Meet The Makersː Character and Concept Art

Sit down for a chat with some of the artists that create the look and feel of THE FINALS, from the concept images you’ve seen since before the game was known, to the items your contestant wears when they jump into the arena. Artists Esbjörn and Urszula answer questions about how we tackle all things art at Embark.

Originally aired on June 18th, 2023. Meet The Makers: Character and Concept Art


[Intro music plays]

Dusty (00:11)

Welcome to Meet the Makers, our interview style podcast on all things THE FINALS. I'm your host, Dusty Gustafsson. During our second closed beta, we assembled two members of the Dev team every day to help dig to specific areas of the game and answer questions from our Discord community. Today's topic character art and concept art. In THE FINALS, we aim to take self expression to the next level by offering a diverse library of assets to use as the building blocks of character customization. In other words, you get to be who you want to be when you enter our virtual arena.

Dusty (00:46)

As such, character artists at Embark need to come equipped with knowledge about advanced 3D modeling, understanding of materials and clothing, skin, shaders, anatomy, and more. Character artists create everything from the flip flops to the faces, the haircuts, accessories, anything that goes into building the drippiest contestant imaginable. They are not only tasked with making graphically gorgeous items, but also with ensuring an emotional bond between the player and their avatar. Now, when it comes to concept art, we don't approach it in the traditional sense. Our concept artists translate thoughts and ideas from the team into onbrand cohesive images that tell the world and lore of THE FINALS down to the smallest detail.

Dusty (01:46)

Because of this, our concept artists must be extremely versatile, skilled in art, with extensive knowledge of composition theory, color theory, traditional art, topography, fashion, and more. Their work can show levels and maps, props, Nama Tamas, all types of skins, lighting, UI, mockups, interior design, architecture, and the list goes on and on. A concept artist needs thick skin and perseverance, as 95% of the art they make, especially early on, might never see the light of day. It takes dedication. All right, let me now introduce you to two such dedicated individuals here at Embark. We're here in this hot little studio where it feels like it's about 825 degrees Celsius today, but that's okay, because joining me are Esbjorn and Ursula. Hello, my friends.

Esbjorn (02:24)


Urszula (02:24)


Dusty (02:25)

Esbjorn. Es Nord, Godbear of the north, has been artisting at Embark for more than four years now. Wow. A stark contrast to Ursula character artist for THE FINALS, who celebrated her very first anniversary at Embark just a week ago. Congrats.

Urszula (02:46)

Thank you.

Dusty (02:47)

Essa or Esbjorn, patron saint of artistic license, as you're known by our Discord Easter egg hunters. Can you tell us a bit about what you do here at Embark each day?

Esbjorn (03:01)

Yes. Thank you for the amazing introduction, Dusty. I feel humbled and I'm blushing right now for all the nice words, but yeah. So, as Dusty mentioned, I come from concept art background, but I'm actually hired at Embark as artist. So what that means is that I'm not only doing concept art, but I'm also working hands on on a lot of parts of the game. But most times, since I come from that background, I usually get called in when we work on more exploratory stuff. So for example, if we're creating new levels, new maps, new weapons, or even a new game mode or something where we need to create a new flow, know if it's a new trailer or as many of you have seen, new Nama Tamas, then I get called in. So that's where most of my time goes, I would say.

Dusty (04:06)

Awesome. And Urszula, tell us what it's like for you as a character artist for THE FINALS.

Urszula (04:12)

Yes, let me first, thank you very much for the invite. And how is it like to be a character artist? It's really, really fun. First and foremost, as we are allowed to experiment a lot and create really fun characters for the customization and for the community we are trying and to make a very vast range of different character customization items so that everyone is going to find their little piece that they like and that can represent them in the game. So it's really fun. Sometimes it's also challenging as we are constantly striving to create new systems to deliver quality things as fast as possible. And I think that's pretty much it. It's fun, challenging and very exciting.

