I’m incredibly excited to unveil the first of (hopefully) many interviews with the creative minds behind the development of FFG’s Star Wars games. The immensely talented Tony Foti has graciously agreed to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about his artwork and his experiences in illustrating for the FFG Star Wars titles. Not only has he been tasked with recreating characters and moments from the Star Wars universe, but he’s the man behind the brush that painted Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Darth Vader and R2-D2 (among others). If you play Star Wars LCG, winning your game is usually contingent upon how much of Tony’s art your able to fish out of your deck and get into play. Much thanks to him – for taking the time to chat with us as well as allowing us to win games in style. Join me as I put on my interview cap, which in reality is a Barbara Walters wig, and talk with Tony Foti.
SWCG: I just want to start by giving a very sincere thanks for taking the time to answer some questions and give us insight into the work you do. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your artwork? What are some of the other projects you’ve been a part of (past and present) aside from FFG’s Star Wars products?
TF: No problem at all, I’m excited to see a site all about the FFG Star Wars games.
The general overview is that I am a 30-year-old illustrator who lives is the bay area of Northern California with a wife and a cat. I began (digitally) painting professionally in 2009, though only a bit at first while I attended college and worked full time as a waiter.
Like pretty much everyone, art was a big part of my early years. When I was 5 and my older brother was 8, he used to draw this little comic called Mr Bean and Friends. My parents would always rave how amazing it was. “Look at THIS he’s done!” and whatnot. People were very impressed. At some point, I think I came to the conclusion that the ability to draw was a coveted skill and began practicing a lot. While on a trip, I drew a face on a foggy car window in my brother’s style . Both of my parents got annoyed with him, and when he told them I had drawn it they wouldn’t believe him. I said nothing. Don’t worry, we had the usual older brother little brother relationship, so he had it coming. Since then I’ve been drawing pretty consistently.
During the first few years of my career (2009-2010) I was working on other FFG games like Warhammer: Invasion, Call of Cthulhu, A Game of Thrones, and The Lord of the Rings, but now everything I work on for them is Star Wars related (which is A-okay with me). My first SF/F art was for a resurrection of the old Warlord CCG, which is now defunct. An ad had been posted on ConceptArt.org looking for illustrators and I somehow wormed my way in with a portfolio of what I will call “entry level illustrations.” It was a valuable first experience in a lot of ways (though not necessarily all good). From there I would just use whatever project I was working on to try and find other opportunities. Warlord led to FFG, FFG led to Dungeons & Dragons for WotC, WotC and FFG led to me getting an agent, which led to advertising work, etc, etc. Finding and reasonably scheduling new projects is still the biggest monkey on my back, but the longer I do it the easier it gets.
SWCG: What are the main tools that you use for creating your artwork?
TF: I tend to draw the thumbnails in photoshop, sketches on paper with a pencil, scan the lines in, and then paint it in PS with whatever Wacom tablet I’m using at the moment. Usually smaller ones, because I draw with my wrist quite a lot.
SWCG: Who/what would you say has influenced and inspired your particular style of art? How would you describe your style of art?
TF: Yikes, that’s a long list. My first exposure to art was mostly through comic books and trading cards. I can still remember that first set of Marvel Masterpieces painted by Joe Jusko, the 2nd set with Hildebrandts, Star Wars Galaxy (1993-95) and the X-Men cards drawn by Jim Lee. Those little drawings were some of my most prized possessions. Around the same time I also got into Star Wars and manga, and both have had a big effect on my design sense.
As I got older, my interest started moving more towards illustration. Every artist whose work I’ve admired has probably had some influence on me, but the names that come up fastest are JC Leyendecker, John Singer Sargent, J.W. Waterhouse, Alphonse Mucha, Brian Stelfreeze, Adam Rex, Todd Lockwood, Dan Dos Santos, Jon Foster, Eric Fortune, Tyler Jacobson, Katsuhiro Otomo, Satoshi Kon, Jamie Hewlett, Bob Peak, Shigenori Soejima, Sam Weber, W.A. Bouguereau, Jean Leon Gerome, Terese Neilsen, and Tsuyoshi Nagano. I can go on like that for hours, but you get the idea.
I’m also into quite a few photographers, like Emily Soto and David Sims.
In terms of my own style, it really depends on the subject. The overwhelming majority of today’s SF/F illustrators are painting in some form of the Academic style, which is the kind of painting taught (not surprisingly) in most serious illustration schools. My art falls somewhere between old pulp stuff, comic books, old chinese posters, cartoons and classic academic painting. How realistic or caricatured I take it depends on what feels most appropriate for the project. With Star Wars, for example, I knew the core set was centered around the Original Trilogy. Since these were going to be paintings of characters in movies, during the scenes in the movies, the last thing I wanted was to paint something that looked too much like a frame from the movies.
SWCG: Were you a Star Wars fan growing up? Have you had any previous experience doing Star Wars art for any other products/projects?
Obsessed with a capital O. Keep in mind, this was during a period when there were NO STAR WARS TOYS. It was the early 90′s, before Kenner re-launched the figures. On a lucky day, I would be able to find some of those strange Star Wars Bend Ems at the toy store, a vinyl statue at Suncoast, or a model ship at the hobby shop.
It all started because the USA network ran an full day Star Wars marathon. I watched the whole original trilogy from start to finish twice, and my fourth grade life was changed forever. From then until the age of 14, people understood that gift giving strategy was “Just get him something Star Wars.”
