Fireball Island: Cover Story #1
EDITORS NOTE: This interview is with talented artist George Doutsiopoulos, who joined me on the site last year (you can see that interview here). I’ve long wanted to take a closer look into how box art is created and George was kind enough to let me interview him about his work on Fireball Island and it’s expansions. I hope to do more of these cover story interviews next year so if you have any suggestions for games, let me know in the comments or on social media.
Hi George, great to have you back on the site! Since we last spoke you've been working on the wonderful remake of Fireball Island. Can you tell us how you got involved in that project and what was your role?
Hi Ross, I'm really happy to be back, thanks for having me for a second time! Back in October 2017 I was approached by Jason Taylor, the art director from Restoration Games, who was looking for artists for the new Fireball Island board game. There was lots of art that needed to be done: boxtop art, card art, etc and the styles of the participating artists had to look good together and not clash with each other, so that part took time. Jason was very considerate and let us propose what kind of art we would rather take on. I felt I was a better fit for the boxtop art and Jason assigned it to me.
When creating the cover art for the Fireball Island base game box, what kind of mood or style were you looking to create and how did you try to achieve it?
Thankfully, the brief I received was great, as was the communication with the art director: detailed, thorough, concrete and fun. There were very specific comments regarding the color palette and the elements of the illustration (for example the burning tree, collapsing bridge, cut off rushing rapids were there from the beginning). Regarding style, Restoration games wanted to go for something that was epic but with healthy doses of slapstick and fun. Something with toon sensibilities but not childish, and detailed enough to attract all ages. That was really amazing because this artistic style that is part realism and part cartoon comes very natural to me.
We also wanted an illustration where the island itself is prominent (mainly, Vul-Kar the volcano) and wanted distinct levels (foreground, midground, background). At first, as you can see in the sketches, I focused too much on the epic and slapstick aspects and created a concept that was fun but very busy. With the valuable guidance of Jason, we finally came up with a composition that had fewer characters but was more powerful.
You also worked on the box art for the expansions, 'Wreck of Crimson Cutlass', 'The Last Adventurer' and 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bees'. The artwork on the box for the last two made up a greater image when combined so how did you manage to make both boxes interesting, yet work together in this way?
That idea was entirely Jason's (Editor: Jason contacted me to state the idea originally came from designer Rob Daviau) and I loved it as soon as he mentioned it. I hadn't done something like this before but I welcomed the challenge. Of course, creating a composition that needed to work as a simple illustration AND as two standalone illustrations sounded difficult at first, but it turns out it was easier than I feared. I worked with a lot of quick drafts, first focusing on the separate boxes without minding myself with the larger composition yet, to make sure the separate compositions were interesting by themselves.
When sketching I kept the Fireball Island logo in place because it's a very prominent visual element of the box and I wanted to take it into account from the beginning. When I came up with drafts I was satisfied with I combined the ones that worked into the larger composition, made any revisions necessary and was ready to start sketching and painting. I painted the final artwork as a single illustration, mainly to make sure the separate boxes join perfectly when standing next to each other.
The box covers are packed full of energy, so what are some ways an artist can inject that into their creations?
Just as in any artwork, an artist's most valuable tools are composition, scale, contrast, tone, color and pose. When dealing with large, detailed scenes with complete background and many characters it's very easy to become overloaded, so I keep my approach as simple as possible: start from the big and overall and end with the small and detailed. That means that during the sketching phase I was at first concerned with the overall volumes and shapes (very important for the impression of movement and speed), with focal points and compositional axes (to create an appealing composition that helps guide the viewer's eye), with scale (to create the illusion of depth and perspective) and with pose (to create dramatic poses and expressions that further help create the illusion of action and movement). Then I experimented with color drafts, before moving on to painting the actual illustration. For me, making all the colors work in very large compositions is probably the hardest part so I spend as much time as I need to figure my palettes out.
Choosing the local colors is not enough, not by far. I need a chromatic theme for consistency and character (Fireball has a lot of warm colours, for obvious reasons) and I needed to separate areas of primary, secondary and tertiary interest using warm and cool colors, contrasting and complementary hues and tonal contrast. I'm still getting the hang of this and feel I have a lot of room for improvement!
Before you leave us again, what are you working on next?
Right now I'm working on a few different projects, the most fun and interesting one being the work I am doing for Arkhane Asylum Publishing in France. They are a classic role-playing game publishing company and I am currently illustrating the characters for their upcoming game "Malefices", set in Paris of the 1900s. They reached out after seeing some vintage ink illustrations in my portfolio which they felt were right for their book. It's a style quite different from Fireball Island but one I also really love working in!
(All illustrations copyright of George Doutsiopoulos, product shot by Restoration Games)