In the first installment of our artist feature series, I will shine the spotlight on the very talented Australian artist Stephanie Everett, known throughout the world for creating awesome sets for the Dota 2 marketplace.
I had the opportunity to sit down and ask Stephanie some questions about her workflow and background as an artist, as well as working with Dota 2 art in Toolbag 2. She gave me some excellent insight into both her process and the world of Dota 2 content creation.
On to the interview!
How long have you been making game art?
I started by modding some of my favourite games. Making maps for games such as WarCraft 2, and Heroes of Might and Magic 3. Later I moved onto modding Baldurs Gate 2, and then making maps and quests for Neverwinter Nights. After getting my diploma, I started working in the industry as a freelance game artist in 2004.
Where did you work before you started doing Dota workshop content, and how did that affect your current process?
The last place I worked at was Trion Worlds on the MMO Rift. I was a senior artist on the environment team there. Tight deadlines and a passion for huge scope with our ideas, helped hone my workflow to produce art smartly and without loss of quality.
Before working at Trion, I was a character/creature artist at Fuzzyeyes. I spent a lot of time studying animals and animal anatomy, interesting fashion choices that help differentiate sectors of human society in the game, and quirky creature concepts. This has given me an edge when I create cosmetics for Dota 2.
“I figure if I make stuff that I like, and everyone hates it, at least I know I made something that one person will like, and that person is me.”
How did you get into creating items for the Dota 2 workshop?
In late 2012 the Polycount Dota 2 contest was announced, and I was inspired to compete. I was doing casual freelance work at the time, being back in Australia for a year after working at Trion. I was able to put my freelance work on hold for 2 months and devote all of my time to trying to do the best I possibly could. I fell in love with playing Dota 2 and continued to have the craving to make Dota 2 items. After finishing up my freelance work in early 2013, I devoted my full time to Dota 2 and the workshop.
What is it like to work on Dota content full time?
Liberating. Working with your own ideas for heroes you love to play is an amazing experience. You’re doing art for yourself, with no client to tell you how to do things, and no manager telling you to cut corners to meet a deadline. It’s just you in full control of your art. Not only that, I get to work on a game I love, play a game I love and also help the community which I have fallen in love with!
Where do you get your inspiration and how do you decide which items to create?
It’s so hard to really pinpoint it. I get a lot of inspiration from everything. Being naturally curious about how things work and why they exist the way they do, really helps bulk up my visual library. I take a lot of interest in the way good designs work, in nature, and in culture. When I play Dota 2 I flip through the heroes, watch the heroes get played by a pro or play the hero myself to get my mind wandering to the dark depths of my imagination, which helps to picture them in different and cool ways. It’s a very organic process which is fueled by my passion for the game and the art style.
“I use Marmoset Toolbag for all my marketing images and final beauty renders.”
What is the most difficult aspect of getting an item into the workshop system?
The art style can be a hard hurdle to bend to at first. Other than that its reading what the community likes. In the end I make sets for myself, which can increase the extremes in reception from the community. But I figure if I make stuff that I like, and everyone hates it, at least I know I made something that one person will like, and that person is me.
How does the Dota 2 shader in TB2 fit into your workflow?
I use it heavily for setting up the shader masks for the items. I can easily tweak and edit textures as one sheet and preview them in Marmoset Toolbag before taking them in game and fine tuning them to the in-game lighting and post processes.
I use Marmoset Toolbag for all my marketing images and final beauty renders. It makes the process so easy and streamlined for my workflow into photoshop.
How do you think we could further improve Toolbag 2 for Dota artists?
A really cool idea I had would be to have a section of the Dota 2 map complete with lighting and post processes as close as possible to the game setup in the toolbag. We could then use it as a cool environment platform to test our colours on and even a nice easy backdrop to help take renders from.
Do you have any advice for aspiring Dota 2 workshop content creators?
Don’t do one or two item sets and hope to get in. It will take a few goes to get used to the art style and familiar with the pipeline. Give yourself room for at least 4-5 sets and then assess if you want to continue from there. Know that you need to market your work as well as you make your art. Posting on the DOTA2 subreddit, on multiple forums and on twitter to help secure votes in a very competitive environment is needed.
Appreciate and digest feedback but always make sure you stay true to your own vision. Play the game to get a better understanding and connection to what you are taking time to work on, but most importantly, don’t give up!