The first thing a player notices upon entering any game is its look, the feel created by the animations, the colors, etc. In short, artistic direction is a huge factor in selling a game. FusionFall has a decidedly unique look due to Art Director Mario Piedra. Find out more about FusionFall's artistic direction and about Piedra himself in this exclusive Q&A.
Question: Can you introduce yourself and give readers an idea of your responsibilities at Cartoon Network and on FusionFall?
Mario Piedra: My name is Mario F. Piedra and I am the Art Director for FusionFall. Basically I oversee the production of all the art assets in the game from how your favorite characters such as Ben 10 or Dexter are reinterpreted to what effect comes out of your G.U.M.Z.O.O.K.A. when you fire it at a Fusion. I work mainly with our game designers and the art production team out in Korea to plan out the world and get everything into the game.
Question: What is your background? Is working on FusionFall your first job at Cartoon Network?
Mario Piedra: I actually come from a graphic design and fine arts education. I had been working as a designer for the New Media department of Cartoon Network for a few years when, thanks to my appreciation of games and geeky knowledge of the in and outs of our shows, I graduated to art directing some of the online games you see on CartoonNetwork.com. When the opportunity to work on a CN-based MMO came up it was a no-brainer.
Question: What computer games have been inspirations in the past?
Mario Piedra: I've played all sorts of games over the years but I've most enjoyed those that have a sense of humor to them especially some of the old LucasArts games like Maniac Mansion, Sam & Max and Day of the Tentacle. Realistic graphics are fantastic, but a game is really great when it makes you feel something or laugh out loud.
Question: There has been lots of commentary about FusionFall's art style. How did you come to give the game that particular look?
Mario Piedra: We've always loved the individual styles of all our shows but we wanted to create something different than what we've done before. We looked at the core of our properties and what type of shows our audience really liked. It wasn't long before we came across the idea of not just mixing the shows together but redesigning them through an anime filter like some of our fans already have. We went through several character designers to try and achieve the look we were going for eventually working with our offices in Asia. That's how we found Midori Foo who we had take a swing at over 60 of our characters (Yeah, if you are keeping count, that means we have even more on the way!)
Question: What was the biggest challenge in getting all those Cartoon Network characters in one game?
Mario Piedra: The funny thing is most people would think it's merging the different themes of all our shows. How does an animated sitcom like Foster's fit with a superhero action show like Ben 10: Alien Force? But that's the part that I had the most fun with. Being a big comics fan it only seemed natural to create a world where three mutant toddlers patrol the sky, aliens and cryptids walk the earth, imaginary friends are real and Death lives in the suburbs. The most challenging element was to make sure we gave these different shows and their creators all the reverence and attention to detail that they deserve.
Question: Where there any characters you wanted in the game, but just didn't fit from an artistic perspective?
Mario Piedra: Some of the animal characters were a little harder to translate. Not impossible, but we haven't quite hit the right mark yet (Sorry, Gym Partner and Lazlo fans). So most of the others took priority since they were better fit.
Question: When did you first become interested in art? Did you start doing digital art, or come to that another way?
Mario Piedra: I think it started with watching cartoons and reading comics when I was young. Once I realized I could draw and start working towards making those on my own some day, I was hooked. I kept drawing all the way through college where I made a giant comic where people walked through the panels as my graduation project. On the side I was doing graphic design to pay the bills. Once I made it to Cartoon Network I was able to use all those skills in tandem at a job I still enjoy going to every day.
Question: What's a typical work day like for you?
Mario Piedra: Mornings are spent checking emails and getting caught up on any art deliveries made overnight from our partners. The rest of the day is spent checking in with the game and content designers as we come with new ideas for expansion or responding to what we discover our players want more of. Occasionally I help out the marketing groups making sure they have everything they need, check out some of the cool stuff they have coming down the pipe or help coordinate some of the promotional elements that come in from our character designer. Whenever I get the chance I get to do research which in this case means playing other games and catching up on our shows. Since we have a 14 hour time difference our partners at Grigon in Korea, I often have to have phone calls after working hours to discuss art direction and next steps.
Question: What is the development cycle for art in FusionFall?
Mario Piedra: Typically we spend a good amount of time working with the content team here and gathering as much show reference as possible. Our Korean partners spend several months in the concept phase where we have a lot of back and forth until we nail down the particular feel we are going for. Things kick into high gear when they start the 3D work. The modelers, animators and world builders we've got are great and translating even the most obscure designs into 3D. Though some of these designs are turned around in a week, the final polishing goes on for a few months after that making sure everything's as close to perfect as we can.
Question: How many people were involved in the art development of FusionFall?
Mario Piedra: I'm the only member of the art team stateside. The crew in Korea consists of about 25 people including concept artists, 3D modelers, world builders and animators all coordinated by my fellow art director, Tae-young Kim.
Question: Do you ever get time off? If so, what do you like to do?
Mario Piedra: I love to travel and some of the best experiences have been when actually working and getting to spend time in different parts of the world like Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai. When not traveling, I fill my time with running, reading comics and art books, and playing video games.
Question: Do you think that FusionFall is "finished" from an art perspective, or is there still stuff that you are excited about doing for the game in the future?
Mario Piedra: This sort of game is never done until there is no-one playing! I'm itching to get more characters and areas into the game. One of my favorite parts of my job is sitting with the rest of the games team and throwing up ideas of how to expand our story.