Interview: Carsten Biernat, Marketing Art Director at Nordeus

Tell us about your beginnings in the entertainment industry?

I started out as a traditional artist. Oil painting was my primary focus. When I approached the end of my masters, the boom had started. Everyone was getting a lot more invested in digital painting and illustration, myself included. It didn’t take long before I learned the fundamentals of Photoshop and switched my focus to digital painting.

Not unlike many other artists, most of my early projects included basic card illustrations and low paid comic gigs. My first real break came when I got a job storyboarding for a kids TV series in Germany. The scope of my work there gradually expanded. By the end of my time at the studio, I was working on everything, from concept art to storyboarding, as well as art direction for their trailer productions. The scope of that role taught me the importance of understanding the core principles of design and art, and how to apply them to each style. It also taught me valuable lessons on understanding the processes for each production, and what art means in the production pipeline.

What is the difference in experience between working on commercials and games? 

There’s a lot of similarities between the two, and there’s a lot of space for creative input. You often find yourself working on tight deadlines and highly specific requirements. Part of this is down to the fast changing nature of the mobile gaming industry, and the impact that user testing may have on the direction of the product. Therefore, additional adaptations of an asset may be required to truly meet the needs of the product.

How have you heard about Nordeus and how did you get to work in Serbia?

I knew Top Eleven well as it is the world’s most successful football managing game for mobile. But it was when Nordeus Head of Art, Daryl Clewlow, approached me that I was really introduced to the company. After initial talks, they invited me over to meet the team and see the offices. I liked everything the company stood for, their way of working, their vision, and also Belgrade. That’s why I decided to move to Serbia.

Tell us a about your current role at Nordeus and what are the responsibilities of the marketing art director?

My role as Marketing Art Director is mainly focused on producing high-end marketing materials for our products. I’m responsible for the overall art direction and how those assets reflect the game. I have a great team. Together, we define the look and feel of the assets, and identify pipelines to deliver them. We’re always thinking about our players and what the content will mean to them, ensuring we highlight USPs, introducing them to the game or new features.

How much is marketing strategy involved in work of the art director?

Very much, of course. I have to understand the target audience and direction of the campaign defined by our Product Marketing Managers. For me, the task is to bring these words to life with striking visuals and capture the imagination of our players. Of course, we also have to make sure to keep the marketing art and game art closely aligned.

In your opinion, do the art and technical faculties follow the needs of the entertainment industry in Serbia? What should they do to meet the needs of the industry? 

I see the digital landscape in Serbia developing. Nordeus is one of the founding members of the Digital Serbia Initiative (DSI), which is at the forefront of looking to drive forward the digital education program. We have great companies in the region, working on globally successful products. Considering the potential, I can see a future where Serbia can be one of the leading countries in this part of Europe when it comes to our industry.

If you would sale pitch working in Serbia to your friends how would you do it? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in Serbia?

Life in Serbia is great. Belgrade is a vibrant city with lots going on. We have a great expat support program at Nordeus. That makes our lives way easier and it’s a great benefit. I really like the fact I’m living in a foreign city. Language can be a barrier, but luckily English is frequently spoken and you can always find a way to communicate. There is a fantastic work-life balance here, with a strong focus on family and a healthy lifestyle. It’s something you do not get in every country. I get the impression there is a real thirst for knowledge. I often find people wanting to know about my previous experiences and they’re always willing to listen. It’s great to see that.
I and a number of the other expats at Nordeus moved to Serbia for a number of reasons. We wanted to work in a company that is very forward-thinking and flexible, we wanted to work on great products, and we wanted a true work-life balance. We were lucky to find it all here.

Nordeus is constantly working on improving the relationship with the CG community in Serbia, why is that so important?

