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Alex Rublev, RocketBrush Studio: "AI is on everyone's lips these days, the game art industry included."

As gaming continues to grow, companies are keeping up with the latest technologies, and incorporating AI tools is fast becoming the norm.

More tech-savvy gamers, artists, producers, and content creators see the opportunity for development in the gaming industry. As experts have stated, with warp speed changes on the rise, keeping up with demand is important now more than ever. Creating immersive games with stunning graphics is no easy feat. Especially when contending with high-resolution mobile gaming, VR, and AR tech.

To share more about the ever-changing gaming industry, we interviewed Alex Rublev, CEO and Founder of RocketBrush Studio – a fast-growing game art studio offering outsourcing services for development companies around the world.

How did the idea of RocketBrush Studio originate? What has your journey been like so far?

Starting a game art studio was off my radar initially. I was into business and IT startups, which were incredibly stressful and delivered limited results. So, I opted for a regular job at a game development company. But, the company hit financial trouble, which nudged me towards freelancing. I decided to work and focus on the field of game UI, which I was familiar with and enjoyed.

As I freelanced for international clients, the workload increased. I faced a decision: raise my prices or start my business. Unsure if clients would pay more for a solo freelancer, I chose the latter. In 2016, I created a website. I posted my portfolio and some projects from artist friends and hired a client manager. That's how the RocketBrush team was born.

At first, we were two working with freelance artists on various projects. The manager's pay was often commission-based. My priority was to ensure everything turned out top-notch. That's why I was personally active in scouting for artists, negotiated with them, gave them extensive feedback, and worked tirelessly to improve our output.

Alongside, it was vital for me to make us agile and client-oriented. These efforts quickly paid off, resulting in regular clients and increased orders. This success enabled our growth into a full-fledged studio with streamlined processes and a larger team.

Today, over 100 talented individuals make up the RocketBrush Studio. It makes me proud that both small and major companies, such as Paradox Interactive, AppLovin, and G5 Entertainment, place their trust in us.

Do you have a "secret" for creating game art content that sets you apart from other studios?

Well, we're all about helping game devs craft visual experiences for gamers. We dive into everything—from graphics, characters, and environments to interfaces. Sometimes, we even take on the entire visual side of a game. That includes shaping its style, crafting 2D and 3D assets, illustrations, and full-blown scenes. It's no small feat, and the key to nailing it? A mix of things.

Experience is a big one. At RocketBrush Studio, some of our team members have been involved in game content creation for over a decade. We've tackled more than 150 projects, each with unique challenges and styles. This track record is vital for our clients— everyone has different needs and goals, and our broad experience helps us tailor our approach to each new project. And we're always looking to up our game, regularly reviewing our work to find ways to improve.

But experience isn't everything. Each project comes with its own set of challenges — different pipelines, complexities, and depths of development, not to mention styles. To get under the skin of a game and craft content that hooks gamers right from the get-go, we must stay in close contact with our clients. It's crucial for a thorough project analysis, which is a must for finding the right solutions and crafting visuals that truly fit the game.

What are the pros and cons of outsourcing game graphics for developers?

The biggest benefit for developers is undoubtedly the ability to scale quick production. It doesn’t matter if you are a large enterprise or a small team. When projects grow and deadlines loom, content is a must here and now. There's no time to hire and onboard new staff, making an outsourcing studio like RocketBrush invaluable. We have over 100 employees. So, if you tell me today that you need to speed up content production, new artists will be working on your project within a week. You won't spend time or money searching for them.

Outsourcing also makes life easier for developers by getting rid of unnecessary complications. Creating game art is intricate, requiring careful management, adherence to deadlines, and accurate execution of the developer's vision. RocketBrush Studio handles these aspects, along with staff training, motivation, equipment, and social support.

For smaller teams, there's another advantage. We use artists with extensive game art experience, some having over a decade in the field. Such expertise is not easy to find in every major project, but outsourcing allows any developer to tap into it.

There can be downsides, like the risk of the studio not quite getting the style the client has in mind. This usually happens with less experienced teams. But, these risks get minimized in larger studios like RocketBrush. We have finely-tuned processes and a team of seasoned artists who've consistently proven themselves. Our success is reflected in the studio’s track record: many of our 100+ clients keep coming back with new projects, and some have been with RocketBrush since we started in 2016.

Can you share your approach to creating game art that captures the essence of a game's world and engages players on an emotional level?

As I said, it's all about doing a deep-dive analysis. When crafting content for the project, it's key to delve into its style. We think about how to shape the game for flawless alignment with the vision, ensuring it hits the mark.

It's super crucial since it helps us to wrap our heads around the project and then get on with the next steps. That's in picking out colors and lighting, shaping the game's mood, and sorting out the details and sizes of objects and characters. All these bits and pieces create a world that gamers will dive into.

