Interviewed July 2015 by Adam Gidney
BOX=ART – Welcome Steinar! How did you get your break into designing video game box arts?
Steinar Lund - Well, I got to do some of the early covers for Quicksilva (early influential Spectrum developer). That was my first taste of it. I knew the two guys (Nick Lambert and John Hollis) who ran Quicksilva on music terms through the group of people we hung out with. We weren’t really close friends, but enough so we could call around on each other.
Was there much art direction as to what Quicksilva wanted or did you have free reign?
It obviously had to go with what the game was about, asteroids or whatever. As time went by though and Quicksilva became bigger there was more art direction. Normally there would be one person who’d be your main contact in regard to design, in the case of Quicksilva it was Mark Eyles. Sometimes there would be more people involved such as when I worked with Domark [Games] (publisher/ developer, late 80’s).
How was it decided at Quicksilva who got what box art to work on?
You did need to be flexible as to whatever was being worked on, but there was also the time aspect and who was available to do it. You see, a lot of the time you weren’t given much notice to do the covers, sometimes it was days!
Were you freelance or employed by them?
No, it was freelance. That was normal for back then. I know Dave (John Rowe, fellow Quicksilva box artist) and the other illustrators at Quicksilva were.
You then started designing for Melbourne House?
That’s right. I took Melbourne House some Quicksilva test illustrations and that went ok, so I started to do artworks for them also. I then started to go to some of the trade shows - in fact Dave (John Rowe) was very helpful with that. We used to go to the game shows together hauling our portfolios around.
It’s interesting that in those early days game trade shows and computer magazines were the places where people purchased video games. But Quicksilva and your box arts helped make the change and get these games on to store shelves…
Well you know Quicksilva were using photocopies or photo-graphics in the beginning when they were still working from home. The first releases were just black and white photocopies or something. But they were then getting hoards of requests for the games; the post was piling up where they lived! They were making money from the word go.
What was the art media you were using back then and the process once an artwork was finished and submitted?
The media used was a mix of inks and acrylics on smooth illustration board specifically made for airbrushing, a sturdy combination.
Ideally you’d have the artwork photographed and have a large 5:4 inch positive transparency made. They could also be stripped so they could go on a drum scanner, but most of us didn’t like that as there was a higher chance of the artwork being damaged.
Did you tend to get the artworks back after you’d submitted them?
Mostly. Quicksilva gave me a very good deal so they retained some of them. Other companies also bought them, Chrysalis tended to buy everything I did for them, but other times they went missing or were never returned.
What kind of wage would you get for a box art in that period?
I have a 1984 invoice here for Dragonsbane (Quicksilva game) and that was £300.
Did you have to ever cater box arts early on for markets outside of Europe?
Only later on with Impressions Games on games such as Space Bucks (1995). When anything had to appeal to an American company it had to be plain frank, you couldn’t be more conceptual in design like you could with the British companies. The art had to be a more straight interpretation of the game for the Americans.
You started working with Jeff Minter by 1983. How did that come about?
That’s right, I met him through the trade shows, he quite liked the more surreal art I was doing and we both liked Pink Floyd; that seemed to seal things! I started doing a lot for him. He gave me a lot of free reign, I would do various visuals, pencils, and he would go with what caught his eye most.
Moving on to the 90’s, how did you start working with developer/ publisher Microprose?
Again the tradeshows. As I’m sure you’ve noticed quite a few of my military artworks came out of there. They were quite photographic, I hadn’t really thought about it but it fitted in well with my style of doing things at the time. I actually contacted the companies who made the jets and they sent me reference photographs, along with a little card saying you don’t need to thank us or have to reply!
Did the art media change on the military box arts compared to your early works?
It was still the same. I had started to use erasers to take away some of the surface, so if I wanted to get a very low highlight, low in intensity, then I would use that, and if needed add white on top of that. It helped to get a more textured, grungy look to the military machines.
The rate of box art work had slowed by the mid-90’s and you moved on, what was the reason?
It did drop off, it was the time when computers started to become more available for art design, some of them were hugely expensive for doing photographic and art design and that was probably the end of it for me on the box art front.
You never learnt the art packages at that time?
No, like I said they were horrendously expensive, nothing like it is nowadays!
I’ve found as well that by the mid-90’s marketing teams were being used instead of artists for promotional work…
Yeah, with some. I think I did one with Jeff Minter that was actually released to another company and I had to deal with them in the sense of what the artwork would look like. So yes, they would take over more of that type of role.
What is your favourite box art that you have designed?
Probably some of the military ones, and Return of the Jedi. The apache one is a favourite, the one with the yellow sky behind it (Gunship, 1989 – used as promotion art).
Lets cover the design of some of your classic box arts. Tell me about the Last Ninja. It’s probably one of your most recognisable ones…
Yes it probably is. I was actually looking for references. I think it must have been a martial arts magazine and I remember a ninja figure, the background was very dark, almost like black on black, and it struck me then that you don’t need a lot to say ‘it’s a ninja’, you just need the eyes behind that mask.
The eyes are still a bit cartoonish, looking a bit too big for it to be realistic. I was using a mirror and a pipet to get the sweat drops going down, where the eyes sort of dip. Also, the eyebrows aren’t showing anger but the eyelids are, it’s a Tibetan technique that they used to give that serious look. I remember Roger Dean (famous fantasy box artist) saying he used that technique.
Ok, well that was a fun one. I was sharing a studio with other people at the time, one of the girls there did some work with the police and she let me borrow a police helmet. The guy posing is a friend, he’s a keen science fiction fan. Obviously I enhanced the helmet to make it more sci-fi, and had specific lighting on him to get the shadowing.
That’s another military based one; I used the same technique mentioned earlier about using paints and the eraser to get the highlights on the rubber mask.
You were using a lot of models back then?
I would use models. There’s Prison (1988) that I did for Krisalis (publisher/ developer). That guy I knew quite well, he was a musician and a martial artist and could be quite mean looking, that’s why I asked him to pose!
With Alcatraz (1990) I’d gone to a gun club as I wanted a proper gun reference and I got the guy there to pose for me, but the video game company didn’t like the face so I based it on mine!
Did you enjoy doing all of these box arts or was it just a job?
Certainly the military ones were enjoyable, I liked rubbing in the highlights and seeing it take shape. Mostly it was enjoyable, but sometimes when the timeline was tight it could be stressful.
And finally who has been an influence on your art style over the years.
Back when I was in 6th form it was the surrealists and Salvador Dali mainly, but also Roger Dean. I’ve always been into music, so Dean’s covers for albums were an influence. I bought a lot of the art books at the time. Roger Dean had a publishing company called Dragons Dream, and they produced some really nice books of different artists such as Chris Foss the sci-fi painter. Jim Burns was another sci-fi artist I admired, his style and ‘hardware designs’ were quite unique.
There were also two American artists called Mouse and Kelley, they did album covers for Styx, Grateful Dead, and Steve Miller band: very airbrushed. Another is Maxfield Parrish the artist and illustartor from the US. He was very influential in his use of colour. His painting, Daybreak (1922), is atmospheric and dreamy with such an eloquent use of colour and light
I was also impressed by the level of rendering of the Photorealist movement (1960s - 1970s), especially John Salt from the UK. This was reflected in my military type box arts and illustrations.