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CreatureBox Full of Monsters, Spacemen and Storytelling
 
 
Posted: Sep 30, 2009
Published by: the area
Homepage: Visit the page
Software: Autodesk Sketchbook Pro
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The Area:
CreatureBox is a collaborative effort between Dave Guertin and Greg Baldwin. A quick glance at their collection of work and you will undoubtedly arrive at the conclusion that they are two guys who know their craft and do it with heart. On top of that -- they still have the creative juice for their full-time job at Insomniac Games!

Dave, Greg..how long have you been drawing professionally?
Greg and Dave:
Greg: I dropped out of college my junior year to go after a few freelance jobs. That was about 11 years ago I think? It was an easy decision at the time; I was working all the time anyway; I just wanted to get paid for the work rather than pay to do it. Looking back, I’m not sure I would do it the same way, but it all worked out. My wife made me promise to get my degree before our first child was born, so in true form, I attended community college when I was 28 every morning before work just after our daughter was born. Deadlines are tough for me, but I’m getting better.


Dave: In my final months of college at the Savannah College of Art and Design, I starting sending out portfolios like a madman. I spoke with Marvel, Dark Horse Comics, ILM, Film Roman, and some web companies but all the opportunities fell through for one reason or another. I sent my very last binder of materials over to a game company by the name of Singletrac Studio in Salt Lake City and as luck would have it, was hired as a concept artist. This was back in ’98 which I guess puts me at the 11 year mark.
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The Area:
Now I think it is safe to say that everyone as a kid expressed themselves on paper…but you've certainly come a long way. What was the turning point of pursuing to draw as a lifepath?
Dave and Greg:
Dave: Oddly enough, my wife and I were going through a few boxes of childhood drawings my parents left at my doorstep last month. It occurred to me that for as long as I can remember, art is where my heart was. I don’t think I realized it as a kid—I was just doing what was fun. But looking back, I think I chose my path very early on. As I grew older, concept design and comics became a massive focus for me as I forged these elaborate dreams of working in NYC for Marvel or DC.

I think the major turning point however was when SCAD gave a presentation at my high school. The college was very expensive which required a substantial commitment to the craft along with a hard sell to my parents. Fortunately college life worked out well and sent me in the right direction after a whole lot of work.


Greg: I attended school in Boston for art for a year. I ended up dropping out because I would leave campus to go home and surf with my friends. I‘m not painting a very good picture of myself, am I? My mom was pretty disappointed to say the least, and so I “convinced” her that if I lived on the beach in California, I would have time for both. You can almost see her eyes rolling. But she was very supportive and wanted me to be happy, so she let me go.

I enrolled in the Laguna College of Art and Design. By my sophomore year, I was hooked on school. The faculty was really supportive and inspiring. I was in the epicenter of some of the best art in the country and the job possibilities were astounding. Moving from the North East to Southern California was a big deal, and when I saw what was possible if you just put it all on the line, I had to try. I got lucky and landed some really great opportunities. I still got to surf too!
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The Area:
Growing up, what were some of the comics, cartoons or artists that helped to shape your style of drawing?
Greg and Dave :
Greg: I’m a Transformers guy. My older brother and I watched it religiously every day after school. But when I think of the things that made me want to be an artist and continue to inspire me, Chuck Jones, Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas, Milt Kahl and Friz Freleng made pure gold out of celluloid. Tom and Jerry cartoons are my absolute favorite. The things those giants could do with a few frames is still better than almost anything out there.


Dave: I was enamored with cartoons growing up and my Saturday mornings were chock full with the usual 80’s assortment of heroes. Style for me really took a turn however when I started to bury my head in comics. I followed the original (darker, indie) Ninja Turtle comics line along with a host of the popular titles from Marvel. My favorite artists included Arthur Adams, Mike Zulli, Mignola, Silvestri, and others. My biggest influence however showed up in the newspaper. Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes was absolute magic in every sense of the word and continues to be my biggest influence.
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The Area:
Given that the tablet has only gotten affordable and available within the last decade or so, what was your preferred tool(s) of choice?
Dave and Greg:
Dave: When I was a kid, I would carry a folder around with me everywhere which included blank copy paper in the left pocket and finished drawings in the right. Up until high school, I stuck with a trusty #2 pencil. Over time, I moved to sketching in non-photo blue followed by a tightening pass with mechanical pencils. Once I hit college, I began inking more often, first with pens, then Hunts 102 crow quills and finally with sable brushes (W+N Series 7 and Raphael 8404). Once I started working professionally, I added Primacolor markers to the mix along with Photoshop and standard Wacom tablets. Little did I know the wonder of the Cintiq tablet was on the way!


