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Meet The Trendy Team - Danny Araya

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This week, intern Matt Arnold interviews Danny Araya, lead concept artist at Trendy Entertainment. Danny’s work includes the new cinematics from the Lost Eternia Shards and the hero wallpapers from launch. He is currently working on certain future projects for Trendy. Read on to learn more about his job, his experiences at Trendy and more.

Hi, Danny. First off, can you give me a little bit of background information about yourself?
"Hey, my name is Danny Araya, I'm 26 years old, and I draw things for a living. I was born and raised in the Washington D.C. area and pretty much stayed there up until I got this job. I got my B.F.A in Media Arts and Animation from the Art Institute of Washington, but I pretty much have been drawing since I was a kid."

How long have you been working at Trendy?
"I've been working here about 15 months."

How did you get your start in the gaming industry?
"Trendy's actually my first in-studio job. The current art director, Ben Greene, and I had hung out once back in D.C. during a sketch crawl with some of the local game studio artists. Now in case you're wondering, a sketch crawl is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You get together with a bunch of people and hop around from one location to the next, sketching all the people and scenery around you. Ben and I kept in regular contact through emails and Skype, and when an opening popped up, he was gracious enough to pass my portfolio along to the higher-ups. They dug it and had me do contract work for a few months before moving me on-site and making me a full time employee."

What does the job of lead concept artist entail? What are some of your daily tasks?
"Well, the obvious answer is a lot of concept art, but the bigger part of my job is working with the lead environment artist and the art director to maintain a consistent aesthetic throughout the game. We have a very specific style we're shooting for in future projects, and it can take a bit of time making sure that every 3D asset maintains the look we're aiming for.

In terms of generating concepts, it can be ridiculously taxing. The drawing part is pretty easy, but coming up with new ideas on a daily basis can be draining. I work in a large room with most of the other artists, and I'm extremely grateful for this. The unique thing about Trendy is that the majority of us have become friends since working here, so I'm comfortable enough with the other artists and the art director to just start talking about what I'm working on and pick their brains for ideas.

Talking and joking is also VERY important. Joking around with each other is actually how we come up with the bulk of our best ideas. That sort of friendly, light-hearted atmosphere makes people comfortable with sharing ideas and creates an environment that's extremely conducive to creativity. A lot of the time, an idea that was meant to be just a joke sparks a conversation that leads to a dozen awesome ideas that are directly applicable to the game."

What is unique about being a concept artist? How is it different, for example, than a technical artist?
"Drawing, drawing and drawing. A lot of the guys have to create something from nothing, whether it's a new special effect, a model with no prior concept, the arrangement of a level. The only difference between those guys and myself is that I use sketches and paintings to do it, where they use other tools."

As one of the members of the original development team that launched Dungeon Defenders, what was the experience like for you when the game was first released to the public in October of last year?
"To be honest, the bulk of what I had been working on at that time were the illustrations for the Crystal Shards cinematics. I did very little work on the original Dungeon Defenders aside from some promo illustrations and a handful of concepts."

What was your favorite cinematic to draw?
"My favorite cinematic was definitely the first panel of the Aquanos intro. It gave me the opportunity to draw an expansive ocean and to spend a bit of time rendering water and clouds. Painting monsters and OMG SWORDZ is fun and all, but I actually really enjoy painting natural environments. Mountains, clouds, cliffs, oceans are relaxing and fun to render."

What would you say has been your proudest moment while working at Trendy?
"Seeing what we're accomplishing with our latest project. We struggled really hard to get the style right for this game, and seeing it come alive and look even MORE beautiful than we anticipated is a feeling I can't describe. I really can't wait for everyone to see it."

What is your inspiration when it comes to creating new concept art? What triggers your creativity?
"Working around the people that I work with, it's hard not to get inspired just by having a conversation! We talk movies, art and games all the time with each other as we're working, which only serves to make us more excited about what we're working on.

The question I constantly ask myself when creating anything is, 'What's the game I want to play that nobody has made yet?' I approach it with the intention of satisfying my own aesthetic preferences (within reason) and go from there.

Some specific sources of inspiration for me though are almost anything made by Pixar, animated shorts from the Gobelins school in Paris, FFVII (dominated my middle school years and is the reason I got into games in the first place), anything directed by Edgar Wright, most things written by Aaron Sorkin, almost ALL the artists on CGHub. I could honestly keep going on and on, so I'm going to be kind and stop here."

Your work was recently featured in IGN and Kotaku. Can you talk about that experience?
"Haha. Well this kind of came out of the blue. A while ago ago I did a series of concept designs where I re-imagined some of the Justice League the way I would portray them if I were to direct a JLA animated movie. I posted them online along with some very detailed descriptions about how I saw the characters' personalities and why I made the decisions I made regarding the designs. Fast forward two years later, and Bleeding Cool did an article praising my approach, which was a HUGE ego boost. I was really happy that they dug it, but all of a sudden, articles kept popping up all over the internet. IGN, Kotaku and a host of other places picked it up. It was humbling, but also extremely awesome, and my ego hasn't come back down to earth since."

Looking back on the time you’ve spent at Trendy, what are some of your fondest memories?
"There was a time where almost all of us would go out to lunch together on a daily basis. That doesn't happen as often as it used to anymore, and a lot of those people have since moved on to pursue other opportunities. I miss that."

Who is your favorite character from the Dungeon Defenders universe?
"The monk, because we're both bald with serious eyebrows."

What are your most anticipated games coming out later this year?
"These days it's pretty rare for me to get excited about a game. Working in this industry, your time outside of work is precious because you have so little of it, so I'm very picky about the games that I play. I'm really really really really really big on story, and unfortunately most games out right now don't satisfy me in that department. Some people say it's impossible for games to even do that, but I feel like plenty of games (VALVE) disprove that ridiculous notion, I just think it requires a different approach to storytelling.

The last game I was strongly looking forward to was Journey. I played it, and it didn't just meet my unreasonably high expectations, it significantly exceeded them. That game is in my top five favorite games of all time, but unfortunately I haven't felt passionately about a game since."

Finally, what is the best advice you would give to aspiring concept artists?
"Draw. A lot. Take the time to learn the technical side of art (perspective, anatomy, proper rendering of form with light and shadow) but DON'T neglect your ideas! Do everything you can to foster your creativity because at the end of the day, your ideas are the only real unique thing you have."

Thank you for your time!
"Thank you!"

To see more of Danny's work, check out his blog, Art of Araya.

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