A while ago I came accross two pieces of Overwatch fanart that I absolutely loved, and I recently got the chance to talk to the man who forged them. Ben Lo is a professional concept artist, who has worked with the likes of Irrational Games on their critically acclaimed Bioshock Infinite, and BioWare for their upcoming title, Mass Effect: Andromeda. The worlds he has helped to shape contain stunning visuals, and so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get in touch for a chat about his work and his Overwatch fanarts.
Hi Ben, it’s a pleasure to be able to speak to you, please could you tell our readers a little about yourself?
Sure. Hey guys, I’m Ben Lo. I’ve worked in the gaming industry as a Concept Artist for the past 7 years. I’ve worked on Bioshock Infinite at Irrational Games, Need for Speed at Blackbox, and I’m currently working on Mass Effect Andromeda at BioWare. Aside from drawing and painting, I love learning and reading up about space and science a lot; same with Astronomy, hoping to pick it up as a hobby later on when I get my own binoculars, haha.
How does it feel to have been a part of the team that helped to create the visual aspects for Bioshock Infinite; a game praised so highly on its visuals and art style?
Working on Bioshock Infinite was definitely great. I was very fortunate having a chance to work on it. It was my first actual professional experience, I have learned so much from my coworkers there. The stylized approach to the Bioshock series allowed me to push a lot more on style and color. The success of the game lies on the incredibly talented team that was working there along with the very compelling story that Ken Levine had wrote.
When creating your concept pieces, particularly your work on Bioshock Infinite, how much of yourself do you project into the scenes? Do you use your own emotion and add them to the scene or work to a mood agreed on by your team?
In my opinion, not just for Bioshock Infinite, pushing for life and feelings into an art piece is one of the most important thing in creating art. Creating something that gives the audience to think and feel about, putting a little bit of context in your work goes a long way. For example, drawing a character standing there. Don’t just draw the character standing there, give it a little bit more context, what is he feeling right now? What made him that way? Even be more precise, down to is the character breathing in or breathing out? All these little things add up and give life to your character. This is something I have learned from my animation background.
Moving from working with Irrational Games to BioWare; do you feel more confident to expand the worlds you’re shaping and to experiment, now that you’ve seen the result of Bioshock Infinite?
I definitely felt a lot more confident after working on Bioshock Infinite, it allowed me to learn what the professional environment is like, and the basic work process at a gaming studio. But being an artist, you’re never really “there”, there is always something else to learn, something else you have to improve on. That is why having the mentality to keep on pushing your work and pushing your skills is very important.
You’ve created many pieces containing characters from games and films alike, and of course the two that caught my eye at first were the Tracer and D.Va ‘fanarts’. So, my initial question is, are you a fan of Overwatch?
I’m a big fan of Overwatch, I’ve played a lot of it. But I’m an even bigger fan of Arnold Tsang (character concept art lead on Overwatch). I have been following his work for many years since college. He studied at the same college and program as I have, Animation at Sheridan. But he was several years ahead, so I have never met him in person. I have however have met people who know him personally. That is usually when I couldn’t resist but go into my fanboy mode and ask stories about him; the “Legend” who we refer to back in school. Hahaha.
Why those two characters, out of everyone in the game?
I actually am not a big fan of those two in game. I am a big fan of their designs. Tracer being the mascot of the Overwatch franchise really speaks for itself. She is a fresh take on an iconic hero compared to many other games out there right now. I think it’s all thanks to the character styles that they have ended up with for the game, which allowed them to push a lot more into their characters. For D.Va I just loved how impressive her mech suit is. I thought it such an awesome elaborate idea to have her jumping in and out of the suit, and having all functional parts in the character model. This is not an easy feat, tons of work were put into it from modelling and animations.
When re-creating such spirited characters as Tracer and D.Va, do you create them as they are represented within the game’s universe, or rather how you personally see their characteristics?
Yes, I try to follow their personality as much as possible from the game. It makes them more believable, a living and breathing character. Tracer being a carefree, happy-going girl who fights for the good, and D.Va being her competitive teenager personality, cocky too, but she is the best after all, she’s an actual Starcraft Champion of the world.
Is it more enjoyable for you to re-create existing characters in your own style, or to mold and create entirely new characters to your liking?
They’re both great, the reason I do fan art at home is to take a break from work, drawing and painting environment pieces all day. And when I have to do character work at work, I switch to doing environment at home. It is just something fun and relaxing I like to do aside from watching shows and playing some games on the side.
Being in charge of character and environment concepts for Mass Effect: Andromeda, how much inspiration do you take from games such as Overwatch, which features such a diverse range of characters and hidden lore?
I actually haven’t borrowed much from Overwatch doing work for Andromeda. They’re actually a very different game, two very difference style. Mass Effect is and had always been serious and realistic. While Overwatch is a lot more happy going, carefree and very stylized. If I have to say something then I guess their similarity is that they’re both Sci-fi. They’re looking into the future of what we could actually be like in real life. Overwatch being the Sci-fi Utopia (aside from the robots uprising which killed many people). And Mass Effect, an epic journey to meet more advance alien species out there.
Thank you for your time and for sharing your experiences, would you also like to mention anything I haven’t asked?
I would like to thank you for this interview and spotlight. It is always an honor to me to know that people actually like my work.