"And I challenge anyone to look at those carved wooden mounts and not," he continued, "in some dark and quiet place in their brains whisper, 'I want that. I want it to be my friend and go on adventures with me. So baaaad.'"
Like fellow contest winner Jessica Dinh, Lee's top-notch work in the art contest earned him a 2012 summer internship at Blizzard. We checked in with him to find out what it was like to work with a team he both admired and had managed to astound.
WoW Insider: Have you always dreamed of becoming a professional artist, or was getting serious about art a more recent development for you?
Peter K. Lee: Five years ago, I read Taehoon Oh's interview in a game graphic magazine. That was the beginning of getting serious about game art. He was one of the game artists who made Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, one of my favorite games. I want to become like him, working at a famous game company in the United States. Fortunately, he was holding lectures in South Korea. I went to his lecture at Sogang Game Education Center. After listening to his wonderful lecture, my heart was filled with a dream to work at a top-class game company as a game developer.
So what attracted you to the Blizzard student art contest?
Developing my own idea in my favorite game universe. I'm a big fan of the Warcraft series. I played all of it: Warcraft I, Warcraft II, Warcraft III, and World of Warcraft. After I decided to go to the United States to study game art, I dreamt everyday that I could make games at Blizzard Entertainment.
The student contest was the biggest opportunity I had. I could make my own original idea in my favorite game universe, and I knew that I could make it [happen] within the due date. Who could give up that wonderful chance?
Talk us through your contest submission, Peter. What went into producing your entry?
I spent one month to develop my own ideas. I had three different ideas for my submission: a zeppelin toy shop, a shrine of a drunken pandaren, and a carousel. But I hadn't played WoW for five years since the open beta for the original WoW, so I wasn't sure which idea was best.
I contacted my friends who were playing Cataclysm who had a solid understanding about Warcraft universe. Three of my friends, Jinwook Kim, Soojin Lee and Molly Maloney, were very supportive of my work. Jinwook and Soojin Lee told me about the Darkmoon festival, which matched with the carousel idea. Thanks for their support again! Without them, I couldn't have finished the carousel.
After deciding to make the carousel, I went to a public library to search [for more] references. I found an interesting book about 19th-century wooden toys. Lots of toys looked very whimsical, like the art style of WoW. It gave me lots of inspiration to design mounts for the carousel.
I use Photoshop for sketching my ideas. Actually, I [have used] Photoshop since 2001. I even feel more comfortable with Photoshop than using a pencil and a sketchbook. 3D Max is my favorite 3D graphic tool. For painting textures, I use both of them. For the last step, I usually export files to Unreal Engine to see the last real-time rendering output. I use this process in general.
Let's talk about your summer with Blizzard. How much time did you spend there? What sort of tasks did you work on?
Aside from the migraines and mental snaps we got from making a multiplayer twirling mount-mobile that goes nowhere and isn't even possible to do in the WoW engine, [Peter's carousel] was plug and play. Blizzard developers are famous for saying yes to an idea that is ridiculous and ill-advised and generated in the same part of the brain that thinks if you call something "awesome" you must make it (Deathwing raid, ahem), never mind the impossibility of it. Peter made just such an entry. -- Eric Browning, WoW lead prop artist
I spent three months with the prop art team of WoW. I made lots of props for the actual game universe and fixed some bugs. There is no doubt that there are no differences between the work of interns and the work of employees. We did the same thing as full-time employees.
The game designers and game artists in the WoW team liked my submission, Darkmoon Carousel. My last task was making the carousel in the actual game. Also, I made some of Darkmoon party hats, including a dancing squid hat, a firework hat, a fish hat and a magical star hat.
What would you consider the key takeaway from your internship at Blizzard -- a skill you learned, the relationships you made, the professional experience you acquired ...?
The philosophy of game development would be my key takeaway from the internship. My coworkers and fellow game artists were happy to show their ideas, and game designers were excited to put their ideas in the game. [This] made a wonderful atmosphere for developing game ideas. I realized that it has been one of the keys to making their games creatively for 20 years.
Take us inside Blizzard with you, Peter, as a fly on the wall. Can you share a squee moment -- something that left you breathless with excitement to see, do, meet, try ...?
When my boss said, "Peter, we decided to put your carousel idea in the WoW." It was the most wonderful moment during the summer. How can I describe my feeling at that time? Finally, my dream came true! I was so happy to make it.
I'm working on my thesis project, building a game environment. I loved my work during the internship. I want to work at Blizzard Entertainment again. I'll keep searching for more cool ideas for my future games.
Time to loop back and hit the obvious connection -- WoW itself. When did you start playing the game? Are you currently playing Mists?
[Peter excels at] ideas that work in the context of WoW, and then being able to execute on those ideas and keep them within the boundaries of WoW while alternately pushing edges. He's also very good technically, but probably his biggest strength and what made his entry work is that he "gets" the art he's attempting to match. Being a solid artist isn't enough; you have to be on board with what we're doing. Looking at his other art, you can see how he adapts based on the demands of a job/assignment. He's an art-making machine (and as it turns out, a really nice guy). -- Eric Browning, WoW lead prop artist
I played WoW in 2004. There was a WoW open beta test in South Korea. I spent 10 hours in the universe of WoW every day. I strongly believe that I was not the only one who got failing grades on classes because of playing WoW too much! But now, I love doing my assignment and my personal works. I'll play Mists during winter break.
- Visit a library as much as possible. I strongly believe that most of the greatest knowledge and good references are hiding in books, not on searchable websites. You would be amazed at the wonderful inspirations in libraries. Even the dictionary of insects can be a great inspirations for your art.
- Try to put storytelling elements or put your personal memories into your art. Didn't you like to blow out your birthday candles and have a sweet slice of birthday cake during childhood? There are all kind of common memories. It could be one of keys to moving people's hearts.
- Share your art with your friends and strangers, even somebody who don't know about game art. I know that every artist has wonderful ideas, even the ideas [that seem] too awesome to share. But if the artists are trying to keep them as secrets, the ideas won't be developed any further. People love to see your art, and they could give better ideas that you hadn't think of. Also, don't forget that they could become fans of your future game. "Every voice matters" -- one of missions of Blizzard Entertainment.
- Follow your heart and dreams. I strongly believe that everybody will be incredibly creative when they are doing what they want to do. Everybody can evaluate your work in process, but nobody can judge the final [product] of your work.
- Fall in love with your art. If you hate your art so much, who else could fall in love with your art? One of the easiest ways to make people to love your work is enjoying the development of your ideas and keeping your eyes on your creation. Every artist has a different experience and working style. In other words, you are the only person who could make your creation. Be proud about every step of your work!
Find more of Peter's art at Peter Kyuyoung Lee's game environment portfolio.
"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.