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Rare Life: Character Artist

It’s been a while since we did our last batch, but with the games business having blossomed into a hotbed of ongoing recruitment, it seems like a peachy time to bring back Rare’s in-house staff profiles. Hopefully these will prove informative for those hoping to get into a particular line of work, but also entertaining enough to be worth a read for anyone interested in Rare or a general industry career.

In this edition: Steve Mayles, Character Artist. Open up, Steve. Guh-huh!

Rare: What’s your background and how did you arrive at Rare?

Steve Mayles: I was in my last year at sixth form when I was interviewed by Tim and Chris Stamper for a role as a Trainee Graphics Engineer. There were no computer art/animation courses in those days (1992!) and I was adamant that was what I wanted to do as a job. So I turned up in my bad suit with mullet-style hair, showed some of my A-level artwork and a few images I had slaved over in Deluxe Paint on the Amiga 500.

Have you found yourself doing the job you always thought you’d do?

Pretty much, yes. I specialise in character work now, but when I started I just wanted to do graphics. My first job was finishing off the character and animation work on Battletoads Double Dragon for the NES, which looking back was a pretty cool first project! After that it was characters and animation for the next 10 years or so, then recently concentrating on characters, as jobs have become more and more specialised.

What are your main responsibilities on the average game?

Responsibilities will change depending on what stage the product has reached. Early on, it might be more about exploring concepts in 3D to nail a style, maybe some research into different ways of doing things and deciding the right approach for the game. Later in production, when everyone knows what they’re doing, it’ll be more about creating specific assets to go into the finished game and giving feedback, especially if outsourcing assets. Towards the end, bug fixing and trying not to break the game! Throughout development there will be various asks for promotional renders; these really ramp up close to the end.

Which Rare games have you worked on, and what’s been your biggest achievement?

*Takes a deep breath* Battletoads Double Dragon for NES and SNES, Donkey Kong Country and Diddy’s Kong Quest for SNES, Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie and DK64 for N64, Grabbed by the Ghoulies for Xbox, Viva Piñata, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Kinect Sports and Kinect Sports: Season Two for Xbox 360.

Biggest achievement is a tough call between DKC and Banjo. DKC was a magical game to be part of, we knew we were making something very special, but creating the main characters in Banjo was awesome too.

What do you see as the top perk of working for Rare?

Free fruit and great soup for only 80p.

And a great facility in the countryside, being at the forefront of gaming with the chance to keep adding to a history of great games stretching back 25 years.

What do you find most exciting about your job?

It’s the moment when you get to see your work functioning properly in the game instead of just in Maya or a modelviewer. And your game being revealed properly to the world for the first time is always exciting, of course!

What’s the greatest artistic challenge you’ve faced so far, and how was it overcome?

I was proud of the way the building block vehicles turned out in Nuts & Bolts. Getting components to look interesting on their own but gel together as a pleasing whole was really tricky. We had thought about joining the parts together with some sort of software solution, trying to hide that the vehicles were made up of many separate pieces, but decided to embrace the fact and make them obviously separate, almost like scrapheap parts thrown together.

Favourite Rare game, favourite Xbox 360 game and favourite game of all time?

Rare game, I’m going to have to plump for DKC. I don’t have a lot of time for gaming these days! I just played Golden Axe on arcade. Can I say that? Favourite game of all time: Chaos on the Speccy, by Julian Gollop.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying for a role similar to yours?

Have as varied a portfolio as possible, show you can be flexible. Realistic, stylised, creatures, humans, vehicles, etc. Pose your creations, give them expression, life. If you can’t design your own characters, it’s better to do a great version of someone else’s great concept than a great version of what might be a second-rate concept of your own. Show that you understand the game pipeline; concept sculpts are great but you need other skills too!

Previously in Rare Life: Rich Nguyen, Tools Engineer

Weighing up a career in the games biz? What roles would you like to see covered in future Rare Life columns? Drop us a line and let us know.