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Q&A: Guild Wars 2 concept artist Kekai Kotaki

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 | Posted by Jim Thacker

If you have even a passing interest in gaming, you’ll know Kekai Kotaki: by work, if not by name. The lead concept artist on Guild Wars 2 for five years, he produced the iconic visuals for this year’s biggest MMORPG

Born and raised on Hawaii, but “finding the sunshine and beautiful scenery distracting”, Kekai moved to Seattle in 2000 to attend art school. After graduating, he got a job at Guild Wars developer ArenaNet, first as a texture artist, then moving quickly up the ranks. He is currently a senior concept artist at Bungie, and will be speaking at Gnomon Workshop Live, which takes place in Hollywood from 29-30 September. We caught up with Kekai to find out about his work on Guild Wars, and why his ‘coffee time’ sketches provide a way to keep his art fresh.

CG Channel: What are you going to be showing at Gnomon Workshop Live?

Kekai Kotaki: I’ll be doing a quick demonstration of my work process and showing off some techniques I’ve learned over the years.

CGC: You started out as a texture artist. How hard was it to make the leap to concept art?

KK: A lot of people want to do concept work, but I needed to get my foot in the door and to get a job that paid. Sometimes you can get shoehorned into what you are first hired to do, so it took a little time to make the move – and a little luck, because ArenaNet gave us [all] the chance to do concept art.


 
During nearly nine years at ArenaNet, Kekai produced many of the developer’s most iconic images, serving as lead concept artist on Guild Wars 2 for over five years.

CGC: You worked on Guild Wars 2 pretty much from start to finish. Does spending so long on one project give you more creative opportunities, or are you retreading old ground by the end?

KK: Its a big ass game, so there was also always something new and interesting to work on. But sometimes you just needed to get the job done. With so much content to develop, retreading was always going to happen at some point. But we always tried to re-do things to get the best possible solutions.

CGC: Not many games artists remain at the same studio for eight years. Why did you stay for so long?

KK: ArenaNet gave me my first job, and a pretty good ramp-up of responsibity. I got used to getting games out during the Guild Wars 1 era, so when GW2 was in development, I just stayed as long as I could. My art became a big part of the game, and I wanted to run with it as long as I was able.

But after eight years and eight months of Guild Wars, it was time to explore the industry more and see what other projects have to offer. I’d built up a name and reputation, and I think it was time to put it to use.


 
Originally hired as a texture artist, Kekai quickly progressed quickly through the ranks. “ArenaNet gave me my first job, and a pretty good ramp-up of responsibity,” he says.

CGC: So what will you be doing at Bungie?

KK: I’m a Senior Concept Artist, doing what I normally do.

CGC: How much do you have to tailor your style to the studio you work at?

KK: Not really. I work in the same way no matter what, with maybe a change here or there to get the job done. It’s the same gun, but a different target.


 
One of Kekai’s Instagram ‘coffee time’ sketches. Quick, loose work keeps art fun.

CGC: You’ve started putting your ‘coffee time’ sketches on Instagram. Do you sketch every day?

KK: I try to. All the work I have been doing has been digital, so I’ve been trying to make a habit of drawing. Mainly, it’s to have fun with it again, but a benefit is that you can interate on a idea many, many times. I think of it as note taking: I can take those ideas and make a painting out them.

CGC: And what’s the one thing you hope people remember from your Gnomon Workshop Live session?

KK: Just that: try to have fun with what you are doing.

Visit Kekai Kotaki’s website

Register for Gnomon Workshop Live ($150 for a two-day pass)

Full disclosure: CG Channel is owned by the Gnomon School of Visual Effects.

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