Today we have a special interview to share with Fabien Troncal, whom is a Creative Director over at Ubisoft Montreal. Fabien has been awesome enough to share some time with us during a very busy period for his studio as they are preparing to release Watch Dogs 2 in a few months time.
If you are a frequent reader of some of our articles you may know that we have interviewed Gilles Beloeil some time ago with #88, If you’d like to learn more about Assassin’s Creed from a veteran of the franchise jump on over here.
Do be sure to check out Fabien Troncal’s portfolio by clicking here too, displaying some of the work that we may not have shown below.
Interview with Ubisoft Creative Director, Fabien Troncal
Fabien, It is a pleasure and honor for you to be partaking in an interview with us today. Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Hi, I’m a digital artist born in France. I did my studies in western France where I learnt the basics of 3D. After that, I started to work at Ubisoft Paris.
5 years ago, I had transferred to the Montreal’s studio where I now work as Creative Director.
ETL: How long have you been at Ubisoft, what project have you been working on throughout the years?
FT: I’ve been working at Ubisoft for the last 10 years. I worked on a lot of projects as a Digital Artist in Paris (Raving Rabbids, Ghost Recon, Red Steel). And just before I moved to Montreal, I worked a little over a year as a Character Artist on M&M Heroes Kingdoms.
Now, I’m working at Helix, a department within Ubisoft that helps productions in the conceptualization and creation of visual asset. We are not assigned to any specific project, we help every production in need of visuals. So, I have the opportunity to work on very different licenses like Assassin’s Creed, Watch_Dogs, FarCry…
FT: When I was young, I remember that I tried to reproduce illustrations of my favorite games in “Paint” on my father’s computer.
He was very angry because two images in bitmap took 90% of the places in the hard disk… I always loved the art in video game. Concepts Art of Ryan Church and Doug Chiang have always inspired me.
I have some of their books on the Star Wars universe that I read regularly. They taught me a lot about composition, lighting and contrast. Their illustrations have motivated me to evolve and convinced me to do this job. Also I grew up with the European’s comics strip culture.
So, I was inspired by artists like Hub (Okko), Tarquin (Lanfeust de Troy) or Enki Bilal but not to the same degree. I love the universe and the characters they created.
About Helix at Ubisoft
ETL: Is it difficult for you to be working in the department that you are in, is there a lot of back and forth between Concept Artists and your team?
FT: We are a bit like an extension of the production team but there are still some back and forth, like any creative process. We work very closely with the production teams. We are present from conceptualization to post-launch. This relationship allows us to be up to date with the art direction of the game and sometimes participate. Also, the closer we work with them the more impactful and faithful to the game our illustrations will be.
ETL: There is a big difference between Concept Art and material that is aimed at promoting or marketing a videogame, such as the work that you do. While we may feature more concept art here at ETL, what are the major things about 3D that you feel may be best over standard 2D illustrations, what gets you out of bed in the morning to create the work you do?
FT: Indeed, the process of creation is different between these 2 types of visual but a purely 2D illustration is always a part of the process. During the design phase, when the project is at the beginning, there is no 3D asset.
I often make a 2D sketch to define the base of the composition. After, to create the final promotion asset, I start with the 3D asset to stay true to the game and I finish in Photoshop to do the retakes.
What interests me a lot in 3D, is being able to play with the asset: doing the poses, playing with the composition, the lighting.. It gives me more flexibility and I can quickly iterate. At the end, having a beautiful image with a character that comes to life, is most rewarding for me.
ETL: While in the past you have worked on titles such as Rainbow Six Vegas 2 and Haze, two of the more prominent and active franchises are Assassin’s Creed and Watch_Dogs, are there very big differences within that you have to navigate through?
FT: There is not much difference in the process when working on a Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 or Assassin’s Creed title. There is certainly a little more pressure because I know that the images will have a bigger visibility and there will be more people in the loop. But the creative and artistic process is identical.
ETL: How refreshing was it to work on Watch_Dogs, a different angle in recent Ubisoft history and most definitely a great launch pad for further titles within that world – would you agree?
FT: Working on Watch_Dogs is very motivating. And it still is with Watchdogs 2 because the characters and the world are different from the first one. The artistic direction of Dedsec, which is a mixture of different cultures (Classic horror pulp, underground digital, internet), is a fantastic base to create illustrations.
I have the chance to work in a studio that promote creativity and regularly offers new franchises in different universes. The success of these new brands pushes me to propose new ideas.
Artistically, it’s stimulating because each project is never the same. In a year, you’re going to work on a hacker in San Francisco, twin assassins in London and finally a hunter during the Stone Age … There is never two weeks that look like.
ETL: The work that you create is probably some of the most seen work when it comes to marketing and promoting the game, your work is seen at E3 press conferences and even adorns box art – Is there a certain weight to that?
FT: I don’t feel particularly overweighed but it’s for sure more exciting. The spirit in my team is teamwork. Although an illustration is made primarily by an artist, I want the rest of the team to criticize and help the artist whenever it’s possible. There is no lead or hierarchy in these cases, just artists. It helps to have a fresh eye, adjust the direction quickly and thus relieves the pressure on the most important illustrations like those at E3.
ETL: Finally, while we have just wrapped up with an interview alongside Gilles Beloeil where we had asked him what advice he would have for upcoming concept artists – What advice would you have for the 3D guys – was you given any solid advice when you started and have carried with you ever since?
FT: There is no beginning and no end in this job. You always need to practice. Especially in 3D where software and techniques are in constant evolution. To evolve you have to question yourself constantly. Don’t hesitate to take risks, accept other criticism and hopefully it will help you define your own style and processes so you can create the most beautiful illustrations.