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Design

To the Point: An Interview With Ellinoora Laine

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Concept art for Sleepy Stars

Hey Dashi! Thanks so much for the interview. Let's start with what got you into art.

I feel that it’s necessary to start by thanking you for having me! I consider your interest in my work an immense honor! My lifelong journey with art doesn't have an exact starting point that I could remember, but rather, I’m one of those kids who plopped onto this planet with a pen in hand—or at least that’s what my mom always told me.

“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. Thousands maybe.” 
- Neil Gaiman

I relate to these words in the sense that I feel like I have a thousand worlds and stories inside me, and have always had the urge to communicate them to the outside world. My preferred way of doing that has always been drawing.

Ellinoora Laine aka Dashiana
Ellinoora Laine, aka Dashiana.

Who or what inspires your work?

Almost every piece of art I produce outside of my paid work is based on a song, or sometimes even several, and it has been that way for years. I find myself inspired by lyrics a lot, both for drawing and for writing. So, I guess it’s no surprise that I get my share of inspiration from books as well. My inspirational favorites for the year 2014 are "#GIRLBOSS" from Sophia Amoruso and "These Broken Stars" by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner, just to name a few.

As far as inspirational art goes, I’m an avid admirer of Barbara Canepa, Lauren Faust, Sarah Stone, Rose Bech, Humberto Ramos, Simone Legno and my respected peer at Rovio, Javier Burgos. I also feel that it’s necessary to mention fashion while discussing things that inspire me! As Miuccia Prada geniusly said, “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today when human contacts go so fast. Fashion is instant language.” I love dressing myself and my characters up in different fashions such as lolita and my current favorite, pastel goth. I have gigabytes after gigabytes of fashion photography saved on my hard drives for inspirational purposes.

Tracon mascot Timewarp piece
Tara, the Tracon mascot.

Are you formally trained? If so, where'd you go, what degree did you achieve, and what was the experience like? If not, how did you work up your portfolio for professional work?

I am not formally trained in my chosen profession, but I do have a Bachelor's Degree in Interactive Media Design from Tampere University of Applied Sciences. My schooling covered a variety of things from movies to graphic design and web programming. While I completed my degree eventually, I was hired by an indie game company during my second year of University and stuck with learning at work. I’m the kind of person who learns a lot quicker by doing things rather than talking about doing them.

But what my schooling did do for my professional work, was to give me valuable contacts in the form of amazing friends and acquaintances. If anyone’s entertaining the thought of attending a school in the field of media and/or art, I’d highly recommend them to make friends. These people are their weight’s worth in gold—in many aspects of life.

Gamma character sheet

What is your creative process like?

I’ve always been an “in war and love” kind of a girl when it comes to creating art. My methods tend to be quick and dirty, especially in the beginning of the process. This usually means I start off with a very rough, messy sketch, and the clearer idea I have of what I’m setting out to create, the messier and quicker my sketches are. I usually just put a gist of an idea on paper, because I still prefer sketching by hand, snapping a quick photo of it with my iPhone, and draw on the photo in Photoshop.

Painting process

What programs and tools do you use in creating your work? Anything you're especially fond of that you'd like to recommend to readers? 

At home, my current weapons of choice are an A5 sized sketch pad, a mechanical pencil, an iPhone 4S, a Wacom Intuos Pro S and Adobe Photoshop CC 2014. At the office, I use the same type of set up, with the addition of having Wacom Intuos Pro L and Adobe Flash. While my tools certainly make my job easier, my piece of advice would be not to stare into the specs of your utilities too much. No tool will ever draw your pictures for you. You have to choose what you’re comfortable with and what complements your skill set, which sometimes means disagreeing with trends and convention.

These Broken Stars
You can watch the process of "These Broken Stars" on Dashi's Youtube channel.

For how long have you worked professionally?

I've been working professionally for four years next February [2015].

What's your typical workday like?

My typical day in the office consists of Photoshop and a lot of green tea. What I do in Photoshop depends on what phase the project is in, but the recent trend has been asset creation. This is essentially recreating the game designer’s ideas in visual form, and having a constant dialogue with the design team.

Angry Birds in Space

Depending on the phase of the project, as well as the team’s chosen method of working, there might also be a meeting or two during the day. I've been part of teams where we started our days by having a meeting where each member of the team described what they had done for the project in the past 24 hours. I've discovered this is especially popular amongst open offices, where several teams work in a shared space. Teams can avoid distracting each other when they take their business to the meeting rooms. Now that I’m in a team with their own room, separate meetings are not as necessary; we have a near constant dialogue going and the team members know what’s happening around the project.

Unsurprisingly, my time off from my paid work also consists of Photoshop and a lot of green tea, with the variable of my dog Fontti (his name translates as Type Face/Font) added into the function. During my personal project days (Saturdays and Sundays) I usually just sit my behind down in front of my computer and stare into the vast void of Photoshop, with the occasional food and walking break.

Dashis workspace
Dashi's at-home workspace. Note the tea, Sailor Moon, and Monster High inspiration pieces.

Currently you work for Rovio Entertainment (maker of fine video games such as Angry Birds). What is your role within the company?

