When Chris Anderson (Illustration, 2000) visited Columbus College of Art & Design for the first time as a high schooler eager to make his already ambitious art practice into a career, he was struck most by the quality of the art on the walls in campus buildings.
“There were oil paintings that looked like they were done by masters, and I said, ‘I want to be that,’” he said.
Mission accomplished — Anderson today is living a lot of artists’ dreams, creating concept characters, environments, vehicles and more as a principal concept artist at BioWare’s studio in Austin, Texas. He’s contributed to MMORPGs like “Lord of The Rings” and “Star Wars: The Old Republic.” (MMORPGs, for the uninitiated, are “massively multiplayer online role-playing games,” which combine role-playing games and online games with a number of players interacting with one another.)
Oh, and his art did indeed make it to CCAD’s hallowed walls, too.
Raised in a rough neighborhood in Rochester, New York, Anderson saw art not just as a beloved hobby (he’d been obsessed with drawing cicadas, birds and other animals and insects from a very young age) but as a path to a steady career and a better life. He entered CCAD interested in illustration and wound up majoring in it, but he also discovered 2D animation, which became his minor. He had an epiphany in an animation storyboarding class.
“I felt a strong connection with what was being taught in class: I can tell a story with art, sound, and animation. Even to this day, these moments stick with me and drive me,” he said.
He likens life as a concept artist to that of a film actor — you work on one project for a while, it wraps up and you move on to the next thing. Some game studios come and go, or they expand and contract staffs as games rise and taper off. After adjusting to the sudden changes that the game industry can bring, he found an enjoyment for focusing as hard as he could on the visual themes of one project, and then shifting gears when that game would come to completion and new opportunities would arise. No matter where he’s working, he is still as focused on building and diversifying his portfolio as he was as a student at CCAD. And he’s definitely still learning.
“I like being as viable as possible. My goal is to get as great as I can be. Not to mention, times change, techniques change. So you’ve got to change with the times,” he said.
Being a concept artist wasn’t a widely known profession when Anderson graduated in 2000. But in the 17 years since, the needs of the concept industry have evolved at whiplash speed, becoming more nuanced, more sophisticated, more diverse. Although concept art techniques change as art needs change for game and film companies evolve, the fundamentals Anderson learned at CCAD remain the same.
“Everything I do comes from what I learned at CCAD,” he said. He thinks daily about the rules he learned in Color Concept class. And when he paints characters for a game, he’s still using the exact paint techniques and brushes he used at CCAD. It’s just that now, those tools exist in Photoshop.
Anderson is driven by his love of art. But he’s also driven by a sense of urgency to make himself a great choice for future employers. It’s an intersection of love and money that he’s been comfortable with since he was a teenager.
“When I was around 15, living in a part of town that was becoming more violent, my future seemed grim if I didn’t find a way to get out. Sometimes a person wants to be an artist just for the fun of it, and that’s great and should be encouraged because it brings joy to your life,” Anderson said. “But then you have the people who want to make a living and have fun with it. For the people who desire to do both, I have a message: What kind of urgency do you have?”
CCAD alum Chris Anderson has contributed concept art for environments, vehicles, characters — you name it — for some big-name MMORPGs. A few:
“Star Wars: The Old Republic” (BioWare/EA)
“Lord of The Rings” (Turbine/Warner Bros.)
“Tabula Rasa” (NCSOFT)
“Robot Rising” (Tencent)
“Warhammer” (Mythic Entertainment)