Lead concept artist Johnson Ting Sinyu has worked on various games, movies and collectibles in his career so far.
The 27-year-old has designed characters and props for AAA (high quality) games such as Gears Of War 4; plus various collectibles and collector’s edition statues for games such as Horizon Zero Dawn, Call of Duty WW2, Injustice 2, Doom, Battlefield 1, and Marvel Vs Capcom Infinite.
Project Triforce, a collectible company in New York, as well as Lemonsky Animation and Passion Republic, are some of the companies where the Kuching-born and bred Ting has worked at.
He has also done freelance work for many other companies from around the globe, such as Activision, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, NC Soft and Smilegate.
Ting is also a guest lecturer at The One Academy, teaching Design Process Principles for the entertainment design course.
Here, he shares with Star2 how he discovered and nurtured his passion to become a professional concept artist.
Star2: When, and how, did this passion of yours start?
Ting: It all started when I was very young. I drew on any blank canvas I could find.
My passion to draw got a boost when my father bought a computer – it changed my life! I poured many hours into computer games; this was a vital part of shaping my career later in life. I spent a significant amount of time playing games; probably hundreds of hours each.
When I was introduced to the Internet, it blew my mind! I spent a lot of time looking for pictures of the games I played, and came across various paintings and sketches. I was extremely captivated by them and never realised that art played such a big role in making games.
I drew a lot of fan art. My classmates would ask me to draw their favourite characters, creatures, Gundam robots, Power Rangers and Ultraman.
I never knew what concept art was at the time. I just wanted to draw, out of sheer passion.
How did you develop your passion?
My parents enrolled me at a Chinese independent school back in Kuching. I was a below-average student mainly because of my low Mathematics scores. However, I was consistently getting A’s for Art.
As bad as I was in Mathematics, I developed a huge interest in Science and Physics. Since young, I was intrigued to take things apart and put them back together, to see how they worked. I questioned everything. Every time I gained some knowledge, I would make some invention of my own.
Little did I know these were all signs of an artist, as some of my mentors in the early years of my career told me.
It was at an education fair that I first heard about the job of an illustrator. I was captivated! But I had some doubts as my family was not very stable, financially. Somehow, my parents agreed, even though it would be a very rocky journey.
I enrolled in The One Academy’s illustration course in early 2009, after a year of working in a coffee shop to save up some money. I started working part-time and took on freelance jobs related to art. I also worked at a convenience store. Desperate times always seem to bring out the fighting spirit in me. It was insane to juggle between my studies, my job and freelancing.
My parents sold our family car and my mother’s wedding jewellery to pay for my school fees. It was heartbreaking… I had this growing sense of duty inside me that I would have to work extra hard to repay my parents.
In my last year of university, one of my mentors at the time, Jarold Sng, asked me if I was interested in working with the company he was in, Lemonsky Animation Sdn Bhd, as a part-time concept artist. I learnt a lot working with professionals in the field.
As graduation day approached, I was sad to leave my part-time job at Lemonsky, but I had to focus on my final semester.
After graduation, I was lucky enough to be hired by another game company, Passion Republic. After two years there, I was approached by Project Triforce. I started out doing freelance for them but ended up being hired full-time; and I worked remotely. I left Project Triforce in December last year, and am currently freelancing in Kuala Lumpur.
What does it mean to be a concept artist?
A concept artist is a fairly new term to most people, especially in Malaysia. It is part of the evolution of the entertainment industry. Basically, games or movies these days require a whole lot of people to create, just as in building a building. It takes years, and hundreds of people, to make it happen.
The development is divided into three major phases: pre-production, production, and post-production. Concept artists belong in the pre-production phase. We generate ideas, design, provide art direction. Our visuals are then passed to the production team to create models from our concepts and bring them to life. In post-production, artists do the final touch-ups. Sometimes concept artists are involved in post-production to produce marketing illustrations for the product.
Concept artists are usually the tip of the spearhead, working closely with the director, scriptwriter or creator to set the art direction, followed by the rest of the team.
So I’d sit in front of the computer and paint and draw all day, using a digital stylus like Wacom Cintiq or Intuos. I can paint for six to 12 hours a day.
A normal concept art workflow starts with a sketch, after brainstorming ideas from the text descriptions. When the art director is happy with the sketch, I will proceed to clean it up and add details and colours to it. At the same time, I have to make sure my design is clear and can be made into 3D.
Are you an avid gamer yourself? What inspires you?
Yes, I am still an avid gamer! The most recent game I love is Destiny. I am good friends with the artists behind making the game, and they knew that I was a fan and sent me a signed print by the art director and lead concept artist of Destiny. It was really cool.
I get inspiration from life and photography.
What do you want the world to know about concept artists?
Many Malaysians have yet to wrap their heads around this industry. Without artists and designers, the world would be a boring place.
If you have a child, relative or friend who wants to expand their artistic abilities, please support and nurture them instead of stereotyping them.
The term “starving artists” gives us a bad reputation. Some concept artists earn up to US$8,000 (RM31,300) per painting. The ability to draw comes from long years of training and hard work.
What are some of your notable works?
I would say, my Neo Japan IP (Intellectual Property), and Frontier Buccaneers. I am usually sought after by companies for my sci-fi robot designs. I am currently in the midst of making a personal artbook, titled Neo, a cyberpunk science-fiction visual book.
What is your view of your career path? What do you see is the future of concept artists?
I might be more involved in the figurine and collectibles industry – I have a lot of love for it, and it feels amazing to see my designs come to life.
Concept artists will continue to play a huge role in the entertainment industry.
What changes would you like to see in the current digital art industry?
I would like to see the audience appreciate the people behind various movies and games even more.
Many talented Malaysians have moved out of the country to pursue better opportunities. If possible, I would like to do my part in telling the talented individuals to come back after gaining the experience and help grow the industry here in Malaysia. Malaysian artists should unite to build a better and more forward-moving country in the arts.