I think it’s very important to understand that a group of great companies will achieve more, in the future, than one single person or company ever could. And it’s important that all of the CG community understand that collaboration is key. As a major player in the mobile games industry, Nordeus tries to be the pioneer for collaboration. We aim to lead by example in terms of what we can achieve as a CG community. We are talking regularly with local studios, getting everyone used to the idea that a collaborative creative hub is valuable for everyone. Daryl, our Head of Art, is from London, and there you have an ecosystem that benefits all. He has dedicated a lot of time to the process, and the question is, why can’t we create the same spirit and atmosphere here in Belgrade?

In Serbia there are a few successful game studios, what do you see is needed for the growth of the Gaming, CG and VFX industry?

Collaboration and knowledge exchange is key. That will show the future generation of digital artists that they don’t have to leave Serbia to achieve their artistic dream. Also, a great initiative was CGA Belgrade, which brings together studios, and enables them to share knowledge between all areas of the digital arts. These are the steps in the right direction to build the future of a digital Serbia.

Tell us about the projects you are working on at the moment in Nordeus?

Currently we are working on our main title Top Eleven, and this year will be huge because of the World Cup this summer. We’re also working on our new IP, Spellsouls: Duel of Legends, as well as some unannounced projects.

Do you have spare time for personal projects?

In my spare time I do like to work on my own projects. I use them to explore new techniques and workflows which I can use in my professional work as well. So I would say a lot of the stuff I’m doing in my spare time are experimental.

More and more artworks are created in the digital domain. Is it necessary for an artist to have basic artistic skills and techniques in the analogous domain at the time of digitization?

Based on my experience, I would suggest every artist to start with a pencil and paper. The general idea is to understand what are the principles of a great artwork, and how you can apply them with the most basic tools possible. What is shape, composition, rhythm, and color. Figure that out first and then start on the digital path.

We live in an age, where all knowledge is accessible within seconds, for little, to no money. So learning all techniques in the digital arts, and accessing the tools isn’t a problem. You need only dedication to go through all the tutorials. What is important, is not that you can use the software, but it’s what you can create with it. All digital tools are becoming more straightforward. Making a render is simpler than ever, sculpting is faster than we ever could imagine, and painting like an old master is just one click away. So what’s important is the how you understand the basic principles, and then bring them to life.

Can you give us your version of “Black Mirror’s technology goes wrong” scenario for game designers?

What I see at the moment is that we are just at the beginning of this digital revolution. When we see the look of our current games, it is obvious that procedural creation, or AI, will be part of this future. We still need the human eye and artistic feel to bring it all together, but sooner or later all elements for game art will be created by AI. Actually, it is what a concept artist does now – finding references and combining them with a new twist. So if AI can give you 300 variations for a sword, based on google search references, within 2 seconds, that sounds interesting. So no matter how romantic we are at the moment about the creative human process, there is the potential for it to be replaced in the future.

If we observe the development of stereoscopic films, we can see that in their popularity they had great ascents and low drops. What can be an obstacle to the growing popularity of VR? 

At the moment VR is still not readily accessible for the mainstream audience. If we can get the technical solution for an easy-to-use experience, that would be the first step. Combined that with an upgrade of the graphics and overall experience, then VR can be the dominant future of entertainment. But breaking through the barriers of the technical limitation is the first problem to solve. Right now, AR is more accessible and I envisage it will be used more in games moving forward.

Can you imagine what is next step after VR?

Well, I honestly hope we get a holodeck sooner or later! But what is more important, besides the technical achievements, is the storytelling and the user experience are the focus with upcoming products. That’s what can really benefit the entertainment industry.

Any advice or tip for the young struggling artist?

This is the golden age for artists. All the art knowledge is available online for very little money. So I think the era of the struggling artist is behind us. If someone struggles, they may not be aware of the amount of work they have to do to achieve their goals. And, to that I would say you have the ability to grow your audience with an instagram post or a Snapchat video. If you put in the work, dedicate your time and effort to your life goal of being an artist in the field of your dreams, then nowadays you can achieve it much faster than you could in the past.

We would like to thank Carsten for the great interview, and if would you like to know more about him, please visit his website and follow him on LinkedIn,

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