Greg: I drew on copy paper with Ticonderoga #2 pencils before I went all digital. I get constipated about the blank page pretty easily. Drawing on supplies I could find at a supermarket really helped me get past that. I used to like watercolors too, which for a guy who doesn’t like making decisions was pretty traumatizing. But I liked the end result. I’ve worked digitally since high school, but I didn’t make the shift to digital for my work until I actually got a hold of a tablet. I dropped the cash on one almost as soon as they hit the market, they were too cool to pass up.
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The Area:
What are the tools you use now for work and at home?
Greg and Dave:
To keep our lives as consistent as possible, we have pretty similar setups both at home and at work. We use Dell Precision Workstations with Quadro cards and a 21UX Cintiq. We both have an extra monitor too, usually for reference, email and such. For software, all our roughs, pencils and inks are wrapped up in Sketchbook Pro 2010—simply the smoothest drawing app out there—and painted in Photoshop. We’ve experimented with all the major digital art apps, yet we always tend to gravitate back to the dynamic duo.
The Area:
How would you say your workflow has changed given the advancement in hardware and software?
Greg and Dave:
Hmmm, well our workflow really hasn’t changed conceptually. We both trained traditionally, and have done our best to carry those techniques over to our digital workflow. That said, and in possible contradiction to, just about every time advances are made to software or hardware, we try to find ways to use it and increase the possibilities of our work. We both love tech, so we kinda geek out over new stuff, and being in the game industry, we’re accustomed to adapting to new bells and whistles. Our current experiments are focused on 64bit Windows 7, large amounts of ram, and Intel SSD drives. So far, the performance is rockn’!
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The Area:
Is there anything you miss in using analogue media?
Greg and Dave:
Greg: Everything. And I think it’s safe to say that that longing will never die, and shouldn’t. It helps keep the bar high for tech. As software and hardware continue to evolve and refine into more and more accurate representations of analogue media, it means that digital will continue to get better for a long time to come. In the mean time, I still like to hit the paper as often as possible. It’s a lot like coffee, you just need it! We were both pretty frustrated with how software handled the subtlety of a brush stroke. When we discovered the brushes in Sketchbook Pro, going all digital was finally possible for us.


Dave: Absolutely! Hands down, what I miss most from traditional media is the tactile feel of a real brush. Digital can be extremely powerful and provide enormous freedom, yet the experience can feel very sterile at times. Nothing compares to holding a flat brush and chiseling a shape, or twisting the bristles onto their side. I can’t tell you how sick I am of staring at that lifeless brush circle in Photoshop. There are certainly thousands of great digital brushes out there, with a whole host of effects, yet there tends to be this fine line between making your stroke or the computer making the stroke for you.
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The Area:
Tell us about your first drawing gig -- where did you work, what did you do?
Greg and Dave:
Greg: I landed a job as a concept artist and modeler at a small company called the Collective. I was hired on to work as a Concept Artist for preproduction and then to be a modeler after that during the projects full production. It was a cool job, I got yelled at a lot, the projects were always struggling; you know great first experience in the video game industry. But it gave me a lot of the skills I needed to continue on in games.


Dave: One time in middle school a kid offered me 5 dollars to draw a picture of the New Kids on the Block getting beat up. I turned down the job for hopes of better work in the future. My next real assignment was with Singletrac and involved painting the cover of Animorphs: Shattered Reality. The property centered on a bunch of kids who could morph into animals while fighting an alien invasion. The image was going to serve as the cover of the PS1 game we were making at the time and gradually turned into an utter nightmare. Aside from being 4000 pixels high (in 1998 on a Pentium 200), I was asked to paint a likeness of the kids from the TV show—but not too close because contractually they were not allowed to be used. It was my first major experience with marketing and “suits”. Ultimately the image was finished up and made it onto shelves and continues to be one of the worst images of my career. But as my dad would say, “it put hair on my chest.”
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The Area:
How did the both of you end up at Insomniac Games?
Dave and Greg:
Dave: In 2000, Singletrac went out of business at the hands of Infogrames. In the final couple months, I scrambled around Salt Lake City for job opportunities yet it became pretty clear I was going to have to move elsewhere if I hoped to stay in games. I started interviewing with studios in California and was very close to joining a team in Santa Monica. On the flight home, my recruiter called with an opportunity at Insomniac. I was blown away by everything they did with Spyro the Dragon and it was extremely tough to contain my excitement. I spent the next few days on a test and flew out shortly after for an onsite interview. I had a great talk with Ted and started soon after as an environment artist for their first PS2 title.


