GenCon Inspires Creativity

When I first heard of this convention I was immediately turned off.  I am not a gamer in the sense of how these people consider themselves gamers.  After some research, and remember this was more than five years ago I first heard about this convention, I learned that this should be called the Freaks and Geeks conference rather than GenCon.  Does anyone even know what GenCon stands for?  I would assume general conference, but there is nothing general about this event by any means.

I didn’t think much more about it for the following years until I met a girl.  Girls always seem to change everything, don’t they?  But my girlfriend said that she had been in the past and planned on going this year.  Me, being the connected individual that I am, decided that I would go but there was no way I was paying for it.  Tickets for this event were $75 a day and $100 for four day passes.  So, I worked my magic and with some help from said girlfriend we managed to get two press passes for the event.  They were four day passes, however we managed to only go for one afternoon.

Before I even walked in to the convention center I was surrounded by people in costumes and by folks that I thought only small town carnivals brought out from the wood work.  I saw people dressed like every cartoon and action figure I could think of.  When we finally made it into the convention center the costumes went from home made to Hollywood grade.  There were Storm Troopers, trolls, hobbits, and every character from the Lord of the Rings that I can remember.  There was even a man (I will assume that it was a man) dressed like Chewbacca standing on stilts and making all the expected noises as he walked through the exhibition hall.  There was even a parade of all the costumes the day that we were there so I got to see all the creative suits in one place.

I managed to grab a few pictures but was not impressed until I walked into the exhibit hall.  I assumed that the only games that would be represented were the likes of World of Warcraft or Dungeons and Dragons.  And while those were there in full force, there were hundreds (and I am not exaggerating) of booths from games that were similar in premise.  They had demos set up, and tables selling anything from leather shirts and pants to custom My Little Devil paintings.  (They were actually called My Little Devil.  These paintings were the same animals you would see in My Little Pony but were possessed and had horns from Hell.  I took a picture of the work as I was that impressed.)

And moving past the art you could find any form of die (dice in the plural form) you could think of that would lend themselves to any number of games to keep you entertained for hours.  (One thing I thought was cool about the event was it was four days of straight action.  They never closed and had things planned from morning till midnight.)  There was even a t-shirt booth that Sheryl had mentioned in the past had a great selection of shirts.  But all things aside, the one booth that inspired my attention was one that was showcasing Photoshop (CS3 sadly) on a big screen.  It had what looks liked an action figure on it but it was in mid design and I was intrigued to learn more.  So I walk up to have a conversation with the artist (he must have thought I was a fan and not actually inquiring about his trade as he gave me an unasked for autograph) and he begins to tell me of his vocation.  He is a designer of World of Warcraft cards.  But wait, this is where it gets cool.

This artist not only designs WOW cards (that’s World of Warcraft for those of you who do not know) but also designs their advertisements and the majority of their signage.  He ended up stating he had been with the company for five years or so and was considered a lead designer at the firm.  But nothing impressed me more than the work he had right in front of me.  Grab any one of these cards, and from any game similar because I can imagine they are all designed the same way.  This is how the magic begins.  He starts with a hand drawn sketch of what he wants the character to look like.  These sketches are bare bones and have very little detail.  He then begins to put accents on the character in Photoshop and slowly moves to creating layer after layer as he adds shading and color.  By the time he is finished with what will become a single card for someone’s deck, he has created a masterpiece that he can hang on Mommy’s fridge.  (Did you hear this today in the news about refrigerators?  They are apparently the next item on Obama’s bail out list.  Go figure.  He runs out of money with cars so let’s move to household appliances.  Anyway, that is for another time.)

I asked the artist how he begins a piece like this and he stated they all start with a line drawing at 11×17.  This is one of the coolest parts about this as Photoshop is a raster design program.  Raster means that things are based on pixels, and not mathematics.  So if he would ever take a final piece and try to scale it he would not be able to go more than 100% and keep the original quality.  Programs such as Adobe Illustrator (Photoshop is made possible by Adobe as well) are considered vector programs and are based solely on math.  So if you take an image created in Illustrator and blow it up to the size of a building it would keep it’s scale and not become distorted.  Consider that your free design lesson of the day.  He said that he keeps a high resolution print out of every card that he creates.  He creates three cards a week.

But all in all, my first, and by far will not be my last, trip to GenCon was a success.  Sheryl said that the costumes were not the level that they usually are nor was the exhibit hall, but I now have a base to go off of for next year.  I have something to look forward to.  I learned a lot about gaming from a perspective that I had not see before.  I knew the types of people that played WOW, but had never been top a convention that praises their like.  I will put more effort into next year and go to more than one day.  I will be generating interviews with some of the bigger names and I will try to write multiple posts to discuss the trip and the people that I encounter.  This year, though, if I took anything away, it had to be the art.  I am inspired to create, to think outside the box (and these folks think way outside the box) and try to create my own character.  Is it good enough to make it to the front of a WOW card; probably not.  But is the fact that something I once made fun of is now something that I can appreciate and have am excited about; absolutely.  The credit lies in the hand of Sheryl Hugill for giving me the energy to get up and go.  Without her I would never have experienced the true freaks and geeks atmosphere of this year’s GenCon.