Inside the Vault: Adam Adamowicz

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Today’s Inside the Vault is with Adam Adamowicz, our resident concept artist here at the studio. If you ever visit our offices, his cube is the one you should insist on visiting. When we start a project internally, Adam is one of the first developers to begin work so he always has amazing pieces of art all around his corner of the offices.

What’s your job at Bethesda?
Concept Artist, odd noises from the corner.

What other games have you worked on?
Actually published? Working backwards: Shivering Isles, Goblin Commander, NightCaster I & II. The first game I worked on was Hired Guns for Psygnosis, when they were still around. I, we, all literally worked 70 to 90 hour weeks trying to get it in a box. Two and a half years later, Psygnosis went belly up, and we all had our nervous breakdowns. In the meantime our efforts got us noticed and bought by other companies, so at least we were essentially staying afloat. Financially there was always bankruptcy hovering around the corner, like a clammy fart.

Ah, the good ol’ days.

Other ones that never made it, Lost Continents, Fugue, Cthulhu Now, Fistful of Zombies…they all had some great ideas I refuse to let die…

What is the best part about working as an artist? The worst part?
Best part, I get to draw all day and wrack my brains trying to come up with more weirdness. Worst? Being stumped for an idea makes me crazy, and crazier when I’ve created something I think is derivative of all the stuff that’s out there. That’s when I start pacing the parking lot muttering to myself, and gesturing like a beach crab. And actually, this happens all of the time. Seriously, it’s part of the fun, and why caffeine was invented.

How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
Back in the day, 1997-ish, I was a penniless tattoo apprentice, cake decorating at a Baskin-Robbins, and making very little money at either. I lived in an unheated 2000 square foot warehouse in the train yards of east Denver.

I started renting the space out to the local goth scene my friends and I frequented for a particular promoter’s afterhours fetish parties. You know, to make rent. One day, the human resources person from a small game company up in Boulder called Devil’s Thumb showed up at one of these soirees and saw all the murals and crazy sculptures. She got me in touch with their art director and president, who were formerly of DMA Design out of Scotland. I bugged them for about a year until I got in. Oz and Tony took a chance on me, so I like to give credit where it’s due, and of course Joanna who told me where they lived. I was hired as a level designer to build an FPS on the then “in development” Unreal Engine. That was 11 years ago.

Advice? Being persistent and sending hardcopies of cool artwork that can be physically passed around an office was my strategy for getting a foot in the door. Of course a disc was included, but people don’t always have the time or inclination to boot up a disc. That way if it ends up next to the coffee machine, it still might get noticed.

Don’t forget versatility! Elf babes in chrome bustiers are always cool, but branching out into other genres widens your range. Being a concept artist means being part historian, scientist, fashion designer, industrial designer, writer, casting agent…because you are really responsible for creating and populating worlds that can be quickly understood, built, lit, and animated in 3D. And you to be able to do that on demand. Being an avid devourer of books has always helped me create discernible types of characters with distinct personalities. The warehouse parties didn’t hurt either. Getting out into the world with a sketchbook in hand is great for documenting these things firsthand.

Drawing constantly is a big part of this. I went to a Syd Mead lecture years ago. He’s the visual genius behind Bladerunner and Tron. The main element of design he stressed was the importance of the story being told, and sticking to your own visions of that. He expressed the idea, more or less that, “It’s a given fact that no one sees the world through your eyes. Stick to that and you’ll carve a niche for yourself in the art world”. I hope I’ve done justice to the quote.

What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?
MDK. I also liked Skullmonkeys, because all of those things happened on planet Igznatch.

What games are you looking forward to?
The next version of Photoshop. To me, it’s the ultimate videogame. So far. Maya drove me nuts as a game. Z Brush is awesome to play, too. Can someone add more hours to the day? When I get some time I’ll be reinstalling The Orange Box so my coworkers can gleefully blow up my head.

What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
“Let’s draw some monsters. Let’s draw some monsters. Let’s draw some monsters.” I chant that softly to myself on the way to work. If other commuters look at me nervously, I point at them with my index finger, wink, and smile.

