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Tae young Choi

Game concept artist Tae reveals why he loves his job so much, the joy of smelly oils, and the legacy of the Da Vinci Code…

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Age: 33
Favourite artists:
Lawrence Alma-Tadema,  Akira Toriyama, Hyun Se Lee, Stephan Martiniere
Software used: Painter, Photoshop, 3ds Max, Maya
Average time taken per image: 5-20 hours

Web:  www.tychoi.com

"I believe being a concept artist is the best job in the games industry,” says Tae young Choi. “I just get a few words from my boss 
on what to do, and pretty much the rest of 
it is up to me how I visualise the ideas and make them come alive…”

Tae currently works for Midway, once famed for its arcade games and now successful developers for consoles. Born in Korea, he grew up dreaming of becoming a comic book artist. With a degree in fine art, his work was exhibited in several galleries in Korea, and in 2000 he made a move to the US to study computer graphics – gaining another degree in the process. With such qualifications and a sheer enthusiasm for art, it wasn’t long before he found a job in the games industry.

“Best of all, concept art is not involved with production directly, so there’s less worry about technical things and problem solving,” he adds. He certainly prefers it to his first job as a 3D modeller: “I know lots of artist positions in game companies can be very stressful. I wouldn’t say designing concept art is a totally stress free job, because sometimes I have to squeeze art out without any inspiration – but I’ve been enjoying it so far.”

Sci-fi dystopia

Tae’s imagery fuses dystopian sci-fi and classical mysticism, but he’s also capable of warm, lovingly crafted portraits beyond the laser fire and futuristic characters. Most of the time his images begin as sketches to gauge ideas and composition. “Sometimes I start painting using a different method, but mostly I sketch on paper first,” he says. These are scanned and painted digitally in Photoshop or Painter.

Given the technical nature of some of the concept art he has to design, he often finds 3D software useful too. “For instance, I build a couple of boxes and plan for my background perspective reference. Also, 
I use it intensely when the illustration requires complexity.” Sometimes, he can build on basic 3D models that have been supplied to him by the game design team, and use those to flesh out the atmosphere and mood for a particular scene – such as his concept for the final level of the video game Stranglehold.

Like most artists, he’s constantly inspired by many things around him, including other concept artists’ work, MTV, classical art and so on – but he admits that films are his biggest creative inspiration. “I have a movie library somewhere in my brain and 
I can recall very specific scenes from movies,” he laughs. “Whenever I need some inspiration, I just pick up the movies from my collection.”

The Tae Young Choi Code
Indeed, films have such a big effect on him that they’ve begun to change the way he works – not in a simply derivative way, but in an effort to create more complexity. For instance, he says, “Since watching The Da Vinci Code, I have been applying hidden codes or symbol shapes to my paintings trying to come up with new way of painting and composition.”

While films are undoubtedly one of Tae’s key sources of inspiration, sometimes great ideas will simply pop out of nowhere, as was the case with The Witch House – which is also very different visually from Tae’s usual gloomy sci-fi. “I was watching a kids’ TV show with my son, and he asked me to draw a tree house,” Tae explains. “I guess that’s why the sketch turned out a little cute. Based on the sketch, I started an oil painting on canvas, but I couldn’t finish it because the smell gave my family a headache… so I took a picture of it and finished it digitally as well.”

Oil fumes aside, he wishes he could work more with traditional media, but time and practical issues usually prevent him. “I do oil paintings sometimes, but not often,” he explains. “As a professional concept artist, I need to create art very quickly and I’m asked to change the painting very often. That’s one of the main reasons for choosing digital techniques rather than traditional material at work. I guess I can be a ‘real’ painter after my retirement…”

Personal projects

He adds that one of the only drawbacks of being a concept artist, particularly in the games industry, is that the public doesn’t get to see your work until the project is released – and then sometimes many months afterwards, that is of course if it’s released at all. “So I am trying to spend as much time as possible on personal works. At the moment it’s roughly two to three hours a day.”

That ‘personal’ time currently includes working on publishing his first official comic book, which is due for launch at Comic-Con, various different freelance projects, and even more video workshops. At the moment Tae has two on his website, and while those were originally created for a company presentation to explain working processes to the artists, he’s keen to do more.
“I think that one of my responsibilities [as an artist] is to share my skill with other artists and talk about art with them,” he believes. “After all, I’ve learnt lots of painting methods through web workshops, books and DVDs from other great artists. ImagineFX is one of them!”

From issue 24.

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