This family-run animation, concept art and storyboarding studio’s work has featured in many AAA-games, although you may not have realised it…
Plastic Wax’s animation, concept art and storyboard work has featured in many AAA games – although you may not realise it.
creativity doesn’t occur in a vacuum, so offering creative freedom in a like-minded environment is a big focus,” says Dane Maddams of Plastic Wax – based in Sydney, Australia but with other offices in Los Angeles and London. “Trying to be controlling, or micromanaging each and every team member, is a quick way to see lacklustre results. I’m a big fan of instilling trust into our artists to spread their wings.” This approach has obviously paid dividends for the studio, which is now in its 15th year and is positively thriving. Plastic Wax’s speciality is creating in-engine cutscenes, CG intros and trailers for a variety of games, although it’s happy to branch out into scriptwriting, concept art duties, box art and many other art-related activities.
Plastic Wax was founded by and is still run by three brothers – Nathan, Dane and Tyrone Maddams. Nathan, the eldest, is creative director, Tyrone is the lead character designer and Dane deals with the business end of things.
trailers for tots
“We began working in the local children’s television market in the 1990s, creating trailers for Australian shows Bananas in Pajamas, The Wiggles and Hi-5,” says Dane. Word of mouth spread about the studio’s capabilities, and soon it was moving into more game-related areas, including cinematics and in-game animation for the pioneering MMORPG Ultima Online.
Since then, Plastic Wax has contributed to a number of top game titles. Keen gamers might be surprised to hear that many of the cinematics and cut-scenes from their favourite games were created by Plastic Wax, rather than the primary developers. Work for Bio Shock and Bio Shock Infinite, Tomb Raider, Fallout New Vegas, Neverwinter and every Warhammer cinematic in the past decade all feature on the studio’s CV, among many others.
But Dane isn’t worried about this relative anonymity, at least among the general gaming public. “The benefit of being able to work on such incredible titles with hugely talented development and publishing teams is rewarding enough,” he says. “It’s also great to see immediate responses via YouTube once your project goes live.
There’s no better feeling than to put your heart and soul into a project and have the fans enjoy and celebrate it.”
As Dane points out, the developers are usually concerned with the core of the game itself, leaving Plastic Wax to concentrate on marketing materials, trailers and cut-scenes. “Having a cinematic studio that you’re partnered with makes a lot of sense,” he continues. “Creating trailers tend to have a specific employee skillset and large hardware overhead costs. Our rendering farm has a hefty price tag!”
Plastic Wax employs 55 full-time team members, and most of them have been there for an average of seven years. If a project demands it, that pool might grow to around 75, including freelancers: “We have a team of illustrative people we can call on for storyboarding, concept and matte jobs.”
When it comes to concept art, he says no two jobs are ever the same. The initial ideas can be anything from quick scribbles on napkins through to fully fleshed-out storyboards to work from. This means Plastic Wax’s staff has to be able to deal with a variety of challenges. “We look for skill, passion and communication when checking out new artists,” says Dane. “Combine that with an appropriate, highimpact and compelling demo reel and you’re a fantastic candidate.”
So what tips does he have for an artist looking to move into this area? “Focus on the awesome stuff in your portfolio. Anything that you’re feeling may not be up to par with the rest, leave it out. It’s all too common to see several great pieces and then one very questionable one.”
For newer or younger artists who may not have many projects in their portfolio, he recommends creating some personal projects to showcase their talents. “For instance, for a storyboard artist I’d advise coming up with your own sequence,” he adds, ”then build the materials required: concept art, character design illustrations and storyboards.”
With games becoming ever more mainstream as well as complex in terms of required art assets, Plastic Wax’s future looks secure, although Dane says it’s not resting on its laurels. “I feel that to remain relevant you not only need to be on top of your game, but have the foresight to remain nimble with the direction the industry is headed,” he says. “So our focus will continue to be on premium storytelling.”
Location: Sydney, London and Los Angeles. projects: BioShock Infinite.
Other projects: Epic Mickey 2, Neverwinter.
Web: www.plasticwax.com Death, from Plastic Wax’s initial reveal trailer for Darksiders II.
Spoilers! A still from the musical cutscene ending
of Epic Mickey 2.
A slain Big Daddy and its distraught Little Sister from BioShock, as rendered by Plastic Wax for promotional materials. An epic shot from one of the many cutscenes in Civilization V: Gods & Kings. Trailer for Infinite Crisis, the new DC Comics