Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Interview with Denis Loubet - Illustrator of Ultima

My journey into creating a tabletop interpretation of Ultima has taken me to some very interesting places, but none as interesting, so far, as an email exchange/interview with Denis Loubet. Denis is responsible for virtually all of the artwork seen in the Ultima documentation from Ultima 1 to 3, as well as being the lead/senior artist for the remainder of the Ultima games as well as the Wing Commander games. He's also been a staff artist for Steve Jackson Games, working on GURPS as well as working on many of the Champions titles for Hero Games. His CV is a trip down memory lane and his gallery is fascinating to look at, with both old school and current art.

My questions were mainly regarding to Ultima 3, as I wanted to understand how the art came to be. I'm considering doing some illustrations myself for my Swords & Wizardry / Ultima document and I am very grateful for the time Denis took to answer my questions.

Dennis, thank you! It's much appreciated. I know Ultimas 1-3 are almost 30 years old, but they still inspire gamers like myself who still play games to this day, even in our 40s.

Did you do all the illustrations or were there other artists involved?

I think I did all the illustrations myself. Richard [Garriot - Lord British - the author of the Ultima series] actually flew me up to New Hampshire to do the illustrations on site. These were all done with technical pens. Digital art programs were not up to that level of usability yet.

Well, that's what I did for Ultima 3. I don't think I had much to do with the manuals for 1 and 2. Those were done by other artists. However, I did do the start-up screen for Ultima 1 on an Apple II, with an Apple Graphics Tablet attached to a rattling metal stylus that threatened to fall apart at any moment. Power spikes from the utility company showed up as actual vertical spikes the the line I was attempting to draw. That was exciting.

How did Richard hear about you and how long did it take you to illustrate the Ultima 3 book?

Richard heard about me in a roundabout way through the Society for Creative Anachronism. I was working for Steve Jackson Games as a staff artist. Steve Jackson was the Duke of the Society chapter in Austin. Richard had been active in the Austin SCA, and visited Steve to show off the game he was working on, Ultima 1. There he met me, and asked me on the spot to do the start-up screen for his game. He got his graphic tablet out of his car while I hunted up a heraldic lion rampant. I then sketched the lion up to the size needed and traced it off with the graphic tablet. Erasing and going back over the line where the power-spikes jerked the line out of true.

The Ultima 3 book took me perhaps three or four days of solid work.

Did you come up with the various illustrations by playing the game, or by
talking with Richard and the other game designers or another way?

I hashed out how the Avatar looked with Richard, but everything else was pretty much pulled straight out of my head. I made use of a book on ancient costume, which was probably wildly inaccurate, but did spur some good ideas.

The graphic designs like the magic symbols and such were pretty much as Richard described them to me. And a good thing too, I'm terrible with stuff like that.

Did you play any Role Playing Games (like D&D) at the time, if so, which
ones? Did you ever play the Ultima games and what did you think of them, if
you did?

I played D&D, and played Ultima 3 and 4 to completion. I really liked Ultima 4, it had a guiding philosophy behind it that lent it a sense of validity.

Played a lot of D&D, and then moved on to Champions, from Hero Games.

Would you mind sharing who is your inspiration for your art, and who/what
served as inspiration for the artwork for those games?

Frazetta is always The Master. He's the guy who's work forced me into my art career. But for the work I did for Origin, I owe a lot to Comic book artists John Byrne and Terry Austin, SF book cover artist Michael Whelan, and 19th century illustrator Franklin Booth, who had a big influence on my pen and ink style for the ultima series.

These days I'm collecting everything I can of Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy. The guy's a frickin' genius! What he can suggest with a single line... He has more artistic talent in his little finger than I possess in my entire body.

What media did you use to create the artwork/illustrations for those
manuals, especially Ultima 3?

Technical Pen. Boy, was that a mistake. The damn illustrations were done close to actual size too. So much for my eyesight.

Thank you again, Denis, for answering my questions!

So what does this have to do with old-school D&D? I know that for me, personally, the art and game of Ultima has had as much influence in my tabletop gaming as any of the books I read in 1979 and the early 80s. It's hard for me to separate the two, as they each gave me an experience that resulted in my love of the original editions and the original feel/purpose of the game - the dungeon, the quest, the discovery of the unknown. Denis's art, while simple and few in number, inspired me as much as the art from AD&D and Holmes - it gave me a view to a world that built in my head on top of the simple graphics from the game. For that, I'm ever grateful.

Sharpen your pencils, get out the graph paper and enter the One Page Dungeon Contest! A "metric ton" of awesome prizes awaits those who dare! Contest ends May 14th.


Rick Krebs said...

Nice interview. Denis also did the cover sheet and rule book cover for Aklabeth: World of Doom.

I loved Ultima & Wizardry. Great solitary diversions from the real FUN of playing OD&D.

All the best.

Anonymous said...

Wow, the Journey Onwards illustration looks like it belongs in the classic Moldvay Box rules. Awesome.

trollsmyth said...

Quite the coup, Chgowiz. Congrats!

FASERIP said...

That's a fantastic get, Chgowiz. Thanks for sharing!

I love the early Ultimas. Looking forward to seeing your S&W conversion when it's completed.

Unknown said...

I actually got to a chance to bump into/meet Denis at the SDCC (San Diego Comic Con) about 13 years ago. I was truly honored to meet him, as I would have never expected him to be at the SDCC, and his art in the Ultima games has always put him in the top 10 of my favorite artists/illustrators.