Cool People #4 – Iain Reekie
Iain Reekie may have fallen out of the console gaming world in recent years, but he gets some major gaming cred for a stint at Free Radical back in the day. He caught our attention with his fascination with old adventure games, which led to sculptures of Manny, Glottis and Sal from Grim Fandango. He also did some really awesome Ikaruga CGI, and finds himself the fourth subject of the “Cool People” series.
Name: Iain Reekie
Location: Derby (United Kingdom)
Interview by: Bill Jones
Let’s start with your art background. What got you interested in art, and where did you receive training? Any major influences to your style?
Well, when I was a young, my mother taught art at secondary schools, so a lot of art materials and encouragement came from her direction. There was also the late Tony Hart, being generally awesome on the TV throughout my childhood. I was always trying to get my stuff in the gallery, but I don’t think I ever succeeded, sadly.
As for training, I’ve never studied fine art or anything like that. Eventually I went on to study games design at Teesside University, but the course was more centered on the technical side of digital art – Photoshop, 3ds Max, that sort of thing. I’ve always thought you mostly have to develop your art skills yourself using observation, experimentation and practice, so I’d say I’m mainly self-taught. I never wanted to do anything I was told by my art teacher. If I’m not feeling a lot of love for an idea, it just won’t happen. I think it’s important to stick to what you like, and keep it fun.
Right now, my art is what some might call “over-worked,” so it’s hard to say it’s been influenced by anything other than the real world. I’m always considering new directions, though. I’d love to be able to take a more relaxed approach one of these days; it’s just quite a scary prospect when you’re used to making things look good.
From the examples on your site, you work with different media, from sculpture, to computer-generated imagery, to photography, to oil paints. Do you have a favorite medium? Did one come before the other, or do you like to move back and forth between them?
I wouldn’t say I have a favourite medium or discipline, but I certainly dislike the idea of sticking to one for too long. I am certainly feeling quite enthusiastic about sculpture at the moment. I actually loathed working with clay at school, but these days you can get hold of these professional polymer clays which have proven versatile enough to allow me to sculpt pretty much anything I fancy – a very attractive prospect. For years I have been creating digital 3D works, confined to a screen, but I find it a lot more satisfying (and straight-forward) to produce a real-life object. Painting was the medium I started with long before the others, and it’s definitely something I wish to stick at, but it’s excruciatingly slow at the moment. I’m working on a 30- by 24-inch canvas right now, and I think I’ve bitten off slightly more than I can chew.
What prompted the Grim Fandango figures? Are you a fan of the old adventure era of games?
I’d say I’m a fan of the genre, but thinking about it, I haven’t actually played very many. I’ve only completed the Monkey Island trilogy (There’s four? Nah…), and of course Grim Fandango. I attempted to play the Day of the Tentacle/Sam & Max double pack not too long ago, but I didn’t find myself hooked, sadly. I do mean to play through them some day, but I’ll have to see. I recently heard a rumour the Monkey Islands are due to receive a high-definition revamp on Xbox Live Arcade, so maybe waiting for them to get the same treatment isn’t such a ridiculous idea.
I’d fancied trying out polymer clay for quite a while, and one day it just struck me that a tiny lil’ Manuel figure on my desk would be awesome. A very talented Matthew Plater (http://map-map.co.uk) had been posting his works on a forum I frequent. His output was becoming more detailed and elaborate, and I started to see a lot of potential in these polymer clays. Manny was perfect for a first attempt, as being from the era of early 3D, he’s relatively simplistic, which obviously bodes well for a first crack at sculpting.
How were they made? How much time did they take? Are they for sale?
They were made with Super Sculpey, which you shape and then stick in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes ’til it goes hard. The great thing is you can rebake it over and over without too much trouble, so I would model one part, bake it, and then append more clay and slowly build it up in parts like that. Some limbs are particularly thin, so they needed to be reinforced with some wire armature work on the inside, whilst particularly fat parts are sometimes bulked up with tin foil on the inside.
Time-wise, it’s hard to say exactly, but from rolling my first piece of clay to applying the last lick of paint – it normally takes at least a month per character. Of course, I don’t sit about every day chipping away nine-to-five – that would take a special kind of patience –but it does take many hours. I also have other projects on the go, of course, and then there are the times when sheer apathy/laziness can kick in.
