A game begins with an idea. You could even call that idea a concept. To bring that concept to life, you need an artist. At Bungie, concept artists are a crucial chef in the kitchen where we are cooking up games. Darren Bacon is just such an artist. To learn how he came to tackle the raw space of our next game, join us at his cutting board, where he is slicing the pork nice and thin (obligatory bacon joke).
Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?
Darren Bacon. I am a Senior Concept Artist here at Bungie.
Can you tell us a little more about what that means? Your role sounds rather… conceptual.
A Concept Artist at Bungie works directly with the Art Director to establish a style and feel for the environments, characters and objects for new titles. We also work closely with the production art team to help them envision what the finished results can be for the in-game content they are creating.
It sounds like you live in the center of the storm here. How do you interact with the rest of the studio in the way that you do your work?
Concept art is the first step in the process of developing all things that will eventually go into the game. The writers, designers, creative directors, and art director come up with an idea or story moment that we must design and illustrate based on their description, reference, and any research. The final result we produce could be anything from an illustration of key art expressing a story beat (mood and emotion) to a sketch of an asset such as a weapon or character. The design process usually follows along a visual development cycle that starts with sketches or composites and ends up as a finished illustration or illustrations that a 3D artist can build from or be inspired by.
What inspires you when you are not inspiring us?
Art and design. My personal life and work life look a lot alike. Not in a bad way, it’s more like my work life looks more like my personal life, meaning, if I were not working I would be doing this anyway.
Then it makes all the sense in the world that you are getting paid to do it. Have you always been so fortunate? Or is this your first gig doing what you love the most?
Before working at Bungie I was working for Disney as a Concept Artist for several feature film projects and most recently a television series.
That sounds like a job that any child would dream about? Is that when your aspiration took root? Think back to those years when Mickey Mouse was the leader of your club. What did that young man want to be when he grew up?
I grew up fascinated with all things automotive and really wanted to be a car designer. It wasn’t until I got into my college career and met some people in the car design industry in internship settings that I shifted tracks. I learned from these experiences that if I stayed in the car design route and was lucky I would probably end up drawing door knobs, at best. Also, around that time I was getting very interested in Concept Design for games and film. So much of my inspiration came from Artists in the Entertainment Industry, especially guys like Syd Mead, Ralph McQuarrie, and Doug Chiang. Those guys were super stars to me and working at that level (or near it) seemed unobtainable when I was younger, so I never imagined that I could do it for a living. After a few years in design college however, I started to feel comfortable enough with myself as an artist and designer to begin to move in that direction.
It’s always great to hear about people learning their true calling. Where was this design college that convinced you that you had the chops to envision concepts that would drive a story?
I studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. While there I studied Product Design, Transportation Design, and later Entertainment Design and Illustration.
When you decided to make the move from Disney to Bungie, how did you convince us to cast our gaze in your direction?
I submitted a portfolio with a lot of art from various film projects.
A good portfolio packed with previous accomplishments is a great foot in the door. What was it like to walk through that door for your job interview at Bungie?
I wouldn’t say my interview was very difficult in any technical terms. I was more excited about being here and getting the opportunity to meet so many talented people who I have so much respect for as artists, designers, game makers, and story tellers.
The fact that you are here is evidence of their mutual respect. Now that your name is on our roster, what would you say is the best thing about being a member of the team?
The most rewarding thing about working for Bungie is working for Bungie. I have been a fan for a long time, and it is very cool to get to work here and be able to peek behind the curtain and see how everything is made.
Many of our readers would love to pull back that same curtain. Give them a glimpse from your perspective. How would you describe a day in the life of our studio?
Coffee, work, lunch, work, Coffee, work.
Fair enough. It’s not all fun and games here. Building a new universe from the ground up is not easy. Aside from the unlimited supply of caffeine, what else do we do to make that hard work worth the effort?
Ah, yes. The Bungie Uniform! Aside from the irresistible force of peer pressure to keep things casual at Bungie, it also seems as if we are always daring our people to do better and better work. How do you expand your horizons as an artist to keep up with the rate of evolution that Bungie demands?
When I am not drawing or painting at work I am usually doing it on my free time. Practice makes perfect (or in my case, a little better).
It’s good to know that illustrating concepts for Bungie hasn’t crushed your desire to create art outside of work. What steps would you recommend to all of the artists out there who aspire to follow a path similar to yours?
If you would like to be a Concept Artist or Designer, the most common route is by spending 4 -7 years in a design college, like Art Center College of Design, or something equivalent. Some people can do it without schooling by getting their foot in the door at a studio and learning on the job. Either way though, there are no real short cuts. Getting proficient at art takes nothing but time – it’s all about mileage.
Final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.
Work Ethic, Talent, Experience. Like I wrote above, getting good at your craft is all about mileage, so if you have a good work ethic you can get there a lot faster. Talent is important too, some people have “got it” while others don’t, but I would say number one is being able to grind through the first ten years or so of your career building your portfolio and skill set.
We thank Darren for shedding some light on the subject of turning a passion into a career. His is but one story about turning that thing that you would do for free into a job. Many more of these stories are archived in other Breaking In
features. If you would like to write your own story about getting paid to do what you love, Bungie is always on the hunt
for new people who want to follow their dreams.