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Interview with Lead Artist Marcel Schaika from Crytek

Recently we got a chance to talk with lead artist Marcel Schaika from Crytek located in Frankfurt, Germany. Crytek is known for the highly successful Crysis series games and their popular gaming engine as well.

Greetings Marcel, first off what made you want to get into the gaming industry and choose 3D Art?

I’ve always been very passionate about gaming and I’m also a very curious person. I wanted to learn how games work and how to make them. Since the mid and late 90′s, a lot of games have shipped with a Level Editor. I spent quite some time making levels for games like Half Life, NOLF and Unreal that I later played together with my friends on small LAN parties. It was just a hobby back then. After a while I got more into 3d tools to create content for my levels and slowly shifted more towards that and went a bit away from level design.

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How important is a traditional art background in your position?

The more experience I have the more important traditional art becomes in my job.

In the beginning, you focus a lot on smaller assets. Solving technical issues like baking normal maps and learning tools is what keeps you busy most of the time. Later, when you own entire levels, traditional art skills like color theory and composition become much more important.

When you are not creating art, what do you do to fill your time, or relax?

Since making games/art is really important to me, everything I do in my free time is kinda related to it, in a good way. I try to get inspired by books, architecture, movies, music and many other things. I also like traveling a lot, I find these all serve as great motivators to my creative side.

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If you were not working in games what do you think you would like to do?

I like to create things with my hands. I would probably make music or build furniture or something like that.

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Describe a typical work day at Crytek.

A typical day at Crytek is quite unspectacular to be honest. You come to work in the morning, get your coffee, get the latest build of the game you’re working on, read your mails and then you go straight into the zone. The day usually ends in one of the many beer Gardens or Pubs we have in Frankfurt.

Any crazy workplace habits?

Not really, the only thing that might be worth mentioning is that I always have some modeling clay on my desk, it helps me to relax. People also use it to sculpt funny characters or objects which end up pretty much everywhere in the company. I find that subtle humor between colleagues can often drive the team mentality and creative spark. Yes goofing off can help work flow if done correctly haha.

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The Crysis games are known for the crazy amount of detail and realism, how do you handle the pressure of pushing the graphics even further for each game?

We have a great desire for nice tech and visuals and also great graphics programmers and artists. So with the combination of all of these people it becomes more of a natural thing that just happens. We all want to push the envelop and right when we figure out something we think is amazing then create a world or game around it, we think of something we want to do to make it even better. Great art is always something that is in progress, striving to find that inner perfection.

Imagine there’s a pie chart in front of you equaling 100. How much time would you say is dedicated to each task; modeling, texturing, unwrapping uvs, creating materials, lighting and set dressing?

Hmmm good question! The last level I worked on was the third one in Crysis 3. I think I spent 2 months doing the block out of the level, 6-7 months modelling and texturing and another 2-3 months of set dressing, polishing and optimization.

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How important is the pre-production phase to your pipeline?

As in many other areas a good pre-production is the key to a great game. If the base isn’t there it’s really hard to pull off a good game.

Do you work from reference or concept art?

We work a lot from references and a few concepts as well. You can’t get a concept for everything in the game though, so you should be able to fill the gaps on your own. If you’re stuck or need help you can always grab a concept artist and solve the problem together. Taking screen grabs of blocked out areas in 3d, paired with general reference can serve as a great start to do a paintover for ideas as well.

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What’s your predictions on the next console generations.

I think the industry went quite far in terms of rendering quality already (DX11), so it’s going to be hard to make huge steps in that direction. I can imagine that dynamics like cloth, destructibility, particles etc. are going to be improved the most compared to the old gen.

What are your favorite aspects of 3d Studio Max? What would you want to see added in the coming years?

I really like that Max is a good all rounder. I never felt like it is limiting me in any way. I can’t really point out a specific feature that I like though. Like any other tool Max has its pros and cons but for now I tend to use the most basic functions of the tool to achieve the looks I create.

What advice can you give people looking to do what you do?

I never thought I would make games professionally. That was not the reason why I started. I just kept doing what I loved the most and what got me excited the most and it kinda worked out.

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Lastly, since Crytek is located overseas in Germany wheres your favorite spot to vacation in Europe?

Europe is full of awesome locations. I am really happy that I live in a place with so much culture and history. Venice is probably the most unique place I’ve seen so far. Very busy but beautiful!

Any closing words for your readers?

First of all, thanks for giving me the chance to talk to you about my job, It was a lot of fun! I hope there are still many people out there who love making and playing games. It is a great medium that always needs new passionate people with fresh ideas!

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