Greg: I applied after a couple of years of being at the Collective. It seemed like kind of a long shot. I had been drawing zombies for 2 years and I was applying to a company that was at the time best known for Spyro the Dragon. But I went for it, it was a great company. They gave me an interview, and even though I got the job, it was the most awful of interviews I had ever had.
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The Area:
Greg, you have to tell us about this ‘most awful of interviews'...
Greg:
I was asked to bring more samples of my work to Insomniac for the final interview. So the night before I sat down at my Mac and formatted all my work to show and saved it all on a Zip disk. If you don’t know what that is, you can Google it; it went the way of the cassette tape. Anyway, I met with Dave for the first time, he was very professional, walked me around, introduced me to some team members and then we sat down to talk. Dave asked for my samples, but when I handed him the Zip disk, he looked at me like I had two heads. There wasn’t a Mac or zip drive in the house. I basically showed up to an interview with no samples of my work. So I ran down to my car and got my stack of copier paper drawings which was about the size of a ream and proceeded to make Dave thumb through them all. He got through about 25 pages out of politeness I think. My first impression was teetering on incompetent at best. Coupled with a few other choice faux pas, and I was very proud of myself for not burning any bridges at the Collective.
The Area:
Dave, was that all in Greg's head?
Dave:
Most of the awful was in his head, but it certainly was a funny interview. At the time, I was tasked with building a character department in preparation for Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando. The first major position was a texture artist that could take the Ratchet characters to the next level. As Greg mentioned, he graciously provided his entire portfolio on a Zip disk. Perplexed and somewhat worried, we continued onward with the interview as he pulled the infamous stack of curled drawings from his backpack. I flipped through page after page of Indianna Jones concepts—which were all nice, but not a single texture painting in site. Throughout the talk, I had the hardest time trying to figure out if he was extremely laid back, or simply didn’t care about anything. I considered checking his pulse at times. We wrapped up the interview by checking out a surreal claymation film he worked on with Doug TenNapel.

Amidst the strange day, it was clear he was a great guy and he accepted the offer to join the team. It turned out Greg was the most dedicated and hard working “laid back” guy I ever met. He went on to produce some of the most dynamic and influential character art for the series.
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The Area:
Can you share with us about the different kind of work you've done, past to the present now, at Insomniac Games?
Greg and Dave:
We’ve been responsible for a lot of different aspects of the games. When the studio was just getting started with the Ratchet and Clank series, it was a small team, so we all had to wear a lot of hats. We did concept work, modeling, texturing, video editing, UI design, marketing and whatever else they could squeeze out of us. The team has grown a lot, and the team members have become a lot more specialized. Fortunately we haven’t become obsolete! We have both filled many roles and positions, and currently serve as Principle Artists. It’s a senior level position that still allows us to work in the trenches.
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The Area:
In your creative process -- how or where do you begin when creating a character?
Greg and Dave:
We banter a lot; a real lot. Any time a design or idea is put in front of us, whether it’s our own or for work, we like to argue and challenge each other’s ideas to the point of exhaustion. Sometimes the first idea is great, but with us, it rarely comes that easily. We usually need to think past our initial thoughts and prove to one another that the idea we settle on has a unique hook. If we can get there, we move on to a sketch. Usually that starts in Sketchbook as a series of silhouettes, thumbnails and scribbles. We’ve found that creating strong silhouettes is essential to getting a character design to read clearly on screen from any distance or angle. From there, we start thinking about inner details and color. The color is usually determined by the environment the character lives within, so that we can insure that it reads well and feels integrated. Then we move on to the final ink and paint.
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The Area:
Generally how many iterations do you go through for a character design?
Greg and Dave:
It really depends. In the heat of production, we have hit a design in only one iteration. Or the process can lead to a hundred variations, seriously. The journey can get out of hand, but our goal is to hit the best design for the spec on every character. And while the schedule can drive a decision, we usually give a design as much time as it needs to hit the mark.
The Area:
At Insomniac, can you describe how your designs are processed and implemented in the production environment? (e.g. concept > creative director > approval > 3D modeling > rigging, etc…tada finished game!)
Greg and Dave:
The process is really organic, even though it does follow this pipeline typically. The Concept artist receives a design spec that indicates the character’s scale, specific attacks or behaviors (and whatever other information can be determined at the time). From that, we go through our concepting process with as much inter-departmental communication as possible. At Insomniac, we strive to keep everyone involved as often as we can. Great ideas come from the strangest places, and we are certainly not always that strange place. Once we finish with the concept, it goes to model. The modelers transform the character into a game ready 3D model. Typically, the modeler is encouraged to explore the design and apply their own nuances to further hunt down the elusive “personality”. The rigger and animators also put their own spin on design once it lands in their laps. And finally the Gameplay Programmer does their alchemy. At each stage, the character is accentuated by each person who touches it, and it becomes something that stands on its own. This evolution of each character is the greatest experience and the biggest asset Insomniac has in its character development.
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The Area:
Greg, you mentioned that you spent time not only doing concepts but modeling as well - what application do you use for modeling? Do you find that 3D helps you visualize characters or is it the other way around?
Greg:
I’ve used both 3ds Max and Maya. When I started at Insomniac Games, I started using Maya exclusively. I also use Zbrush for digital sculpting. I love it. I find a lot of sanity in the ability to move forms in space. I really gravitate towards functionality, so being able to understand a form in the round is really a lot of fun.
The Area:
Do you ever use 3D in conjunction with your illustrations?
Greg and Dave:
We have actually. There are times when the functionality of an object needs to be figured out in rough form first. It’s usually a case where size and accuracy are critical to the asset, so we’ll create a really rough base mesh to use as a proof of concept. If it functions well for the specs, then we can use that as a base for the final concept.


