PlanetQuake ChopShop: Dan Bickell Interview

PlanetQuake ChopShop: Dan Bickell Interview

Have you seen this man in QW? Maybe not, but there’s probably no doubt that you’ve seen some of his world famous skins! For all of you llamas who don’t know, Dan is simply one of the best graphics artist there is! He has done many quality player skins as well as practically all of The Apocalypse’s graphics! Dan has some very intresting things to say about what himself and what he does, really making this a good interview, so sit back and learn from one of the best and check out some shots of his best work on The Apocalypse!

WW:  (Jonathan “W_Wallace” Daughtrey) First off, would you mind telling us a little about yourself, schooling, home life ,age, girlfriend, wife, job, etc…, and what got you into graphic editing and 3D game graphic editing?
DB: : Talk about myself? Nooo, I don’t mind! Let’s see, I’ll answer these all in order here: I’m Daniel Edward Bickell, and everybody calls me Dan. I’m a senior at California State University Long Beach (that’s in California, USA) and I’m a biology major (I don’t know why). At home, I pretty much sit here in my home-made fullscale F-16 cockpit. No kidding, after spending all this money on computer stuff and expensive flight sim controls, I designed, built (with the help of a friend who does wood work), and hand-painted myself an accurate F-16 cockpit to house all of my computer stuff. I do lots of crazy artistic things like that. People say I’m either an artistic genius or a complete wacko. (I’d lean towards the latter) I digress. Let’s see, I’m currently 23 years old. I’ve been seeing a hot young (just turned 21 last night BTW) dancer for a while now. She keeps me good and tired so I don’t flood the Quake Community with too many player skins. I am not currently employed, but I wish I was because this old 100Mhz Pentium just won’t cut it anymore. What got me into graphic editing? Well, I got my first computer when I was 12 (an Apple IIc), and I had this expensive color monitor (15 colors!) so I learned to write BASIC programs to make color graphics the old-fashioned hard way- pixel-by-pixel coordinates and colors. I first started making graphics for 3D games one night when I made a complete set (over 30 different images) of new faces for the Doom status bar. It was of Boba Fett from Star Wars, and they did all the same things that the original faces did- look around, go through sequential levels of damage, etc.
WW: What other types of things do you enjoy doing besides graphic editing?
DB: Other than playing Quake, I’m into flight sims. I also like to download porn from the Usenet, and look for really nasty pictures of dead people. Outside the computer world (RealLife(tm)), I just try to keep my girlfriend happy so that she keeps me happy in return. That pretty much sums everything up.
WW: What gives you inspiration and ideas for your design? Movies, Television Shows, Books, etc., or do you bascially try to be 100% original and creative?
DB: I think it was John Lennon who said something like “There isn’t a song that hasn’t already been written”. I really don’t think it is possible to be 100% original because we’re all influenced by our environments. There’s a huge influence on my designs from the things that I’ve surrounded myself with. If I’m doing a skin for a new sci-fi themed model (like the new servomech from The Apocalypse) my influences would be from Star Wars, and Star Trek, and Japanimation that I enjoy, for example.
WW: What was the first skin you made and what or who was it of?
DB: Some say that the first skin that I made was the very first home-brew Quake player skin ever made. I don’t go making this claim with any certainty, but nobody has ever come forth and disputed it. The night that Qtest1 hit the internet my pal Ed and I took it apart to see how it all worked, and when I finally got into the player.mdl and found the skin it didn’t take 5 minutes before I was editing it. That same night I made my first Quake skin, which was of Boba Fett from Star Wars. Over the next few days I also made a complete set of specific gibs for Boba, since there weren’t gibs for anything else other than the player at the time. I uploaded these to a while later, when the first other skins hit the net.
WW: When did you decide that $50 profit for clan skins could be made, and about how much do you make say per month off skins?
DB: Well, when the Quake community started growing, and my graphics were all over the net, my email inbox started to grow quite a bit. At first, I wanted to help everybody out and I did requests for all who asked. (reasonable requests, that is) Of course, I couldn’t keep that up as several requests per day started floating in. No sooner than I started replying “I’m sorry, but I can’t take any more requests…” did I first hear “We’re really interested in some custom artwork from you, and we’re willing to pay you for your time.” My first paid clan skin was for The Knights Templar, and they offered me $75 US for the skin. I didn’t feel that was a fair price, so I decided to go with $50 as my standard price because that reflects the basic amateur artist’s rate ($10/hour) for 5 hours of work. Of course, I always spend more than 5 hours on a completely new skin, but… . It’s an issue that I’ve caught a lot of flack for. On the other hand, a number of clients have voluntarily decided to pay me more. I don’t do a whole lot of clan skins because my fee weeds out all but the most persistant. I’ve only done 1 or 2 per month since late last year.
WW: When did you decide to write The Quake Graphic FAQ and how often and when is it updated?
