(This interview is a reprint from 2001; as such, it may feel a touch out of date, but we felt it was worth a read as a companion to our review of Myst III. Enjoy!)
An interview with Ron Lemen of the Myst III: Exile team
Recently, we were offered the chance to talk with Ron Lemen, artist, teacher, and designer for Presto Studio's soon to be released game Myst III: Exile. Of course, we jumped at the chance to provide our readers with a behind the scenes look at the production of a large-scale adventure game. Ron, who designed the Edanna Age (or veggie age), graciously answered all our questions even inviting us into his classroom. Providing you, our readers, with a step-by-step look at what went into creating not just the graphics for Exile, but the look and feel of the Edanna Age.
If you have ever been interested in entering the game industry Ron provides excellent insight into the skills and abilities he uses everyday to do his job. He also reveals his opinion on the most important lesson budding designers can learn. But most importantly he shares pictures—including an exclusive screenshot of Myst III: Exile—displaying the behind the scenes work that went into the production of the Edanna Age.
Can you tell us a little about your educational and work background?
I've been drawing since I can first remember. I have always been involved in art in some way. As a kid, my Mom used to take me to her art classes in college where I had the luxury of learning things about the rules and tools of art, before I really knew what I was doing.
I've been a professional since I was 14, and professional only in the fact that I was making money from the art I produced. I was a graphic/product designer and illustrator for the action sports industry (skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding) for ten years. I have worked in comics and continue to do so, a medium of art that I really love. I have done pre-production and conceptual work for a few television shows, and now more recently a few video games, including Myst III: Exile, a job that I have absolutely enjoyed doing.
My education is minimal. I have been taking art classes and workshops my whole life, but I never attended a formal art school. About ten years ago, I was introduced to a figure drawing technique at a small, private art school in San Diego. I have been involved with them ever since.
I understand you're a teacher, what is the most important lesson your students will learn from your class?
The most important lesson I could pass on to another fellow artisan would be to keep your mind open and flexible. Techniques can be taught, and learned, but these techniques don't necessarily make you a good artist. Without vision the end goal is difficult to reach, obtain, or even find. Most art students hang their imagination up to learn the ways of the arts, and most of these students forget to go back to that imagination once they get out of art school, diluted with false impressions that the techniques they have just learned are the true meaning of art. This produces many proficient technicians in the arts, but doesn't produce many quality artists. You have to rekindle that imaginative side of the brain. This is where you will find your most creative thoughts and ideas. Art techniques are only tools. They are not the end means to success in art or the only way to create art.
What is the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome as a professional artist/designer?
The biggest hurdle I've had to overcome is getting the confidence to speak my mind. The hardest thing for me to do is express a new idea to a committee or the rest of the staff I am going to work with. As the creator of the idea, it is up to me to translate this idea into words and thoughts, which means I have to talk to others about what is going on in my imagination. The pictures alone don't solely justify producing something I have created. This means that I have to speak in front of others. I have to act out characters, machines, creatures, etc. I have to become a riveting orator in hopes that I can sell the idea to others. I am not an actor, and I feel like someone just dropped three grand pianos on my back whenever I have to go through this process. Very nerve racking, to say the least.
You work in a number of different mediums, which do you feel helps you the most when crafting art for games?
I don't limit myself to any medium for anything. In Exile I was the designer of the Edanna [or Veggie] Age, a large inverted tree. This means that now I am not just dealing with horizontal walking planes, but a multitude of diverse organic paths that can't just be drawn or painted in 2D and then instantly translated into 3D. I produced a sculpture of the tree, and sculpted out many of the paths and branches in clay. Then these were translated into 3D by the modelers. This also allowed me to draw more accurate images for the modelers, something I was having difficulty doing on paper.
Many times to help the modelers see better what I envisioned, I would have them model primitive paths in 3D, then I'd import the models over to Photoshop and render images on top of the primitive foundation.Continued on the next page...