Sam “Samwise” Didier has been an Art Director at Blizzard Entertainment since 1991 and is responsible for creating and directing the artwork for all franchises that the company has produced, including StarCraft, WarCraft and Diablo. He remains a popular figure in the video game industry and has a reputation with Blizzard fans as being a down-to-earth, approachable face of the company. Gaming Illustrated was granted some time with Samwise Didier hours before the launch of StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm to discuss topics such as his art style, what he looks for in an artist, advice for aspiring artists as well as touching on the StarCraft and Warcraft franchises.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): This is Sean Gibson of Gaming Illustrated here with legendary icon of art in the gaming industry, Samwise Didier. Are you comfortable with me introducing you in that fashion?
Samwise: What do you think Bob, legendary? (asking Blizzard PR man, Bob C.)
Bob C. (Blizzard PR): Legendary? I don’t know. I think we can bump that up a little bit right?
Samwise: Seems a little tame.
Bob C. (Blizzard PR): You know we could go with Ethereal God.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): He invented art. Da Vinci … move over.
Bob C. (Blizzard PR Guy): Nobody drew anything until someone put a pencil in his hand.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): He even created shoulder pads; red fiery shoulder pads.
Samwise: No, I’m fine.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): Very good. I did a lot of research going into this interview. I wanted to know what people had already asked you and one thing I know a lot of people ask artists or musicians is that question I always hate – who influenced you? But I got a question that I’m going to flip on you. Who do you hope to influence with your artwork?
Samwise: You know, any artist out there that likes drawing. I do my artwork specifically for me and if people enjoy it, that’s fantastic. I hope that if I were to influence anyone it would influence people in the sense that you don’t have to draw the best or you don’t have to be the best to have a good time and if you’re lucky, make a living at what you enjoy doing. I would hope that if I could inspire people it would be just to show people that if you like drawing and you like making art; do it. For myself included, don’t worry that your anatomy’s not perfect, don’t worry that perspective could be off because if you look at it, that’s almost World of Warcraft’s style. You know things are grander and over the top and larger than life and had we just drawn Warcraft realistic it probably wouldn’t be as popular.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): One thing I really like about your story, you’re and Orange County kid; I’m a local and you were drawing on the back of bathroom check sheets at the AMC movie theater in Orange?
Samwise: It’s on the back of my clipboard. (shows clipboard)
Gaming Illustrated (SG): There it is right there! Yeah! I used to go to that movie theatre incidentally. I think it’s a parking lot now.
Samwise: I still have a clipboard from it too.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): I still have my clipboard from CompUSA in Mission Viejo.
Samwise: Oh cool.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): I can’t get rid of it. I don’t know why? Why is that – why can’t we get rid of these clipboards after all these years?
Samwise: For me it’s a good clipboard. I have clipboards all throughout my house and the office; wherever I go I try to have pencil and paper handy.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): Talk a bit about the artists that you bring aboard here at Blizzard. Obviously you’re key in developing artists. What are the things you look for in them? Do you look for those humble beginnings or do you look for someone who’s got a crazy art background educationally, or has been studying abroad? What are the kind of things you look for? I imagine it’s a bit of a mix.
Samwise: The thing that I really look for is I try to hire for the person and not the position. It doesn’t matter if you have degree or anything like that. All that matters is that you’re a good artist. You know if you’re a good artist and that’s top priority. You play Blizzard games? That’s the second one. You’re a cool guy? That’s … well, that might be even the second one. But those are the top three things that we look for is someone who is into video games in general and hopefully ours. They have to be a good artist and they have to be a cool person. They can’t be a jerk. They have to be willing to be a game artist; not a fine artist. I don’t want someone who comes in here with the best portfolio in the world and says I will only work on characters.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): Hmm.
Samwise: [I tell them] you can go check out some other places because we need people to make art for video games and that may be you’re making a rock and I want it to be the best frigging rock you’ve ever done!
Gaming Illustrated (SG): Right.
Samwise: So for me, I would much rather just hire when we see someone good; let’s grab them. You know on our [Starcraft] team specifically. There was a fan artist named Luke and he goes by the art name ‘Mr. Jack’ and he was just a killer artist. Every time we would release artwork, he would come up with artwork that was a step better than ours. And that pissed me off because *I* did the art so we saw his stuff and we’re like dude; this guy loves our stuff. We flew him out here, talked to him. He was an awesome individual. Just a general good guy all around and he’s been on our team [ever since]. Now actually, he’s back in his home in Australia town doing the launch for Starcraft over there. You know, hometown hero man.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): Nice. So if there’s on bit of advice for aspiring artists … obviously there’s a lot of guys and gals as well that have a lot of passion that literally grown up with Blizzard in their lives and this is their top aspiration … what do you suggest that they do? Is it sketching every day? Sketch as many different things as you can? Or always just find a means to get your passion out on pen and paper?
Samwise: There would be two things. For personal growth and all that, do whatever you like doing and draw what you like to draw. Now, if you’re looking for a job in the industry, that sort of attitude won’t work because… say you’re going to Blizzard. Well you’re going to have to learn how to draw; depending on the team; Orcs and Trolls, Night Elves, Demons, Angels, Barbarians or Zerg, Protoss, and Terran. So learn; and that goes to any company, learn how to draw what they’re doing and how to create what they’re doing. It can’t hurt. Also in your portfolio, show some of your own stuff. Maybe interpretations of *their* art in *your* style. Or maybe show them what they did wrong like Luke did with us. But the idea would be to show them your talent but also show them that you know how to do what they’re doing. You know if you’re coming to Blizzard and you don’t know how to draw artwork from the different franchises that’s kind of a step back. If we look at a portfolio and say “Oh my God this guy’s drawing pictures of his Orc warrior and he’s got his D&D group and he likes doing mechanical futuristic cars too?” – Awesome.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): You can drop him or her into any project right away.
