Career Advice: Working as a Concept and Hard Surface Designer
Marnix Rekkers, a Dutch graduate of Breda University of Applied Science and Junior Concept Artist/Hard Surface Designer at Opus Artz Ltd, offers valuable insights and guidance to aspiring artists seeking a rewarding career in VFX and Games.
Want a successful career working in VFX and Games? Marnix Rekkers is a dutch-based graduate of Breda University of Applied Sciences and Junior Concept artist and Hard Surface Designer at Opus Artz Ltd. He sits down with us to share his journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like his own.
What's your current role and what does it involve?
I am a junior Concept Artist / Production Artist. Most of what I do is creating sketches or designs for upcoming game projects.
My work is mostly focused on creating Sci-fi props, vehicles, weapons and helping out with environment design, and sometimes creating skins or making illustrations for specific things that are going to be present in a game.
Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?
I currently work at Opus Artz Ltd. I have worked on FIFA 2023, Stellaris, Crusader Kings 3, as well internal projects I am not at liberty to talk about however, I can definitely say there are some really cool projects coming up.
When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?
The moment I realised I could earn a living making art this way, where my crazy ideas where applauded and not talked down to.
How did you get your first big break?
Making loads and loads of starships, sci-fi sketches and making a whole lot of connections going to industry events; talking with and having drinks with a lot of the professionals at those events. I tried to stay in contact with as many as I could, and by the time I needed a an internship, the company on the top of my list (Opus Artz Ltd) was the first to respond and they knew who I was!
Describe the journey you took into your current role?
At the age of 16, I graduated high school and pursued a study in graphic design. Although I learned a lot, I realised that my education didn't align well with my professional aspirations in the field. Feeling uncertain about my direction, I began creating starship designs, which garnered attention and led to a few projects that allowed me to invest in better equipment and software.
Recognising the need to improve my skills, I enrolled in an art college in the Netherlands, but it didn't provide the artistic education I was seeking. Nevertheless, I landed my first freelance project, which served as a stepping stone. Seeking further education, I was advised to join NHTV, now Breda University of Applied Sciences. It was there that I honed my skills and knowledge. In my fourth year, I secured an internship at Opus Artz Ltd, where I continued working until I decided to pursue a Master's Degree.
Why did you choose to study at Breda University of Applied Sciences?
I started my study at Breda University of Applied Science (when it was still called NHTV) when I realised I was missing knowledge and understanding of pipelines of video game productions and my art skills where just barely getting praise and attention. I found it incredibly difficult to find a job or freelance project with my current skills at that time. One of the leads on a project I got hired for at that time liked my work and told me that if I needed more education, he recommended to attend the University where he himself was a design teacher. Taking that advice, I applied and went to the University.
How does your education complement your work?
It helped me develop discipline, knowledge of user experience and interaction in video games. It helped me to learn a variety of software packages and get experience developing video games. It has also helped me to get familiar with different disciplines as well, such as VFX, 3d modeling, animation, rigging, procedural modeling and prototyping.
This type of knowledge has given me insight into the production pipe line and where issues can or do occur. A background like that might not have pushed me to focus on 1 thing and work hard to improve that, it has helped me develop a good understanding of how difficult and unique game development can be. how to work with other people from other disciplines, learning how to communicate and what to communicate working in a team or with multiple teams.
Day in the life
Describe a typical day for you and your team?
A typical day begins with a warm-up session lasting up to an hour, dedicated to learning and practicing new techniques or allowing our creative minds to wake up before diving into the actual work. Occasionally, we start with a discussion about the tasks or projects at hand, ensuring everyone is aligned, and then proceed with our respective assignments. Throughout the day, we engage in conversations, ensuring we stay on track and providing assistance to team members facing challenges. At the end of the day, we submit the completed work to the client, or if unfinished, we continue working on it the following day.
What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?
It switches every time, sometimes I start sketching in Photoshop and then go into Moi3D to model, or I first model something and make a screenshot of that and paint over it in Photoshop. Sometimes I do everything in 3D and render it out in Keyshot and then do some touch up work in Photoshop. Ultimately my process depends on what I am working on.