Dusty (05:12)

Excellent answer and thank you. Okay, with that, let's kick things off with a question from the community. And first up is oh, it's Swa, a Discord member and one of my arch enemies, he knows what he did, asks, he says, "I'm a huge fan of the concept art produced for THE FINALS. Will there be more? THE FINALS concept art shown publicly. They inspire me a lot." Oh, wow. Thank you for the question, Swa!

Esbjorn (05:45)

Thank you. And thank you for your compliment as well. I'm really glad you like it. So, short answer. Yes. We will of course continue to share more concept art, but I would also like to say a little bit more about that and go into the process of concept art. So on most projects you start on like an early stage with exploration concept art. And that's usually where you try to convey the mood and style of the game. And when you buy concept art books or when other companies show their concept art, that is usually the type of concept art that you see the ones that gets produced early on because they are usually the ones where you spend the most of the time to make the actual picture look good. And then as the project gets more and more solidify, you move on to the next phase, which is production concept art. And most companies don't tend to show that as much because to be frank, it doesn't look as interesting as those early explorations. And most projects also transition into showing more from the actual game rather than like early concept art. But with that being said, I still hope that we would continue to show our production concept art because I think it's cool to let you guys be part of the entire process of making games and all that.

Esbjorn (07:20)

So for me, I would love to show even more as we continue to develop THE FINALS.

Dusty (07:28)

Thank you. I hope we get to show more too. Discord user V asks how do you find inspiration for creating characters? Urszula, why don't you take this one?

Urszula (07:40)

The way we find inspiration to create the characters is from many different places, but we try to not look at other games for inspiration. We want to bring something new to the table. As you can probably see from the game, we try to ask friends, coworkers, family and also the community about ideas for the game because first and foremost, the character customization is made for you. It's not made for us, it's made for you guys to create your own avatars and feel as yourself in the game.

Dusty (08:16)

Awesome. And I think right now, especially with having a live CB out there, we are taking in so much feedback and really learning from what you'd like to see next. Here's a question for both of you. Byrne asks, "When it comes to concept art and character development, from start to finish, what would you say is the most difficult step?"

Esbjorn (08:43)

I'm going to go ahead and grab the concept art one if you're fine with that. Urszula. At a glance, I thought the question would be quite hard to answer, but then when I thought about it a little longer, then it's actually quite easy. And the hardest part by far is the initial phase where you start out with a blank canvas and you have no idea what to do and then you have to produce something. Getting to that step from nothing to something is by far the hardest step. So for me as a concept artist, usually it comes down to if I'm helping Urszula, like creating a character, for example, the first step is going to be what are we going to do? Because we might take inspiration from the community or something else, but we still have to make a creative decision on what we actually do. So do we want to create a panda with hoodie and all the things that comes along it then we have to make that decision early on and that is actually the most taxing part mentally and can be time-wise as well. And then after that comes the execution part. But after a few years, when you have worked in this industry, the execution part is almost always the same, and that gets easier and easier and easier. But the initial idea phase stays just as hard as it was the first time, I would say.

Urszula (10:23)

Yeah. And I agree a lot with you about the whole phase of knowing what you want to make is the hardest part. We have many talented programmers and technical artists that made the journey of creating character assets so much easier. So creating the assets is the easiest part, but the hardest one is to know what to make and also following the different systems that needs to be in place. Like if we ever want to have capes or long hair and so on, we need to take these things into consideration. Those would be the hardest parts of character creation.

Dusty (11:05)

Excellent. Herwin asks, "How did the drastic character height differences come into existence? Is it just a balancing thing or partially due to the body shapes?"

Urszula (11:17)

Let me take this one. The reason why there is a drastic change in the heights of the three classes is because of readability. It is very important for us that the players know immediately what class they are being attacked by. If there's somebody jumps out of a corner, it would be great to be prepared of what's to come. That's why we need to have a very distinguished look for these three classes and thus the heights.

