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Tip of the Brush

A Question of Culture

Ben Greene — February 21, 2019

At Velan, we’ve been building out our team for the past couple of years. As the Art Director for the studio, it’s been an incredibly exciting and challenging process. On the one hand, it’s great building a team of talented developers from scratch, assembled expressly for the needs of our original products. On the other hand, it takes a lot of effort to build and maintain a great culture as your team is adding new people every couple of months. Over the years, I’ve worked at multiple studios and I’ve seen the gamut of different cultures and work environments. Because of this experience, it became critical to focus not just on making great work, but also on making a great environment to work in.

The truth is: I didn’t want to become an art director. Art directors didn’t make art, and I wanted to create. I began my career as a concept artist and my desired career endpoint was lead concept artist. To me, that position would provide some level of direct influence on a project’s visual target, as well as the ability to lead a small team of other artists without sacrificing the ability to draw on a daily basis. I didn’t want to be an art director.

A island environment concept I created for a pitch at a previous studio.

Then I got an unexpected opportunity. I’d been working on a new IP as a lead concept artist at a former company. I’d made it! I loved the position, the artists I was working with, and my vision for the game. The stars had aligned… and that’s when they asked me if I would take all that passion, all that vision, and art direct the thing.

There was no easy answer here. I think I just stared at them for a beat and went home early. There was a lot to process. I certainly didn’t want anyone else muddying the IP’s potential. We had slowly been hiring a great art team. They were mostly young, junior-level artists, but they had incredible drive and a burning passion to make great products at any cost— not necessarily healthy, but inspiring. It was all of these great reasons, plus the support from my wife, that made the decision easy. It helped that I was still able to leverage my concept skills to design key elements of the game’s look, and now I also had the amazing task of hiring the rest of the art team— all of it. It felt surprisingly right, even more so than my previous experiences in concept art.

Fast forward a decade and I’m now the Art Director here at Velan Studios. While there are days I wish I could just slip on headphones, jam on a painting to the driving rhythms of Juno Reactor, and know that no one will interrupt me, I wouldn’t trade my job for those bygone days. Art direction gave me deeper goals and a broader reach into not only the projects, but also the studio culture and the quality of experiences the artists have.

A character portrait from one of my personal projects.

Early in my career as a concept artist for previous studios, I became extremely frustrated, even angered, by what I experienced in the workplace. There’s often a creeping toxicity in the entertainment industry, and I’ve witnessed it kill more than a few careers over the years. The rest of us wading through this kind of sludge hold a tenacious hope for a chance to make it better. There is a better way. These days, the conversation has made it to the mainstream, and many studios are fighting to keep toxicity out, while inviting more diversity and teamwork in. I love being a part of this movement. I’ve said to the growing team of artists here that engaging and maintaining positive culture is like any important relationship. All parties must work for it, fight for it, sacrifice for it. This is why I chose to come work at Velan.

It’s an opportunity to bring together industry veterans and fresh graduates alike, people with great attitudes, passion for the work we do, good senses of humor, and an interest in the ongoing fight against bad work environments. Velan’s core philosophies— of creating a studio filled with innovative, scrappy, and diverse developers— really spoke to me. Joining the studio in its very early days also meant the art department could be built from the ground up. For me, that was a rare and valuable opportunity, so I jumped! I’m privileged to say that it has been the best decision of my career.

Velan is just over two years old now. We have about fifty studio members working on multiple new ideas. And as we’ve grown, we’ve focused heavily on maintaining a studio environment that facilitates collaboration and communication. It also means having a focused team that can continue to champion our cultural ideals. It’s a great time to be here.

I may never have wanted to be an art director, but it has become an incredible platform to affect people for the better… and to make great looking games!

Thanks for reading, and keep an eye out for future posts that introduces some of our other team members.

- Ben Greene, Art Director for Velan Studios

Ben Greene has led art teams for numerous projects across PC, console, mobile, tablet, and VR platforms. He is driven towards building inclusive, creative studio communities. Outside the studio, Ben focuses his energy on family and the continued development of his personal worldbuilding project, Glyss. You can explore more of his work on his ArtStation and Instagram.