Inside the Vault presents Jonah Lobe, character artist. If you’ve played Shivering Isles, the expansion to Oblivion, you’ll be familiar with Jonah’s character art work. He also did some work for Knights of the Nine, as well. (Jonah’s answer for worst job ever sounds like the plot for an installment of GTA…)
What’s your job at Bethesda?
I’m a character artist and at the moment most of my work involves modeling and texturing Fallout’s bestiary. Basically, once a creature concept is fully realized by Adam, our insanely talented concept artist, I take the reins and do my best to translate his ideas into three dimensions. I’m essentially taking a sketch and using that to generate a fully realized digital sculpture, constructing the anatomy in a way most conducive to smooth and easy animation. From there I pass it on to an animator, who rigs and animates it.
What other games have you worked on?
Shivering Isles was my first title, and went a long way towards getting my feet wet and getting me primed for Fallout.
What is the best part about working as an artist? The worst part?
I make monsters. For me, it doesn’t get much better then that. I try to focus on realistic anatomy primarily, since that’s so much of what makes characters believable. Infusing that with a real sense of personality is what can really make a creature shine, in my opinion.
The worst part of the job is when you think you have a good take on something, or a great idea, and for whatever reason it gets turned down (a necessary evil). Or worse than that is creating an art asset and having it get cut from the game… it’s a punch right in the artistic gut. It’s both tremendously rewarding and extremely difficult working in the game industry, because artists must straddle the fine line between real artistic pursuit and the demands of a production-based environment.
How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
I got in through sheer willpower. I had majored in art, and I knew precious little about 3D animation, so I applied to Bethesda three times before I got in. After the first two failed attempts at breaching the industry, I went to Siggraph and got a real sense for what companies were looking for. Then I went home (this was right after college, so yes, I was staying with my mom, ha ha), worked for five straight months, all day, every day, polished my portfolio, and resubmitted my application. This time I was offered an art test, which I grinded on for two weeks. Since I knew I didn’t have the technical abilities that most applicants would, I decided to play to my strengths: anatomy and personality. They liked what they saw, gave me an interview, and before I knew it, I was being led, starry-eyed, to my desk at Bethesda Softworks.
As for tips for getting in, I’d say the answer is extremely simple and extremely hard, and applies to all jobs, not just this industry: Don’t give up. Do everything you can to learn what a company wants to see, then work, work, work. I think lots of people want to pursue specific careers, but after a few hard knocks they give up or trail off. I totally believe that the only thing separating someone from their dream is effort. If someone wants to be something, and they don’t make it and they do something else, they just didn’t want it bad enough. The ability to pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes and try again — without making excuses on any level — is invaluable, and those who possess that ability will always make it, virtually without exception.
What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?
Such a hard question. Standouts in my life include Baldur’s Gate, System Shock II, Starcraft, Morrowind, Max Payne and the Red Orchestra. I used to love Counterstrike, but after a while I decided that I didn’t need that kind of verbal abuse on a constant basis.
But I’ve got to agree with Jeff Browne on this one: Planetside has gotta be the best. I have never played anything like Planetside before, and while it had all kinds of little problems with it, the level of gameplay — the sheer epic scope of the battles — has totally outshined any game I’ve ever played, ever. The battles included hundreds of people and they felt like thousands. Truly next level. If Sony released a sequel that stayed true to the original… well I’d never need to play another game, ever again.
What games are you looking forward to?
Planetside II. Just kidding. Fallout 3 is exciting, and I’m looking forward to Starcraft 2, but for the most part I’ve been slowly loosening my grip on the gaming world, in favor of more personal endeavors. Not that games aren’t good these days, quite the contrary, but I feel guilty if I’m not hanging out with people or doing something productive.
What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
Knowing that there’s a horrible, nightmarish monstrosity that depends on me. If it doesn’t get my love and attention, who else will teach it how to be the worst it can be?
Worst job you’ve ever had?
Working as a waiter at a Japanese/greek restaurant/club in DC. Yeah. The owners had questionable ties to the greek mafia, and one of my managers was an ex-boxer named Velvet Louie. You tell me how good it was to work there.
Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I’ve recently joined the army of wannabie script-writers, and I’m trying to learn digital painting. My girlfriend and I rockclimb, I play pickup soccer, I hang out with my friends and see my little brother, who’s nine and definitely not old enough for Fallout.
I just participated in the Dominance War, which is a 3D character competition… for those interested in seeing some of my work — since my only Fallout-related work that has seen the light of day was one screenshot of the feral ghoul — and seeing the workflow of a 3D artist, you can check out my progress here.