In this week’s Meet the Trendy Team, we spoke with Art Director Ben Greene about what he does at Trendy, what drives him and his thoughts on creativity.
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. First of all, who are you, and what do you do at Trendy?
Hey, thanks for having me! My name is Ben Greene, and I am one of the art directors here at Trendy. I started as a lead concept artist and have been with the studio for about 2.5 years now. I’ve helped in varying capacities on many different projects since I’ve been here and have gotten the chance to work with a number of amazingly talented people along the way.
Is this your first job in the gaming industry?
Before joining Trendy, I worked with a few other studios on their projects , some that launched and many that never will. That’s just how it goes though!
To be in a leadership role like I am (even if I got here sooner than expected), it requires some amount of previous experience. Without that previous experience I would not understand what a good leader looks like in this industry. It makes all the difference.
What drew you to Trendy?
Trendy offered a cool opportunity. They had some cool projects that aligned with my interests, in fact those kinds of projects were a career goal at the time. I was introduced to Trendy through a former workmate (our lead level designer Ben Burkart), and Trendy happened to be looking for a lead concept artist to help out. I was talking with a couple of other studios at the time, but Trendy was the only one offering the project that I really wanted to be a part of!
When and how did you decide to pursue being an artist?
I’m not quite sure. I mean, art has kind of always just been my thing. When I was about four, I started making bad drawings of dragons, dinosaurs, alien cat beasts and so on. From that point on, I just kept drawing and quickly decided that being an astronaut, race-car driver or fireman was child’s play!
Where do you draw creative inspiration from?
First it was mostly dinosaurs, then at about 8 I discovered superheroes and comics. In my early teens I got back into dinos and dragons (while still loving superheroes), and then, in my late teens, I started getting into more visually bizarre, psychological horror stuff like Silent Hill and the works of Brom. I mixed those themes with illustrations revolving around theology, emotion and storytelling. These days my inspiration comes from trying different themes, styles, storytelling, design exploration…whatever. I’d say all of those inspirations from my past still accent everything I do today.
What’s your daily routine?
Haha, man, I can’t say that I have one, really. I get in and check my email, check in with my artists, and either start replying to emails, helping with visual development needs (concept art mostly) and trying to keep track of my head as more things pile on throughout the day. It gets crazy sometimes, heh. I like the business though, and it always feels good to get a solid day’s work in before heading home!
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I was once nominated for a British Sci-Fi Association award. I made it all the way to the finalist round, too. That was unexpected and cool. There have been other little things here and there, but nothing amazing has ever really happened that I can recall. Every artist wants to be known and make their mark. Sometimes it happens early on, and sometimes it happens later. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. I’d like to see something big happen with my work someday, but for now I’m just doing my thing and trying to make a living.
Do you have a favorite piece of artwork that you made?
A personal favorite of my own? That’s always a difficult question to answer. Most of the time I don’t care for my work a couple days, maybe even hours, after I complete something. All I can see are the problems with it. I also don’t have a lot of time for personal work, so most of the stuff I do I am not allowed to show off. I’ve included a couple of pieces with this interview (both personal and work done for clients) that I dig though.
Do you have any preferred subjects, and why?
Like I mentioned earlier, I really enjoy mixing elements of humor and the macabre, exploring abstract ideas, and telling a bit of a story. I tend to veer towards the fantasy and horror genres or alternate/parallel reality stories. There is just a lot of freedom of interpretation and visual design when you explore worlds like that. I can’t get enough of it!
How has your work developed over the years?
I think it has gotten more consistent. I explore fewer stylistic options as I have found what really does and doesn’t work for me. Don’t get me wrong, I continue to push myself and explore and grow, but I am less unsure of how to approach an image than I was a few years ago. I think it should be noted that when I switched from an interest in working in comics to an interest in working in games, film and illustration, I thought I needed to drastically change my approach to art, my style, my thinking, when in fact, that hurt my art for a couple of years…maybe longer. I could have been where I am today a whole lot sooner if I’d been true to the foundation arts and drawing abilities I already knew. I’ve certainly learned a ton from personal study and practice since then, and because of learning those lessons the hard way, I have a better ability and passion to help younger artists move past those difficult and sometimes confusing hurdles more quickly. Sometimes all it takes is someone to point you in the right direction.