In terms of illustration, the LCG was my first experience making any official art for the series.
SWCG: I did my best to track down all of your art that’s been included in FFG’s Star Wars titles thus far. For Star Wars LCG: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Leia Organa, Darth Vader, Advisor to the Emperor, Guardian of Peace. For X-Wing: Deadeye. Edge of the Empire: Oskara Twi’lek Bounty Hunter, Rebel Scout , Lando Calrissian. I’m sure I missed some – anything left out of that list?
TF: Well, there are of course the numerous pieces on my hard drive yet to be released. In terms of what’s out, let’s see… there’s a painting of Mara Jade in the Edge of the Empire Beta, the R2 unit on the Edge of the Empire beginner game box, and an R2D2 from the Core LCG set, but aside from those three that’s everything.
SWCG: Can you give us any hints as to what art you’re working on (or have already completed) for future Star Wars releases? I totally understand if you can’t, my asking this question is purely obligatory…
TF: An understandable question with a sadly predicatble answer. Not really. More art for upcoming LCG and Edge of the Empire expansions, though even I don’t know too many of the details. Just what the pictures are of.
SWCG: Could you walk us through the process of creating an illustration for one of the Star Wars titles? What does the interaction look like between FFG and yourself from start-to-finish?
TF: Well, 99% of my interactions with FFG are through Zoe Robinson, art director for the Star Wars (and other) lines. The process has evolved over time, but generally I receive and email saying “Hey Tony, we’ve got some new Star Wars stuff in the pipline, can you take on some work?” Depending on my schedule, I give them a number for how many pieces I’d like and we go from there. A few days later I’ll recieve a set of descriptions, maybe something like ” Han Solo looks across the table as he plays Sabacc for the Millennium Falcon.” I then sketch up a few ideas, narrow down which ones I like the best, and present them to Zoe. If she likes where they’re going, I get the okay to start painting the finals. This lasts for a few weeks, at which point I send in my paintings for review. If Zoe and Andrew Navarro (managing art director) like it, it gets sent to Lucasfilm. When Lucasfilm likes it, it’s ready to be printed. If anyone is has any issues with the art from sketch to print, I draw/paint it over until everyone’s happy.
SWCG: Has their input ever changed your original concept for an illustration?
TF: Ummmm… a bit.
When I first painted the character used on the Guardian of Peace card, I wasn’t aware of her story. The description was of an aging female jedi master with a bit of a smile, and I had envisioned her as a teacher in one of the academies. That way it could also be easily place before or after the original trilogy. She was well kept, a bit stylish, and had a welcoming and kind look on her face. The sort of professor you’d want for an english class. Well, Zoe informed me that this image was actually going to be from the original trilogy’s timeline, and that she was a survivor of the clone wars and order 66. Needless to say, that totally changed my design. Just surviving the jedicide means she’s seen the world at it’s darkest. The kind of professor you’d want for an art class. In terms of her appearance, all the frills left and my focus just became the portrayal of her experience.
There have been a few times when something needed to be removed, or a camera angle needed to be changed, but it’s rare that the whole concept get’s shifted. A few cards started out different, but nothing too drastic. For example:
Originally I had Chewie and the rest of the Mos Eisley Cantina bar patrons behind Obi Wan on his core set card, but FFG was worried it was too much. Totally understandable, considering the fact that it’s called “Obi Wan Kenobi”.
My first idea for the main Luke card was him leaping from one skiff to the other, but again it was deemed too much for a painting that was going to be printed slightly larger than a big stamp.
SWCG: How many total hours on average would you say you’ll spend on a single illustration?
TF: This varies a lot. Some paintings go really fast, from start to finish in a day or two. Others seem like an uphill battle and will linger throughout the week.
An example of a fast one would be Darth Vader. Straightforward color scheme, clear shapes, simple background. That whole painting probably took two days. A longer piece would be something like the Mara Jade in EotE. Every item you add to the composition needs to be designed, and that is a huge factor for me. Just drawing a lone figure in a darkened room creates plenty of compositional choices, but now imagine drawing a dinner party scene in a highly decorated fantasy palace. You’ve got to design the tables, chairs, tablecloths, dinnerware, costumes, lighting, facial expressions, body language, etc. You know, the things in movies they have teams for. It can extend the actual painting time quite a bit.
SWCG: Given that Fantasy Flight Games works with a number of artists within the same game, is there ever any collaboration between you and other illustrators?
TF: Not really, though I do occasionally send art back and forth with Jake Murray, who also works on the games.
SWCG: Is there any character from the Star Wars universe you’d like to have the opportunity to bring to life through your work? Or a particular scene/event perhaps?
TF: I’ve actually worked on most of my favorite characters already (Luke, Leia, Han, Mara), but if the series ever covered the prequels I would loooove to paint Ventress. I honestly have no reason to think it will ever go in that direction, but you never know.
SWCG: Do you have any plans to attend any of the big conventions or gaming events this year? If so, will there be any opportunities to have cards signed?
TF: If all goes as planned, I’ll be signing at the FFG booth this year during Gencon. Finances and work can make it difficult to get the travel time and expenses sorted, but unless I break my neck or something I’ll be there. For signed cards, I have no problem with people sending them to me with a SASE. I like notes, and if you take the time to write one I’ll write something back.
My mailing address is:
755 14th Ave, Apt 206
Santa Cruz, CA 95062.
Again, I can’t thank Tony enough for taking the time. Comment below and leave him some love.