Some artists are so renowned in their craft that they are attributed the title “Legendary”. Deserving of having their names emblazoned in bright orange for all of eternity, these noble souls humbly craft fantastical and glorious works of art that ignite and inspire hearts and imaginations. Glenn Rane is one such artist. Working at Blizzard Entertainment as Art Lead, Creative Development, Glenn has helped forge the epic universes of Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo with his captivating, vivid and distinctive artwork and style. We took some time out to interview Raneman, and this is what he had to say…
Hi there Glenn, it’s an honor to speak with a Son of the Storm. What have you been up to recently in the art world?
Haha, thanks, and thank you for that intro. I’ve been working on a few projects. Those, of course, for Blizzard, but also a side project with a few of my buddies called InKarnate.
Let’s talk about your beginnings in art – were you always interested in art? At what age did you begin to draw?
Pretty much. I think the superhero coloring books my parents bought me as a toddler had a massive influence. I often drew characters with capes and S’s on their chests, on objects that i shouldn’t have been drawing on. My parents say I was 2.
You have a penchant for creating vivid and stunning fantasy and science-fiction artwork. Who do you credit as your main inspirations? What did you learn from them, and how did they change the way you approached art?
Thank you. It’s very difficult to tag one inspirational source. I’ve always been drawn to cool shapes; the interlocking musculature of human anatomy, sports cars, armor, the Millenium Falcon. From age 4 to 13 I wanted to design cars. When I realized drawing comic books was a job, I was all about it. At 17, I discovered D&D and Warcraft 2… My fate was sealed at that point.
Your artwork has a solid, painterly feel – it could be said to be somewhere in between realism and stylization. What is your general workflow like? What kind of deadlines do you have per-piece?
My workflow starts with some thumbnail sketches that I run by the key players. Once i receive feedback I work up a drawing and color rough to make sure everyone is still on board. After I get the go ahead I work towards a final while sending in-progress updates periodically. At Blizz, the “grand reveal” rarely works out… Actually, I think that is true in most companies.
My deadlines are mostly self-imposed, but I try to push myself regardless. It’s hard to say exactly how many hours a painting takes due to changes, meetings, and day to day on-goings, but a completed piece takes about 2 to 3 weeks. Really depends on the detail level of the piece.
You have some great experience working in the games industry, having worked for Vivendi previously. Is there a story behind how you went over to Blizzard? From your perspective, is it tough to get into the video game art industry?
Well, from my perspective, it’s a path I’ve been on since since I started drawing, where one thing led to the next. I think it’s about determination, diligence and patience. My interests, as well as planning, shaped my career, but did not dictate my career, meaning I never tried to force it. Out of school I wanted to work for Blizzard, but thought I could actually make money doing spot ads for Ad Agencies. So I did. That experience led to some freelance with Vivendi where I worked on game box cover mock-ups that included concepts for the Warcraft 3 box. Because Vivendi was closely tied with Blizzard, I accepted a full-time job working on game box concepts, even though I was making more money as a freelance artist. My hope was that Vivendi would be my foot in the door to Blizzard. It only took four years….
We’ve noticed your style carries over perfectly no matter whether your medium is digital or traditional. Do you work primarily in digital? What are your key tools and software?
I thank my artistic training. I do work mostly in digital, and only rarely, in oils. I’ve tried to keep traditional painting techniques alive in my digital work because I do imagine a time when I’ll switch back. I don’t want to forget. It’s satisfying having that real object. Photoshop is my weapon of choice with only a few minor adjustments to the default brush settings.
Newer artists are always looking for great art direction in learning – what would you say is the best piece of advice you could give an artist just starting out?
Trace and copy artists you like, but never show or claim this work as your own. Doing this will help you understand how other artists solve their lighting, anatomy, value, composition, color problems, etc. Eventually you will want to move away from this and develop your own technique and understanding of your artistic process. This, and lots of practice.
Did you have any formal training as an artist? What are your thoughts on consistent practice, versus art theory? Does one need both? Can you get by with one or the other?
