HMX artist John Dee created some of the most memorable art in Rock Band. His designs are featured not only in game menus and backgrounds, but also on Rock Band t-shirts, messenger bags, drum silencers, and other merch. We talked with him about his goals for the artwork, his inspirations for his creations, and his methods of creating such detailed work so quickly.
Figure 1: The Tiger
Looking at pieces like the ones shown above, John says, "I wanted to convey the spirit of rock [but] I didn't want Rock Band to be this meathead type of mentality or feeling. I wanted it to hold up, [to have] longevity."
John looked to the artwork that influenced him to become an artist: skateboard companies with iconic art, blacklight posters, and album covers. He took inspiration from ‘70s classic rock covers with eagles and cheetahs that had “almost cheesy, nostalgic stuff. I grabbed the idea of the animal rock n’ roll spirit and ran with it. The first two were the tiger and the octopus.”
In addition to the animals, John inserted a lot of darker images such as skulls and tombstones. He says, "In the initial planning of Rock Band, we were pushing different genres - goth being one of them, punk... So a lot of this stuff, some of it's darker so it’s based off the goth look, some of it was based off the classic '70s rock."
Figure 2: Ornate skulls like this one take a lot of time.
The extremely detailed, ornate work John does caused him some production time issues. He was asked to, “sit down at the table with your pencil and lay out these crazy ornate things and just go to town with details.” He would proceed to spend time creating really elaborate, intricate designs, only to be told, “Now break it apart and build it in 3-D in two weeks.”
In order to do that, he used some tricks to speed up the process. He says, “I figured out a lot of tricks and smoke & mirrors to increase my speed. All the detail you see in this guy here [seen in Figure 3 below], I only drew half of it, and then would copy it and flip it over. That’s how I’d create these really fast, huge pieces.”
Figure 3: Symmetrical figures allow for detailed work in a short period of time.
“I started getting into a lot of the ornate design and curlicue, with a classic look. I was looking at royalty and prestige. A lot of the classic curlicue rock started pushing forward into Rock Band 2. I look at Rock Band as the classic original, and then we moved to the second one. They were going to bridge and connect together somehow. ”
Coming soon: John’s work on Rock Band 2 and how the classic tiger morphed into the two-headed beast you see on our homepage.