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Daryl Mandryk

“There’s a 10-year-old boy in me who is designing the coolest toys he can think of. And the best toys scare you a bit.” Daryl Mandryk feels the fear.

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Daryl Mandryk
Age: 30
Country: Canada
Daryl has a self-confessed lifelong obsession with video games and digital art. He is currently working as the lead concept artist at Propaganda Games.
Software used: Painter 7, Photoshop, Maya
Web: www.mandrykart.com

Even when he’s messing around, Daryl Mandryk doesn’t mess around. “I have the same ambitions as every artist,” he explains. “To gain respect from my peers, and recognition from the public.” Beyond that, “I’m really only interested in pushing my art as far as I can, and being as prolific as I can.”

True to his word, when Daryl’s not producing concept art for next-generation video games, he’s busy adding to an already impressive gallery of fantastic imagery. “I think the only real way to develop any kind of style is to paint a lot,” he says. “And the only way to evolve that style is to paint even more.” So that’s what he’s doing.

Never too late

Like so many artists, Daryl Mandryk was born with paint in his blood, so to speak. As a youngster he recalls that he was always into art, comics and video games, but something was holding him back.

“It just seemed like such a long-shot to actually make a living from any of that,’’ he explains. So Daryl decided to pursue a more practical degree “in business.” But the ‘b-word’ wasn’t floating Daryl’s creative boat and after a couple of years studying, this conclusion could no longer be avoided.

But, avoid it he did: “I decided to finish my degree anyway,” he says. Then a little shame-faced, he admits “I’m a very stubborn person.” So after graduating
from business school Daryl found himself working in a commercial real estate firm trying to save enough money to go back to school. “It was a busy time,” he remembers.

Working all day, then going home to work on art at nights, Daryl was teaching himself 3D animation, “and felt like it was something I was really passionate about,”
he enthuses. The return to school was hastened with a student loan, “I applied to art school and that’s how it all started.”

Game on

“I hung out at arcades all the time when
I was a kid.” And this, Daryl proudly announces, “really was the golden age of arcades.” Maybe it was the bright lights or the 8-bit sounds but Daryl was hooked. “They were extremely addictive, and as a kid, you just get sucked right in.”

Eventually, one day the arcade made it to the living room. “My first home-console was a ColecoVision. I remember playing an arcade-perfect Donkey Kong and it was one of the coolest things ever.” And so it was, but time marches on in the world of video games, indeed, faster than anywhere else: “When I got a PC, a whole new world
of gaming opened up, and that was
it for me – I was hooked all over again.”

But games are different when you work on them. Daryl still loves gaming, he has to, it’s how he makes a living. “But working in the industry definitely makes you more critical,” he says, “and I find it annoying when I begin nitpicking a game instead of just enjoying it.”

It’s also true to say that great games, those ‘magic’ games that just speak to you, are harder and harder to find. And obviously commerce has a hand in this. Commerce
is risk-averse, and the result, according to Daryl, is: “a lot of watered-down boring games – especially on console.”

Art forms

Although the field is littered with second-rate games, there are still gems to be found. “Video games,” Daryl asserts, “are an art form.” And like any good piece of art, “a game should grab your attention, suck you in, and give you one hell of a ride.” Even once it’s all over, “it should become engrained in your memory.”

All this may seem obvious to anyone
who regularly plays games: “but not many publishers realise this.” Daryl reiterates: “The problem is that companies are afraid to take risks because of the production costs involved these days, so you get many games that are decent but ultimately forgettable.
I think that’s a shame.”

Doubly so because to work in games requires passion, “It really is a rollercoaster ride because the industry moves so fast and is so volatile,” Daryl explains. He also wants to put pay to the misconception that people in the gaming industry have ‘dream’ jobs. “It’s an extremely demanding environment, you really have to work hard at it, and you
really have to want it.”

After having said that, Daryl goes on to perpetuate that same myth by outlining his current duties on the next instalment in the Turok franchise: “My role is lead concept artist, so I spend a lot of time drawing weapons, characters, props, vehicles, environments and so forth.” Hmmm.

Starting Pro

Even Daryl’s first job – the one that usually makes people wince when they think about it – sounds like fun. “I was a 3D modeller for a small startup company. We were working on a television pilot for a 3D animated show, based on a series of fairytales by the Brothers Grimm.”

Daryl was fresh out of school and working for a pittance, but it didn’t matter, “I was getting paid to learn Maya and meet people in the industry, that was all that mattered.” Back then, everything was NURBS. “The entire studio was pretty new to Maya, so the idea of Polygonal modelling wasn’t even approached, which, looking back on it, seems pretty ridiculous.”

This may have been a contributing factor in the studio’s downfall, but Daryl has fond memories: “I’ll always remember that job for the people I met and worked with – they were by far some of the most fascinating characters around.”

Mr Fantastic

“I was definitely a bit of a geek growing up,” says Daryl. And if loving Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and all those types of things makes you a geek, then he could be right. What makes a difference is if you breathe life into those things, as Daryl has: “I’ve been drawing fantastic things as far back
as I can remember.”

“That’s just where my imagination was,” he adds, there really is no reason behind his fascination with the fantastic, he simply states: “that’s what I drew.” All there is to it. Drawing the fantastic sets you free. It also makes the alternatives less interesting,
that’s why, according to Daryl “the real world was boring.”

And if you detect a certain amount of darkness in much of Daryl’s work, don’t
be too alarmed. “I’m quite capable of
painting cute bunny rabbits.” It’s just that bunnies don’t usually get to carry firearms or battle bad robots, “I guess in really broad terms I just want to paint things that kick ass.” That’s the spirit!

Themes

Daryl’s personal work takes this approach and runs with it. But, with those vividly imagined fantasies he somehow manages to convey a feeling of naturalism, coaxing your attention past the unfamiliarity of the scene, encouraging a direct association with what’s going on.

It helps to keep the themes simple says Daryl: “Good versus evil… man versus machine, that kind of thing.” All perennially applicable themes. Daryl also acknowledges the influence of his professional love affair with video games: “so my themes reflect hero and villain, and epic struggles.”

This is only natural, but the characters in Daryl’s paintings are somehow immediately engaging, suggesting that at least one of the many projects he has tucked away in his head might turn out well: “I’d love to try doing a graphic novel one day,” he asserts.

Process

Daryl’s working practice casts some light on the naturalism of his vision. A new piece usually begins digitally, “but it’s a very random process.” Particularly during the early stages where, “to anyone watching, it looks like I’m just blobbing paint around.” In fact, there’s a search being conducted
“for interesting shapes and forms.”

This is the creative muscle flexing, “It’s a bit of an abstract process,” Daryl agrees, “just trying to find that rhythm and harmony to build up from. I work like a sculptor – blocking things in and chiselling away until they look like something.”

The mental process is backed by a will, too: “While I work I think about what I’m trying to convey.” Whether it’s a mood or a specific story, Daryl is finding ways to seduce the eye, “I’m always looking for ways to help sell it to the viewer.” This is not a rigid process: “I try to relax while I paint as much as possible, and let the brushstrokes flow. There’s always music in the background and a good glass of wine doesn’t hurt either.” You have to let the magic happen, don’t force it

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