The EverQuest II team has some really amazing artists on the team. Jeff Jonas makes all kinds of fun stuff to wear, wield, or ride (there wasn't a good 'w' word, so the alliteration fails). He's incredibly talented and took some time out to chat with us about what he does. Recently he designed the rewards for the 'Shadows of the Betrayed' line. Thanks, Jeff!
What do you draw from for inspiration for your art in EQII?
My role on the EQII team is to create objects that our player characters use, wear, or ride. I am known as a “wearables” guy. A project like this needs thousands of items to make it fun and exciting. Wearables run the gamut from Barbarian helmets, to collector’s capes, and full vampire armor sets, to wieldables such as swords and staffs, to rideables like the hover discs I have created. Other wearables can be backpacks, or armbands. Since our game is “High fantasy” based, I often go to that genre for inspiration when a new wearable set is created. So, of course the Lord of the Rings movies are full of nice touches to emulate. The paintings of the late Keith Parkinson, Frank Frazetta, and many other fantasy artists often give up cool details to emulate.
Often we use our own multiple character alphabets to help embellish items with filigree or patterns, most times these translate into something funny, like a shield that says “hit me” in one of our arcane languages. My main thought when confronting a new item is how to make it appeal to our EQII gamers. I want every piece to have a flair or touch that fits in our world, not anybody elses. I certainly want every item to have somebody say—“oooh I want that for my (fill in the blank) character”…
What’s your favourite part of EQII?
My favorite part of EQII is the immense breadth of space in it…. It has grown into a full world. My favorite place is always Blackburrow, because I don’t like Gnolls. My other favorite thing is our audience of players who sometimes create actual costumes out of my clothing designs. Nothing really shows more love than when somebody is willing to devote a major effort to create a real object from some moving pixels and poly’s in a 3-D game.
What's your favourite thing that you've done for EQII?
Wow, that’s difficult to answer since I have done a lots of favorite things. Sometimes I would answer, “the last thing that everybody liked”…. but that’s copping out! We have been making things for many years now. To keep things fresh we have incorporated ways to streamline and add to our character templates. Since we support over 50 male and female player characters, we need to be careful to change our templates. One way we have made things more interesting is our “snap-on” system that uses offset to add objects to existing templates. This makes it easier to expand the silhouette of many of our wearable sets. The newest exciting technology we implemented was designed by Bill Yeatts, and coded by Brian Belfield. This cool system allows our backpacks to have items swivel and bounce around like real objects kind of do- without additional animator time. This allowed me to make a few popular backpack items such as the Frostfell backpacks of last year, and the latest Brewmeister barrel backpacks. Other backpacks are coming for other tradeskills as well. It’s a lot of fun to see the items bouncing along in our test viewer.
Another favorite item is the Gnomish hoverpad I created for our latest release. Designer par excellence, Emily Taylor, described this as a “tinkerfest/steampunk flying disc”. I ran with the idea and added a few whimsical items like and A-OOOOGA horn, some head lights, and a clanky steam tractor engine, adorned with a stovepipe inspired from Disneyland’s Jungle River ride. This was a fun item since I designed it, built it, and animated it. I don’t do too much animation, so I was happy I was able to save our animators for more over the top projects by doing the simple animations myself.
But I must admit my favorite things are the Frostfell drawings for the gigglegibber goblin storybooks. I don’t do much drawing and illustration, and that was a fun diversion for a few days, and it has always been heartwarming that people are so fond of the characters that I penned in my furtive and sketchy style.
How did you get started in the industry?
Well, hmmm… I am a long term artist that has been around the block a few times. I started off in graphics arts, and publications, which I just fell into it after college (where I studied ancient history of all things). We had no computers back then. It wasn’t until 1984 and the coming of the Macintosh did computers start working their way into commercial art. I then started creating training materials for the US Military here in San Diego California , this is where I first became a computer art-geek. Somehow people liked what I did, and I moved into educational media and software, then the game business started booming in the early nineties. Eventually I got pulled into games by my colleagues that felt I had the sand to do it… maybe they were right!
What are some of the other projects you've worked on?
My first video game was for the SNES- Super Off-Road the Baja. Later on I worked for SEGA, where I worked on a Ren and Stimpy game, the Jurassic Park game, and a few others. I’d say the most famous SEGA title I worked on was Vectorman, where I did backgrounds and my first ever game 3-D artwork— simple spinning icons in the tornado… at least it was a start. I then moved on to Sony Interactive (which is now SOE), where I have had a long and rewarding career at a company that really takes care of it’s people. I worked on Star Wars Galaxies before moving onto EQ II at its launch awhile ago, and have mostly worked on EQII off-and-on ever since.
Do you have any special (or just super fun) projects you're working on now for EQII?
I reckon the new backpacks I alluded to above are the most exciting things upcoming in my work path. Right now I’m focusing on warm garments for certain icy areas, and tinkering with some other items. EQII always has something interesting lined up for me down the trail.
Do you have any advice for aspiring game artists?
I’d recommend flexibility. My path to gaming came a long time after I have been working at art in traditional environments. I learned 3-D on the job, to me it’s not really an art form, but a craft. I feel it’s better to be grounded in art-forms first before focusing on one tool or media. While one is young one should explore all avenues of art, drawing, painting, lithography, graphic design, not just 3-D meshwork and animation. If you are grounded in the basics of art, then success at creating game items, environments, characters, and animation will come easily.