What do you like the most about your job?
I really enjoy design challenges. Like when gameplay needs a prop to function the same way in multiple environment settings, and we have to figure out how that might change the way the prop looks or animates. It’s like a visual puzzle, and it’s a fun challenge… or it can be after it’s solved, haha.
Besides that I enjoy the artists that I get to work with here. They are some of the best and most driven I have had the privilege to know.
What do you wish you could change about your job?
Well, let me take a look at the broader industry and comment on what I have experienced and am seeing/reading about (whether from friends or articles) and quickly comment on that.
There are a lot of creative, talented, driven individuals out there that are, sadly, experiencing the heavy hand of people under the influence of money fever. I think few people get into this industry because they want to become rich. This is a creative industry, most of us want to do just that, create. Most of us just want to make a living, and there’s also nothing wrong with wanting to make a lot of money, unless that becomes your goal and you lose sight of the creative industries beginnings… to explore, to discover, to create and to share for the enjoyment and delight of others.
Creative people (and if you are one then you probably already know this) thrive in creative environments. Companies need certain amounts of structure to guide the production of creative projects, but what we’ve been seeing a lot of is large, money-focused companies turning their “teams” into disgruntled, unappreciated logs for the money machine. Small, creative, money budgeting teams (team is an important word, too) have started rising from these ashes or as a result of a distaste for the lack of truly creative endeavors being pursued. We’re seeing odd and innovative projects continually capturing the spotlight and winning the awards and making plenty of money, sometimes more than enough, for the teams to live off of and continue to inspire the world.
I think that the game industry in particular is at a point where it needs to grow up. I’m not talking about it becoming corporate. I’m saying it needs to get its jive together, realize what has been working for the best studios and get rid of the trash that hasn’t. One successful studio I was acquainted with had a wonderful slogan, “You’ve got to have fun to make fun,” and it’s true. The creative spirit needs to be energized and cultivated in order to make great entertainment for the rest of the world.
Put succinctly, I think the industry needs a bit of a revolutionary infrastructure overhaul. I am trying to do my part to try new methods of team organization and leadership.
What are your top five favorite games?
I’m going to cheat a bit on this, sorry. Baldur’s Gate (both of them), S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (wonderful mood), Silent Hill (1-3), Mass Effect … and either Borderlands (1 and 2) or Dead Space (1 and 2).
Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy while you’re not working?
I really enjoy collecting animal skeletons. I have several that I want to reconstruct and display eventually. My wife and I are working on a trilogy of illustrated novels. I love watching movies, playing games, hiking (if I get the chance) and hanging with friends and family.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I’m kind of a Brony, haha.
Are there any particular artists that we should know about?
The art team here at Trendy is super diverse, driven and talented! You should get to know as many of them as you can, because I’m sure they will all make big names for themselves one day, if they already haven’t. Here is a selection of links from some of the artists.
As far as artists I find inspiring right now:
John Foster is always amazing.
Daniel Dociu has epic vision for environments.
Dylan Cole is an inspirational matte painter.
Ian McQue nails it every time.
Paperblue (can’t remember his name). Drool.
Laurel Austen is just too good.
Kazuo Oga blows my mind. (Please Google him.)
James Jean has a wonderful mind.
Ruan Jia is dreamy.
Jaime Jones — wish I could paint this freely.
Bruno Gentile is a long-time favorite.
Zdzislaw Beksinski was wonderfully dark.
As if that wasn’t enough, here are some awesome friends of mine (besides the people I work with):
Sean Andrew Murray
I’m probably forgetting people, sorry. :S
What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter the industry?
Dream big, work hard, study, practice, reach out for help when you are lost and be suitably persistent. Don’t be a bother to companies or persons but keep submitting new work or updated portfolios. If there is a kind of game or a kind of company you want to be a part of, build a portfolio that shows it! Be flexible, considerate, and as much as possible, get rid of your pride because that can be a “team” killer.
You can look at more of Ben’s art at his websites:
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