Rorshach: Best Overall Skinner 2000, Winners Interview

Rorshach: Best Overall Skinner 2000, Winners Interview

2001.11.24 – “Rorshach”

AKA: Johnstone, Kevin
DOB: 1974.08.03
LOCATED IN: Ayr/Scotland
WORK INCLUDES: Skins – Quakelord Skinset (Q1), Acme Skinset (Q2), Durhamn Red (HL), Comedian (Q3), Mortal TeamWork (UT)
Maps – UKCLDM4 (Q1), Jackboot (Q2)
– Ironsides (Q3)
Textures – Clockwork Droid (Q3)
ALSO PRODUCED: Posters, Comics, Movies.
Driven, Passionate, Cynical, Sarcastic, Humourous, Romantic, Deep, Angry, Unfulfilled, Empathic, Analytical.

How did you first become interested in the Quake series of games?

I loved Doom on the Playstation. Read about Quake’s Development for a couple years in magazines, got a PC in time for Qtest1 to be released. It looked amazing, the coverage in PCZone really convinced me that it would be an experience like no other game.

I’d always been a complete Beat’em-up addict, any game that was fast or violent and pitted you against a mate. So the idea of getting to play against up to 16 people from possibly anywhere in the world…. and kill them… well it really appealed to me.

I knew it would present me with the challenge in games I was unable to find in Stranraer, my hometown at the time.

I was just as interested in what I read about the promised support of user editable skins. I had tried making games on the Amiga A500 using AMOS (I think it was called) and they were not really setting the world on fire. Knowing Quake was meant to make it easy to make your own version of the game or character rekindled that desire in me.

What made you decide to try skinning for the first time?

One of the earliest bots that came out just after Quake Shareware was released. I cant remember if it was the reaper bot or the exterminator bot or something less sophisticated (bet on the latter), but this bot mod had a different skin in it. That was the first sign that I’d had that you could do it still in the shareware version.

I didn’t like the skin. I thought I would have done it differently and started looking for the programs I would need to do one of my own. Then I could fight against my own creation :)

How did you find out what was involved?

I’d read in the text file attached with the bot mod that you needed to place the PAK file in a certain directory so it would work. SO, I knew that the skin must be in there … somewhere.

I found a pak explorer/builder program on FTP CDrom after a few hours of modem speed guesswork. Opened pak, found BMP!

I quickly made a duplicated, paint white stripes running down the eyes, put it back in the PAK file then rushed online full of excitement and asked the first person I saw on a server ‘Can you see white stuff on my face?’.

Obviously they couldn’t. They didn’t have a copy of the same new pak file, Shareware Q1did not support server download of skins yet even.

Later that night I realised that myself and tried giving someone else a copy of the pakfile, joined a private server and there it was.

What was your first ever skin?

The Quakelord clan skin.

Where did you find the inspiration to produce that skin?

A Number of places (as is always the case). I wanted to make my clan seem like the Quake version of the Punisher. I was into Jim Lee’s work on the Xmen at the time and a big fan of the Minbarri Warrior class’ uniforms in Babylon5 . A bit of Glenn Fabry’s Slaine artwork made it into the design also I guess.

What techniques did you use to produce it and what software did you use?

Corel Photopaint and trial and error for about a month. I had no model viewer, didn’t understand
about alignment and there were no help files, web tutorials, or people to ask. So I just had
to grind away for a while until I learned to use a mouse and paint inside the lines… even things
like saving the correct format of image was a revelation to me. I was new to PC’s in general also.

Were you happy with the results?

I thought I was GOD for an hour or so – hahah. No really, I felt that good. I didn’t get to see what the skins looked like on the model finished until I saw all my clan mates come running down the corridor at me on E3m2 or E3m3. This was when I found out I had accidentally used the Fullbrite colours reserved for glowing map lights on the Quakelord Chest Logo.

They looked cool as hell, completely different from everything else, it was like something new had been born and I was the father.

Possibly it’s very obvious now why I kept making more.. .

Could you roughly describe some of the techniques you’ve learnt since you produced that skin?

I’ve went from 1pixel editing in 256 colour mode in Corel Photopaint through to pure photo-compositing in Photoshop, through to an combination of both, purist one layer painting. If it works and it looks good
it’s a good technique. I don’t subscribe to any one technique being the right or wrong way to do something.

Which of your skins is your favourite?

I still love the original Quakelords. I think its the memory of that time that I am most fond of.

Which is your favourite skin by another artist?

I haven’t tried to pick favourites for a long time. There’s been a whole slew of skins I’ve respected.

What do you find influences your style the most and do you feel it is distinctive?