Worst job you’ve ever had?
I’ve done a lot of low paying jobs, so I always at least tried to do something hilarious and interesting. I’ve built props for haunted houses, rave parties, store window displays, worked on an oyster boat, drove an ice cream truck, worked at a school, and even cake decorated at an erotic cake bakery in SF.

But the worst? Temping as a data entry clerk at the United Way in SF. My boss would get out of boardroom meetings and throw sharpie markers at my head while saying to the other boss “So, do you think the temp is capable of alphabetical filing?” Let’s just say the manner in which I quit was rather spectacular. Oh, and the temp agency didn’t go unscathed either.

Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I do a lot of sculpting and painting at home. I read voraciously. I just finished Melville’s Moby Dick. It really isn’t boring required reading, that book is as sci fi as you can get. Cycling is quite good around DC — I do several trails that strategically link up to outdoor patios. I’m also going to look into some sailing classes when the weather is warmer and more conducive to falling into the Potomac.

I’ve got a portable watercolor kit I’d like to bring along. So the plan is, bike down to Alexandria, learn how to sail boat, learn how to paint riverscapes, and then bike to an outdoor patio of choice. Having just moved to DC three years ago, I’ve also been rooting out cool jazz bars in the various neighborhoods. There’s also a fantastic array of free museums with amazing stuff in them. Along the way I have a digital camera, so I’ve got an everexpanding photo log of reference material for architecture, light conditions, you name it. Overall it’s all about Bright Colors, Loud Noises.

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EDIT: Adam wanted this pic on the blog… enjoy!

Reader Comments

  1. Wowzers! I remember playind HIRED GUNS for the Commodore Amiga 500 in the 1990s. It was one of the first if not the first 3dshooter Rpg.

    Yea Data Entry reeks with boredom. After two and half months of training for it I quit from the mind numbing tedium.

    Loved MDK when it came out. Havent seen anything like it since. HELLGATE LONDON comes close but its missing that high adrenaline danger to it and the great level puzzles.

    Great blog picture :D Reminds me of something out of a 1970s Heavy Metal rock video.

    Cool interview. Thanks!

  2. “Best part, I get to draw all day and wrack my brains trying to come up with more weirdness”

    Ha ha ha! Adam, I always knew you had more than one brain.

  3. I’d like to second the “Dear God Kam” and then quietly move on to the subject at hand…Adam…I will watch for you on 60 Minutes when they discover the incredible oddity that is you. Hopefully they won’t hand the story over to Rooney…although that might finally force him into retirement.

    Awesome interview.

  4. Adam….fantastic interview! I still have the brilliant Drankenstein monster you drew for my birthday saying ” Muhhhh. “

  5. So, ermm… you the one responsible for the ‘new’ and ‘improved’ *cough* look of Super Mutants & slighty zombified Ghouls?
    (Please note: this answer could seriously blow up in your face… :P )

  6. Really good interview. I want more interviews :) . Adamowicz… this surname sounds kinda Polish. Do you have any Polish roots?

  7. yo Adam, great to see you’re still slightly sane. I still have a poster you did for Nightcaster. Bad game, great concept art. Take it easy – brad

  8. “I read voraciously. I just finished Melville’s Moby Dick. It really isn’t boring required reading, that book is as sci fi as you can get.”

    Me too and I agree :) .

  9. You guys are fantastic game developers. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but, along with the Myst series, Bethesda makes the finest video games on earth. I studied literature and religion for several years, TES and Fallout border on high art.

    One of these days I’d like to see video games get respect as an academic art form. If anyone has the potential to make a game that becomes immortal, meaning, in 100 years, someone knows its name, it’s Bethesda.

    Keep up the good work, and don’t shy away from the great literature, it’s good to hear you guys read the classics. There’s a wealth of information in the books that withstand time which provide the secrets to influencing human emotion through information. I know Bethesda will make a game they’ll talk of in the 23rd century.