DB: As I stated earlier, the amount of email that I received started to get steadily heavier as the Quake community grew. A good percentage of it was people with questions about Quake graphics editing, ranging from the seriously technical to the more common “could you, like, tell me how to make skins?”. I simply became tired of writing the same responses to the same questions over and over again, so I wrote the FAQ. Now, when I get emailed technical questions about Quake graphics, 99% of the time I just say “read my FAQ” and send them a copy. I’d say I send around a dozen copies out everyday. I’ve only updated it a few times, and it’s in need of an update again now mostly because of thew newer utilites that are available that I’d like to cover.
WW: What graphics programs and Quake Utilities do you use for creating/editing the skins and previewing them on the model, etc..
DB: Speaking of new utilites that I’d like to cover… First things first, Paintshop Pro is THE ONLY graphics program you will ever need for Quake graphics. (period) There’s a shareware version (what I used for years), and it handles the Quake palette beautifully, which is of utmost concern. Then you need a model utility, for which I use both QuakeME (I still prefer good old version 1.5) and MedDLe2. The new program that I have been putting to great use is called Grafixer. It’s a wonderful little utility that lets you take a 256 color .bmp image and colorize it in the Quake palette, in any of the individual color rows of the Quake palette and in any brightness adjustment. No serious Quake graphics designer should be without it.
WW: About how many skin/graphic requests do you get per day, month, including The Apocalypse?
DB: Hmmm. Well, I probably get at least a dozen email requests per day for custom clan skins. As far as work on The Apocalypse, I figure I’ve done over 300 (small, conservative number there) different map textures, skins, sprites, etc. over the past 3 months or so. That would be at least 100 graphics a month. Of course, I have plenty of friends that I’ve made online too, and they always need graphics “favors”. And I have a life too, so I’ve been busy.
WW: About how much time do you spend a week working on graphics and skins for The Apocalypse and other stuff as well as personal projects and graphics? Also, how long would it take to make a totally new texture or original skin?
DB: Ugg. Over the summer break, I’ve pretty much spent several hours into the late night and the afternoon after I wake up (you know, while the girlfriend is sleeping and working) at the computer. I suppose I spend about 4-6 hours a day in front of the computer. I’d break that down into about hour to read through and answer email, an hour to do non-artwork related work on projects (work through the devleoper message board for Apocalypse, and also keep up with the preliminary design work on an upcoming project with Team Evolve), and maybe an hour for personal entertainment. That leaves 1-3 hours for graphic work. On your average player skin, for example, I spend at least 5 hours.
WW: Do you do watch television or listen to music while you’re working, or is total concentration needed? If so, what do you enjoy watching or listening to?
DB: I conveniently placed my computer cockpit in direct view of the TV and stereo. ;) I try to avoid watching new things while I’m working, mostly because I won’t pay attention to what I’m trying to watch. Instead, I’ll often watch Star Trek re-runs or put in a laserdisc. Often, I do this thing where I watch the same movie over and over again everyday for a week while I’m working, and I end up knowing the movie line-for-line. Like lately, I’ve been watching “Trainspotting” all the time, and my scottish accent is getting pretty good. Music wise, lately it’s been a lot of electronic/dance music like The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Orbital, etc. I’m going to try to get the new Crystal Method CD tomorrow.
WW: Could you tell us a few tricks of the trade you’ve learned with your experience in graphic editing and possibly a few tips for the begginer?
DB: What, give away my secrets?! Well, here’s something to chew on: when working with Quake graphics, the primary concern is the good old 256 color Quake palette. You’re not working in 16-bit or 24-bit color, so you’re really limited by what you can do with color. So, what I do exclusively these days is to work in greyscale and colorize the individual components seperately from the colors in the Quake palette. I used to accomplish this through using a series of customized color palettes with just certain colors from the Quake palette in it. (a method developed by myself and Kenneth Scott- Ken actually had the patience to finish up the entire set of palettes, I had only done about 6 myself) Now, I just use Grafixer on my 256 greyscale source images to colorize in the Quake palette.
WW: What parts of graphic editing do you find easiest or hardest?
DB: Honestly, the hardest thing is the actual design. If someone says “do a skin that looks exactly like so-and-so”, this is very easily done if you actually have reference of what so-and-so looks like. If you have to make up so-and-so from scratch, this takes creativity and effort. The actual artwork is a breeze if you have a detailed picture, whether in reaility or in your head.
WW: Do you know exactly or have an estimate of how many skins you have made in total and textures you have created?
DB: I can estimate, and I’ll try to keep it conservative. As far as map textures, I’ve done over 200 for The Apocalypse so far, and only a few dozen outside of that. As far as skins go, these would be hard to count. I have 63 QuakeWorld skins that I’ve submitted for the QW skin packs. There are numerous others that have never been submitted. I’ve done at least a dozen different skins for other people’s projects. I’ve done around 30 different skins for The Apocalypse, but that isn’t counting all of the different variants, color-schemes, and re-done skins that I’ve done. I have a half-gig partition on my hard drive, with nothing but Quake graphics on it, and the file count is currently 3833 files. Of course, that includes multiples, and the myriad source graphics that end up making a finished skin or map texture.
