I have had the privilege of interviewing a bunch of STA employees, writers, and artists. Their insights have given me a deeper, more meaningful, appreciation of what I feel is one of the most beautiful games in the last 40 years…and getting better.
I have to say, this interview takes the cake. Are you an aspiring artist/writer? Do you want to understand how the industry works? This is the interview to read. Pay attention.
Michael: How did you get involved with doing the artwork for the Star Trek Adventures game?
Chaim: I’ve been lucky enough to work with Modiphius on a number of titles, and over the years their fantastic Art Directors have allowed me to try on different stylistic hats depending on the IP (special shout to Sam, Katya, and Virginia). Our first collaboration was on John Carter of Mars and I’ve since gotten to work on Homeworld, Conan, and finally on the new edition of Acthung! Cthulhu. I guess by the time STA was on deck they knew I’d at least be able to turn in work on time.
How much creative freedom were you given when you were commissioned to work on the project? Was there an already established storyline involved?
Star Trek probably had the most firmly planted guideposts of all the other IPs I’ve illustrated for Modiphius because it’s not only a licensed IP requiring approval from both Modiphius and ViacomCBS, but it’s a title with decades of accessible canon–not to mention a near-religiously devoted fanbase.
So while I have stylistic freedom to a point, it was no surprise that I needed to stick pretty close to established and (in most cases) well-documented designs for costumes, character likenesses, props, etc. I guess you could say there’s some freedom in not needing to imagine everything yourself and you can just focus on trying to execute a strong image.
To the second question, unless artists are brought in from the very beginning for visual development or concept pushes on a brand new IP I think it’s unlikely you have much access to a storyline per se. Typically a brief is just describing a single moment and my job is to tell as much of that story within the constraints of the one image, with little to no knowledge of what else is happening in the book— unless I’m doing more than one piece.
What was your favorite part of doing the concept art for Star Trek Adventures?
I wasn’t part of any concept push if they had one. None of the briefs I worked on required ideation, as they depicted established species, tech, or craft that could be referenced from any of the shows.
But if we’re talking about my favorite aspect of illustrating this Star Trek content, I think the research is often more fun than actually making art, and unlike other illustration jobs, research for STA was often finding out which episodes the screenshots in my briefs were taken from so I could track down and watch them for more contextual information.
Whenever you do an illustration you become sort of a pseudo-expert of something very specific, or like some kind of pop-cultural detective. For example, during my research I found a website that lets you choose the ship model/series, so you can take a virtual walking tour of a 3D rendered Enterprise. This was extremely helpful because I could basically position the camera where I wanted and use that as my reference shot.
As for my favorite piece, I think I enjoyed doing the Andorian/Klingon snow battle the most because I’d personally never seen a Star Trek scene like that. Space-Braveheart on ice!
But if I’m totally honest, my favorite part of doing any RPG job is finding the book on a shelf in a brick-and-mortar store a year later and seeing my art on a shelf with all the other titles I want to work on someday.
When did your passion for art first develop?
I don’t think I’m very unique in that regard. Like pretty much every game artist I know, I was always drawing whatever I was into video game maps, ninja turtles, my RPG characters, comics… But I think I can trace the real spark of passion, my “I want to do that for a living” moment, to discovering the Arkham Asylum graphic novel illustrated by Dave McKean. That was a real game-changer. I knew he was doing something else with the medium and I wanted to learn how. Since then it’s just been a life of discovering a new “Arkham Asylum” every year, and wanting to improve.
How long have you been a fan of Star Trek? What was your first exposure to Star Trek?
I won’t risk pandering by overemphasizing the role of Star Trek in my personal fandom. I definitely saw some TNG as a kid. But I wasn’t sophisticated enough at that age to understand what made Star Trek as a concept so compelling.
I’ve since watched all of TOS, most of TNG, and some of the films. Now I can appreciate it much more. I can at least claim to have seen and enjoyed Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country in the theater when I was nine. I was too young to fully understand all the socio-political nuances of the movie but the anti-gravity assassination was super intense and I was genuinely afraid for Kirk and Bones when they got their Rura Penthe sentence. It’s still my favorite Star Trek movie, whatever that’s worth. Klingon Christopher Plummer!
What advice do you have for any artists looking to get into publishing work with role-playing games?
Be as versatile as you are hungry. The TTRPG industry is not for seekers of mountains of actual gold. I don’t pretend to know all the challenges publishers face, but I’ve learned that it’s not a business you’re going to get rich from—unless you’re a toy company executive.
For that reason, limiting yourself to making art for only RPGS or only for your preferred genre or even sticking to only one art style forever will limit the number of jobs you’re hirable for.
You may not always be overflowing with love for the specific title you’re working on, but if you focus more on delivering professional grade work on time and maintaining GOOD RELATIONSHIPS with your Art Directors (Juniors and Seniors alike) then eventually you’ll have a solid enough foundation to start narrowing your focus and accepting work for the titles you know will be more personally rewarding.
Additionally, learning more skills than just 2D illustration is immensely helpful.
In the past, I’ve definitely leaned on my graphic design & layout experience to pad out the leaner months.
The RPG industry is largely a bunch of excited nerds like you who either have day jobs, finally got to quit their day jobs to work on games, or are hoping Kickstarter will allow them to quit their day jobs someday. Many of the gates are not as tightly shut as I thought they’d be.
When I thought I had enough relevant work on my Artstation I just emailed Chris Birch directly and said “I backed Achtung! Cthulhu on Kickstarter because of Dim Martin’s illustrations. I like monsters. Can I do work for you too?” There are loads of publishers, so cast a wide net when looking for those first gigs.
BUT! don’t work for free, ever, unless it’s for your mom. And don’t use Twitter “custom character art” quotes as a guide for your rates. RPGs may be a hobby but this profession is not. This is work…hours and hours and hours of work. Your Photoshop subscription, drawing tablet, iPad, electricity, internet, art books, student loans, rent, and TIME don’t get paid back with “followers” or “exposure”.
So do your research and respect your time and your craft.
Who is your favorite character in Star Trek? Why?
General Chang. He was just so damn charming, and in a way, a totally admirable adversary. He was a great scenery-chewing mirror to Kirk. And of course, I loved Nimoy as old Spock in the rebooted franchise. As a kid, when I found out Leonard Nimoy was Jewish, like me, Spock basically became like a Jewish superhero.
What are we most likely going to find you doing if you aren’t working on Star Trek Adventures?
Planning my first game of Mörk Borg, checking for updates on when HEL: The Last Saga will finally be shipped, and harassing the Modiphius staff for copies of the new Acthung! Cthulhu. I’m in those!
I am so happy and satisfied with this informative interview. And it is so true, especially the advice on how to get seen. Thanks so much, Chaim! I can’t wait to see even more of your work!
Want to see more of Chaim’s work?
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