Games Work­shop

Tom May talks to the cre­atives be­hind the mod­els for table­top games like Warham­mer: Age of Sig­mar and Warham­mer 40,000

ImagineFX - - Feature | Studio Profile Games Workshop -

Founded in London in 1975, Games Work­shop has grown into a very big busi­ness. The firm best known for table­top strat­egy games like Warham­mer: Age of Sig­mar and Warham­mer 40,000 recorded a £1 bil­lion mar­ket value this June, and ex­pects its profits to dou­ble this year.

That’s due, in part, to the hard work and com­mit­ment of its dozens of tal­ented artists. But that doesn’t mean it’s a stress­ful stu­dio with con­stant dead­lines to meet. “The en­vi­ron­ment is re­ally in­for­mal, re­ally re­laxed,” says Dave Ferri, a con­cept artist who’s been with the com­pany, now based in Not­ting­ham, for about two and a half years. “It’s a very friendly at­mos­phere here.” Dave works with two other con­cept artists, John Blanche and Tom Har­ri­son, to cre­ate the 2D il­lus­tra­tions that in­spire the 3D dig­i­tal sculp­tors – 29 of them in to­tal – who lov­ingly craft and pro­duce the fig­urines. And there’s al­ways work to do, says de­sign man­ager Sam Din­widdy, be­cause the com­pany is con­stantly de­vel­op­ing new lines and doesn’t want to sim­ply rest on its lau­rels. “We’re al­ways look­ing to ex­cite our cus­tomers with some­thing new,” Sam says. “We don’t just want to run through the list of ranges and up­date

them all. That wouldn’t ex­cite any­body. So we need to cre­ate stuff that’s un­ex­pected, but still steeped in Games Work­shop’s her­itage.” That cre­ation process of­ten starts with a sim­ple sketch, says John Blanche, who first be­gan free­lanc­ing for Games Work­shop in 1977 and went on to spend three decades as its art di­rec­tor.

We’re led by en­thu­si­asm and deep un­der­stand­ing of each oth­ers’ back­grounds

“Some­times the de­sign­ers like the sketch so much, they’ll ac­tu­ally make an im­age of it, but that’s un­usual. I’m open­ing the doors up for sculp­tors to go: ‘Oh yeah, we could do that.’ It gives them a route to go for­ward.”

While John works with phys­i­cal inks and paints, Dave cre­ates most of his work in Pho­to­shop on a Cin­tiq. “But the medium it­self isn’t im­por­tant,” says Dave. “At the end of the day, the idea is what mat­ters.”

Typ­i­cally, that de­sign gets passed back and forth between con­cept artists and prod­uct de­sign­ers in a process of re-in­ven­tion and re­fine­ment. “It’s very or­ganic and col­lab­o­ra­tive,” says John. “We’re led by en­thu­si­asm and deep un­der­stand­ing of each oth­ers’ back­grounds; it’s like one big fam­ily.”

open and will­ing at­ti­tude

There are no ‘si­los’ at Games Work­shop, adds se­nior de­signer Seb Per­bet. “One of the things that sur­prised me most was how open and will­ing peo­ple were to share their knowl­edge. I think it comes from the fact that we love this job and like talk­ing about it.” For the dig­i­tal sculp­tors, Seb ex­plains, de­vel­op­ing the minia­tures is not just a tech­ni­cal chal­lenge but a cre­ative one, too. “I think the best prod­uct de­sign­ers don’t sep­a­rate these two as­pects: the cre­ative mind is the one suited to solv­ing the hard­est tech­ni­cal prob­lems. So for me it’s hard to dis­tin­guish between the two, be­cause as I’m sculpt­ing I’m de­cid­ing what it is I want and how it’ll be man­u­fac­tured at the same time.”

Our con­cept art needs to be bold and graphic, and most im­por­tantly, based on strong shapes

Even the 2D con­cept art needs to be ap­proached with the phys­i­cal end goal in mind. As Dave points out, “These prod­ucts are phys­i­cally very small, and you can’t get a lot of de­tail in there. So our con­cept art needs to be bold and graphic, and most im­por­tantly, based on strong shapes.

balanc­ing the de­tails

“That’s the hard­est part: taking away the ten­dency to draw too much and strip it down,” Dave con­tin­ues. “You need to make the shapes in­ter­est­ing, be­cause that’s where the prod­uct will suc­ceed. So it’s im­por­tant when you’re draw­ing some­thing to stand back a few feet and have a look. Can you still see the de­tails? Does it still read as you wanted it to? If not, you’ve prob­a­bly made it over-com­pli­cated.”

And if you’re a fan of Games Work­shop your­self, then here’s some good news: the com­pany’s hir­ing. “Find­ing good artists is dif­fi­cult, be­cause it’s so niche,” says Sam. “So we’ll al­ways look at port­fo­lios and we’ll al­ways lis­ten to peo­ple; the only thing that we can’t guar­an­tee is a job at the end of it.” There’s no par­tic­u­lar qual­i­fi­ca­tion or soft­ware skill that you need to have , Sam adds. “It’s lit­er­ally just: do you have an affin­ity with sci-fi and fan­tasy? Can you gen­er­ate fan­tas­tic, orig­i­nal and unique ideas quickly and con­sis­tently, in high qual­ity? And do you have the pas­sion to de­velop new IP for a niche busi­ness?” If the an­swer to all those ques­tions is yes, then you may get the chance to work in an en­vi­ron­ment where artists are con­stantly brim­ming with en­thu­si­asm. “There’s al­ways a good buzz in the stu­dio, and we’re all re­ally ex­cited when new mod­els come out,” says Sam. “I still get that ‘I want these!’ feel­ing, like I’m a lit­tle kid all over again.”

“As I sculpt, I’m si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­cid­ing what I want and how it’ll be man­u­fac­tured,” says se­nior de­signer Seb Per­bet.

Roboute Guil­li­man, the Ul­tra­marines’ Pri­march. “We’re world build­ing while gen­er­at­ing new ideas,” says Sam.

Con­cept sketch for the En­drin­rig­gers: sol­diers with back-mounted ma­chines for fly­ing, as well as tools for air­borne re­pair. Con­cept sketch for Stinkmul­lett, a Fun­goid cave-shaman who’s eaten so much poi­sonous fun­gus that spores have burst through his brain.

Con­cept sketch of Hor­tic­u­lous Slimux, a prag­matic and hu­mour­less be­ing with a no-non­sense ap­proach to bat­tle and gar­den­ing alike.

Con­cept artist Tom Har­ri­son at work. He has “eter­nal dibs on any­thing re­lat­ing to dragons”, ac­cord­ing to Dave.

Con­cept sketch of Belis­ar­ius Cawl. “We pull from dif­fer­ent his­tor­i­cal things and mash them into some­thing new,” says Dave. The fin­ished model of Belis­ar­ius Cawl. “Our minia­ture de­sign­ers can bal­ance in­dus­trial de­sign en­gi­neer­ing and amaz­ing cre­ativ­ity,” says Sam.

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