot­ter­more Web: www.atomhawk.com

Char­ac­ter con­cepts by Char­lie Bowa­ter and Vik­to­ria Gavrilenko, who worked to­gether on an un­named project. Con­cept art by Roberto F Cas­tro, for Marvel’s 2013 film Thor: The Dark World. Atomhawk’s artists work on a huge va­ri­ety of projects, in­clud­ing 3D and vir­tual re­al­ity.

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