Atha Kanaani: Art in Board Games #8
This week we have Atha Kanaani an illustrator who has worked on games such as Traders of Osaka, Pandemic: Iberia and Cthulhu, Archaeology: The New Expedition and with companies such as Filosofia, Z-Man Games, Asmodee Canada and Plaid hat Games.
Hello Atha, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi Ross, thanks for inviting me onto your blog! I’m a French illustrator currently living in Canada and I did a little bit of freelancing before coming to Montréal. That’s how I started working for F2Zentertainment in 2014. Our first Game together was Traders of Osaka. We did well and they appreciated my work, so, as little as a month later they offered me a full-time job with the condition of coming to their studio in Québec. At first I thought it was crazy but my girlfriend convinced me that it was a very good opportunity for us. That’s how we ended up here! Now the studio has changed owners and I’m a full-time illustrator for Asmodee Canada, as a part of the Z-man Games creative team.
Now we know a little more about you, I have to ask, as a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I remember wanting to be an animal tamer, a race driver, and a lot of other things. I became conscious very late that drawing could be my thing. I drew a lot as a child and I just never stopped, finally I found out that there were people for whom drawing was their job.
So how did you first get involved in making board games?
After graduating from art school, I didn’t know where to begin to become an illustrator. So, after some time, I remembered that my teacher (Vincent Dutrait) told us that the board game industry was growing bigger and bigger and we should take the chance to get involved. I contacted every company in France. By mistake I wrote a mail to filosofia without knowing that they were in Canada. They asked me to work on “Traders of Osaka” and that’s it, I had a foot in this industry.
When you are working on the art of a board game can you give us a quick overview of your creative or thought process and has this changed at all since you first started?
The first thing I get is a pitch from the art director. He gives me all he can at this stage (story, rules, old version of the game if it’s a reprint, etc) and if I can, I like to play one or two games just to know what it’s all about. If it’s a new game, I have more flexibility to play with the look (like for Smile as an example). In the case of a Pandemic game, the style must be close to the old ones.
We discuss about all the components that need to be illustrated and I do some visual research to feed my imagination. Then I can start sketching. I like to begin with the cover, I think it gives the tone for the rest of the game. But every company has its own way of working so you must adapt. For every part of the game I provide different sketches and the art director chooses the ones they want me to develop. Then I refine it and try some color sketches on it, and they choose the one they think best fits with their vision. After we agree on all of it, I can work on a final illustration. There are not so many changes in the process but art directors are humans, so I must deal with their different temperaments, but we always find a way to work together.
You were involved in the creation of Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu so could you tell us a little bit about what that involved and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
On this one, I worked with Chris Quilliams. My job was to work on the game board, refine the cards already done by another artist and create the ones missing. The challenge was that the board is a very large piece with a lot of details, and it was my first “big” board. There was some art already done and I had to respect the style by making mine very similar. When you don’t have a lot of experience, it’s a little bit scary because the board is the part where players are going to live their adventure. People are expecting something high quality. There are a lot of things you must think about, like how people are going to move their pawns. Where to put the towns with enough space for all the graphic design around it and how to separate the cities whilst keeping unity throughout the board. On top of all of that, you need to think how to create the right mood for this game. Fortunately, my art director was here to help me and I hope people are enjoying playing on it!
What was the inspiration or core idea that drove your work on Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu?
The idea was to give the players a feeling of anxiety and concern about what happened here. It was a lot of fun playing with the weird light and fog here and there. Are there people around? What could possibly do make a hole like this in a building? It’s a little bit like an old horror film, when you are waiting for the big hairy monster, jumping out from the woods!
What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I started to read a book from Ed Catmull (president of Pixar and Disney animation) called “Creativity, Inc.”, and I’m also reading the Notebook of Leonardo Da Vinci which is really fascinating. I have another pile of books “in reading” because I can’t finish one before diving into another attractive book…it’s an addiction. I’m listening to Smooth Mcgroove! He makes Youtube videos where he sings video games music. Some people find that weird… but I don’t care, I love it!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to work in the board game industry?
Make mistakes. That’s how I ended up 5500 km from my home illustrating board games. Contact people, do good work, try everything you want, the only risk is to get a "no". I don’t really have any exact advice, there are so many different way to meet your goals. Keep sending your work, ask for feedback from people actually in the field. But first of all, you have to believe that your dream job is somewhere waiting for you, so keep moving because it’s not coming after you!
Do you have any current projects underway, or coming up that you’d like (or are able) to tell us about?
I think “Smile”, a little card game, is coming out soon. I had a lot of fun painting the little monsters. And a lot of games are coming up in the future but I can’t talk about it and that’s a hard part of the job.
Finally, if we’d like to see more of you and your work, where can we find you?
You can see some of my illustrations here: http://www.atha-kanaani.com
Or also here: https://www.artstation.com/artist/atha
(All images provided by Atha Kanaani)