Interview with Marc Taro Holmes

Location – SYN STUDIO
Date – February 20th, 2012

Interview with Marc Taro Holmes

Marc Taro Holmes is an Art Director, Concept Artist and Illustrator with over 15 years of experience in the games industry and feature animation. His credits include Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2, Neverwinter Nights II, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Empires III and A Christmas Carol. His illustrations have appeared on the covers of PC Gamer, Computer Gamer, Play Magazine and even two stories high on the front of the E3 Expo.

After an amazing fantasy illustration workshop Marc did for students of Syn Studio we invited him to come do a podcast with us. He sat down with us at Syn Studio on the 20th of February, 2012 for a brief interview followed by an extended (about 1 hour) podcast which will appear soon on the Syn Studio Blog. Marc is famous for his work in the video game industry, mainly on fantasy and role-playing titles and has since decided to quit working in-house and go freelance. In this interview, we discuss some of the aspects of his transition.

Can you tell us what it’s like being an Art Director for a video game project like The Lord of The Rings Online?

Well I was the Art Director for that project and basically what I do is direct games and create 2D concept art working with big teams of really talented people that bring the concept art to life.
Ironically the director is probably the worst artist on the team, because if you’re an amazing artist, then you should be making the game. The director does the spreadsheets, buys computers and goes to meetings and gets somebody a better chair, they do that manager stuff so it’s something they take off the team so the team can make an amazing game.
My niche is 2d pre-visualization concept art, the fact that I could draw I always kept one hand in the concept art knowing I was training for the day I could get out of the meetings and just draw… that took ten years.

How old are you now if you don’t mind my asking?

Oh Jeez, I’m terrible at math, I was born in 1967 so I’m either 41 or 43, I don’t know, that’s how bad I am. That’s why I draw…

Well we’re in 2012 so that makes you 45, I’m guessing your not big on birthdays?

Well I’m half Japanese and the way I hear it, after eleven you don’t care about your birthday, and when you make it to 77, then you’re allowed to care again after making it to that amazing age. They call it a second childhood, 77, 88 and 99… you’re allowed to celebrate them but in between you work, work and work.

Tell us where your from and how you got started?

I’m from Western Canada originally and I went to The Alberta College of Art & Design, taking a program called Visual Communications that mixed Illustration & Graphic Design together. That’s rare now but 25 years ago you took every thing together so I took lots of digital work aimed at design, drawing and painting, which turned out to be a natural background for games, though I didn’t know that at the time.

Did you start in freelance right away after school?

Well your not going to turn down freelance work in the beginning but it’s a hard start. You need the contacts, to know people and develop your work. That’s one great part of working for a company, you get paid and have benefits and with a job and your art improves over the years.
If I had tried to freelance after graduation I would have been terrible, I couldn’t draw yet. I had to work for ten years while I learned to draw. It was when I came back to Montreal, after doing mostly in-house work in the States, that I focused on my Freelance work.

So how would you describe your occupation now as a Freelance Artist? What’s the coolest thing about it?

For me it’s working for myself doing the same things I did before, concept art & video games, mostly for the same people I worked for before I went freelance, but on my own schedule and from home, with more control of the projects I work on.
When you work for a company you can be three years on a project you wouldn’t have chosen. So the best part of freelancing is being able to decide what you want to do and then go get that work.

Do you have a favorite project?

I recently worked on a fully illustrated ebook, Resurrection Man by Sean Stewart. My job was to take the manuscript and break the book down, and figure out how to best show the story. I got to make all the art design choices, deciding where the 80 interior illustrations should go, what the subjects were in the art.
There are samples of Ressurection Man and other figure drawing and gaming related art on my blog at (Editors note: Marc’s urban landscaping art can also be found at

Who was the most interesting person you’ve worked with to date?

Well there’s been tons of characters, I worked with this guy Tony Goodman for about two years on a MMO set in the Halo franchise before it got cancelled. You might see elements of that work in other projects though.
Tony was narcoleptic, with attention deficit disorder (ADD), probably something you’d call Peter Pan syndrome, but he was brilliant. He could motivate a team like nobody, was a millionaire many times over, he built and sold all these companies. Talking to him was almost brain-twisting, you had no idea how he got anything done, but he brought in the most amazing projects. He was one of the interesting guys I worked with.

Would you ever go back to in-house work?

I’m not against it but it would be tricky now, I can set aside time for personal projects as a freelancer. You could never do that in games. You work a crazy hard schedule, it can be a 100 hours a week in the final weeks of a project.
I could be tempted with total creative control but companies aren’t into that, they’re into owning things and you work for them, I’d rather be the other way around, I do the work and I own it. The future is in the work you create for yourself.

Thank you very much for sitting with us for a conversation Marc!

You can see more examples of Marc’s figure drawing and video game related art on his blog at . Stay tuned for the podcast with Marc coming soon. Also, we’ll definitely be doing more workshops with Marc at Syn Studio in the future so keep checking the Web site or sign up to the newsletter for details. Future workshop ideas include photo collage creature design and watercolor workshops (so let us know what you’d like to see).

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