Find out why Atomhawk is keen to develop its artists.
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.”
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.