It's been considerably delayed, but here it is - my interview with Cliff Childs. Enjoy!
INTERVIEW WITH CLIFF CHILDS
August: Hello, Cliff. Thank you for accepting this interview!
Would you please introduce yourself to my readers?
Cliff Childs: Hello! My name is Cliff Childs and I was born and raised mostly in and around Utah in the States. Drawing has always been a passion of mine since I can remember. Some of my interests are video games, exploring beautiful places in nature, and inspiring designs such as architecture and vehicles.
At a certain point when I was younger, I found out that there was such a thing as being an artist for video games and that became my goal. At art school, getting to know certain teachers with careers in the game and movie industries eventually led to internships and now a full time concept artist and freelancer. I started out at Sony working on the God of War franchise with some fellow teachers and now I am now at Respawn Entertainment and also a pretty steady MtG artist.
Au: You have mostly made land cards for MtG. The last interview I did was with Vincent Proce. His name is also strongly associated with lands within Magic, but he told me that prior to MtG he was actually specialized in character work.
What is your background as an artist? Have you always been an "environment guy"?
CC: That is very interesting because I had originally wanted to be a portrait painter at one point after high school. I couldn't have gone in a more opposite direction with the subject as well as the medium. It was experimenting with photoshop in school and discovering how varied and complex environments are that really got me interested. I like playing with scale and depth and lighting and it ultimately became more exciting. Although I do the occasional creature or artifact, I am at a point where I don't want to be a specialist so I am starting to warm up to creatures, characters, and even some 3D.
Au: As I'm writing these questions, Oath of the Gatewatch is two weeks away from release. Are you excited?
CC: Definitely! I don't know too much about the game itself but I had the privilege of illustrating some unique cards and it's always exciting to get the artists proofs and booklets to look through all the great art.
Au: You've got quite a lot of cards in the set. For instance, you've made the new dual land cycle. I gotta say I really like Submerged Boneyard. Actually, it's one of the most evoking MtG illustrations I've seen in the last few years!
Were you told that these cards would belong together? Did it affect your work process in any way?
CC: Thanks, I really appreciate the kind words! Actually the only thing I really know when these cards are commissioned to me is pretty much a basic color association, a brief description, and some reference places/people/images from a MtG style guide. I don't know the uniqueness or importance of a card sometimes until I get e-mails form fans asking about more of certain cards than others!
Au: Hissing Quagmire is what players call a "manland", a land which is also a creature. Arguably, I'd say you managed to create an environment which literally looks like it's about to walk away, but how does one go about envisioning such a thing? Did it present any new challenges?
CC: I think this one for me depended on the balance of environmental structures and creature shapes. I tried to convey swampy growths in a way that created silhouettes and masses of something like a ancient giant crustacean. The giant "Never Ending Story" turtle came to mind at one point but that was obviously too much creature, so the major challenge was to do about 60% environment and 40% creature. It was definitely an enjoyable one.
Au: I was introduced to your art through Innistrad. In my opinion, Isolated Chapel and Sulfur Falls were among the standout pieces for that set! What are your thoughts today about your first pieces for MtG?
CC: Oh no, the early ones! Haha. Well, I think some are okay, like the ones you mentioned, but I think I was more of a learning beginner at that point. They are mostly too complex and don't have the contrast and easy to read shapes. The small and more square aspect ratio and trying to convey everything clearly on a tiny print proves to be very challenging. I still have a lot to learn but I feel I am constantly growing as an artist so that I can hopefully keep it up with so many of these other artists out there.
Au: Later this year it's time for Shadows over Innistrad, and I'm guessing you'll be tagging along. Am I correct?
CC: Yes! I want to have a continuous presence more or less in each set depending on how much extra time I can squeeze in at the end of the day. I hope to be around for a while and I feel I'm just starting to get my stride in the MtG artist community.
Au: Your style seems really well suited to gothic horror. How do you feel about returning to Innistrad?
CC: Innistrad was very enjoyable! Dark and moody is just plain fun for me because I can really push thick atmosphere and interesting lighting. Something bright and cheery is also a fun change of tone so I wouldn't mind bouncing back and forth.
Au: Among your art for the original Innistrad block was Cavern of Souls, a card which has seen a lot of tournament play. I've always found that image very atmospherical and eerie. Can you tell us more about what is going on in this piece?
CC: If only I had known it was a more used card! The name itself evoked something of a more dungeon like or sacred place, so I just went with something that felt very thick and dense with the illuminated ground fog. I thought that would help sell that this place weighed heavy with trapped souls or some type of long looming presence.
Au: My favorite among your work is undoubtedly Godless Shrine. The stained glass windows and lighting is amazing. It sure looks like dozens of hours of work. How much time do you usually spend with an image for MtG?
CC: Thanks! Yeah this is another one of those few unknowingly popular ones. The print doesn't quite show the lighting as intricate as I had wanted but I usually start with darker shapes and build up the light in layers. I would say maybe closer to a dozen or less hours but if I had know this would be used as playmats I would have gladly spend another dozen to really sharpen and design out the silhouettes more to make it a better blow-up piece!
Au: The playmat still looks great though!
Let's talk about something else than lands. You made the art for Mizzix of the Izmagnus from Commander 2015. That is one cool steampunk goblin, and it sure is different from what you usually do! Did you enjoy making it?
CC: It was equally as enjoyable as it was challenging. Possibly a bit frustrating haha because I was trying to smooth rough edges out of character designing. It doesn't come as naturally as lands but I would do anything like this again when the opportunity comes just to better myself in other areas. My process is more slow and painterly for characters so I think this took much longer than Godless Shrine.
Au: Reading your blog, I learned that you were a concept artist for God of War Ascension. Considering your work on that title, it's kind of weird you were almost left out of Theros. Apparently, you manage Greek mythology with ease! What were the reasons for your inactivity with Magic throughout the Theros block?
CC: Hmm I have no idea really! There are certain times where I request less or take a small break to focus on the full time thing. It could possibly be that I was crunching on God of War and simply just didn't have the time. Either way it is a strange coincidence because I was definitely "greeking" out around that time.
Au: Your blog hasn't been updated for a while. Have you done more work within the video game industry? Tell us about your latest Project!
CC: I wish I could tell you about it all but some of it was a cancelled project unfortunately, the art was pretty amazing from the whole team so it's a shame that lot's of images will never be seen. I have a solid year or more on the cancelled project, another year or more on the next "announced but unofficially announced" God of War which was looking pretty sweet before I left Sony, and also nearly a year and much more to come on Titanfall 2! I'm doing a lot of sci-fi these days so it's a fun change of pace from ancient mythologies. There is definitely a ton of work. Much will come flooding in years after their making like usual in the game industry. I should confess that I really am aching for some personal work to keep the blog updated and to create a new website. I get so busy I forget about the blog so thanks for the reminder to update!
Au: Haha, don't mention it!
Thank you for the interview, Cliff. I'm looking forward to seeing your work in Shadows over Innistrad!