I’m currently credited as the Lead Graphic Artist in Angry Birds Star Wars II. I also have history with other titles that fall under the Angry Birds brand, such as Angry Birds: Rio and Angry Birds: Space.

Angry Birds Star Wars

Do you enjoy working with a team of artist and designers? Or is your preference for solo work to bring a project to completion?

I am most definitely a team player. Working solo is not a problem for me, and it was my preferred method of working for a long time, but for me, there’s no progress without a team. I’ve discovered I perform better and faster with the right people in the same room with me. Having the access to constant feedback from your team is a privilege I’m very happy to exercise.

Mass Effect fanart from Dashis freetime
Mass Effect fanart from Dashi's freetime.

What's the workload like for artists in mobile games? When designers create assets for a video game, is there a lot of content that's never used? 

The amount of excess art is usually up to how clearly the game designers, as well as the decision makers of the project, communicate their needs and ideas to the artists. If there’s no clear idea of what the team is trying to achieve, which is often in the beginning of a project, there is almost always piles and piles of art that goes unused. That’s why I feel it’s important that the idea of polished concept art is shaken and shed for good.

When designing an environment for Angry Birds Star Wars II, for example, I often start with compiling a huge moodboard and a pile of quick ‘n' dirty thumbnails, rather than start to do something intricate. In a fast and swiftly changing work environment (which the game industry essentially is), there will absolutely be times when you have to go back to the beginning, even when you thought you were working on the final design. However, a good conception phase can help to prevent this to a certain extent. When applying for this line of work, the ability to “kill your darlings” is always a good thing to list on your resume.

Slash bird for Angry Birds Space

Projects like mobile games seem absolutely massive when it comes to the art content. How many people are typically on the team for a game? 

The size of the team in mobile game development depends on the product the team is set out to make, as well as the company culture. In the beginning of my professional career I helped produce updates for King of Opera in a team of just three developers: an artist, a programmer and a producer. However, when the production values go up, so does the team headcount.

The biggest team I've been a part of was around 15 people, including 4 artists. These days, the beauty of mobile game creation is that you can pretty much go as big or as small as you want, so there’s no set team size. However, during my 4 years in the industry, the core development team has typically been around 3-10 people at a time, including 1-3 artists with different responsibilities.

King of Opera artwork

I admire your Koneko-Chan artwork (character and merchandise). Tell us about the character and what you're doing with that line of designs.

Koneko-Chan is one of my absolute favorite things to talk about! Thank you for asking! She started out as a webcomic character back in my last year in Upper Secondary (the Finnish equivalent of High School). She was a side character in a story about a demon hunter hotel, but after I dropped the comic, Koneko-Chan refused to be dropped. I kept on drawing her in different outfits and discovered that people enjoyed looking at her as much as I enjoyed drawing her.

Koneko-Chan magical girl style designs

To give a quick summary, Koneko-Chan is a self-proclaimed princess, who loves cutesy stuff with a side of creepy! She is striving to be the "Barbie" of creepy and cute, and enjoys sporting all sorts of different fashions and professions. She adamantly believes you can make your shortcomings into your strong points, and become anything you aspire to be, so became a princess! She is also a firm believer in the power of pink and likes to wear all sorts of things, including (but not limited to) dresses and lingerie to show her fellow monsters that there’s a lot of power in things that are traditionally considered feminine.

Mini Koneko designs

As her creator, I’m an avid believer in her message and would like to spread it further. So, my long term hope and goal would be to turn Koneko-Chan into a Tokidoki/Hello Kitty type lifestyle brand with jewelry, clothing and everyday products.

Koneko-Chan logo
Koneko-chan logo.

You did your first convention with the Koneko-Chan line in September. What was the experience like? When creating merchandise from Koneko-Chan designs, do you produce hand-made designs or send off pieces to printers and companies for manufacture?

My first experience in bringing Koneko-Chan to a convention was amazing, to put it mildly. I was practically overwhelmed with the warm welcome the character/brand experienced. While the brand is not profitable yet, I enjoy doing the conventions and drawings because of the people who come up to me and tell me they like Koneko or have been inspired by her.

As far as the merchandise goes, some of it is printed by companies, and some of it I make by hand.

Dashis Koneko-Chan display featuring prints and merchandise
Dashi's Koneko-Chan display featuring prints and merchandise.

Do you have time for freelance work?

I don’t do freelance for other companies since I’ve signed a non-competitive agreement, but I have done non-profit volunteering for Tracon, the biggest anime/RPG convention in Finland (with 6K unique visitors annually) for many years. I love attending conventions and creating graphics for them, and I am still looking to do this in the future. For Tracon, I’ve done mascot design and illustration work since 2010.

Tracon mascots for 2014
Tracon mascots for 2014.

What words of advice do you have for aspiring illustrators/designers?

I always consider myself a student rather than a teacher, and still have so much I want to learn, both in my professional and private art life. So I don’t usually give out too much advice, because I’d rather ask for it.

Summertime Koneko-Chan

Many thanks to Dashi for taking the time to answer my long list of questions and share her work and experience with us. As life-long students ourselves, here at Tuts+, the mentality of always striving to improve is shared tenfold and it's fantastic to see professional artists carry such ideas into their every day work.

For more of Dashiana's work, both personal and professional, check out the links below:

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