Interview Benoit Ferrière, illustrator/co-owner Tokkun Studio
llustrator, 3D artist but also co-owner of the excellent Tokkun Studio, Benoit Ferrière answered our questions for this interview. He told us about his passion, his anecdotes and gave us his opinion about art in the entertainment industry
How did you come to illustration and 3D? To what extent these two domains are connected?
It all started when I met my best friend, Adrien. He was only 8 but he already had a certain aura, a certain charisma and a real talent for drawing considering his age. I was jealous and fascinated at the same time! Our dreams and lives quickly linked to each other: we’d both become “cartoonist” in the future. We admired the work of our idols in Spirou, Fluide glacial, Tintin Magazine, etc. and we quickly started working together on small projects (including a cartoon when we were 12 that enabled us to buy some new Nintendo 64 games ah ah!). Sadly as his life stopped during his childhood, I was sorely forced to continue on this path alone. One thing leading to another, I became kind of an “art bulimic”. I was devouring everything related to painting, animated films, photography and sculptures. This, with headphones in my ears 24/7. It irritated my dad.
At 17 I got my baccalaureate in the field of engineering science. Then I pursued a multimedia course in a generalist school with David Pernicci (my acolyte for life and future co-owner of Tokkun Studio) hoping to practice academic drawing and 3D in a professional way. Unfortunately, the school wasn’t what I expected and I didn’t get any drawing lessons in two years. So I managed to learn by myself, mainly through incredible books and forums (cgtalk, conceptart, cfsl, sijun, etc.).
My first mission as an Environment artist, on an Xbox project with Rodolphe Recca, has immediately made me understand the singular link between 3D and 2D in videogame. It’s true that making the most aesthetic and realistic image as possible is important but it is not just that. In fact, 99% of 2D works are just bases for 3D artists. From that they can model, texture, animate and integrate lights and interactive in-game events. So you have to think of interactivity and efficiency for the 3D artists. You have to think about materials, scales, and the point of view on your works. The 3D designer who will use your work must understand it at first sight.
Simple example: For a character design, we create a board with face, profile, back and three-quarter profile along with another illustration « in situation » to give all the necessary tools for a good in-game reproduction.
How do you define your drawing style? Do you have a favorite universe?
My personnal universe has been defined yet. I’m far from mature technically and aesthetically speaking. According to the missions, I switch from photo-realism for a FPS to a style closer to game like Darksiders/Borderland for a car battle game. Then I continue with other styles which are more animation oriented close to Disney or Dreamworks movies… I try to technically improve myself through these different projects and at the same time I focus on universe to render what I like the most. This is the advantage of being an Art Director, I can build graphical universes that speak to me.
Which artists are you inspired by?
I am inspired by lots of them. It goes from Black Frog, Craig Mullins, Paul Lasaine, Disney, Steambot to Monet, Boudin, Manet and Van Gogh… I am mostly influenced by artists of the Impressionism movement.
You have the chance to work on massive projects, mainly in the entertainment industry. What types of projects do you prefer working on?
I prefer working on moving projects, those which make you feel something real. For example, I would have loved working on the last Deus Ex, on Journey, the first Metal Gear, Final Fantasy 7, Ico, The Last Guardian, etc…
I am also very fond of movies, comic strips, manga and animation films. To be honest I like every kind of media. However, I really need to feel the deep emotion behind a project to be happy working on it.
Can you name three of your personal projects that you are the most proud of?
First, there is the creation of Tokkun Studio in collaboration with David Pernicci of course! Having senior artists of the industry working everyday together on emulating projects is an absolute pleasure.
Then, there are two other projects. One of them is Tokkun Academy which just started. The other one is a surprise you will discover soon.
Let’s talk about the studio you founded (Tokkun Studio): where does the idea come from? What are the specialties of the studio and its upcoming projects?
I think that most of the artists would like to create their own studio. This idea probably came to me a day while I was playing a game that made me stirred or when I was watching a spectacular movie. I told myself “Someday, I will do that too.” Nothing really impressive to be honest.
I also grew up with Disney’s movies. You know, you can only be filled with wonder when you see the talent and the passion invested in those films! You want it to be your turn to reproduce the feat by participating to those productions or by producing modest ones yourself, keeping the hope that you will provide emotions as well.
Tokkun Studio has this aptitude for gathering talented people coming from all over the world with a huge experience in the entertainment industry to create artistic universes of a high level. Tokkun means “practice” in Japanese. We try to improve ourselves everyday working a lot to produce something that can reach your feelings. Part of the studio is allocated to the subcontracting work while the other is dedicated to internal productions. We put all chance on our side doing this step by step, saving enough money to launch several little projects and one big project every two years. We are currently working on small projects such as Balroth, Slash Monsters, Tokkun Academy, etc.) and at the same time we create a Next Gen FPS running on UDK which will be released on Steam.
Subcontracting allows us to participate permanently to large-scale projects for Warner, Pixar , etc. It’s really exciting! This generates enough funds to finance our intern projects and improve the experience of each members of our team. We are proud that we’ve never asked for a loan or help since we started with only 10 000 €.
What are the things to avoid if you want to successfully launch a studio and keep it living on long-term?
The main risk at the beginning is to see too big. You always need to cover your back, play safe and move ahead step by step. Impose your style, your savoir-faire and secure the loyalty of your clients and customers.
Since the beginning of my career, I’ve seen dozens of compulsory liquidations in the videogames industry. Sometimes it happens because of the publishers, sometimes because of the investors, but it is mainly due to a lack of patience and caution.
What are your personals goals and the ones for Tokkun Studio in the next years?
Professionally speaking I would like to do three things:
– To be the Art Director of a project which is really memorable in terms of emotion (in the cinema or videogame industry).
– To create a BD or a Manga.
– To be the Art Director of an animated cartoon.
Concerning Tokkun Studio the goals are:
– To produce a large-scale project
– To create the premises of Tokkun Academy in Corsica and make it a reputable school
– To improve the international aura of the company.
Finally and also because we know you currently live in Japan, could you tell us a few words about the Japanese visual culture? Is there a clear Japanese style?
Surprisingly, the majority of occidental artists have a passion for Japan. And I understand them because the aesthetic universe of Japan is fascinating. The cult of simplicity mixed with the absolute elegance of each line makes me dream.
Yes there is actually a Japanese style. It’s not rare that I discuss of the style to adopt for a new project so I know if we start on a Japanese aesthetic, an occidental one or an American one. A great example is the game Darksides for which it has been decided to mix both Japanese and American graphical codes in a single project. And I have to admit this was pretty cool!
It’s been six months now that I live in Japan with Sophie, my better half and it’s a constant eye-awakening for both of us. I honestly wouldn’t know what else to add here without taking at least 10 mores pages. There are so many beautiful things to see and say about Japan.
Thanks for this interview.
Thank you! It was a pleasure. And I love Art-Spire.