Jon Rush and The Old Republic

Wed 4th Jan 2012, by Paul Hellard | Production

CGSociety :: Artist Production Focus

3 January 2012, by Paul Hellard

Character Artist Jonathan Rush has been working long days and nights with EA-Bioware for the past three and a half years, on their highly anticipated MMORPG, Star Wars: The Old Republic. It all started for Rush with his first Atari and classics such as Donkey Kong, Pac Man, Q-Bert, and Mario Brothers. "Art has always been a part of my life, ever since I first picked up a crayon when I was two years old," he says.

Continuing on with visual arts up through high school, he enrolled at a university as a Graphic Design/Studio Arts major, with a focus on Trompe l'oeil painting. “Trompe l'oeil is a style of painting in which the artist renders faux surfaces onto a canvas to the extent that it fools the eye of the viewer into thinking it's real. I began to see the similarities between this painting style and how game art was made at the time,” Rush says. “Very low poly, with all texture data represented in the color map, painted out to give the illusion of complex forms.”

Jonathan was obsessed with the creation of this game art. “I had to find out how game art was made! I became an avid poster on many 3D forums, and tried to soak up everything I could.” He came onto the CGSociety forms with the username of ‘Ancient-Pig’ and posted almost all his work into WIP threads, to take advantage of the feedback. “At the time, my university didn't offer much in regards to a computer graphics course, so all of my learning came from online resources, self exploration, and lots of elbow grease,” he said. After a very thick year of becoming steeped in the practices used within the industry, he began to compare his personal work to that of work coming out of professional studios, and discovered he was doing OK. “I could hang with the pros!”


Modern Game Art CGWorkshop

Jon Rush has recently turned his expertise to the creation of Modern Game Art: Weapons, a three week online digital art CGWorkshop with CGSociety. Building a great weapon can be different to creating a character or creature. This short workshop is open to creatives using any 3D modeling apps and takes advantage of ZBrush to push the work to the next level. Different concept weapons will be available for students of Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced ability, so you can work to a level that suits your experience. The class will cover the principles of hard surface modeling and how to deal with hard surface shapes in ZBrush. Jon Rush will also look at detailing and low-poly modeling, baking, texturing and finally viewing your work in Marmoset. The best thing about this course is that Rush will provide you with constant information, feedback and encouragement.  




Jonathan Rush has always been a tremendous fan of MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). The first two years of Ultima Online was his first massively multiplayer experience, and he thought it was one of the greatest games ever made. “Getting the opportunity to be a contributing member of a team like that, feeding off the excitement of the eagerly anticipating fans, and seeing the game through to launch and beyond is what I wanted to do,” adds Rush.


“I had to land a job in the industry. I began sending out e-mails to every company that had an address. Getting your foot in the door is always the hardest step to take, especially when you know nobody in the business. All I needed was for someone to say 'yes.'”

"After sending out a couple hundred e-mails, I finally got a bite, and landed my first job as a character artist at Kush Games. We were working on some sports titles for Sega Sports, and I thought it was the greatest thing in the world."

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Artwork by Jonathan Rush

“Now, I knew that Bioware was working on an MMO, and when I found out it was for Star Wars, I was completely sold on the notion of working at this studio. Not just an MMO, but an MMO based on the biggest IP in the world, and being developed by the world's leader in interactive story telling. I was hooked. Even at that early stage of The Old Republic game, I could see that they were creating something truly unique. I was very much drawn to the art style as it stylistically stood apart from other games. The bold forms, and painted textures looked like a good fit for my skill set.

Rush really enjoys being part of a team of character artists, helping to push towards a common goal. “It's a great feeling to walk through a games retailer and overhear people saying great things about the game you have worked on for the past number of years, and see them pull it off the shelf and buy it,” he says with a smile.



The ideas start within the story. The concept team creates a visual image of these ideas. Not a blue print that must be strictly adhered to, but rather a look and feel illustration that captures the essence of the idea. Creative control entirely depends on how the project is structured. Of course all artistic control, input, and sign-off ultimately falls in the realm of the Art Director for the project. The concepts for art assets are created by experienced concept artists who are proficient at formulating fresh ideas and conveying them through one medium or another. In the case of characters, these concept illustrations capture a distinct impression of the creature at hand. The size, silhouette, color, and tacticity all convey how this being should exist in our world.


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Artwork by Jonathan Rush


“As character artists, it's our job to translate this into a 3D asset,“ says Rush. In taking an idea from the 2D realm into 3D, some concessions need to be made. Concept artists, and character artists all get a say in the constructive feedback. “It's a very organic process with a lot of back and forth discussions between departments.“


The main packages used by Rush as a character artist are Autodesk 3ds Max, Pixologic ZBrush, and Adobe Photoshop. “Our pipeline consists of tools and scripts written for use inside and outside of Max, and Photoshop, all things that allow us to get things into the game, and iterate quickly, thus enhancing productivity,” he says.


“ZBrush is a terrific package, and I get the most mileage out of the Dynamesh, and Shadowbox tools,” adds Rush. “Both let me get ideas down quickly, and are easy to iterate and build upon. Forms that would take quite a while to create in a traditional 3D package are made very easily using these two tools. I also love the wide array of brushes offered in ZBrush, and the high level of customization I can impose.”

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The character team developed outfits, creatures, NPC's, humanoids, droids, weapons. Anything that bends. The job would be much more difficult without the tools and scripts which support the core development packages. The general workflow pipeline during Bioware’s production of the Star Wars: The Old Republic’ game functioned quite well. “There have been wrinkles to iron out here and there, but that's all part of the development process,” adds Rush. “Considering the titanic amount of assets we worked with and managed, and I'm only speaking in regards to one small group within the entire company. I've never worked on a project where the pipeline was perfect from the get-go. Pipelines are based on need, developed through discussion, and collaboration, and are constantly changing to better suit.”


Character Strength

Rush feels all characters have a way that they present themselves which reveals a lot about who, and what they are. “In the case of video games, you need to convey that information pretty quickly and clearly, especially in games that are faster paced with lots of action and movement,” he says. “In my opinion, the most important element for delivering this message would be the silhouette of the character. The silhouette is the distinct feature that people are going to recognize and identify with first.”




“At EA-Bioware, it's a pretty organic environment where people get to interact with multiple departments on a daily basis,“ Rush adds. “The small character team is part of a much larger whole, and their day to day responsibilities can often stray outside of sculpting, modeling, and painting.“

Perhaps the tech artists would like some feedback while testing some new features they've added to the tools? Or it might be that the concept artists need input on some of their ideas about whether they'll work within some pre-set technical limitations. Maybe the marketing department has some special requests for upcoming promo material. “There's a very high level of collaboration between the different departments in the studio, and that's what makes it great,“ Rush concludes. “Every department serves a vital function, and the sum of these is what has fuelled the creation of this monumental game.“




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