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CG Shipbuilding

While Rogues and Scoundrels adds the “scum and villainy” of more bounty hunters to the Character arena, it also launches their ships—from Slave 1 to the Virago—into Space. Jonathan W. Hill, freelance CG-shipbuilder for the Star Wars TCG, contributed the following article on himself and the incredible artwork he’s created for the game. As Jonathan writes:

I’m fortunate to be able to work within the Star Wars universe. There’s that “cool factor” when people find out what I do for a living. It somehow justifies my obsession. Signing cards for people is a strangely rewarding sensation.

I like to immerse myself in projects I’m working on, which isn’t a problem with the Star Wars TCG. I still regularly play X-wing Alliance among other Star Wars video games, and while working I often listen to the Star Wars Radio Drama or many of the audio books from the Star Wars novelizations. I’ve had a red Imperial insignia tattooed on my chest, next to my heart, for over a decade now. The only contradiction to this is that I was almost a Jedi. No, not in the Star Wars Galaxies game (not yet anyway), but in the TCG.

You see, in an upcoming expansion my face was originally texture mapped onto the pilot of a CG Jedi Starfighter image I was creating. I even had a proposed Jedi name: Jonah-Tan and my astromech sidekick H1-LL. You have to admit it is a Star Wars-sounding name, but alas—it didn’t make it into the card description. During the approval process Lucasfilm also had the Starfighter’s windows darkened so that you couldn’t see the pilot (though I’m still in there…).

Attack of the Clones

The Rogues and Scoundrels card set is definitely my second favorite set to date—my favorite being the initial Attack of the Clones set that launched the TCG; after all, it allowed me to see concept designs for the movie six months before the film’s release. Attack of the Clones was also the most terrifying set. It was my first foray into card art, and it was for Star Wars, one of the most highly coveted licenses in existence. I had a near impossible deadline of less than a month, over Christmas, to create six ships (including the Techno Union Starship and Speeder Bike Squadron) and the now iconic Clone Trooper.

The opportunity to work on anything in the Star Wars universe was a lifelong dream. When the offer came I immediately said “yes” without hesitation. It wasn’t until after I hung up the phone that the gravity of what I’d agreed to weighed in. My wife, Adrienne, and I decided Christmas would have to be postponed until January.

I spent a sleepless December, working from Industrial Light & Magic’s concept art for ships that their modelers hadn’t finished, and spent a lot of time trying to second-guess what their models would look like. Needless to say, I finished everything on time. I likely wouldn’t still be working on the game if I hadn’t. After all was done, I still had a perfectionist’s feeling about my work: It could have done better, there were things I’d like to change. Maybe Wizards of the Coast will someday let me do “Special Edition” versions of those cards as well.

Tools of the Trade

I use Discreet’s 3D Studio Max as my primary 3D modeling and rendering program. Although I have used Maya for a few cards, 3DS Max serves me well. Once I receive the art assignment, I gather my reference, play games for awhile, and then start modeling the basic shape of the ships. My first pass is done with basic primitive objects and extruded shapes. When I’m comfortable with the form and volume, I render off several camera angles and send them to the Art Director at Wizards of the Coast.

Then I begin to actually model the ship based on the preferred camera view. Since these are still images, there’s not always a good reason to model the entire ship. When the modeling is done I submit an untextured gray model for approval by Wizards of the Coast and Lucasfilm.

If they approve the card, I paint the textures for the ship. I’m constantly refining my texturing methods with each project. Sometimes I paint the textures on paper and scan them into the computer; the majority of the time, however, I use either Corel Painter or Adobe Photoshop.

Rogues and Scoundrels

The Rogues and Scoundrels set is definitely one of the coolest expansions so far. The neutral faction adds a great dynamic to gameplay and gives us a glimpse into some of the characters and vehicles from the Star Wars Expanded Universe. I enjoyed working with the bounty hunters’ ships—especially the Virago (A), which was built based on the unassembled plastic model kit I had laying around. This set gave me the opportunity to explore the bounty hunter facet of the mythology and take a deeper look at the Shadows of the Empire story.

In many cases this is the first time some of these ships have been seen as tangible 3D designs. It was a lot of fun working on these untapped craft—my favorite ships to work on are actually those that didn’t appear in the movies. I enjoy bringing to life the little thumbnails in comic books, or building a ship from a few lines of description. One of my favorites was the Corellian YV-664 Light Freighter, one of several unseen designs pulled from the Lucasfilm archives. Like us all, I’d love to rummage through that closet!

Final Words

In each card set, I select one ship as the signature piece. This is the one card that is either really cool and deserves more attention, or a ship that needs a little extra effort to make it cool. (For Rogues and Scoundrels, this was the Outrider (A). I actually built it before the card set was designed, knowing that someday Wizards of the Coast would have to include it!) In the end I always try to stay true to the Star Wars mythology that has inspired me throughout my life and career. I hope that my ships help you in your games.

I currently work from home in Alberta, Canada, with my lovely wife, Adrienne, and our 4-year old twins (boy and girl). No, she wouldn’t let me name them Luke and Leia. Their names are Gavin and Vaughan. Take care.

—Jonathan W. Hill

A look at the Outrider, from gray model to finished card:

IG-2000, ship of assassin driod IG-88:

The Mist Hunter, piloted by Zuckuss and 4-LOM:

The Virago, ship of Prince Xizor: