Confessions of a digital game illustrator: Breasts? I'd rather draw machine

Confessions of a digital game illustrator: Breasts? I'd rather draw machine

The size of a woman's breasts might be on the agenda at a typical business meeting for Mr Kai Lim.

But it's not what you think.

The 28-year-old is one of three founders of Imaginary Friends Studios, a concept art, comics and digital illustration studio based here.

The company has thumbprints on games like Dota2, League Of Legends, and Streetfighter 3 Online, among others.

He insists that looking through racy reference material from clients is not a perk of the job. It can actually be slightly awkward.

"We'll talk about how sexy a female character can be and the client... says he wants milk and fluids everywhere. And I start thinking to myself, 'okay, so you're into that kind of stuff'," he says, breaking into a cheeky grin.

It has been eight years since he started out as an illustrator.

His job is one many video game addicts would envy: Designing characters and creatures for an online fantasy world.

Aside from working with digital entertainment clients like DC Comics and Sony Online Entertainment, his company also designs visual material for ad campaigns of companies like StarHub, Nike and the Singapore Grand Prix.

Drawing "boobilicious" women, however, does not turn this lad on - he'd rather draw machines that don't exist in real life.

As a child, he dreamt of becoming a weapons designer, scientist, engineer and fighter pilot.

Being a digital graphic illustrator allows him to be all of that, sometimes all at once.

He was even approached by a defence contractor who wanted to pick his brains about an exoskeleton design.

He declined to elaborate on the assignment.

There are some lines, however, that he will not cross.

He says: "While I enjoy playing out my childhood fantasies on paper, there are real-world implications to creating weapons, which I don't need on my conscience."

And the idea that people in this line are "lifeless nerds" is a common misconception, he says.

His role at work is very much a "people job", requiring him to often consult with clients.

Also, it's not the demanding or picky clients who bug him. Those who are indecisive aren't even all that bad, he says.

It's tactless clients who get him and his team of 12 riled up.

"We were midway through a project when the art director of a major advertising client wrote an e-mail saying... he could do what my colleague did with his eyes closed and that he should go back to school."

The team sent a curt e-mail to the client's boss, stating that they were all professionals and that there was no room "for such megalomania".

Mr Lim's work has been plagiarised, and while he is "100 per cent" flattered, he also gets "100 per cent" upset, he says.

Friends in the industry and followers of his work online are usually the ones who alert him to it.

"I've had my work ripped for computer games. Sometimes, developers rip off my designs for another developer. But more recently, for a major feature film. That was quite unexpected, and I'm in contact with the studio," he says.

There are also others who want to benefit from his work without paying a cent.

"The two years I was in NS (national service), I kept getting requests to design tattoos... like an eagle across his back or a dog near his pelvis area," he says with a roll of the eyes and a dry laugh.

He rejected those requests, he says.

Then, there are clients who ask him to work - for free.

"They asked us to draw their character and said that in return, they would make us famous. My partner wrote them a polite e-mail, asking them to check out our social media and online portfolio," he says.

Despite this, his passion for the job runs high. Once, he got so obsessed with a project that he did not sleep for about 56 hours.

"It was a free-to-play, massively multiplayer online game published by Sony Entertainment late last year. We were in charge of designing the characters, weapons, logos, props and environment, among other elements.

"I remember showering, but not sleeping because I was afraid I wouldn't get up in time to continue... it's the perfectionist in me," he says.

Secrets of the trade

1 Try to create something fresh or discover something new every day. It can be something as minor as realising that a stapler can double up as a bottle-opener.

2 Get enough sleep. It sounds like a no-brainer, but trust me when I say your mind is your greatest tool in a creative industry.

3 Paper qualifications don't matter. Focus on broadening your experiences, practicing your skill thoughtfully and beefing up your portfolio.

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