Marie-Michelle “Tits” Pepin is a very talented French-Canadian (oui oui, eh?) character artist who has been working in the games industry for 4 years. She studied at Cégep Limoilou and then started her career working on-site at Beenox in Quebec City, before finally starting off on her own as a freelancer.
Marie is currently available for work, so be sure to check out more of her awesome artwork on her portfolio.
I had a chance to talk Marie about being a character artist in the games industry, the differences between offline and real-time rendering, French-Canadian cuisine, and how Marmoset Toolbag fits into her workflow.
On to the interview!
How did you get into game art?
Most people have a very lovely story about how they played a game as a child and then instantly knew that was what they wanted to do.
My story is a bit different, as a child I was constantly drawing and doing oil painting. I really got into digital painting as a teenager. When it was time to go to college I was a bit confused, I studied graphic design for about a year and a half, but that didn’t really work for me. A friend of mine introduced me to Philip Landry, who was studying 3D and animation in a small college in Québec. As soon as I learned that making art for games was a thing, it just felt right.
Can you tell me about the origin of your nickname?
It started as a joke online. I was playing Xbox 360 with friends and all of them were using some kind of very subtle sexual nicknames as a joke (in french of course). As kind of a satire, I decided to go with something a little less subtle, and it stuck with me. My current Steam nickname is “Madame Tits” – very lady-like!
What sort of projects have you worked on professionally?
At the beginning of my career I worked on a lot of web browser and mobiles games. Then I started working on consoles and computer titles, including the Skylanders franchise. Right now I am all over the place as a freelancer, I had the pleasure to work on Creative Assembly’s Total War series and a lot more of secret stuff yet to be announced!
Do you enjoy working as a freelance artist?
Freelancing is really a breath of fresh air for me. I had some good and bad experiences in my studio jobs in the past. I’m a very career-oriented person and I really need to feel challenged in my work. At some point I felt like I was hitting a ceiling in my career and needed a change. It was a very scary leap of faith for me, but I don’t regret it one bit, it was totally worth it. I’m currently working on project I feel extremely passionate about, which is very rewarding as an artist.
How big of an advantage is having two first names in the game industry?
None! I actually get asked about it quite often. In french we call them ‘’nom composés’’ and they were and still are super popular; it seems like it’s a bit less common in English. The thing is, very few people actually call me by my full name. Marie is fine with me!
What is it about character art that appeals to you?
I’ve always loved characters, even as a child I was interested in painting portraits. I don’t know exactly why but I felt more passionate about it, landscape wasn’t my thing. When I started learning 3D, character art is what I was excited about. I later learned that it was a really difficult field to get into. My teachers convinced me to concentrate on environment art and props, which I did for a while, but that didn’t last long, as I didn’t feel the same passion I had while making characters.
“When picking a character having precise objectives is the best way to improve your work and stay focused.”
You have a tendency to gravitate towards strong female characters in your personal work. As a talented female artist yourself, is that a deliberate choice or a coincidence?
It is a deliberate choice. With professional work, chances are you will make so many more male characters than female. At first it was really only about getting some practice, but I just love strong female characters. I get so little time now to work on my personal work, when the opportunity arises I can’t help wanting to try to create one of those amazing female characters. I just love them so much and they look so bad ass!
Est de manger seulement baguette vraiment durable ?
Non Non! Essayez la poutine!
What qualities do you look for when choosing a character to model?
I’m not much of a character designer myself and for that reason I love to pick characters from different games. I chose characters for a lot of different reasons. Ellie for example, was a character I could really relate to when playing the game. I decided to work on her to really challenge myself to improve the quality of my work, sculpting likenesses, and realistic texturing while dealing with console technical constraints.
Jinx was something of a completely different story. I wanted to practice stylized characters, design interpretation (not just reproductions) and the PBR pipeline. When picking a character having precise objectives is the best way to improve your work and stay focused.
Can you outline your character creation process?
I like to start by doing a quick block out of the body and proportions, and then I add blocky base meshes for the different pieces of clothing and props. I think the proportions and silhouette are the most important parts of a character, so doing that first helps me figure out what works and what doesn’t. I’m not a big Dynamesh user, I really like working with creases and topology from the start, even when my base meshes are relatively simple. Once I am happy with how the silhouette and different elements work together I start the sculpting phase.
“From testing…to the final product, Toolbag is the only viewport I use. Its PBR pipeline is very unified…”
When did you first start using Marmoset Toolbag 2?
I started using it at some point when it was still in beta. I remember Lee Devonald got my Ellie fan art in Toolbag during a live video and I was so excited about it. Not long after I was lucky enough to get into the beta, it was instant love.
How does Toolbag fit into your workflow?
Marmoset Toolbag is now completely integrated into my texturing pipeline. Sometimes I use it early in my process so I can show off my model with a Polypaint job from Zbrush, which gives me a very good idea of what the final model could look like. After my bake is done, I switch over to Toolbag to preview my model. From testing my normal map to the final product, Toolbag is the only viewport I use. Its PBR pipeline is very unified, so even when I am doing work intended for a different game engine, previewing in Marmoset Toolbag 2 does the job perfectly without me having to get my hands dirty setting up my work in-engine.
You have some experience with offline renderers, can you tell me how Toolbag compares?
The quality gap used to be huge between offline and real-time renderers, so offline renderers where the way to go for me, especially for Zbrush sculpts. Since I’ve gotten my hands on Toolbag, things have changed a lot. It can handle huge amount of triangles, you get access to all those fancy shaders that you couldn’t use before, and the image-based lighting looks fabulous. My computer use to heat up and shut down while making those incredibly long renders and now I can do basically the same thing in real-time. My shots have never looked better, plus I can spin it around without needing to re-render the scene, which is awesome!
Do you have any advice on becoming a world-renowned artist?
I think our field of work is all about passion, patience, and persistence. Somebody once shared the following quote with me. It’s by Calvin Coolidge, and it just resonated with me so much. It’s a great one.
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Calvin Coolidge