I actually sold Manny. He’s lucky enough to be in California somewhere. I’m open to offers regarding the others, or even commissions. I don’t wish to start mass-production, mind…LucasArts might have a word or two to say about that.
What was the hardest part to get right with the figures?
Probably the hands…damn boney fingers! The number of times they would snap off… Actually, the biggest challenge is probably getting the surfaces looking smooth. The trouble tends to be that you don’t notice all the random chips and facets until the paint goes on, at which point it’s a bit late to do anything about them.
It’s also quite hard to get the layout of the face spot on. If you look around the internet, you’ll see it done wrong so often. I’ve actually had a few heckles across the internet saying, “The face/head is wrong!”, but what they don’t appreciate is that I was working from the original Manny concepts, and not the in-game model, which is, in fact, a lot more simplistic, I’m guessing due to polygon constraints.
From what I understand, you worked at Free Radical (now Crytek, UK) for a while. What did you do there? What was the game development experience like, and is it something you want to do more?
I was an artist there for a short while. In between bouts of Quake III, I would sometimes make props and environments.
To be honest, I found the nine-to-five sat in front of a monitor thing an awfully depressing existence, and it really didn’t work out for me. I became quite uncomfortable with how much I had put on my plate, and I needed more support than was available – things were really busy there.
Sometimes I think my previous job was just a bad experience, and I should give it another go elsewhere, but then I don’t feel like it’s something I want to do long-term anyway.
What are you up to professionally now? What would be the ideal job for you?
I’m just trying to expand my portfolio right now. I’m not really sure what I want to do to be honest. Ideally, I would love to be one of those really lucky artists that somehow gets fame and recognition from doing what they love. I realize I have a long way to go, but I’m still quite young, so who knows.
I’d certainly appreciate having some studio space of my own with adequate lighting, and no carpet to spill paint on. I work in my bedroom now, and you can’t swing a cat in here. Waking up to an unfinished painting every day really starts to get to you too. It’s much better to distance yourself from your work for a while and return with fresh eyes. I can’t really splash paint around in here either, and I wouldn’t mind trying something a bit more relaxed at some point.
Your site also features some Ikaruga CGI. How did that come about? Anything in motion, or do you stick with stationary model designs?
I’ve actually been meaning to animate it for quite some time. That was the original plan. I managed to rig it all nicely, I just couldn’t decide what I wanted it to do, and how I would deal with a backdrop. I might look into that soon actually.
Ikaruga is famed for its difficulty. What is your highest score on the game?
No comment. No, seriously, I can’t remember these things. I don’t think i’ve ever paid attention to a score in a game. It’s just not what gaming is about for me. In fact, I don’t even particularly like shoot ‘em ups; I just loved the presentation of that game. I think I got to level 5…once? The whole chaining thing baffles me. One-hundred percent of my time is spent simply concentrating on staying alive. I think I’d enjoy it more if it were ridiculously easy, and more lengthy. Any respect I might have had from Ikaruga fans just went out the window; I know.
Played anything else good lately?
Um, this’ll sound bad, but I’ve all but fallen out with games in the past few years. I have no PS3, Xbox 360…I’ve never even touched Wii. I still have a lot of games from previous generations hanging about, so I tend to dip into those now and then if I feel the itch.
Saying that, I did purchase a new PC quite recently, and I managed to play through Fallout 3. The general lack of loading screens, and the speed at which it loads…very impressive stuff. I also played Far Cry 2, but other than the mind-boggling graphics, it didn’t really do much for me.
What’s next for Iain Reekie?
Well, I was thinking of making a Guybrush actually. I’ve not attempted a human face before, so that should be interesting. I’m not much of a fan of the later incarnations, so it’ll have to be a Monkey Island 2 Guybrush. Sadly, there’s the issue of not being able to see much of his face because in the game he is so low-resolution, but hopefully I’ll come up with something.
I was also thinking of Jet Grind/Set Radio characters too. Cel-shaded games are good for sculptures I think – simplistic shapes, stylish poses, bright colours. We’ll see though.
Other than that, there are obviously more paintings on the way, so…
Anything else our readers should know?
Just keep checking the site, and don’t hesitate to contact me with any comments or questions. Thanks for reading!
Cool People is a series dedicated to giving attention to some cool people who aren’t necessarily game developers, comic writers or artists, but have caught the attention of our crew by doing cool things related to those forms of media. Readers who think they or someone they know deserves to be featured in “Cool People” can send an email to padsandpanels[at]gmail[dot].com