Artistic Character

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Klaus Scherwinski, artist, illustrator, and way-cool guy.

Last we met, we’d figured out our scope and direction, sketched out our character ideas, and begun sorting out the method of our medium. I’d like to expand on that for this installment, as it’s probably the most-asked question I’ve fielded since the rollout of the IHProPath project.

Why not photographs?

Part of the answer goes back to a concept I mentioned previously: “future forward.” By placing our characters and their scenes a bit forward in the future, we would not be beholden to the stricter details of today. I realized this early on during our character design brainstorms – one of my experts asked me what type of gas chromatography mass spectrometer devices we’d have shown in our student scene. I balked at that, because I first had to look up what that terminology meant!

It became fairly evident rather quickly that aiming for the ‘here and now’ was not going to work. It would mean slavish adherence to every detail, to make sure we got it all absolutely correct. That process alone would add months, if not a year or more, to our tightening timeline.

It would also impact how we presented the images. Photography was the first consideration but it was soon pushed aside after the above implications. Never mind constructing the ‘perfect’ scene with all details covered – finding the right subjects would also increase the project’s time. (And budget!) Rather than go into such mind-boggling detail, I turned to a mainstay I have used in my ‘other’ life as a game freelancer: illustrative art.

Art Trumps Photography

Using artwork has a number of benefits, the biggest being the ability to create a future reality with regards to workspaces, equipment, and backgrounds. By using real-world elements in combination with more futuristic stylings, we would cement the image with identifiable material for the audience while still conveying the idea of just-beyond-the-horizon technology.

ecp-clipUnsure what I mean? For an easy illustration, look at the tablet in the hands of Melinda, our Early Career Professional. The shape, size, and obvious use of the device easily tells you of its function. But by making the screen holographic and transparent, we’re seeing a common tool of today ‘futurized,’ adding to the scene’s more advanced bend.

Notice the other object in the background, to the left of our futuristic tablet? You can easily identify it because it has a familiar shape and is a common item found in setting of the piece – a fire extinguisher. You automatically processed its presence without actively searching it out, and that helped cement the entire scene for you.

So then, my next question – how difficult would it be to recreate this entire scene as a photograph? And if we could, imagine the cost! The illustration conveys a much richer and complex snapshot at a fraction of cost that a photograph could do.

Enter Klaus

Of course, you need to make sure you’ve hired an artist with such skill and capabilities. Fortunately for AIHA, I have a few in my arsenal of contacts.

I quickly put together a Call for Artists document, which gave an outline of the project and a request for a (very) rough sketch based on a sample scene I provided. The Call then went out to several illustrators who have worked in various entertainment-oriented industries, such as comics, animation, video games, and tabletop games. While I did have a shortlist in mind, I wanted to see what this community could come up with.

A few artists responded to my proposal, about half submitted sketches and follow-up questions. Much to my surprise and delight, Klaus Scherwinski, an artist I have worked with extensively on game product in the past, was one of the respondents. He requested a Skype call, during which he proceeded to not only ask great questions about the project as a whole, but also gave some creative suggestions that we’re incorporating in Phase II, coming in 2017.

Klaus is an accomplished illustrator, working as a creative artist for more than a decade. Based in Germany, he’s worked on comic books, game publications, video game art, and at the time, had just begun branching into full-blown animation. When I found out he was not only available for the timeline of our project, but also excited about participating in something revolutionary in a completely different industry, it was a no-brainer to tap him as our lead illustrator for the project.

It would be up to him to give life to our burgeoning vision.

Collision of Culture

AIHA professiona group scene

Art by Klaus Scherwinski and Luisa Preissler; ©AIHA; used with permission.

I distinctly remember when the idea first popped into my mind. It was during the first all-staff meeting at my new employer, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). I was only two weeks into my new position as a Content Specialist; hardly an expert on the Association, its membership, or its subject matter.  (Go ahead and google “industrial hygiene;” I’ll wait. I did the same thing when I got the job interview…)

The more creative side of my brain – the part that has kept me gainfully employed as freelance writer and designer in the tabletop game industry – perked up during the presentation on the Association’s new Career Stages initiative. (“I sense opportunity!” Yes, my brain interrupts me a lot during meetings.) Extensive study and discussion by various committees had finalized an infographic that delineated the profession into various knowledge areas, tracks, and career stages. Made up of four stages, three knowledge areas, and three career tracks, these 12 segments encompassed the life cycles of careers that involved industrial hygiene.

The question being posed to the staff, at the time, was a way to properly identify and then represent to the membership – and ultimately the public – at large.

The immediate difficulty, as I saw it, was properly describing in simple terms the areas, tracks, and stages. As presented, the descriptors were text heavy and unwieldy for any casual audience. How could one properly introduce these stages to an audience that probably had limited knowledge as to the IH profession?

At that time, I considered myself a member of that particular audience, being only six days on the job.

As the meeting went on, I found myself thinking back to my games experience, both in developing and playing. I’d just started to introduce my local group of players to Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (SW:EOE) roleplaying game (RPG). As with most RPGs, the rulebook had information on creating characters to play within the Star Wars universe. (“What’s an RPG?” you ask? Here’s a great, succinct explanation.) These ‘basic’ character archetypes are a staple in most of the popular RPGs and feature pre-made stats, record sheets, background, and artwork. It’s an incredibly simple way to introduce new players to character roles within the universe.

What if there was a way to take the Career Stages concepts and merge them into some hybrid form of archetype characters? After the meeting, I went and pulled up a couple of these sample character sheets and called over Sue Marchese, the Director of Communications and my immediate supervisor. In halting detail, I spewed out my idea, gesturing at the characters on my monitor. To her credit, she didn’t immediately give me a weird look, nod, and pat me on the head. (I’ve since discovered she’s as much of a genius risk-taker as I am.)

Marcus station game of life screen

Station art from the AIHce “Game of IH Life” concept. ©AIHA; used with permission.

She actually stopped and thought for a moment, then gave me a weird look. “Write up a proposal and we’ll talk to a couple of people.”

I churned out a rough proposal over the next day, including several different archetype examples from games I’ve worked on or participated in, such as Shadowrun, MechWarrior, Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, and Cosmic Patrol. The project was tentatively called “AVATAR,” so named after how people online tend to use picture representations of themselves in various communities.

Fast forward 16 months. At AIHce 2016, AIHA unveiled its new IH Professional Pathways program. A work in progress, IH Pathways is an initiative that, when fully completed, will accomplish three goals:

  • Represent to the public what an IH career looks like
  • Provide direction and support for current IH professionals in crafting and refining their own career paths
  • Categorize essential resources and materials for current IH professionals to succeed at their current position

Over the coming months, I’ll share stories and insight into this developing program, which I believe is a unique take in the association world on career development and outreach. If you haven’t already, please visit the new IH Pathways portal and check out what we’ve already done. (Or at least, enjoy the art created by my friend and colleague, Klaus Scherwinski.)

There’s a lot more to this 16 month journey, involving a bevy of talent and your usual storyline tropes. (I’ll be sharing more in subsequent articles on LinkedIn, on Synergist NOW, and my own personal blog.) Stay tuned, as our epic voyage is just beginning!