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Interview with Ultima Online's Lead Artist, James "Onifrk" Crawly

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Here is the next instalment of UO Dev interviews, This time it is with the newest member Onifrk who joined the team last year as Lead Artist. He gave us an introduction on UO.com which you can find here.

Once again I would like to thank Onifrk for taking the time out his busy schedule to answer our questions which help us get to know the people behind our beloved game!


Q: Since your Introduction on July 30th 2012 we haven't heard much from you, How have you settled in to the team? Are they treating you well?

A: I have been rather quiet and for that I apologize, there is simply a great deal I am trying to get done on UO that is taking up all of my time. The team has been fantastic and very welcoming. I have to admit I have been surprised by the massive amount of information they all possess on this title but it had proved invaluable as I do everything I can to tackle the systems. Things are still a bit of a juggle right now as the attempt to streamline the processes and update needed areas continues.


Q: What was it like going from a really new game like SWTOR to a really old game like UO? and what sort of different challenges does it bring?

A: Every game is different with both positive and negative topics, and this seems to be universal from games, to engines, to platforms, there are always good and bad issues. When it comes to the art however, the biggest change and challenge would be the scale of the game. In a game like SWTOR it is a lot easier to pull off a look and a feel of something due to how close you can get to the object, the way you can twist your camera, even the level of zooming in you can achieve. With UO the challenge is much greater as you have a limited angle and amount of data you can put on a screen to bring the object to life. There are literally areas that would be buttons and icons from SWTOR, which in UO would be full creatures. A bit of a challenge but one I enjoy.


Q: From your introduction you showed us some of the work you have done for UO in the past, What art work in the recent publishes has been yours?

A: Alas since I have arrived all the art you have seen added to the game has at the very least been through an update or change from what has come across my desk.


Q: Where did your name Onifrk come from?

A: That is actually my gamer tag from collage that has stuck. It is actually somewhat entertaining listening to people online try to pronounce it.


Q: Since joining the team, what has been the biggest challenge for you?

A: Without a doubt the biggest challenge has been the tools for the game. The engine being what it is makes a number of the processes longer than I would like. It is also very sensitive on even the slightest bit of data out of place. That said, it is well established and it does work. I have worked with many “better” engines that do not work well even on the best of days.


Q: How does a typical day go for you?

A: A typical day starts pretty early for me due to my commute and wanting to avoid traffic. From there a quick cup of coffee then hit the ground running. E-mail checks for issues and updates. Checking our tracker for new bugs that have occurred. Then I begin working on the art requests from the team. When I have any break in that workflow I fix older bugs, plan out new art, and work on updating already existing art. Of course this can always be broken into by “rush” jobs that the team needs, but this is normal and expected, it is simply how the industry works. Mesanna is always helpful in all of these areas and beats me on a normal schedule to keep me on track, sure it hurts but I have already learned not to complain.


Q: What type of art do you enjoy doing, People, Monsters, Scenery or something else?

A: At my core I am a monster guy, I am even known for it. If something horrific, twisted, or creepy needed I get consulted quite often. I enjoy all aspects of art but when my mind wanders and I doodle monsters tend to come to the forefront. The natural tendency for monsters may be what leads to the one area I seem to struggle with, which is “cute” items. I try hard but even my cute drawings then to come out a little creepy.


Q: Do you think coming from a game like SWTOR influences your ideas for UO?

A: For me I have never had an issue with being influenced by other games. I can easily switch from sci-fi, to fantasy, to realistic without problems or influences. There are artist out there that are more focused on a specific type of art but I enjoy the flexibility.


Q: What has been your most memorable piece of art whether in a game or on canvas or any other type?

A: I would say that it is a mirror I made for my wife. I gave it to her so that she could see the beauty I wake up to, and smile about, every day.


Q: What is your favorite color?

A: A bit cliché for an artist but black.


Q: Have you got a second dog yet that you mentioned in your introduction? If you did what kind did you get?

A: I did in fact get a new puppy. A lovely little Staffordshire who has no idea how big she is getting. She will snuggle with anyone, sleeps anywhere and on anything, and would play tug of war even in her sleep.


Q: Have you ever drawn "napkin sketch" that ended up being in a game?

A: I freely admit that many of the items I have done throughout the years have started on napkins, recipes, note pad corners, etc. This already includes UO as I get ideas for fun things to put in and do not want to forget.


Q: If you hadn't got into Gaming art what do you think you would be doing?

A: I was actually working on skills to do special effects for movies, particularly horror movies. It was a huge passion when I was younger and it is kind of fun to realize that the skills I have now would work within that realm now. I love the work I do and have no intention of leaving the industry though.


Q: What inspired you to get into Art as a career?

A: I have always been an artist sketching and drawing even when very young, but as for art in the computer field I kind of fell into it. I was working in the QA department at a company called Microprose. After about 6 months of being there they were in desperate need for an artist on one of the projects. It was mentioned to the head of the studio that I was an artist. Which turned to me being asked about this information being true and if I would be willing to assist, I said yes, and have been creating art for games ever since.


Q: How did you end up on the UO Dev team?

A: There was a need present and I was called in to take on the challenge due to my skill set and having worked for the studio before. It was quite a compliment from my point of view, and I was more than willing to return. This studio and all the teams here and some of the best people I have worked with. While UO is the Original and still running MMO, the game, the length of time it has continued to run, the fans, and the team, are all just amazing and an experience I am glad to be a part of.


Q: What games do you play and on what platforms?

A: Right now I am playing Dead Space 3, I love this entire series. I am also playing Mechwarrior online, X-com Enemy Unknown, Poxnora, tabletop games, board games, roleplaying games, and so on. I have all the platforms and dabble in anything that comes across my path. It is always good to keep your eyes open and find influence and acknowledge the visuals that people enjoy.


So I hope this gave you a better insight to the man behind the art of Ultima Online.


A huge thank you to Onifrk again for agreeing to this!

Edited by Rupert Avery
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