Samwise: Yeah. So… include a little bit of your personal work but also make sure that if you want to go work for Marvel, well, you better know how to draw Spiderman, you know?
Gaming Illustrated (SG): So to take a step forward … one common theme I found in a lot of your interviews where people were saying that you used to work in a movie theater and back then did you ever think you would ever end up where you are now. You always had the same answer – it was always part of the master plan.
Samwise: Uh hmm.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): So, I want to know what this master plan is and what’s the next step? What’s next on this magic master plan?
Samwise: Well, the question was always did you plan for this? Of course I did. I joke around but it’s actually true because I was always drawing even when I shouldn’t have been in school. So, I was prepared for when that lucky event happened that I saw the ad in the paper. Had I not been drawing all that time I may not have gotten the job here at Blizzard. Uh; after this? I don’t know. I don’t really have any plans other than to keep doing what I did before I was at Blizzard, which was always drawing and having fun and drawing what I like. I continue to do that. I find that the happiest moments in my life are when the house is quiet, I’m drawing and listening to music and I look at the picture and say “oh this is awesome! I’m having so much fun right now.”
Gaming Illustrated (SG): Nice.
Samwise: You know, that beats any kind of rush that you get from watching cool action movies or going out and playing sports. For me it’s always been about art. So, my master plan is just “A-B-C” … Always Be Creating.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): Let’s say just someone just snapped their fingers and Blizzard no longer existed and you had to walk away and retire. Would you be satisfied with your body of work?
Samwise: Oh completely. Yeah, I was always joking the last thing that I really wanted to see was the Pandaren make it into some kind of a Warcraft game and they finally have in a legitimate kind of non-joke way. So that was the crowning achievement for me. My next one now is … and I can’t wait, now that Heart of the Swarm is pretty much out … we still have a few hours …
Gaming Illustrated (SG): Yes?
Samwise: I can’t wait to work on the Protoss and give them their story that they deserve. So at the end of it if for some reason Blizzard stopped; that last Protoss chapter coming out would be a great final end to the Starcraft world in general. So that’s my next major goal for Blizzard, we did Terran, we did Zerg and now I can’t wait for the Sons of Aiur to get their story told.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): This epic battle between them and the Xel’naga?
Gaming Illustrated (SG): You’re very satisfied with your work here and yet, you still have one more thing to do … is it always going to be one little bit more to do?
Samwise: I’m sure it is. And that’s the thing. Even if, say, everything I’ve done here at Blizzard is done, I still have so many ideas in my head that I just want to do art wise. I’ll tell myself, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to draw something like that” and I’ll want to do it. I know that when I’m two minutes away from death I’ll go, “Damn it! I didn’t finish that last picture!”
Gaming Illustrated (SG): Last personal type of question. You’re married and got kids. You work, I’m guessing, what amounts to a ton of hours every week here at Blizzard AND you’re in a rock band. How do you balance all this? Do you sleep?
Samwise: I basically ignore the family (laughing) … no. Well, the nice thing is the rock band is only around when there’s BlizzCons. We’ve played I think … what is it … five shows? Each of those is the BlizzCons that we’ve done.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): Right.
Samwise: Not counting the ones that we’ve had at a friend’s house for practice.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): You’re in a rock band. You opened for Ozzie Osborne. That’s serious to me.
Samwise: Well it’s history. Ozzie *closed* for us. You know, he was gracious enough to come in at the end and say, “We’ll finish out this evening for you guys.” It was very nice of him and I applaud him and Sharon for doing that (laughing). Some of my friends that are in legitimate bands… they’ll say something like; we played like this festival … I’m like, did you open for Ozzie? Uh no … no … uh get back to me when you guys do that you know? Foo fighters? Yeah, they closed for us as well. It was nice. (laughing)
Gaming Illustrated (SG): So let’s get into Starcraft 2.
Gaming Illustrated (SG): With Heart of the Swarm, we’re getting an expansion pack. It’s got to be a different approach when you do develop artwork for an expansion as opposed to coming out with an evolution of a franchise like Wings of Liberty was. Was this harder? Easier? I imagine it’s a bit of both here.
Samwise: Well the designers; they get a lot of the difficulty when it comes with coming up with multi-player units that are needed … not necessarily ones that are wanted. Like I always joke, I can’t wait to have my flying, two-headed fire-breathing Ultralisk, but that’ll never get in because it does too many functions. It’s badass in melee attacks, it’s fire breathing, it’s got two heads… so the design guys actually have to put some thought into what’s needed versus what is *wanted* that would muddy up the races or muddy up the armies right?
Gaming Illustrated (SG): Yup.
Samwise: The most difficult thing on the art end I think is after Wings of Liberty came out, was trying to come up artistically with units that will look distinct for each side but also not look like what the other ones are but also have it’s own style. Like with the Zerg … I’m super, super happy with how the Zerg units came out. We came up with two designs for them. The Viper and the Swarm Host look radically different in my opinion from other Zerg units, but you look at them and you immediately know they’re Zerg and you know that it’s Starcraft. You know, it doesn’t necessarily look like it would fit in a different genre like a sci-fi movie or whatever. You look at it and you [know] those are Zerg but they’re unique designs to other things. I think that’s one of the most difficult things coming up artistically speaking – Coming up with iconic, identifiable, yet relatable.
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On Page 2 – learn more about StarCraft 2, World of WarCraft, and what makes Samwise tick. In addition, he deftly somersaults around a Project Titan question and talks Game of Thrones.
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