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Up Close and Personal

by John Haley
Ambrosia Software is made up of a small office staff supported by an intricate network of outside vendors, contract artists and supporting developers. This month we feature a discussion with Mark Lewis, Ambrosia's rasterbater(digital artist) in virtual residence.

Ambrosia Times: Mark, I guess the first place to start would be with some basic biographical information. Where do you live now, and where are you from?

Mark Lewis: Well, originally I am from Michigan. Now I live in East Granby, a small suburb of Hartford Connecticut. Actually I am about three miles from the Hartford airport which works out well for all the overnight shipping I do. It is not uncommon to see me dropping off work at Airborne Express at 8:30 in the evening. Although close to the airport, there is a mountain between it an me, which acts as a sort of noise and plane deflector. In between Michigan and Connecticut I have lived in Florida, Dallas and Philadelphia.

Ambrosia Times: What sort of formal training or school have you gone through to get you where you are now?

Mark Lewis: I graduated from the Kendall School of Art and Design in Grand Rapids Michigan. I had a major in illustration and a minor in advertising art. I have been a "traditional" graphic illustrator for ten years and have been working on the Mac for about two and a half years. As a traditional illustrator I worked mostly with pastels and Alkyds (fast drying oil paints).

I was aware of the Mac for some time, but it was a while before the Mac's capabilities justified its price. Originally, the Mac could not do all that much that I could not do faster or better by hand. Now, however, the Mac is a great time saver and allows for a lot of creativity. It also improves connectivity. A lot of the middle man processes have been eliminated. I can take my work right from a program and have it put directly on film ready for the presses.

I have relied mostly on the generosity of the Mac community for my Mac training. I often turn for help to my local user group, or to the AOL Mac community. I find that people are very open and willing to help, and in turn I try to be as open and helpful as possible. It is such a growing field, computers and imaging, that I do not believe that any one person can know everything. It helps to have a group of friends or contacts who are experts in different areas, this way you always have somewhere to turn with questions. Kai Krause of Kai's Power tools has been a big help, I have learned quickly from reading KPT's.

Aside from Mac stuff, a good service bureau is very helpful. They usually will be willing to sit down and explain exactly what they can do, and exactly what they need to do it with. This is especially important if you are working with print.

Ambrosia Times: Is providing computer graphics for programs your main source of income, or do you have a "day job" as well? Are there any other programs out there that we may see your work in?

Mark Lewis: The game graphics are part of my "day job," but at this point are not my main source of income. I have my own illustration business and have one employee. My time is divided between artistic creativity, illustration, digital imaging and packaging design. Packaging design is my main source of business. No there are not really any other programs out there with my work in them, but if you pass the Frito-Lay stand in your local super market, you will see some of my work. I also designed the packaging for Secure-It PC locking cables. There is a tremendous lead time in packaging between when I submit the final artwork and when I see it on the shelves. Currently I am working on some text book graphics.

Ambrosia Times: You have put a lot of creativity into Ambrosia's games. Can you give us a quick idea of what graphics are yours?

Mark Lewis: Well, in Maelstrom I handled some of the static graphics, but none of the sprites. Static graphics are the still shots used in the background. In Maelstrom this was primarily the title splash screen. In Chiral I provided all of the static artwork. This includes the title lab scene as well as twenty four different background graphics. And now with Apeiron I am providing all of the static graphics, as well as the sprites. Sprite graphics are those that will be animated, like the border patrol ship done by Ian Gilman in Maelstrom.

Ambrosia Times: That Chiral title screen is pretty intricate. Can you tell us a little more about that one?

Mark Lewis: The first thing I do is have Andrew send me a crude version of the game itself. It does not necessarily have to be working, I just need to get a flavor for the game and see what artwork is to go where. Andrew usually includes simple "place holders" where he wants the artwork to go. With Chiral I first had a very medical, or scientific feel. I started looking for ideas, but discarded modern labs as too sterile and cold. I was picturing more of an older lab from say, ten or twenty years ago, where someone was alone busily working away on an exciting discovery. I wanted a lot of glassware and polished oak. I used a 3-D program to generate three different layers. I could have used just one layer, but there are too many variables that can go wrong in the rendering process. Working on three separate scenes and then layering them over each other allowed for more creativity and was a lot more forgiving process.

Ambrosia Times: Besides the three games, have you worked on any of Ambrosia's utility programs?

Mark Lewis: No, up to this point I have not had a chance to. I hope I will get the chance to in the future. Most of Ambrosia's utility programs came out before I started working with the company. Also, the utility programs do not require as much, or as detailed artwork as the game programs.

Ambrosia Times: I myself have never had the pleasure of meeting you in person, and Andrew says you two have never gotten together either. Do you find that the online services and telecommunications are replacing the traditional face to face way of doing business?

Mark Lewis: Yes, it is true I have never met anyone from Ambrosia in person. Most of the artwork for Ambrosia starts out as rough sketch ideas being faxed back and forth and talked about on the phone. Once started, projects are e-mailed back and forth for approval and input. Most of my other business starts out with the "traditional" personal contact, but soon turns into an overnight/express mail relationship. Although this simplifies some matters, it results in a large phone bill.

Ambrosia Times: What kind of software do you use in your studio?

Mark Lewis: I rely on anything that does the job, including hand paint. Certain graphic programs may seem similar, but usually they approach a common task from different angles, with different strengths. So I try a lot of different stuff. If a program does not prove its worth, I simply do not bother to upgrade it. I have most of the better known graphic application packages. Sometimes I will combine computer generated and hand drawn graphics together to get what I want.

Ambrosia Times: I usually get "sticker shock" when I look at the price tags on some of the high end graphic programs. Doesn't your "anything that does the job" philosophy hurt your wallet?

Mark Lewis: Yes and no. The key is how much time a program can save you. If a piece of software allows me to do something in one hour that normally takes me three, that translates into two more hours I can spend on other projects. Usually a good program will end up paying for itself in a relatively short amount of time. A program has to earn its keep.

Ambrosia Times: What programs would you call a "must have" for people in your field?

Mark Lewis: That depends on what I am doing. Packaging illustration and computer sprites can be very different. For packaging I would want Quark. As an illustrator I would turn to Adobe Photoshop. With games I rely on Photoshop and Pixelpaint. Surprisingly one of my most useful programs is Debabelizer. Most people think of this program as just a simple translator. It has a very dense interface, you really should read through the manual a couple of times. Once you understand it though, there are tons of time saver devices. These can be really important.

Ambrosia Times: Now that you have me envious of all of that software, I almost hate to ask, but what kind of system are you running it on?

Mark Lewis: I have a Mac IIci with a Daystar upgrade board, 32 Megs of RAM and a 1.3 gigabyte hard drive. I also have a Syquest drive, a DAT drive, a Magneto Optical drive and a CD-ROM drive. For input I have a scanner and for output I have a Techtronics color printer and a Silentwriter laser printer. I also have just invested in a PowerPC 6100.

Ambrosia Times: Enough shop talk. What can you tell us about your interests outside of work?

Mark Lewis: Well, for one I can tell you that I just looked at my watch and realized I am supposed to be somewhere else. I am getting ready to leave for Kenya, Africa for a bit of vacation.

Ambrosia Times: Well, it sounds like you have plenty to do before you leave. Thank you for taking some time and sharing your thoughts with us, and I hope you have a fun and safe trip.

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