Studio Profile: Volta
The Canadian creative powerhouse discusses its work creating concept art for video games with Tom May
We chat to staff at the vis dev powerhouse, who’ve worked on AAA-titles such as Mass Effect Andromeda and Street Fighter V.
s the video games industry has grown over the years, more companies are outsourcing their art requirements to specialist studios. And among those that have most benefited from this trend is Canada’s Volta. Launched in Quebec City in 2006, its team of over 40 artists have delivered hundreds of projects to companies including Capcom, EA, Ubisoft, Riot Games and Supercell, for games including Street Fighter V, Mobile Strike, Battlefield: Hardline, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Clash of Clans and League of Legends,
The studio is involved in the creation of concepts for characters, environments and vehicles, production art pipeline support, marketing art, and a full range of 3D and cinematic services. And one of the reasons it’s so in demand is the high calibre of artists it employs, says CEO
Claude Bordeleau. “Our artists range from having between five and 20-plus years of experience,” he says. “We rarely hire juniors.”
There’s also a breadth and depth to the roster, which means Volta’s able to cater for a range of clients, adds studio art director Guilherme Guimaraes.
“We have some people who are specifically, say, environment artists or character artists, and companies come to us just because they like that artist’s style,”
Guilherme says. “But we also have artists who are very versatile, so they can work on any project we pick for them.”
There’s flexibility in other areas, too. For example, while the artists are
It’s a great environment for having honest conversations about how we should tackle a specific project
divided into distinct 2D and 3D teams, there’s often crossover between the two disciplines, says 3D art director
David Giraud. “A lot of the guys on both teams are really talented in all mediums: they can draw in 2D and they can sculpt in 3D,” he says. “And so when they have to jump from one to another, it’s not really a problem.”
Knowing the artists are at the top of their game means supervisors can take a step back, says senior concept artist
Rael Lyra. “That’s something I really like about working here: the sense of trust in the artists,” he says. “It’s a great environment for having honest conversations about how we should tackle a specific asset or a specific project.”
And that trust extends to hardware and software. “Every time we hire someone we ask them: ‘What’s your process, what do you use?’” says Claude. “And whatever it is, we just get it for them. It’s a big of a headache for IT, but if you have a concept to design, you can do it in 3D, you draw it on paper and scan it, you can use your Cintiq, your Intuos… whatever you want!”
Of course, you can’t go completely crazy, because you still have to work under any restrictions imposed by the client, particularly in the case of 3D work. But in general, the amount of creative freedom clients give Volta’s artists is on the increase, says Claude.
“Five or six years ago, we really had to stick to the precise brief,” he reveals. “But nowadays, our reputation means that more and more of our clients are asking for our creative
input – even with existing franchises, such as Mass Effect.”
Before you get the impression that life at Volta is a breeze, though, everyone is keen to stress that it’s extremely hard work, and at times frenetic. “It can be very challenging,” says Manuel
Couture, director of production. “Especially when last-minute requests come in from clients, and we have to juggle a lot of variables to get everything done. But at the same time, these kinds of challenges make our jobs a lot more interesting.”
And while the work might be hard, it’s the type of work that many artists would kill for. “For me, Street Fighter 5 was a dream come true,” says David. “We got to model 10 of the main characters, including Cammy, Zangief, Rainbow Mika, and some characters that were new to the Street Fighter universe, as well as 22 DLC characters. As someone who’s played Street Fighter since I was very young, being part of that was pretty crazy.”
The appeal of Quebec City
Yet even when the pace becomes super-hectic, that’s somewhat offset by the calmer environs of Quebec City. Having lived in huge conurbations in Brazil such as São Paulo, Rael in particular appreciates the smallness of the region’s capital. “The people here tend to be super-warm, super-friendly
That’s what I like most about Volta: working with people from all around the world
and respectful,” he says. “And the city’s quiet. So we really like working here and living here.”
In addition, there’s a real sense of community around the studio, partly based on the fact that most of the artists are from other countries. “That’s what I like most about Volta: working with people who come from all around the world,” says Manuel. “We get to hang out with a lot of great artists, and when you look at their portfolio it’s so motivating.”
“It’s like having a second family,” agrees Rael. “Because we share the same background and desire to succeed as artists, and everybody is driven by the same forces, so you feel like you can rely on each other a lot.”
Fan art of Epic Games’ Unreal Tournament 4 by Volta’s art director, Florin Bostan. Volta’s Quebec City studio team spans a range of nationalities.
Suit design by senior concept artist Rael Lyra for Bioware’s Mass Effect Andromeda. Volta concept artist Victor Quaresma at work in the studio. Clam Alien ZBrush concept: an example of David Giraud’s personal work, who’s a 3D art director at Volta.
Another example from Victor Quaresma’s personal portfolio. This one’s entitled Plagued.
Beast design by Volta senior concept artist Rael Lyra, created for Mass Effect Andromeda.
Alex Negrea produced these vehicles concepts for Mass Effect Andromeda. Deep in the zone: Volta’s senior concept artist Rael Lyra pictured hard at work in the studio. Victor Quaresma’s personal portfolio contains a variety of art, including this piece, entitled Enchanted Artisan Dygour.