With 10 years of experience under her belt, Bianca Draghici has been in the trenches as a a texture artist, a concept artist and an art director. We sat down with Draghici to talk about her stunning work on Massive Entertainment’s “The Division” as well as her transition between games into live-action VFX films as a Senior Concept artist at Industrial Light & Magic in Vancouver B.C.

Walk us through your career thus far. How did you start out? How did you wind up as the associate art director on “The Division”?

I had the opportunity to get a job as texture artist at Ubisoft, right after graduating Art University in Bucharest. It was amazing to be surrounded by such passionate people having so much fun at their work, and it allowed me to learn about the industry from the inside. From my experiences there, I really started to love and appreciate the video games developers world.

After experimenting on different roles at MediaPro Magic (a post production studio for film and TV) I moved to Massive Entertainment (a Ubisoft studio) to become a full time concept artist. The three years I had spent in film and television were invaluable because I could bring my experiences to video games at a time when the main direction was towards realism with an aspiration for film quality visuals.

Pretty soon after, I was assigned to supervise the look of several in-game cut scenes for “Far Cry 3” and later on moved to “The Division” as Associate Art Director.

TCTD_02It seems that you have spent the bulk of your career as a concept artist in games. What can you tell us about your experiences in that industry? What sort of challenges have you encountered and what has surprised you about it?

Beside the fact that I’m constantly grateful to work with such talented and smart people? The best times I’ve had working in video games were in the pre-production stage. There are no limitations to creativity, and it’s during that phase that a concept artist can have an important contribution to the final project. An artist designs characters and environments that will serve as inspiration for the story, level and even game design.

On the flip side, towards the end of a projects production cycle, it can happen that you simply couldn’t introduce more assets in the game, so you have to really think in terms of what assets are affordable and doable with the time you have. As a concept artist, therefore, you have to simplify our palette and work mainly with the composition in order to get the best look for several areas. It can be a challenge, but a good one.

TCTD_04Focusing specifically on “The Division”, what sorts of considerations did you have to keep in mind as an art director when designing something that both has to incorporate recognizable elements of a real major city AND has to accommodate game-play design?

One of the most important things in video games is building the world on the level design layout in order to offer the best experience for the player. In other words, hundreds of orange boxes with fixed size and position will be transformed in a realistic and epic looking city. We need to pull out all the artistic tricks we know in order to create an immersive and consistent world that has a smooth game-play flow.

It’s also about strategically placing the assets in order to attract the player to follow a certain route, to guide them to experience all the game-play features, entice them to explore, find loot, etc. Last but not least, one of the considerations was to transpose the macro-story of the game into the look of the environments – adding that layer that we called “The State of The World”: visual indicators of evacuation, sickness, damage, crisis, lack of basic utilities, missing persons, traffic jams, riots etc. to create the feeling of an inhabited world.

Luckily, we had the amazing Snowdrop engine and the hard working programmers.  While we were pushing more and more assets in, there was someone to make sure we could keep them all the way till release.

TCTD_03What is it that you love most about your job?

I love to imagine and create new worlds and characters.

You’re currently at ILM in Vancouver. Can you describe your transition from games to feature films?

“The Division” is a very dear project to me. At Massive, I had all the support and trust to do what I thought was right. I got to work with some of the kindest and most dedicated artists I know. From one review to another, we were always looking for the best ways to inspire, art direct and communicate with our co-development studios. My biggest challenge was always from myself  – to see how far I could push the visuals, how I could handle a big project and strive for success.

At ILM, I think most of the people are here because they are following their dream to learn from the best people in the industry and to experience working on the best film titles in the industry. I know I am. There are so many amazing projects, that the main challenge is how to be more creative, generate more fantastic ideas and make use of latest technology. I think of it as the continuous process of getting better and learning.