Dusty (11:47)

We had some other questions about class in the survey. Someone even asked which class Patrick Sunderland plays as. And I am here today to let you know that he's a majestic medium. Whereas Chief Content Officer Rob Runesson is a dedicated heavy. In case you were ever wondering who it is that comes smashing through the wall to take your cash out, what class do each of you play as?

Esbjorn (12:15)

I can start out with that one. And the answer is that I don't really have a preferred class. I try to cycle through them and master every single class. But if I had to pick one just based on time played, I would say I've played most as a heavy. But earlier today I felt like switching it up. So I played as a light. And I have to apologize to anyone playing earlier this afternoon because I was really shredding in THE FINALS. So if I owned any of you, then I can only apologize. It was my intent, but still, sorry about that. But yeah.

Urszula (12:58)

I personally, I'm Team Patrick, I also go for Medium and I really like the gameplay the Medium offers personally. I like to have it a little bit more balanced and not too specific. And I think that's it.

Dusty (13:15)

Well, I'm a heavy in real life, but when I play THE FINALS, I always go for medium. All right. This is a question for both of you. How did you get into the industry? And what were some of the early games that you worked on? And do you have any tips for listeners curious about what it takes to become an artist in the gaming industry? I guess that was actually three questions. Yeah, a lot.

Esbjorn (13:38)

Of information packed into that one, but let's break it out. It might be a bit of a long answer, but let's get into it. I knew from quite an early age that I wanted to go down the path of art. But at the time, I didn't really realize that working in the gaming industry was a viable option or that you could even do that. I didn't know that there were people working with that, which is strange because there was video game at the time, but I just didn't make the connection that there were actual people who made them. But I did get into animation because that seemed like a natural step forward if you knew how to draw. And so I got into 2D animation at first, and I studied that for three years. And while I was doing that, I heard about game school, and that was when it clicked for me, and I realized that this might actually be a viable option for me. So I did everything I could to get into that school because I knew it was a good way to get into the industry. And I eventually did make it into the school, and I attended that for two years or two and a half years, to be precise.

Esbjorn (15:08)

And I wanted to become an environment artist, but I still had some old concept art in my portfolio, which was actually picked up by a guy at DICE who looked at those images and thought that they showed some potential. So I went to DICE and I felt like the position that they offered fitted me so well. So I actually abandoned my plans of being an environment artist right there and then, even though with that being said, I had an offer waiting from my dream studio as an environment artist, but I still felt like this team would really fit me well. So then I got into Concept Art instead. And now at Embark, I'm moving back to my roots as more of a generalist. So now I'm doing Concept Art and other things as well. But I guess that DICE part of the question also answers what are the early games that I worked on? Because the first game that I got to work on when I started as DICE was Star Wars Battlefront 1, DLC, and I worked on the beach planet called the Scariff. I still remember it very well to this day.

Esbjorn (16:45)

And lastly, you wondered about what it takes to work as an artist in the gaming industry. And I would actually say it's pretty straightforward. You just need to figure out what you want to do specifically and then get good. As long as you can focus your time on a specific thing that you know you want to get good at, that's as simple as it is. You only have to spend time at one thing. I think a mistake that a lot of people do is that they spread out their time on too many things. So then it's hard for them to excel at a specific field. So I would say just focus your time and effort into one thing and then you're going to make it.

Urszula (17:39)

Yeah. And for me, I actually always wanted to be an animator. But after I went to school and actually tried out animation, I found out that it was way too hard. And at that point, I realized, well, creating 3D characters is not so bad. I actually followed the whole 3D character creation from early on. I attended Noroff in Norway, and I was there for two years before I got plucked up by Chaos Mason's Freelance Outsourcing Studio. And then I worked for PUBG for at least two years. And at the same time, I also went back to the same school and I was a teacher for a character design there at the same time. So that was two years. And after that, I realized that it's time to get one job at that point. And then I applied to Embark because they looked like a really great studio and they had very interesting projects. And that's what brought me here. And as tips for what you can do to get into the gaming industry. Like work hard. Like Esbjorn said, it's very important. Try hard to make friends and create connections. This is also super important because without connections, I would never get the work at an outsourcing studio.

