The journey from an obsessive role-playing game fan with a love of sketching his favourite characters to an in-demand concept artist, video game artist and soon-to-be-published author was never going to be an easy one, but for Jason Felix, it’s been one hell of a trip.
It’s a story of rejection, disappointment and at times unbelievably bad luck, but at the same time a story that shows that if you’re focused enough on your goal, and are prepared to take the odd company-closing-down-on-the-day-you-start-your-job scenario on the chin, you can succeed. The dark side
Jason has endured all of this and more, but let’s go back to the beginning: back to the kid in Wisconsin who was fascinated by the dark side of fantasy games, films and
“When I was growing up I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons and video games,” he says, “I was fascinated by monsters and vampires. I was drawing from the monster manual for Dungeons & Dragons and that never left me. It’s what made me want to create the stuff that I do,” he explains.
This love of monster creation informed Jason’s vocational choices, so when the time came to see the careers officer at high school, he decided it had to be something creative and had to be something close to his first love – he began to dream about being a comic book artist.
As millions of young hopefuls have done, Jason duly carted his portfolio around comic conventions and visited the Marvel and DC stands to be told that while his images were good, they needed to be developed over the next couple of years.
Someone else, though, did take an interest: “White Wolf saw my stuff and really liked it; that’s where I got my first break,” says Jason. “I started off as a freelancer with them doing interior illustration and things grew from there.” So much so, in fact, that within a few years, Jason was struggling to break out of the distinctive style that he’d developed for the company. The dream job had become a creative straight-jacket. “When I was going for other jobs, everyone recognised my work and said ‘we like your stuff, but it looks too White Wolfish so we can’t use you,’” he explains.
It was now that Jason’s real battle to gain a decent foothold in the industry began. His first thought was to pursue a career as a concept designer for film characters and he sent off his portfolio to everybody he could think of, only to be met by resounding silence. “It was a tough lesson,” he recalls, “but a useful one.” And one that lead to his next stage of re-evaluation: to pursue a career in video games – and to get his portfolio sent off to a whole new load of people. Hollywood feel
It was at this point in his career that Jason’s life took on a certain Hollywood vibe: he promised himself that wherever the first letter he got in response to his portfolio came from would be the town he’d pack up his belongings and move to. And that’s just what he did when Sega expressed an interest in his work.
“I was living in Wisconsin at the time and the letter came from Sega in San Francisco saying they liked my work, so I packed up, moved into a hotel and went to their offices. They said they couldn’t see me at first but eventually I got an interview and eventually a part-time job. Unfortunately, the day I was supposed to start, the studio got shut down.”
While this huge blow – and the following two years working the copier machines at Kinko’s – would probably be enough to convince most people that a job in insurance probably wasn’t such a bad deal after all, it just pushed Jason onwards.
“I had lots of rejection letters and my parents were asking me why I kept on trying, but I was just so focused on this. Eventually, an old friend from Wisconsin got in touch about a job at a games studio that involved doing model packing and autographics, so I finally had my foot firmly in the door."
There followed a frantic period of learning 3D software to earn his stripes, taking in months of 14-hour days honing his skills. The results were the enviable skill-set Jason currently boasts, a growing reputation and an amazing body of work. Juggling many balls
With current projects including his forthcoming book, Salvaged, cover illustrations for the Legacy of the Force series of Star Wars books and ongoing concept art work, Jason says he’s always busy juggling projects. But how does he approach a fresh piece of work?
“I do a lot of research,” he tells us. “I see what the company I’m working for usually produces, look at the design documents they produce and get started from there.” From this point Jason says he draws on the deep well of inspiration he built up as a child and fantasy art fan, and the films he’s loved over the years – Blade Runner, Conan and The Thing. “I like to pay homage to the things I’ve enjoyed,” he says.
“If I’m designing a character for a game, I’ll come up with 100 designs which reference the theme of the game. If it’s something like espionage, I’ll find the most clichéd images of espionage I can think of to define what the character is, then set them aside, then start work,” he says.
Jason tells us the next part of the process is refining the character in terms of shapes, before adding the finer details. “It’s usually a three or four-day process,” he says. While this method keeps one area of Jason’s creative work healthy, the photo manipulation element of his work requires another approach, based in fine art.
“It’s very different,” he says. “Part of me still likes to do drawing. It comes from my subconscious and it’s more about enjoying the methods you use as an artist and being confident in the work you do.”
If there’s one piece of advice Jason has picked up on his long journey, it’s related to this love of creating. “Never forget why you do something. For me the best art is created by people who inject something of themselves into their work – it always has more energy.” Wise words indeed.