Breaking In - Adrian Majkrzak
Consider a weapon in our upcoming game. If you need inspiration, we’ve talked a little bit about the armory your Guardian will access in Destiny. Before any of those implements of destruction make their way into your eager hands, they begin as ideas. To create the very first sketches that will lead to many elements of this new world we’re building, we have this guy.
Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?
Adrian: My name is Adrian Majkrzak and I’m a Senior Artist here at Bungie. I’m part of the Concept team that works on the initial designs for vehicles, weapons, characters, props, environments… really anything visual in the game. If I’m doing my job right, you’ll see quite a few realized versions of my designs while you’re exploring Destiny with your friends.
I heard a rumor that we’ve already produced more concept art for Destiny that we did for all of the Halo games combined. Which ones are yours?
Adrian: When you’re stealing an enemy vehicle or picking up a rare exotic weapon for the first time, there’s a chance it’s one I worked on, and that’s exciting to me.
We love it when people are excited about their work, but what excites you when you’re not at work? While that may sound like an inappropriate question, it is not.
Adrian: My day job isn’t actually all that different from the way I spend my free time. I feel lucky to be doing something I love for a living, and I still try to dedicate a good amount of time to developing my personal art at home. Outside of that, I explore the amazing hiking trails around the Seattle area, try new food, play games, and occasionally serve as human furniture for my two cats.
We should all be so lucky as to love our gig as much as you do. Tell us about that journey. For how long did you dream of channeling your imagination into art that would shape the creative process of an entire team?
Adrian: When I was a kid, my friend and I watched his older brother’s copy of Aliens in his basement when no one was home. From that moment forward, I wanted to be a Space Marine. When they broke it to me that wasn’t a real job, I decided the next best thing would be to draw them all the time. Shortly after that, my uncle gave me his beat-up copy of The Empire Strikes Back sketchbook, which made me realize that there was someone drawing behind the scenes for my favorite movies. I still believe those two events formed the seed that set me on the path to where I am now.
But you aren’t making movies. You’re making kick ass games. Was there one game in particular that led you to Bungie instead of Hollywood?
Adrian: Monkey Island. It was the first game that made me realize that there must be artists that worked on games. The background paintings were so beautiful in that game. Not only that, but it was and still is hilarious. I try to play it once a year still.
With so much inspiration to guide you, and with a clear vision for which vines you wanted to swing from, what did you do to nurture your craft as an artist?
Adrian: I first went to school in California to learn 3D animation and special effects. At a certain point, I realized I was more interested in the hand-drawn and painted side of things than the technical. I saved up some money with a friend and he and I went to the Watts Atelier in San Diego to study figure drawing, painting and illustration. Everything I’ve learned, including the 3D, comes into play for me on a daily basis at Bungie.
Was Bungie the first place where you got to apply your newfound skills?
Adrian: After college, I worked as a game tester for a couple of years, which introduced me to the general game development pipeline. Immediately before Bungie, I worked for a few years at CCP Games with an incredibly talented concept team. It was a very supportive group of people with shared interests and we all learned from each other and grew together. That’s where I was able to hone my skills to the point where it could attract the attention of the fine folks here.
Was storming through our front door for an interview as easy as showing us a book filled with art from EVE Online?
Adrian: What seemed to attract Bungie’s attention was a combination of my previous experience designing for science fiction properties, as well as having a versatile portfolio. There are many artists out there who specialize and eclipse me by far in those areas, but I like to think I bring a diverse skill set to the table, so I can jump onto all kinds of different tasks. That seems to be appreciated here.
We also appreciate people who can endure hours upon hours of brutal interrogation at the hands of leaders from every discipline in our studio. Given the fact that we’re even having this conversation, you are such a man. What was the most desperate moment of your interview?
Adrian: Working through a concept live with Rob Adams on the whiteboard in the interview room. It was stressful at the time, but I later realized how effective a test it was - to be forced to design on the fly and focus on solving the problem rather than worrying about making pretty renderings.
And here you are, making pretty things every day. Is being surrounded by art the best part?
Adrian: For me, the best part about working for Bungie is the insane talent and the incredibly high bar already set by the art team. It makes me work hard and strive every day to get just a little bit closer to that bar (which seems to be constantly moving upward).
Since our standards are a moving target, what do you do to keep your brushes clean and your pencils sharp? You probably don’t use analog tools like that anymore, but you know what I’m talking about, right?
Adrian: I do what I love at work and I continue to do the same thing at home. Art is a passion of mine and I’m always trying to learn and improve, whether through personal work, studies, going to galleries and looking at old masters or taking painting classes. Also I learn so much from watching the rest of the team work.
Is that constant state of evolution the hardest part about being a member of the Bungie team? What would you say is the biggest challenge for you as a concept artist?
Adrian: Follow-through. One really interesting aspect about working at Bungie is that concept artists don’t just finish a piece and then send it off, never to look at it again. We’re all expected to interact with the 3D artists and follow our concept through to completion, giving feedback or working with them to find a solution if something in the concept won’t work technically in the game.
Is there one product of that back-and-forth that is your favorite?
Adrian: Maybe it’s the Ghost. Having the opportunity to design something that the player would be interacting with every day and that would play such a large role in the story was extremely rewarding and definitely made me feel like I was part of the team.
Right about now, there’s a kid reading this who has a notepad full of delicious scribblings of robots and spaceships on his desk. He’s thinking “I could do this, too!” What would you say to him or her?
Adrian: Take it seriously and make sure it’s something you really love. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it will be reflected in your work and people will respond to it. Study hard and never have the attitude that you’ve “made it” or you’re “good enough.” Everyone from a beginner to a professional is still a student, and we should always be striving to learn more and improve our craft.
This has been a great chat, but you have a game to make, so we’ll bring it to a close. Once Destiny is released, what’s the one thing you look forward to doing in the game?
Adrian: Jumping in with my friends and playing the game through their eyes.
And when they see the world with their eyes, what will you point to and say “I made that!”
Adrian: The Fallen dropships were something I helped design and will be seen by people pretty early on in the game. I’ll be excited to point those out. Later on, there are a few weapon designs that have to remain secret from now, but they’re personal favorites that I can’t wait to point out to friends.
Many of Adrian’s super-secret weapon designs have already been explored in the Drawing Board series of articles on the Bungie Blog, but more remain for you to discover. Similarly, many of Adrian’s teammates have also been profiled in the Breaking In archive, and you’ll have the chance to meet many more in the weeks to come.