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Meet Long Beach Concept Artist: Jason Hazelroth

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jason Hazelroth.

Jason, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Since childhood, I was always drawing and creating art. It was assumed by my parents and teachers that I was going to become an artist, and indeed I entered art school with zero hesitation or consideration of alternative career paths. I majored in Illustration at College for Creative Studies in Detroit. At college, I assumed I would be surrounded by nerdy people such as myself whose personality had been formed by the video games and movies of our childhood, but the majority of my peers were interested in editorial and commercial arts as that was the prevalent career path for illustrators in the midwest to east coast. There were a handful of students like me who wanted to pursue a career in entertainment, so we banded together to form our own little group based upon on mutual love of all things nerdy.  My classes were focused on traditional mediums like oil, acrylics and gouache, which was terrific for building my fundamental skills, but my heart was with the students out in California learning digital concept art and design. After finishing my assigned homework I’d labor on personal projects where I’d mimic the style and subject matter of these entertainment students and this is where I expressed my true passion. After graduation our group of friends banded together and we pooled our resources to help each other find work in the entertainment industry. My best friend and I had a grand plan to move to LA to “make it”. We made plans to head out to the west coast and try to find work once we got there, but then we both fatefully found our first jobs working at the same company on the same game. Our first game “The Saboteur” was a dream come true. It was everything I hoped it could be and more. I met many wonderful friends who I remain friends with to this day. The industry is small and we all socialize and work with each other constantly.

Has it been a smooth road?
Surprisingly, breaking into the industry was not as difficult as it should have been. I believe I got a lucky break at a time when the industry was still young enough to take a chance on young inexperienced people such as myself. Nowadays every student wants to enter the entertainment industry and the student’s skill level has increased to an intimidating level of talent. I had a very lucky first job experience working for many years on the same project. Since then every studio I’ve worked for has either laid everyone off at the games completion, gone out of business, or only hire contractors. As a result I’ve had to change jobs on average about once a year and it’s been a struggle to stay in the LA area as studios are closing and jobs are much less frequent. I believe the key to survival is most importantly a quality portfolio, but contacts are your most valuable resource. Having a good reputation and being easy to work with will get you far in this industry so never step on anyone’s toes so to speak. Lastly, never discount the value of a little luck and timing.

The video game industry has changed considerably in the 11 years since I’ve joined and unfortunately stability and full-time employment are hard to come by these days. Having said that it has afforded me the ability to work on many great projects and work with a lot of very talented artists, all of whom have helped me become the artist I am today.

What is the most difficult part of what you do?
The hardest aspect of working on a large and long-term project is being aligned with the needs of the team. Knowing where there are gaps in communication that a concept artist can facilitate, or how to help bring attention to strong ideas that need recognition. It also means knowing which people to partner with when you want to introduce new ideas, or which developers to align with to ensure your designs will be executed accurately, and not become a product of too many cooks in the kitchen.  Being able to visualize ideas is a powerful tool of communication and I try to use it to help steer the project in the right direction when and where I can.

Being able to interpret the intention of your art director’s feedback is a critical skill. Everyone communicates through different methods whether it be visual with notes and guides, or verbally with comparison to other media examples. It’s important to get into the headspace of your art director so you understand where they’re coming from.

From a personal perspective, the hardest part of succeeding in your career is staying relevant in your field. Technology, techniques, and tastes change often and staying on top of the trends is crucial to being employable. In the 11 or so year’s I’ve been in the field, artists have gone from working entirely 2D, sometimes with pen and paper, to working with 3-D programs. Many concept artists are so proficient with modeling that they virtually design and build their entire assignments in 3D, maybe doing some light Photoshop over the render. Some concept artists can do basic animation and rigging to show the individual movements on their design. It’s a much more literal process and depending on your company or client they may demand you have these skills. I have just begun to dip my toes in the 3D space, but even with the little I know it’s made my processes much faster, and the end product more dynamic. Of course, nothing will ever replace strong traditional art skills as they are the basis for all skills required as a concept artist

What are you striving for, what criteria or markers have you set as indicators of success?
Success, of course, is different for everyone but for me it’s about my level of satisfaction on a day to day basis. I became a concept artist because I had a passion for creating art and I don’t want it to become a chore or something I do to simply survive. One of the biggest markers for me to feel successful is the type of project I’m working on and the quality of artists I’m working with. I don’t wish to be a big fish in a small pond, but rather I prefer to be amongst superior artists so I always feel inspired, as if I’m on the verge of reaching the next skill level.

One of my biggest motivating factors for improving as an artist is to be considered for employment by some of the best art teams on the biggest (most interesting) projects. High-quality projects can afford the best talent and in my time working with these types of teams it has been immensely satisfying. In the best of circumstances a certain rhythm, respect and competition exist within the team, and we all equally support and compete with each other to achieve our best results for the project. In these instance’s I’ve found that my skills will improve by giant leaps because that sense of drive is instilled by equal parts competition and encouragement that only comes from working amongst equally amazing artists. Seeing each other’s process and techniques on a day to day basis is the best form of teacher, and striving to keep up with your coworker’s abilities becomes an all-encompassing passion. It’s that passion that drove me to art in the first place and when I can find it professionally it is all the more sweet.

So, what should we be on the lookout for, what’s next in store for you?
I think I’d eventually like to create some sort of art service company with fellow friends and coworkers. It would encompass art for hire, possibly education for students, and maybe even creating our own properties. Being in the position to start your own studio like that requires a certain amount of clout in the industry so hopefully one day I’ll have earned enough respect from my peers to consider this option.

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1 Comment

  1. Marilyn Knak

    November 16, 2016 at 02:22

    Upon application to the Center for Creative Studies and submission of pieces for scholarship consideration, the staff member said to Jason, “Good luck!.” Then she glanced at his art and said, “You don’t need luck, you have talent!”
    Talent alone, of course, is never enough to ensure success no matter how it is defined. Jason’s drive matured into an exemplary work ethic which has honed his art as well as his communication and relationship skills making him a fine artist and an invaluable team member.

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