Last week, I sat down with UI artist Mike Fisher learn a bit more about him. Here's the interview. —Brian Ward
What kinds of things do you do at Runic Games?
I'm a UI artist, which means I develop the art assets for all things UI. Menus, icons, letterheads, titles, fonts, etc. As well as additional 2D stuff as needed, some concept stuff, some textures to help out. Mostly it's pretty much 2D work.
Tell us about how you got started in the industry and your background.
I can sum it up in one word: accidentally.
I was about 30 with one toddler, another baby on the way, and was working as a cashier in a lumber yard. I was going to community colleges to do something with my artwork. And finally — I was really getting fed up with it — and I saw a commercial for the Art Institute and I remembered there was one in Seattle.
So I thought, alright, I wanna do something with my art. At that time, I wanted to become an illustrator and do illustrations for fantasy books and stuff. At the time, computer graphics was just starting. There were programs like Illustrator 2.0! Very limited!
As part of my graduation requirements, I needed to apply for an internship, so I applied with a fellow who came to speak at the school. His name was Dev Medan. He worked in the gaming industry and was an illustrator.
So I go to the graduating show, and get all set up. My wife had gone and she dropped off the kids with the babysitter to come back. And while she's away, Dev shows up and says, "yeah, we'd like to offer you a job."
And I got a job working for Humongous Entertainment. That was my first job in the industry and things kind of went from there.
That's how I got into the industry and it's been close to 20 years.
Tell us about Humongous and some of the projects you worked on.
I started out working on Freddi Fish, of course. At the time, they were developing ideas for a new game. It started out as Pumpkin Head Boy, but it was changed eventually to Pajama Sam. So I worked on that. And then another Freddi Fish title.
I was starting to work on a project for a second Pajama Sam title when they shifted gears. And a fellow came and joined our team to form a sister company called Cavedog. The fellow's name was Chris Taylor. And so I worked on my first venture into 3D, which was on Total Annihilation.
I was there for several years, and then I moved on with the idea that I was going to work on my own stuff. Painting and such.
Eventually, I really needed to eat again. So I got back into the industry and I worked for a company called Boss Games, but the company fell through before we ever got a title out.
And then I was doing some contract work at different places.
That lead to me working at WildTangent with Travis and the gang, which is how I got here! My first title there was Canonballs. We did Polar Bowler and Penguins. Eventually, we worked on Fate.
Zidders asked: What's it like being a 2D artist in a 3D-obsessed world?
3D is awesome; however, 3D wouldn't exist without 2D. There's not a problem with that, you know. You're still going to need a few flat two-dimensional surfaces to make up the 3D image. That can lead into some texture work. I call myself an apple polisher, which largely is what a lot of UI is. You don't see many games without some UI elements in there. A nice UI done right really is kind of like putting the bow on a package.
I wish I knew a little bit more about 3D, but at the same time my skillset lies largely in the 2D area.
What would you say your process is? Do you start with real media or are you straight digital at this point?
It really depends on the needs of the game or what would be appropriate. For the most part anymore, it's all pretty much digital. If I'm working from a concept, e.g., something that I sketched out on even a napkin, then maybe I'll start out with that and work from there.
Almost always, things start with pencil and paper.
Do you think the popularity of 2D based retro games signifies that there's still room for 2D?*
Oh, yeah. Even games like Fez, which play pretty much like a 2D scroller game in many ways, are 3D. There's such a love — more and more so — for the retro games, even 8-bit types of things. People love those.
There's never going to be a time when there isn't something going on with some 2D involved and it be just as pertinent.
What artists inspire you?*
Illustrators and painters: Maxfield Parrish, Michael Whelan, Darrell Sweet, Syd Mead, Patrick Woodroffe, Eyvand Earl, Boris Vallejo.
The ones I've named so far primarily did artwork for bookjackets for science fiction and fantasy books.
Now, there are a number of them, but it's getting to the point that I can't remember their names. Moebius.
What are your favorite games of all time?
I keep coming back to Minecraft, so I'd have to say that's one of them. The Final Fantasy titles. Chrono Trigger was an amazing title.
When I was growing up, there was Pac-Man and Donkey Kong and they were cool, but those were over with as soon as I was out of quarters — which wasn't long!
Now this goes way back to the TRS-80 computers: Phantasy, Bard's Tale. Loved those games. Zork was cool, but had no graphics and I'm an artist. It was a totally text-based game!
As far as growing up with the arcade games, my favorite game was Dig Dug. Absolutely loved me the Dig Dug.
Spy Hunter was another one that I absolutely loved.
Do you have any advice for people who want to be an artist?
Anybody who is interested in doing art, I'll give them the same advice that my father gave me. He looked at my stuff and it was good — I was 8 or 9 years old — but it wasn't quite right.
And my dad's looking and he says, "I see what you're doing and I know why, so I'm gonna give you a piece of advice." He said, "Michael, draw what you see, not what you know."
That's what I would advise.
Favorite foods and beverages?
Beef stroganoff and lasagna. I'm very much a Garfield. As far as a beverage… Coffee Nudge!
This article is part of a series of Q&A sessions with the Runic dev team. Be sure to check out our previous installment — an interview with Jeremy Miller.
*These questions also shamelessly poached from Zidders. He'll forgive me. :)