We use this way of doing things for everything. Whether we are working on our idea or a client's project, proper analysis ensures excellent game implementation and vivid emotions for gamers.

What role does concept art play in the game art development process? How do you collaborate with game designers to bring their vision to life?

Creating concept art comes right after we've analyzed the project. This step is super important because it helps us fine-tune the game's look, feel, and overall vibe. This is essential for making the assets at the final stage of the project.

But actually, we start working with game designers even before we dive into the concept art. They give us tons of helpful info, like the graphic needs, the details about characters, environments, and game objects, and the big picture of the project. So, here's how we do it – we start by breaking down the main idea of the game, then we go through all the technical stuff and briefs, ask any questions, and gather any missing info.

This way, we make sure we're on the same page as the game designers. Completely understanding the idea we're trying to bring to life, we end up creating concept art that truly fits the project.

What are some of the key factors game developers should consider when choosing game art assets for their projects?

Selecting game art assets involves a few key considerations. First, remember the findings from your analysis — the genre of your game, your target audience, and the experience level of your players.

Next, the artistic style deserves a good deal of focus. It must align with the game's lore and narrative, highlight key gameplay features, and even aid in navigating the user interface. We delved deep into this in our article, How to Choose the Art Style That Fits Your Game.

The artistic style, along with concept art, will guide you in selecting assets that will captivate players. Also, remember it's not enough to only design individual game elements in isolation.

The assets must come together to form a cohesive visual experience. Equally important are the color schemes and textures. All these elements combine to create a game that players will want to revisit time and time again.

How did the recent global events affect your field of work? Were there any new challenges you had to adapt to?

The recent global events brought a series of changes. On the practical side, many companies downsized, but luckily, we weren’t affected. We didn’t need to close offices or change business processes during the pandemic since we’ve always operated remotely. It's interesting, but our order count actually increased. The isolation resulted in a boom in the entertainment and gaming industries.

On an emotional level, the recent events have touched everyone in the studio. We recognize that and give our team the space to bounce back. We stay involved in their lives and support them when needed. It’s crucial for us that everyone feels comfortable and finds joy in their work. Also, to maintain our bond, we continue to chat, conduct online team-building activities, meditate, learn new languages, and even watch series together.

In what ways do you think games and game art cultures will continue to evolve in the future? What potential future advancements or innovations do you envision in this field?

For sure, AI is on everyone's lips these days, the gaming industry included. At RocketBrush, we're going beyond the talk and actively bringing in new tech, specifically Stable Diffusion. It's a unique solution with a user-friendly editor and model training feature.

The only hitch? It's power-hungry. So, I've set up a dedicated server and special software, allowing everyone in the company to access Stable Diffusion via a Slack bot, regardless of their hardware. Plus, we offer training for our artists to help them get the hang of it.

On asset development with AI, we have three main approaches. "References only" involves generating references based on mood, angle, and lighting to quickly zero in on the work direction. "Generate first" starts with generation for rapid iteration followed by manual refinement. And "generate later" has the artist creating the base manually, with the neural network speeding up art prep by rendering over the base. But remember, the artist always fine-tunes the final results.

It's also crucial to note that we discuss neural network usage with each client. We tailor our approach to their preferences, whether they're excited about the perks of AI or prefer entirely original work from artists.

Looking ahead, our plan for the next 1-3 years is to cement these practices, ramp up efficiency, and keep an eye out for new tech. As someone who's always been into tech, I eagerly look forward to what awaits us.

What does the future hold for RocketBrush Studio?

No doubt, the future looks bright for us. Our 3D department is on a roll and expanding. Over the last three years, we've brought on board some top-notch 3D specialists, and we've been nailing it on our projects and client commissions. What's the plan for next year? Double the department size, at the very least. We see a ton of potential here. With tech advancing at warp speed, 3D graphics are popping up everywhere — mobile games, VR, and AR — you name it. So, demand is only going to skyrocket.

Plus, our development department is also getting ready to grow, right along with the 3D team. We've already built a strong reputation, especially with one of our projects. Case in point: back in 2018, we kicked off development on The Unliving using Unity. Fast forward to last November, and it hit Steam's Early Access.

Now, we're gearing up for a full-blown release this fall. It's safe to say there's a lot of excitement for the project – The Unliving has already made it onto 250,000 wishlists, which is stellar for our first game. But there's more – we're also deep into the development of another project, which we’re creating on Unreal Engine 5. Moving forward, we'll use these development skills on client projects.

Long-term, the sky's the limit. We're in the trenches across the board in the gaming and CG industries – crafting 2D and 3D assets, diving into game UI/UX design and game animation, and, of course, developing games. Our mission? Keep pushing the envelope in all these areas, and more, so we can tackle any client project that comes our way.

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