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Breaking In - Joe Cross

A glance at the Bungie mission reveals that (among our more sinister motives) we’re committed to developing kick ass games that combine state-of-the-art technology with uncompromising art, captivating storytelling, and deep gameplay.  Now that Destiny has been officially revealed, you can see some of that art on display.  If you’re eager enough to reserve your own copy of our next game, you can even post some concept art from our new universe to your wall.  Those images were created by an entire team of dreamers, including this guy…
Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?

Joseph Cross.  I’m a Senior Concept Artist here at Bungie. I spend the majority my time working on environment and graphic design, as well as some occasional marketing art.

You mean like those double-sided retail posters featuring the Fallen and the Cabal?

Are we allowed to use those words now?

As far as you know.  We’re not dark anymore, bro.

A lot of those brush strokes are mine, but those creations are the work of my entire team.

When you’re not collaborating with our concept team to bring strange invaders to life, how do you spend your life?

Graphic Design, Fine Art, Soccer, family, toys.   First off, I’m interested in my wife and two kids (inside and outside of work). I’m also interested in a wide range of genres/periods of art, illustration, fine art, graphic design, architecture etc. I think that wide range of awareness when it comes to art and design invaluable when it comes to production art and generating ideas. I love pulling ideas from obscure artists and periods you might not associate with video games. I’m also an Arsenal (soccer) supporter.

We’ll leave your hooligan tendencies out of this.  It seems like you have a laser focus for all things art.  Has that always been the case?  Did you grow up with dreams about unleashing the imagery in your mind?

Besides wanting to be Mr. Mistoffelees in Sir Andrew Lloyd Webbers “Cats,” the first real career I wanted was as a comic book artist. As part of the 90’s comic bubble, I loved artists like Jim Lee, John Romita Jr., Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, etc. I still love comics and think it’s one of if not the most difficult and admirable art careers to pull off. Moebius is one of my favorite artists.

When a comic book lover runs away from home in search of higher learning, what does he study?

I have a degree in traditional illustration from the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. My art education happened right on the cusp of the digital/Wacom revolution (late 90’s early 2000’s), so I spent a lot of time using traditional mediums and drawing the figure with charcoal. At the time, I wasn’t too crazy about that. I wasn’t sure why I was doing it.  Now, I’m glad I did. To me, a figure sketch is always the best measure of a traditional artist. With the digital medium advancing so quickly it’s getting easier and easier to make good art without those chops, but those fundamentals will always be valuable.

As much as we love our fancy tools, it is good to stay true to the heritage of one’s craft.  Whose sketch pads were you gracing with your deep imagination before we lured you to scribble deliciously on our tablets?

My first concept art job was for Visceral Games on Dead Space 2, focusing on environments. I was lucky to work with a great art director (Ian Milham).  He was looking for a very distinct aesthetic for certain areas of the game in order to break away stylistically from Dead Space 1. That style happened to fit what I’m naturally drawn to, so it was a great fit. After that, I worked on Dead Space 3. I also worked for a studio called Cinco Design where I contributed to illustration, key art and branding for various games. And, finally, I’ve been a teacher at two art schools back in Portland, Oregon.

You’ve got some great games under belt as a concept artist.  Was that enough to begin a professional  flirtation with Bungie?

A friend of mine at Bungie who had also worked on Dead Space recommended me.  I had a couple stops and starts with Bungie before I was hired. By the time production was complete on Dead Space 2, my portfolio had enough range for Bungie to give me a second look.

If at first you don’t succeed, draw and draw again?  What about Bungie has been worth the numerous attempts to join the team?

Working with one of the most talented art teams in the world, working on one of the most exciting projects in world, and working in one of the nicest studios in the world. One of the things I associate with Bungie - and one of the reasons Bungie was at the top of my list of studios to work for - is their creative integrity.  There are only a handful of studios that can maintain it.  Bungie is one of them in my opinion: right up there with Pixar, Apple, and NASA.

Paint a picture for us (see what I did there?) of how one day of that pursuit of integrity might unfold…

I’ll start by checking some of the websites that I rely on for a morning dose of inspiration. “It’s Nice That” and “Otaku Gangsta” have been doing the trick recently. Then I grab a hot cup of PG Tips and pick up whatever task I was working on the previous day or start a new one.

I bumped into you at a very late hour the other night, and asked “What are you still doing here?”  You said “Making awesome –blam- for a living.”  What propels through the long days?

Access to the meat cabinet.

There’s nothing like cured beef shrink-wrapped in plastic to keep us sharp.  Of all the ways you earn your jerky, what is your favorite?

Just being able to contribute to our current project is amazing. That and totally dominating everyone at the poker table constantly.

If memory serves, you did rake in every last chip at your first Pentathlon.  You made the rest of us Newbies proud, Joe.  Of course, someone else will always have a stronger hand.  How do you keep your game sharp?  We’re back on art now.  This is not a question about poker…

Obsession, hoarding of other peoples work, perfectionism/non-perfectionism, learning as much as I can about other types of art besides the field I work in, staying 18 years old mentally.

Focus that young-at-heart mentality on our readers, and tell them how they, too, can explore a career in the arts.

You don’t have to be a genius to be successful.  Go to art school, meet people, and make friends with teachers.  They usually have or will work in the industry, and know people who can give you a chance. The single most important piece of advice I can give is to put yourself in situations that are panic inducing, uncomfortable, stressful, and generally out of your depth.  It’s the only way to grow.

As a final bid to evict you from your comfort zone, please complete this mental exercise: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent?  Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Talent first.  Then, work ethic.  Experience can be of equal importance.  I’d also add intelligence, curiosity, luck and passion into the mix.

Some of Joe’s passion is on display right now at some of the places where people buy games.  We’re not keeping secrets anymore – or at least not as many as we have been. If you find yourself inspired to create art with Joe and his teammates, you can accept his challenge to embrace our variety of panic.  If you don’t fancy yourself an artist, but you still crave that rush, you may find your own path in the Breaking In archive.

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