WW: Of all the graphics and skins you have designed, what is your personal favorite?
DB: I’d have to categorize that. As far as player skins (what I’ve done the most of), I’d have to say my favorite is my latest personal QuakeWorld skin. (available in my latest “personal” skin collection). Besides that, I recently did a QW skin for a good friend of mine, and the likeness of him is so incredible that another friend of mine just exclaimed yesterday “Shit, that looks exactly fuckin’ like Ed”. I had to show hime the source graphics to convince him that it wasn’t a scan. Besides player skins, I’ve had the opportunity to skin some incredible models during the past 3 months while working on The Apocalypse. We’ve got an incredible young guy by the name of Ethan Leon, and he’s sent me some models that excited me so much that I had skins done for them by the next morning. I’ve often been so excited, that I’ve done multiple variants with different color schemes and markings, etc. just to get it all out of my system. Examples of these would be the Tomcat fighter, the Shuttle, and the Servomech. (all from The Apocalypse)
WW: Name us some skin authors that you think are very good and some other skins besides yours that you like?
DB: One name: Kenneth Scott. The man is a professional graphic artist, and his Quake skins show why. I’m really glad that I’ve been able to get to know the guy a bit and share ideas about that Quake thing that we both do. In any sort of contest involving Quake graphics, he’s the only man that I fear. I can’t believe I ended up placing 2nd over one of his entries in the Qspy skin contest, but then again, I can’t believe the winning skin placed better than of the 4 runners-up.
WW: I’ve often wondered if you’ll ever post a site to display your excellent work like most people?
DB: Maybe if there were a few extra hours in the day. There are all kinds of things I would do if I had the time, and that is one of them. Of course, that would just lead to even less time because of even more email and such…, which always sinks that idea lower on the priorities list. Other people have shown interest in hosting such a web page for me, and I might do that eventually.
WW: What do you think of some of the horrible and only slightly modifed base skins we often see in QuakeWorld and advice to those who created them?
DB: I’ve seen some really simplistic artwork on QW skins that made me smile. No bullshit, no pretense, just somebody’s original effort: that, I will never criticize. Artwork doesn’t have to be professional quality to be *good*. The thing that I can’t stand is all of the rip-off artists. If you want to do a cut-and-paste job and make yourself a skin from other people’s artwork, that is fine as long as you either ask permission or give credit to the artists that you borrow from. Other than that, the only big problem that I consistently see on QW skins would be failure to use the Quake palette correctly, or even at all. A good percentage of the skins in the QW skin set just show up as a messed-up funky blotch of bright colors, because they failed to correctly use the Quake palette. Email me for a copy of my FAQ. I’m here to help you.
WW: Do you plan on graphic editing for the upcoming 3D Games and what are your future career hopes?
DB: Most definately. I can’t wait to be free of 256 color palettes! Higher resolution textures would be loads of fun (and work) too. As far as career hopes, I’d love to get paid to make graphics for games if that ever actually presented itself as a possiblity. In the meantime though, I’m keeping my day job, so to speak. (too bad I don’t actually have a day job, though)
WW: Now for the, “CompleteTheSentenceTM” Section, inspired by FragMaster and his classic interviews. Without him, what would any good interview be? Thanks Frags…
WW: Graphic Editing and 3D Game Graphic Editing…
DB: …will keep getting easier for the amateur artist to get into, especially when there aren’t custom palettes to be concerned with.
WW: Working on The Apocalypse has been…
DB: …exciting when I’ve been sent an awesome new model to skin, and rewarding when I’ve seen the end-product of my toils in the form of the finished levels, weapons, and monsters.
WW: My Upcoming Graphics and the ones in The Apocalypse will…
DB: …make people wonder why I haven’t been hired as a graphic artist yet.
WW: I really would like to see more…
DB: …adult oriented PC games. I mean, come on. Who’s the primary PC game audience, anyway.
WW: I really can’t stand it when…
DB: …dumb people can’t figure out who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy. “Like, uh, how can you get mad at people who rip-off your graphics when you charge so much money for them. You’re a real asshole, and I hope everybody rips you off and makes a bunch of money off of you” Luckily, it’s just this tiny little 1% of the community. You guys know who you are.
WW: Please never forget to…
DB: …put everything back in your pants before you zip up.
WW: This interview has been really…
DB: …Self illuminating. I’m a serious wind bag when I get to talking about myself, huh?

I really hope everyone learned as much as I did! Dan is a really cool guy and I hope to continue seeing his wonderful graphics in the future. When I asked him about screenshots, he stated that he wanted to do something more than the run of the mill map shots. So, here’s what he came up with…

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