Urszula (19:20)

So get friends with people, work very hard. That's so important. The world is flat at this point. You're going to compete with a lot of people. That's why you need to work very hard to reach your dreams.

Esbjorn (19:34)

Are you a flat Earther?

Urszula (19:36)

Yes, it's a triangle.

Dusty (19:41)

Well it sounds like because art is such a broad topic within this industry, it's really important to figure out where your passion lies within that area.

Esbjorn (19:52)

And once again, it's just like the art process. The first step is the hardest, just figuring out what you want to do.

Esbjorn (20:00)

That might sound like a very simple thing, but some people think about that for years, and that's fine. But in my opinion, you got to figure out before start focusing your time, or you could if you don't know what you want to do, you could also just get into it and see what areas you like. But I think you should pretty early on try to find one thing that you really like and get into that because if you never tried anything like it, of course, you're not going to know what you're into. You have to try it out first, but just don't spend time on every single thing.

Urzsula (20:44)

I agree. And let's face it, we're quite blessed doing what we love as a job. So if you have the opportunity to actually choose to follow what you like, make sure you invest in that.

Esbjorn (20:58)

Yeah, that's another thing as well. Excelling at something is going to be so much easier if you actually do what you like. So if I were to get into accounting, for example, I can't say that I'm so passionate about that, so I would probably suck at that. But I'm happy for all the people out there that are really passionate about accounting and can Excel at that. But yeah, it's going to be way easier if you like what you're doing.

Dusty (21:29)

You guys heard it here first. Yes, fantastic artist. Terrible accountant...

Esbjorn (21:37)

No, I love them.

Dusty (21:39)

No, but you're not a good one.

Esbjorn (21:41)

I'm not a good one, but I love people who do that job.

Dusty (21:43)

That job. We don't let them do the books, you guys. All right, this is getting extra hard to write as we've shelled out so many of these at this point in the show. But it's time for our exceptional segment, where in honor of our illustrious spokeseg the Namatama and to continue the embark tradition of telling terrible puns, I must now ask each of you to tell us an egg yoke.

Esbjorn (22:15)

I'm going to make it very easy for myself, and I'm going to egg-nore your request.

Urzsula (22:25)

Oh, man. Okay, give me one second. I'm going to give you the best one. Why do people love boiled eggs so much?

Esbjorn (22:34)

You got to tell me.

Urzsula (22:36)

Because it's hard to beat. I'm going to clap for myself.

Esbjorn (22:41)

I'm very angry right now.

Dusty (22:45)

Not to out you completely on the air here, Esbjorn, but we found out in the last hour that Essa has never heard of Humpty-Dumpty.

Esbjorn (22:58)

Yeah, it's true. I have no idea how people know about this super weird character.

Dusty (23:06)

How did you miss it? What was your childhood?

Urzsula (23:09)

Which rock in Sweden did you live under?

Esbjorn (23:13)

Yeah, I guess a really big one. A really big and big one.

Dusty (23:18)

Under the wall that Humpty Dumpty was sitting on maybe. That's why you missed it. It's all about perspective.

Esbjorn (23:25)

But I think that's great because that means that we came up with Nama Tama in isolation. He has nothing to do with this Humpty Dumpty weirdo character, which I don't want any connection to him. I think that's good.

Dusty (23:41)

Humpty Dumpty, Nama Tama, completely unrelated. Yeah, that's confirmed.

Dusty (23:46)

All right, that is all for today's episode of Meet the Makers. Thank you so much for listening. If you're hungry for more, please join our Discord community and make sure to play THE FINALS when it finally releases.

[Outro music plays]

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