Thomas Jung Short Bio
I’ve been working in games in many capacities over the last 18 years. Starting as an intern doing storyboards and 3D modeling in Alias/Wavefront (back in when it all ran on SGI workstations) I made my way into environment art and finally art direction and concept art.
I’m currently lead concept artist and Art Director for Playdom-Disney Interactive in Austin, Texas. My portfolio: www.drawingtom.com
How would you define concept art?
I define Concept Art as the skill of visual story telling. Our primary responsibility on any project, be it film or games, is to tell the story in an informative and immersive manner. I believe that every tool and skill we bring to bear in our day to day work should always be used with that end goal in mind.
Did you need to explain to your mom that this is an actual career?
I come from a family of creative people, so no explanation was necessary. My family didn’t understand how an artist fit into games at first. But once I landed at Blizzard and my family was exposed to games as a popular medium through the Korean Star Craft craze they finally understood what I do and how it fits in to the computer/video game industry.
What was your big break into the industry?
Internships are a great way to break in. I was using the computer labs at school for an entertainment design related project (back then the 3D lab was used primarily for industrial design applications) and I asked the lab aide if he could answer some questions. When he saw the work I was doing he told me he was wrapping up an internship and a local game studio and they were actively looking for a replacement for him. I went in for an interview and the rest is history. I was 20 years old.
What are some of the cool things of being a Concept Artist?
Being a concept artist is cool on so many levels that it’s hard to lock it down to one or two thoughts. There are two things that come to mind immediately. The first is the obvious cool factor of drawing and painting for a living. I love that aspect of my work and miss doing it as much as I used to now that I’ve been doing more and more work as an Art Director. The second thing I love about the job is the people I work with. Being on a team of talented artists is the ultimate challenge to all assumptions about myself as an artist. I learn new things every day from people who come from all walks of life. We laugh a lot and on every project I work on I make life-long friends.
What's are some of the challenges of being a Concept Artist?
The single greatest challenge of being a concept artist is coming to the understanding that your work is not your own. You must constantly put your work up against the acceptance criteria of the design of the game or script of the film being created. I’ve had design sessions with five people over my shoulder literally pointing at the screen and asking for changes on the spot as the discussion of what things need to look like is taking place. It can be extremely stressful, especially when the creative powers above you are not yet decided on what they want. The flip side of that is that it’s extremely rewarding when a good design results for those meetings. A good concept designer can cope with that level of change and iteration and understand it as a matter of course when designing for large scale commercial endeavors.
Can you mention some of your career highlights?
Working at Oddworld Inhabitants was a highlight in that it was a great experience to learn about my limits as a person. It was a rough production environment with high demands and a grueling schedule over a long period of time. Surviving that experience was a huge life learning event.
Working on WoW at Blizzard was a high light because it was my first opportunity to work on a team where my work as a concept artist had a significant impact on the product.
I often tell people that I learned the most about myself as a person while at Oddworld, but grew the most as an artist while at Blizzard.
How do you stay awesome?
I try to surround myself with awesome people. Working and designing in a vacuum is a trap. It leads to complacency and stale design.
Where do you think the bulk of work for Concept Artists is? (Animation, Video Games, VFX)
Currently I’d say the bulk of work for concept artists is in games. It tends to me a bit more steady than tv or film, but with an overall lower pay scale. It’s a bit of a trade-off and each one has it’s pros and cons. The important thing is to ask yourself what type of product you want to work on. I love working in games, some others hate it and move on to film or tv. Some guys don’t really care as long they get to draw and paint every day.
What advice can you give to aspiring concept artists?
Don’t be a jerk. It’s the fastest way to find yourself unemployable, no matter how good your work is.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Take nothing for granted and don’t work for free. I feel working pro bono devalues the work and efforts of all your peers trying to make a living at concept art and design. Internships are great so long as they’re for school credit or even minimum wage. Work cheap, work hard, but don’t work for free.