Myself. By default that ensures my style is distinctive. I try very hard to always go my own way. I acknowledge openly that there are MANY professional level artists working both at a professional and amateur level within this discipline. Some of them are above me and will always be better, and some are below me.

I refuse to be influenced by any of them. I got into this game to create, not regurgitate. I think this attitude holds me back sometimes in terms of skill. Specifically i mean it is always easier when your presented with a new problem, to look at another’s work to see how they dealt with it. It’s harder to find your own way.

It’s a fair trade-off though as it means I have my own style. Individual style is what I respect most
in others so it’s only fair that I apply the same discipline to my own work.

How long does the average skin take you?

Between 7 and 14 days atm to unwrap a 3k model, skin SP version on 2 1024’s with alpha channel
then make a further 4 DM skins.

Have you had any accolades or strong feedback about your work?

Now and then.

How did these make you feel?

Sometimes good, sometimes uncomfortable

What drives you to produce game skins?

I’m a daydreamer and I’m VERY driven.

Do you still feel as motivated to produce skins now as you did when you started?

Much more. I don’t think I’m God anymore when on a high, now I think God was an amateur. The high never lasts though, like most artists, within a couple hours of the high I hate my work again and devalue my whole back catalogue of work.

What do you feel are the greatest mistakes made by new skin artists?

Imitation of others. Misunderstanding of light/shadow and 3d shape.

How do your friends and family relate to your work?

They are amazed at what I can do and wondering how far it will take me. Unfortunately, this amazement has put up barriers between me and them as they feel there’s nothing they can do for me anymore. 7 years ago when i was at my lowest, unemployed, no future etc, then at least they knew what they could do to help me.

Now though, its clear I lead a very different life and the realisation of how this makes people around me feel is something I am very much in the middle of dealing with.

You’ve been a professional game artist for a number of years now, and you’ve recently become Lead skin artist on Unreal 2. How did you make your break into the industry, and how difficult has the climb up the ladder been?

Well I’m not the Lead anything as far as I’m concerned, I just make lots of skins :) The ‘climb’ however I feel justified bragging about.

My first break was Kenneth Scott suggesting I try making some map textures on HACX by Banjosoft 96/97?). I produced some terrible map textures for a while , nothing worth bragging about but it was something to talk about at a job interview later. I went on to do the obligatory commercial addon paks for royalties before I was contacted with a flat out job offer from Phil Baxter at Reflections (98-99? I’m terrible with dates). This was the first fulltime job I landed and I had to move from Scotland to England (Newcastle).

After Steam got canned (my reason for joining Reflections), I went on to Driver, after Driver was finished I left and relocated to Scotland again, then over to Belgium to live with Kirsten who is now my wife. While in Belgium I was contacted by a company in Germany called DiscreetMonsters, I went there for a year or so until the company went bankrupt.

Facing being stranded in Germany with no money I was saved by Legend thanks to my having kept contact with Paul Mock whom I’d been talking to since I was in Belgium the year before.

Perhaps it sounds like a little thing, but changing country every year for 4 years simply in search of a place where you can ‘live the dream’ is not easy. I am a VERY VERY lucky man in the position I am right now.
But I’ve been through hospitalisation, regular country relocation, stress illness and bankruptcy to get here.

My wife Kirsten worked out that since I’ve been with her, we’ve moved house on average, once every 6 months for 2 1/2 years. When you move house you typically need 6 months before you settle into the new environment. So I have had no stability in my career or life for a while.

But I’m a happy man at the moment, and hope it lasts. I feel I’ve earned what I have, and the respect that I’ve garnered helps to validate the sacrifices I’ve made. Its always difficult to know if you are doing the right thing.

OK, so not the “Lead” then. The Title you use on your mails is “Paid Daydreamer”, is that an official one?

heh, I’ve never ventured to ask what my title is at Legend :) That’s why I’m steering away from giving myself a title. I never really bother with titles … that’s why the title “Paid Daydreamer’s” on my work emails for the last few years.

How do you find working in the gaming industry compared to doing it as a hobby?

Before I went into the industry the key phrase I always used to hear from those already In the industry
when describing it to those seeking to get in was ‘ You have to love games to make them’.

People don’t read enough meaning into that simple line.

It means that the job will eat up so much of your life that you will find it hard to make time to love anything or anyone else. The pressure from the realisation of the huge amounts of money at stake and ungodly long hours can really ruin lives. If you DON’T love games, if you don’t love the process of creation, then this sacrifice is just not going to be worth it for you and you will burn out and become disillusioned with the industry.

Art is a passion. Art is not good business sense. Games production is big business now. The incompatibility of the two is another huge difference that people have trouble dealing with. This a problem that will never go away, it’s common to all creative industries.