We don’t ever use a 3D program to do something that we can do by hand if we can help it. Using the 3D mesh as a base tends to make the design feel more static, and can really take the life out of a design. But in a production environment, it’s healthy to recognize the path to the best result in each case. Sometimes this means doing things a little unconventionally.
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The Area:
When did you two come up with the idea of CreatureBox and the name?
Dave:
CreatureBox began officially in April 2007, almost out of a dare. Greg had just started a blog to post some sketches and I asked him, “What would you think of doing a blog together?” At the time, neither of us had a clue what that meant but at the heart we knew our sensibilities were in similar places. We both had a soft spot of monsters, spacemen, and storytelling—how could we go wrong? What followed was a wild ride of art struggles, web postings, and a whole bunch of conversation with artists from all over the world. The site certainly has taken on a life of its own.


As far as the name, we tossed around all sorts of words. We made lists, and check them twice. We looked at band name generators and the thesaurus in search of catchy phrases. “Box” stuck first which led to another list. Amongst the others, “Creature” stole center stage and seemed to speak to what we’ve spent our lives exploring. We knew for certain it would be taken by the sea of dot coms. To our surprise, it was available and we snatched it up. A week later, the blog was up and running for its life.
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The Area:
Do you think CreatureBox will evolve to pursue other possibilities?
Greg and Dave:
It’s hard to say. We’ve been extremely fortunate to be a part of Insomniac for many years—which has always been an amazing collection of artists and programmers. I think what has led us both to our current life’s paths are our pursuits of new and exciting possibilities. Our ability to recognize a great opportunity has not only led us to Insomniac and to create CreatureBox, but also allowed us to recognize when to stick with a good thing. Whatever is on the horizon for us will always be based on what allows us to grow as artists. When we feel challenged and feel we are growing, then we are excited to the point of exhaustion. When that challenge dissipates, I think it’s safe to say we go on the hunt for a new one.
The Area:
Are you guys currently working on something at CreatureBox?
Greg and Dave:
Always. For good and for bad, we are both constantly working on something new. We like to keep our personal projects under wraps. It’s a selfish thing. Our projects evolve over time and we don’t even know what they’ll be at their fruition, so we like to give them the room to grow or die without making them public and feeling obligated to them. But you can be sure we have more projects than time, ugh.
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The Area:
And finally I have to know...Greg, what was the worst thing about the lobster boat? ;-)
Greg:
Waking up at 4am on a freezing cold day to get hundreds of pounds of week old rotten fish for that day’s bait and lugging it down slippery docks so we could get out before the tide. Otherwise it was all rainbows and gumdrops! I miss it most days.
The Area:
Dave, Greg – it’s been a pleasure to talk with you both about your passion and success. Thanks for the inspiration :-)
Greg and Dave:
Thanks so much!

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Posted by obiwandk on Dec 05, 2012 at 04:24 AM
great interview love it
Posted by icetears on Nov 28, 2012 at 09:24 AM
Thank you very much for this mr. Blanche and Autodesk, keep the fire burning strong !!
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Posted by redrain833 on Sep 14, 2012 at 10:33 PM

The amount of the sketchbook (which includes the DVD) will be 15.00 dollars. For internet orders afterwards the show, 5 dollars will be added for calm shipment and 10 dollars will be added for all-embracing shipping. Thanks for the abundant acknowledgment to the book!

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Posted by Bruno Américo on Apr 05, 2010 at 04:30 AM
awesome work, nice colors :b
Posted by Tomasito on Oct 07, 2009 at 05:28 PM
DAMN NICE

I just bought the propaganda pack

just amazing stuff this guys got here.

its been a long while since I don't see this quality stuff.