Stu­dio Pro­file: Volta

The Cana­dian cre­ative pow­er­house dis­cusses its work cre­at­ing con­cept art for video games with Tom May

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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!”

cre­ative free­dom

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.

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