Which departments and key people do you work closely with?
I work generally close with the Art Director and Creative Director in most cases.
The studio works on the business side with the clients while we can work on making the art and help create the visuals the client needs. Sometimes I am left to my own devices, and sometimes I work closely with other artist from the studio.
Are there any industry trends that are changing the nature of your role?
In terms of industry trends, there are few changes in the nature of our role. While there is the emergence of AI art, the core essence of our work remains largely unchanged. The shifts primarily revolve around evolving tools and approaches. Ultimately, it boils down to whether you identify more as an artist focused on creation or as a problem solver. Finding a balance between the two is crucial, and although subtle, it defines the essence of our work.
One thing you’d never change about your job?
Being able to design vehicles, robots and starships and getting paid for it!
But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?
Maybe a longer development period or projects where I can take my time to put in more effort and more quality and a bit higher salary wouldn’t be amiss either!
Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?
No. Well, a degree itself is not needed, but being able to learn and having a portfolio will help. Showing what you like, what you are good at and what you are trying to draw or create, is important. Nobody is going to ask what degree do you have, they will ask to see your portfolio.
What tasks would you be typically asked to do as a junior artist?
I can only speak for myself, but I was mainly tasked to work on projects which aligned more with my personal skills and interest into sci-fi work, however I was asked to do work which might not be very stimulating but needed to get done.
On bigger projects I was mainly asked to work on tasks that the other artists where too busy to work on. On some projects I had a lot of say in what we were working on, and on others just the standard work to get done.
What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?
From my personal point of view I would look for people who can fill in the gaps I am not skilled enough in. I would look for things in people that would compliment my skills as well, and if they have the skills related for projects we are working on.
What skills seem to be missing all too often?
Good hard-surface design skills - it’s a unique skill not many artist have. There are those who are good at everything yet those are more of a rarity. There are tons of character artists and environment artists out there, but when it comes to hard surface design, the pool is a bit more limited.
Describe your attitude towards your job?
I love my job! I love the people I work with, although I wouldn’t mind to be able to focus on more hard surface design projects. It has been a blast working with these artists, great folk, always friendly and they help out where they can.
As I am remote, I just wish we could have all been working together at the studio - I might have learned more than I have now if that was the case.
Working from home has its advantages but also downsides. I only talk to my colleagues through video chat or just chat in general. Due to this lack of direct interaction I do not really “talk” to the people I work with. It’s not a typical job for everyone, but I love working with them and learning from them in any case.
Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you implement it into your work?
I get my inspiration looking up into the skies, imagining what we could have been or can achieve. I watch tons of films, play loads of games, and read about mythology and often forgotten history.
I get inspired by fantastical stories or films; I am a huge science fiction fan but love good fantasy worlds as well. And finally, I have always been fascinated by how machines work, technical logical steps and what those machines can do - There is something that has always fascinated me about robots and space travel.
Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?
I would recommend a briefing where a certain story is being told that needs to be conveyed through visual design: a clear goal and limitations of what should and shouldn’t be part of that world, as well as what level of technology is available, how it works, the environment it takes place in...that kind of approach.
It can also showcase the style of work at the company they would like to work for, focused on matching the quality and style of the projects that studio makes or general look the studio is known for.
What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?
Not knowing what they really want to do, or where they want to work specifically. Sometimes you have to email a company a few times before they notice you because you may be a great artist and just not fit the style of the type of projects the studio is in production with at that time. Do a bit of research for the places you want to work for and tailor your portfolio to the work they do.
If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?
Do daily painting/art exercises even if they are only 30min. Go to art or industry events and talk to the attendee’s and professionals that are there as well and go to the after parties or drinks at those events and bring business cards! Look for portfolio reviews done by studios or artists that are at those events - be aware that every job has its upsides and downsides, not everything will be perfect. And finally, just try and have fun and focus on what you like and what you want to do.
If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?
Don’t stop doing art when you go to high school and embrace the crappy laptop you got. Focus on doing what you like and not what others say you have to do.
Marnix Rekkers is a dutch-based graduate of Breda University of Applied Science and Junior Concept artist / Hard Surface Designer at Opus Arzt Ltd.