How do your goals change, if they do change, from 2D illustration to 3D model?
HTK: To be straightforward, it's not exactly that 3D is our goal. To be more precise, in 3D I'm trying to express the attractiveness of the 2D paintings that I made. By moving my art from 2D to 3D, I open up the audience for my work. In the past, my true artwork was only on the cover of the game-inside it wasn't necessarily my work. Now, I have larger audiences through actually representing my characters in my own way in 3D.
With 2D, it's obviously easier to direct the eye of the viewer because you're completely controlling what they see. With 3D, how do you make sure they see what you want in a character... Or can you even do that?
HTK: Once it becomes 3D, it is true that there are limits to the kind of structural exaggeration I like to insert in my characters.
It's especially hard to visually express what I want when it's put into gameplay, because it's not so much about looking cool, it's about how people can enjoy the game, how they play it. So what we try to do is simply input camera technology and light technology that can make the structure of the image as beautiful as possible.
What do you feel is the ideal background scenario for your characters? Is the background meant to be a main feature, or does it just accent the characters?
HTK: Regarding backgrounds, I provide the direction of the concept art. For the most part it's drawn by our specific background artists. In this case, more than with characters, I try to leave it to them rather than doing it myself. But I do try to set the background in relation to the culture and character of each race in the game, and once I provide the direction and the details of how it should be drawn, then the artists who are in charge of the background tend to work on it.
Would you ever be interested in making a game that's completely in 2D, where you would have complete control over how the characters would look?
HTK: I've been thinking of different ways to express my 2D art. One of them, of course, would be a 2D game. But I'm also thinking of what else I can do. I can't mention anything in detail though. Right now, the first objective for me is to shape Blade & Soul in my own style.
You have said that these characters are fantasy oriented. Sometimes these exaggerated, really attractive characters can create an unrealistic expectation for a player when they view reality.
HTK: Exaggeration of certain points is really important, but overall the character must be understandable. In other words, it must be human. The person who looks at it must be able to understand it. In some ways, this is the case with the art style of Japan, where the attractiveness of characters are sometimes symbolized.
Yes, it can often be idealized.
HTK: Yeah. When people see something, it looks really attractive, but they're not sure why. This is because the symbol of attractiveness is hidden within the character. I don't want to make that attractiveness as impenetrable as in the Japanese style.
When a person sees a character and thinks it's attractive, he'll know why it's attractive. It will be right there on the surface. I think it's alright as long as it's feasible. It doesn't really have to be able to exist in reality. But there does need to be a balance in between.
Do you have certain character archetypes that you rely on?
HTK: I try not to do that because the character becomes symbolized, which is something I'd rather avoid. But it would certainly make things easier. I think the reason is that I'm not just creating a character when I create these people. I'm creating a painting, a piece of digital art. There are times when we need a lot of flashy characters. So I can't just work from a template. You need these characters to have, well, character! This is really important to the quality of the game overall.
What artists do you personally admire?
HTK: Too many of them actually. For example, among painters, Jeffrey Jones, Range Murata, Masamune Shirow... but actually, the artist who influenced me the most was the illustrator of Lineage 2, Juno Jeong. I've known him for 20 years, since I was in middle school. His kind of painting and drawing have really influenced me a lot. We actually have painted together over the years.
This interview was originally published in Game Developer magazine.