The Man Behind the Tanks

If you’ve read some of our past posts or checked out our Twitter feed recently, you’ve probably heard about our artist Wu-Gene and seen some of the great work he is doing. I’ve ranted about trying to find an artist, and I’ve raved about actually getting Wu-Gene on the team. However, we thought it would be good for people to hear a bit more directly from his perspective. In our most recent weekly meeting I asked Wu-Gene some questions about his artistic inspirations, motivations and tools of choice. What follows are his (lightly edited) responses in italics, interspersed with sequential images of one of his previous art projects, the Taipan Assault Vehicle.

part 1

Taipan Assault Vehicle – Phase 1 Sketch

What inspired you to get into art?

I wouldn’t say that I got inspired to do art. It has simply been with me since my earliest memories. I can still remember my preschool and kindergarten days when I would constantly draw illustrations of Star Wars and Titanic. It was around that time that I really started to realize that doing art was my passion. As the years went on I began to wonder what specific field of art I wanted to pursue. My first decision was to be a graphic novel/comic artist because I loved reading DC,Marvel, manga and Sunday comics (Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes and Far Side). I was really serious about this interest, even going so far as to transfer from my college to SVA (School of Visual Arts) to become a Cartoonist major.

part 2

Taipan Assault Vehicle – Phase 2 (Initial 3rd rendering in Autodesk Maya)

How have your artistic interests evolved over time?

Well, by the second half of my junior year, I began to lose interest in the reason I came to SVA as my interest in cartooning began to dwindle. Pretty soon after that, I was back at square one, which is a stressful place to be as you head into your senior year.

As I reflected on my future, I knew that my strength was in creativity and design but not so much in story writing (not a good combination for being a graphic novelist). Fortunately, I ended up taking a concept art elective class and realized that this field was the perfect match for me. This change in direction was a bit like career goal “shock therapy,” but it has been completely worth it. Since finding this new interest, I have not relented or experienced any second thoughts on my decision. 

Instead, I have slowly but surely advanced my skills to levels of which I did not previously think I was capable. As Confucius once said, “Get a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.” Don’t get me wrong, I went through my share of not so metaphorical blood, sweat and tears to get to the level I am at now. Yet, it didn’t feel like work at all because I really enjoyed this tough training. I now know that this is the field I have the most passion for and look to continuing to pursue a path as a conceptual artist in the entertainment industry.

You like tanks. And we like that about you. What are some of your tank design inspirations?

Well, please don’t read this next phrase too literally, but I would describe myself as a “war fanatic.” One of my favorite topics to study and research is World War II vehicles, specifically those built by Nazi Germany. Quick disclaimer, I in no way support the ideologies of the Third Reich. From an artistic perspective though, I have found that some German vehicles from this era offer unique and challenging design elements. One particular vehicle that caught my attention was the Sd.Kfz. 251 halftrack troop carrier. I wanted to attempt to come up with a more futuristic iteration of this halftrack design that could be used both as an assault vehicle and a troop carrier.

part 3

Taipan Assault Vehicle – Phase 3 (3d rendering with initial painting)

What’s your fuel of choice when working? And I mean fuel in a loose sense – coffee, tea, fear of failure and eternal obscurity…you get the idea. 

Motivation to achieve new heights in my skills is the foremost reason, but I must admit that there is something else that has helped out quite a bit—Eclipse breath mints. I’m talking about those ones that are in pill format in metal cans. Trying to come up with designs can put a lot of stress on my mind, but whenever I take an eclipse mint, my mind is refreshed and relaxed with that cool peppermint taste. And let’s be clear, I don’t just take one for each project. I take one every 10-20 minutes. So in some cases, I’ll kill an entire can on one project.

Let’s get project specific for a minute. What did you originally create the Taipan Assault Vehicle for?

Actually, it was originally a school final exam project for my 3D modeling class. We had the option to create what we wanted but still had to follow some basic rules and guidelines. To give myself extra motivation, I imagined myself as an artist for a game company working on a mechanical warfare game. Once I assumed that mindset, I took on this project as if it was a real life project scenario in the gaming industry.

I know it’s probably difficult to remember because your senses were overwhelmed by cool peppermint taste, but about how long did this project take in total?

That is quite difficult to tell because there were 3 distinct stages in this project: 1) sketch 2) 3D model 3) Painting. However, I do remember that I worked on this project over the span of about a week.

Do you find that you’ve gotten faster at producing concept art over time?

Absolutely. The more I practice, the more shortcuts I find. And I don’t mean cheap shortcuts that lessen the value of the project. The real trick is to find new methods that are shortcuts but still produce the same high quality finished product.

part 4

Taipan Assault Vehicle – Phase 4 (Final Product)

I’m glad to hear that you’ve been improving your craft. To that end, what’s the most challenging thing so far about working on AOTW as opposed to doing art in school? (Please don’t say “the people”).

The most challenging aspect is thinking outside the box. More specifically, the challenge is to think outside of my box. Like any artist, I have a preferred style and comfort zone with my designs. AOTW is tough because it often pushes me out of these comfort zones. For example, as I touched on earlier, WWII weaponry is my specialty. In contrast, AOTW is much more futuristic and sci-fi oriented.

What’s more, the large number of distinct factions in AOTW means that there are many distinct artistic styles that I need to develop. I think that if you ask any other artist, he or she would agree that leaving your artistic comfort zone can be a bit scary. Nevertheless, it’s definitely interesting, and it is a great opportunity to expand my skills.

Besides doing stellar work for AOTW, what are some of your long term artistic career goals?

My overall career goal is to work in the entertainment business (games or film) as a conceptual artist. I hope to stay on the West Coast, preferably in the greater Seattle area. If I have the opportunity down the road, I would love to work for and learn from a team at a major company such as Microsoft, Bungie or Valve.


There you have it folks – the first ever exclusive interview from artist Wu-Gene Hong. You can expect to see a lot more awesome work from him as AOTW progresses. And if there are any game industry executives out there reading this, please keep an eye on this guy. He’s going to be great. I believe in him, and I’ll do as many hardcore breath mints as I need to in order to help him succeed.

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