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Drawing beautiful birds for Fly-A-Way: Behind the scenes with the artist

Illustration is perhaps one of the most amazing part of board games and can make or break a game! When executed well, players can immerse themselves in the games lore and universe. In this interview, we understand more about the conceptualisation of the birds illustration in the game Fly-A-Way.

Q: Please tell us more about yourself and how did you become Fly-A-Way artist?

My name is Hung Key, I’m one of the game designers and illustrators for Fly-A-Way. I’ve always loved drawing, even when I was a child. Back then, I grew up reading manga, and was always sketching out my favourite characters in my sketchbook. Although my passion has always been in design, my road to learning design and illustration wasn’t an easy one. Growing up in a small town in Vietnam where art wasn’t as appreciated, meant that it was hard for me to find any encouragement or guidance to further my skill in art. After pursuing a computer science degree for two years, I came to realise my own lack of interest in the subject and dropped out, relegating instead to the Lasalle College of the Arts here in Singapore, where I rediscovered my passion. Finally I was surrounded by like-minded people and teachers who encouraged me in my work, and with their help, was able to enjoy a fruitful experience at school. After graduating, I found a job with Tuber, and found out that they were working on a board game project. Being an avid board gamer myself, I was elated to join the Fly-A-Way project. The team behind Fly-A-Way later become Playlogue Creations.

Q: Drawing birds is not an easy venture with all those details with feathers. What did you do to train yourself up to illustrate such beautiful bird artwork?

The team and I went through a lot of research and exploration. Our creative director, who is also an avid bird photographer, helped us scope through countless pictures of each bird from all angles to get a better understanding of how it looked and moved. This process was especially important as most of us had never even seen the birds in real life before! Afterwards, we proposed a few different illustration styles that best captured the characteristics of the birds as well as convey our overall design direction to keep the game both fun and interesting. We had to keep in mind that the illustration style chosen needed to depict the birds in a way that was attractive and at the same time, scientifically correct. The style that I proposed was eventually chosen and used throughout all of the Fly-A-Way illustrations.

Q: What are other projects you have worked on? How is illustrating for a board game different from other projects?

This was my very first board game illustration project. Before this, I worked on editorial illustrations, the type you would see on websites, electronic direct mail (EDMs) and books. Board games differ greatly from these other illustration projects as board game illustrations function as an important part of the game’s user interface (UI). The game’s overall art direction needed to follow a system to make it easier for players to understand the mechanics of the game easily. For example, the game features birds from three different habitats, and at a glance, the players need to be able to differentiate among the habitats on the cards. To achieve this, we used different backgrounds for the cards, and featured plants and colours that were best able to represent the respective habitats.

Q: What is the art style for the game and why did you choose this style?

Fly-A-Way uses a semi realistic art style. The birds had to be distinct enough for players to distinguish them at a glance, yet we wanted to avoid an overly scientific style, as this would take too much time to illustrate. To accomplish this, we stylised the birds while keeping their colours and main features as per their real life counterparts. We used different brush textures to best illustrate the textures of the birds’ feathers and even went as far as to print out images of the real life birds and segment them into different parts to better understand their anatomy, and how we could depict it in our chosen style. All of our designs were then sent to our knowledge partner, BirdLife International (Asia) for their inputs.

Q: What is your work environment like? Is there any quirks or interesting stories you would like to share?

It's fun and welcoming at Playlogue! We work from home most of the time, but whenever we meet, it's always good fun. We set aside time to meet up for our Playlogging sessions where we conduct market research by trying out new games together. In terms of interesting stories, we participated in the Singapore Bird Race together during Fly-A-Way’s development! We wanted to understand the perspective of our audience of bird lovers, and wanted to try our own hand at spotting birds. I was so surprised at how hard it was to even catch a glimpse of these birds when the other avid bird watchers around us made it look so easy! Luckily, our creative director is an experienced bird watcher, and with her help, we were able to spot a few birds at Bukit Timah! All in all, it was such a fun activity, trying to catch a glimpse of these migratory birds in person.

Q: Do you experience artist block? If so, how do you overcome it?

Yes, of course. It always hits when my brain is tired. Usually, I just take it as a sign to start relaxing and take a good break. I find that exercise is best in helping me to relax, so I would go to one of my dance classes or the gym.

Q: What are your favorite games or examples of entertainment media?

I love both board games and video games! For video games, I prefer those with a big emphasis on player exploration or those with a strong storyline. For board games, I am at heart a visual person, so I love games that are visually pleasing. I also enjoy strategy games, so games with good game mechanics appeal to me as well. Here are my top ten favourite video games and board games, in no particular order.

Video games:

  1. Animal Crossing

  2. Pokemon

  3. Zelda Breath Of The Wild

  4. Horizon Series

  5. Elden Ring

  6. Genshin Impact

  7. The Last Guardian

  8. Inside

  9. Life Is Strange

  10. Okami

Board games:

  1. Terraforming Mars

  2. Tzolk’in

  3. Just One

  4. Everdell

  5. Raiders Of Scythia

  6. PARKS

  7. Cartographers

  8. The Crew

  9. Tapestry

  10. Dixit

Q: Where can we find out more about your other art or works?

You can find my past works on behance in the link below:

I also happen to be an avid Animal Crossing creator! If you’re an Animal Crossing fan, come see some of my village layouts here!


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