Feb 11, 2015

An Interview With Brandon Liao: Professional Concept Artist

Recently, I had the opportunity to correspond with Brandon Liao to talk about his recent Patreon success, career aspirations, advice to rising artists and his mecha combat-suit of choice. A professional concept-artist with just over three years of industry experience, Liao was until recently a contract artist for Riot Games' most successful (and only) title League of Legends.

After leaving the company in September of last year, he set up his patreon funding page and struck out on his own as a full-time freelancer. We've featured Liao's work in the past before, so it was a terrific privilege and opportunity to speak with the man behind the Cintiq. Enjoy the rest of the interview after the break!

Tell us a little about yourself! Also, If you could pilot any robot/mecha what would it be?

I was born in Pasadena, California but grew up a little closer to Long Beach. Art has always been a hobby and it wasn't until the end of high school that I decided to pursue art as a career. I've been working as a concept artist officially for about 2-3 years. It's been very educational; I've learned new skills that I never thought that I'd get the chance to practice such as 3D modeling and texturing. It's also been very rewarding. I've worked on both video games and a couple of short films and it's been quite the adventure experiencing the different work flows. If I had to pilot a mech, it would be Chamber from Suisei no Gargantia.

How does your prior passion as an aerospace engineer inform your work now as a professional concept artist?

The things I've learned about mechanics, electronics, and physics help me come up with designs that are believable. Science, in general, has always been a big source of inspiration for me. The technological advancements made these days are mind-blowing and are nearing ever closer to being straight up magic.

You worked as a concept artist with Riot Games for over 2 years? What was the motivation behind your choice to strike out on your own as a freelancer?

Well, my contract ended and I took the chance to explore the rest of the industry. It was also a good chance to finally pick up more 3D programs like ZBrush and learn how to model characters.

Why set up a Patreon Account? What specific projects are you working on with the addition of crowd-funding?

Patreon was a way to share what I know with others who wanted to know what I know (you know?) So far I've been sharing my process via a personal project called Urban Legends: Tale of the Cyber King. It's entirely for fun. There's also a second personal project that I'm working on called GodMode.

What is "Urban Legends: Tale of the Cyber King"?

Urban Legends is a project I came up with as a way to keep myself drawing and learning and to explore what a modern, sci-fi fairy tale could look like. It's not like adapting Robin Hood or Peter Pan with sci-fi outfits, but to really build a world from the ground up with new mythology inspired by our technological advancements.

Your illustrations, and even the milestones of your Patreon account (e.g. Loot Drops) appear to be heavily influenced by video-gaming, particularly MMOs. What are some of your favorite games and which ones are you playing right now?

Definitely. Some of my favorite games include Halo, World of Warcraft, Battlefield, Call of Duty, Sim City, Tera, and FFIXV:ARR. I'm currently playing Warlords of Draenor. The Halo and World of Warcraft series were huge influences on my decision on becoming a concept artist. Playing those games with so many close friends instilled in me a desire to build whole new worlds so that I may one day play in it with them.

Who would you say are some of your influences?

The three main artists that I aspire to be are Craig Mullins, Jaime Jones, and John Berkey. I love Craig Mullin's sense of cinematic composition and story-telling. He manages to capture your attention and captivate your imagination in almost every single painting. I look to Jaime Jone's paintings for the simplicity and textures in the brush strokes. It's very smooth and pleasing to look at. Finally, I look to John Berkey for the way he uses contrast in his paintings. The overall feel of Berkey's paintings make it seem like you're about to embark on some crazy adventure.

How important is storytelling to your illustrations?

The stories that have stuck with me have been from Fairy Tail, Gurren Lagann, Ghost in Shell, and most of Spielberg's and Miyazaki's movies. It might be because I've always played co-op, multiplayer games split-screen with friends, but I've held a soft spot for anime like Fairy Tail and Gurren Lagann where groups of friends set out on insane journeys to fight impossible odds. Storytelling is very important because it's what sells an idea and makes it that much more relateable and believable. What I've learned from those animes and movies is that even the smallest detail can make the different between a frame feeling alive or just another cool shot. Those small details can be from simple actions like a fist bump, a deal being struck by merchants in a market background, or even body posture and small gestures like tapping a finger in an arm chair.

What do you see “Urban Legends: Tale of the Cyber King” becoming?

Well, Urban Legends can become many things. Currently, my goal is to try to make a CG trailer for Urban Legends because I've always wanted to learn how to make a cinematic. Once that's done, I don't think the project will ever go beyond being more than a collection of illustrations and painting exercises. However, I do have a written mock up that roughly outlines a possible game, but we'll see if the project ever gets to a point where I can make that decision.

What are your plans for the future of your Patreon?

My plans are to continue expanding content little by little. For now, I'm trying to establish a work flow for content creation so that it does not interfere with other work.

Thank you Brandon for taking the time to chat with us! If you're at all interested in contributing to his project and are looking to snatch up some hi-res copies of Urban Legends yourself, check out Brandon's Patreon page here. Speaking from experience, his deft usage of randomized "loot drops" and weekly patron updates are as addictive as any MMO!

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