This fam­ily-run an­i­ma­tion, con­cept art and sto­ry­board­ing stu­dio’s work has fea­tured in many AAA-games, al­though you may not have re­alised it…

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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.”

artis­tic ad­vice

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.plas­ 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

mul­ti­player game.

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