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  • Interviewed August 2020 by Adam Gidney

    BOX=ART Hi Roger!  What inspired you to become an artist?
    Roger Motzkus - Art was something I did as a youth just for fun. My mom would get me rolls of butcher paper to draw on and color with markers. I'd make posters and hang them in my room. So, I enjoyed it, and the validation that I was good at it was rewarding. I wasn’t popular socially at school, so art was something that I could feel good about within. I had a great HS instructor that expanded my skills and vision of art as a career.

    I submitted my portfolio to the University of Utah and got a full-ride scholarship. During that time was when becoming an Illustrator became my emphasis. Part of that decision was the advice at the time was that "It takes 10 years to make a living as a Fine Artist." I was better at using art to tell stories than Fine Art, or what we used to call "couch paintings." While in College I was able to work in television animation doing storyboards and layout for shows like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and that taught me a great deal.

    I really wanted to do something for a living that seemed challenging and meaningful, and I am grateful that doors opened to make that a reality. By the time I got my degree I was doing enough freelance work to keep busy.

    How did you break into the video game industry?
    The first game box cover I did came through my first Rep. in NYC called "Berlin Wall" for Sega/Game Gear. It paid well and it got a lot of promotion but for some reason, as far as I know, the game didn't make it to the shelves.

    How did you get the DOOM (PS1 box art) gig?
    I paid for promotional advertising in large source books like the Workbook. The Fatal Fury commission came from that, so it's possible that the Doom commission came from those recognitions. Artists don't always know the direct source, I was just grateful for the work!

    What was the process you went through from initial brief to finished piece?
    The process does depend on the client. Some Art directors present a very strong vision, others leave a lot up to the artist. Usually I’m given a thumbnail sketch that is a very rough composition that shows where text and logos need to be placed. Then, I send loose drawing with modifications from imagination that is closer to the vision that I feel that I can execute the most strongly.

    Once that is approved I hire models to act out that vision and search for photo reference material. (Before the internet I had to go to the library to look through books for photographs of specific background or prop reference if it wasn’t something that I could not obtain to photograph in person.) Often the models come up with poses or expressions that I might not have considered, which is something I hope for; and with models in front of me I can then tell what will work and what won’t and I adapt as I go.

    After looking at all the photographs (which can be from dozen to hundreds) I send the client a new sketch with refined composition based on the photographs and what I invent from imagination. For the DOOM art, I was given faxes and inkjet prints of the 8 bit characters, so I had some leeway to imagine what they might look like. After faxing xerox copies of the full size drawing to the Art Director, (the DOOM piece was 40” tall, so I’d have to make copies in sections and the drawing would have to be pieced together by the client), the Art Director makes changes.

    For the DOOM art I had to make changes to the poses of the shooter and some changes to the creatures. The Art Director was very picky at this stage. Once there is approval of the composition I go to final art. That’s the most fun stage and it took about a week. Once completed I’d box up and ship the art to the client and they’d see the color art for the first time. Occasionally, the art would be shipped back to me for modifications and changes. This may have happened for the DOOM piece. There Art Director made a few changes digitally based on what the client wanted, so there is some difference between what is on the box and the original art. The Art Director and I both preferred the original art, but that’s how it goes in commercial art.

    What media did you use on your box arts?
    My art is done on “illustration board” which is a very thick paper material which I coat with gesso to give it the surface I need and to add texture. The initial “under drawing” is done with graphite, charcoal and Prismacolor pencils. This has full values and detail. I put a transparent glaze of acrylic paint with a paint brush or airbrush over the drawing. Then more Prismacolor pencils or painting with a brush on top of that for the remaining highlights and details.

    Do you have a favourite personal box art?
    Not really, that question is like asking who your favorite child is, but one thing that I loved about the DOOM and Powerslave art was the opportunity to portray dramatic action and fantasy elements, like the creatures.