Yes, I studied at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena where I received a BFA. My major was in Illustration. Art theory means a lot of things to different people, but in answering this question, to me, it means a sense of process and one’s personal taste, or aesthetic. Therefore I feel these two qualities, practice and art theory, go hand in hand. If an artist doesn’t have a sense of what quality is or a skill level they’d like to achieve, their practicing has no direction. This is fine for hobbyists and fine artists, but there is too much competition in the games industry to not have a sense of direction. So practice and figure out what “cool” actually means to you.
Your level of art is Legendary. How long did it take you to get to this level? At what time did you feel like “I’m good enough to be a working artist” ?
Well thanks. It’s awfully kind of you to say, but I still don’t feel like I’m quite there. There a a ton of exceptional artists out there. I’m just lucky enough to have the Blizzard stage to stand on. I am happy with my work some of the time, but believe me, there are often days when I look at my work and think, how did I manage to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes!? I’m still trying to improve.
We’d love to interview uncle Chris and uncle Samwise at some point – do you have any anecdotal art stories from the Blizzard HQ? What role have Chris Metzen and Samwise Didier (amongst other great Blizzard artists) played in shaping your art and creative direction?
Let me tell you, I’m just glad they aren’t creepy Uncles… though sometimes Metzen does hug me for just a little too long. I think Sammy has been wearing the same outfit since I started there–boots with white sock, jean shorts (jorts?), and a button up shirt with some crazy flames lighting up his chest. Luckily, he does wash his hair which makes him smell nice when you walk behind him. Seriously though, if you’ve experienced those guys at BlizzCon, then you know what it’s like to work with them. They are forces of nature and consistent characters. What you see is what you get with those guys and I believe they drive Blizzard’s entire culture. With regards to my artwork, Metzen provides the creative direction to most of my pieces. He’s usually the one responding to my thumbnail drawings and always has a few ideas to add. Sammy chimes in on occasion, but that’s usually when I’m working on Starcraft since he’s the Art Director for that team.
When creating artwork, what kind of reference points do you work from in terms of themes, colour, and anatomical structure? How stringent is the creative direction from the project leaders, and do you have more or less freedom when working?
I’m usually trying to put some realism into my work, but am usually trying to add a lot more “WoW,” “Diablo” or “Starcraft.” So for reference, I will ask for game screenshots and search for photographic reference that supports my ideas for the illustration. However, I’m never a slave to the reference and believe strongly in artistic license and the styles of our brands. I think the ideas I have about being true to the style carry forward into how I interact and submit art to the project leads. They are not stringent, but would be if I was submitting artwork that didn’t follow the house style.
One particular area of your artwork that stands out is your use of colour, and your balanced, yet contrasting lighting. How do you approach colour and light in your work? What advice can you give those wanting to achieve similar results?
For me, it’s all about contrast. Contrasts of lights and darks, warms and cools, detail or lack thereof, and color saturation. All of them serve a purpose in how I want people to perceive the art by creating focal points, depth, and shape read. I will usually save the highest amounts of contrast for faces, which will push people’s eyes towards that point. Other characters or body parts might be slightly darker and less contrasted with other objects in the piece to draw less focus. Backgrounds might be brighter than the character to punch out characters silhouette. Contrast aids in creating a clean read, which is critical on something like a trading card.
We’d read about your passion project, inKarnate, a tabletop RPG creation system. We’re glad your’e still moving forward with it. How has it been creating artwork for a project that is somewhat different in terms of it’s fantasy themes to Blizzards universes?
A lot of my own style I bring to my work at Blizzard, which is why we are a great fit, but there is always some “Blizzard Blue” mixed into my Blizzard work. InKarnate is allowing me to explore my aesthetic with some additional “colors.” It’s a chance for me to have a little more freedom with my work, and to get a little more serious with my style, which is where it existed before my time at Blizzard. At one point I used to draw characters without shoulder pads, I swear.
It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you Glenn! Thanks for the interview.
It was fun, Thank You!
Sons of the Storm: http://www.sonsofthestorm.com
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