I think for me, it has not been so hard to adapt to. Previous to getting into the industry I’d been working in factories doing manual labour and generally spirit crushing non creative work for terrible money. So going into the industry for me was definitely a soft option, but for college people … heh, they end up thinking they have a hard life and they have NO IDEA AT ALL what a hard job is.

So I’ve found it pretty easy to adapt. For me its just a case of someone being willing to pay me to do what I was doing for free in my spare time anyway.

Will U2 be relatively simple to produce plugin models, maps and skins for?

U2 is gonna be very intuitive and easy to edit. Moreso than the previous Unreal engine’s. Epic have done an incredible job with the Unreal Warfare engine that makes it a dream to work with. On top of Epic’s pioneering efforts, Chris Hargrove at Legend has gone on and made a fantastic new editing tool called Golem that handles all the model/skin integration rather than the troublesome scripting route used in UT that held so many of us dumber skinners back.

In much the same way Serious Sam has a nice GUI front end for importing models and adding effects,
Unreal2 has Golem, so its gonna be a lot of fun for the community to get into.

Your style is quite distinctive, do you find it important to change your style to fit the game you’re working on?

I’ve changed my style completely for every project I’ve worked on. There’s no way around it. You have to adapt to the new engine and tailor your style accordingly. We have the tech level now to have shadows and lights properly playing upon characters that have specularity/bump mapping/ effects render passes. We also have a far higher polycount becoming standard in 3d games.

This combined requires that we open up our shading, take away some of the highlights, the majority of shadows and focus instead more on texture relief rather than 3d definition.

3D definition is the job of the polygons more than a skinners, there’s less you can fake on 2d.

I think on the whole this requires more discipline as it makes your texture more matte, leaving the shine to effects and this seems less satisfying at first when looking at it merely in Photoshop. But by the time you see the work in game, well it’s all worth it :)

With a number of big new game engines soon to be reaching us (U2/UW, D3 etc.), do you feel it is going to become increasingly difficult to add additional content to the games as has been done with the Quake and Unreal series of games?

Not at all, there will always be room for expansion, reinvention and mere duplication.

Unreal 2 is being coded in the US, yet you live in Scotland – do you find it difficult to be a major player in a company based overseas?

Not really. I have a number of things on my side.

Firstly, myself. I’ve always lived inside my head, I’m never quite there and when I’m working at my best im in a complete trance and unaware of anything around me. That’s how I like it, that’s when the magic happens.

My second advantage is Legend itself, its attitude towards me. Since I joined the team near the beginning of the year I’ve been made to feel very welcome. Be it phone calls from Paul in the early months to help fit me into Legends way of doing things or the day to day icq and email conversations with the lads in the Character team, I always know where I am.

Really, between John, Ant and Hugh’s efforts I need only colour within the lines. Ant creates the concept, John explains to me the ‘clever stuff’ then hands me the model, I make jigsaws backwards for a while, then colour it in and then Hugh attaches its strings and brings it to life.

There’s a great synergy within the group, its no problem at all to be a part of it. There’s no ego in the group, so its pretty much a dream job. The only downside is I don’t get to learn so much from the others in the office, I miss out on the comedy and the LAN Games and at times the isolation is difficult to deal with.

Have you any other work, other than skins, that you would like to show?

I’ve chosen a previously unseen Quakelords picture I did in ’96. It’s not so good by todays light, but I found it recently and nostalgia took hold. I did this before I produced the clanset of Quakelord skins, you can see I hadn’t yet decided to make each character more unique, I was still going with my original plan of adding letter tags on the legs. In game I found this didn’t work, the characters were too similar.

Rorshach, thank you very much for your time.

You can pop in and give Ror a visit – his site is Rorshach’s Journal.
The old site is here, the new one here.

You can also check out some of Ror’s Unreal 2 work at the Unreal 2 site.

Note from Donde: Here is the current link to Rorshach aka Kevin Johnstone’s website featuring his entire life’s work of badass art…

The qbranch Gold Star Awards 2000 Results

So, without further ado, put on your DJ (or dress) as we present the awards…

About the qbranch Gold Star Awards

The qbranch Gold Star Awards is your opportunity to pay back those who created your favorite models, skins, maps and the like for your favorite games. They don’t recieve any prizes, they don’t recieve any money – but the people you vote for have a nice warm feeling inside because they know that you noticed what they did, and the most popular get a nice gif to put on their website.

So, if you love that map you downloaded last May so much you still play it? Then vote for it. Were you totally wowed by the artistry in the model you grabbed in September? Well vote for that to!

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