    However, one memorable box art commissions was one having to do with women’s beach volleyball. I got it from another artist that couldn’t pull it off. He hired strippers as models and when I did a sketch for it the feedback from the Art Director was “make the boobs bigger and the bathing suit smaller.” So I did another sketch and got the same feedback. This happened 3 times… It’s probably for the best that, as far as I know, this game never hit the shelves. I love doing game box art because the process was never dull!

    What artists have inspired you?
    There are so many... I’m inspired by different things by different artists. Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyedecker for emotional expressions and stylistic characterizations. Maxfield Parrish for colors, Bernie Fuchs, David Grove, Michael Dudash and Mark English for their technique and compositions. And the movie posters of Bob Peak, Steven Chorney and Drew Struzan have all been huge influences on my work.

    Were you ever involved in any other aspects of video game design?
    Yes. I did an internship at a game company for a few months learning how to do 3D modeling in Maya with the intention of working there. But, the company was more interested in tech savvy than artistic ability and the studio went bankrupt. I very much prefer working in natural art media so I never had the opportunity to fully developed those skills.

    Did you always enjoyed illustrating?
    There is something to be said about “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Many “jobs” are not very meaningful personally and we do what we must to make ends meet. To make it as an illustrator, you had to absolutely love every part of the process. I remember barreling down a crowded LA freeway in an absolute panic trying to meet a clients needs. It felt like organized chaos. But a part of me finds that thrilling. When a client is happy, and my work is seen all over the world (and you can at least make ends meet) it is personally fulfilling to have met the challenge.   

    Have you ever been a gamer?
    In the sense that for some it’s a life passion, no. But I have enjoyed playing some video games. I wasn’t much into the “shoot ‘em up” type, but I did enjoy the games that required puzzle solving. I made it through to the end of most of the Tomb Raider games!  

    Any other points of interest/ anecdotes?
    One story is that I had a college illustration class from Utah come visit my studio in CA, along with a few other  illustrator’s studios. The instructor called me and said that most of his students changed their majors afterwards. They had ideas in their heads about being an illustrator that just didn’t match reality. It isn’t living in a beach house or loft studio up in the mountains and satisfying personal creative expressions.

    Students were shocked at the amount of time and work it took to produce the kinds of illustrations we were doing. It was not uncommon for artists to go days without sleep to meet deadlines, and sometimes there were last minute client directed major changes that needed to be made. Entertainment industries paid the best, but the higher the profile the commission, the higher the stress.

    In reality, Illustration is a lot like any service industry. You have to do what the client wants or you don’t get paid. Sometimes what is asked is great and the artists vision is respected, occasionally things were not great. Clients are not artists, and not all art directors are of high caliber. It is true that “art by committee produces bad art.” All commercial art markets went through a significant shift when art came to be done via computer. One art director said “Once there is enough clip art out there on the net we won’t even need you illustrators.”

    And with the computer being such a powerful tool, second and even third rate artists could produce professional looking work very fast and very cheaply. This may have been ideal from a business perspective, but came at a high cost in the level of art. Understanding of artistic principles and the Visual Elements increasingly became a lost art. Colleges and Universities were cranking out students that were proficient in software packages but didn’t even know the basics of how to draw.

    With the decline of many art markets after 911 and again in 2008 very few artists could make a living doing illustration. Before the rise of digital art, clients were more reasonable in respecting the artists. Art directors came to expect to be a part of the process and changed the art themselves. Many seasoned illustrators had to reinvent themselves and use their skills to transition into doing gallery art or some other work and did art as a part time gig.

    What is your reflection on the interest your box art amasses today?
    As to the situation currently, when I talk to collectors and “fans” of different genres of art – like gamers – I am inspired by their passion and appreciation! The fact that I get contacted from someone in another part of the world asking about a piece of art that I did 30 years ago is very humbling. The box art that was thrown away at the time has a new appreciation. And, new art markets continue to pop up for illustrators. It appears to me that the Millennial generation in particular, is seeing how hollow so much of the digital imagery has become. Something that is hand-made has one of a kind value. The thriving Comic Con atmosphere has become a phenomenon. There is a lot to be said for something done purely for love of the craft and for personal expression. That’s a beautiful thing!

    Thanks Roger!

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