By: Travis Bourbeau
I recently had a chance to meet with character designer and self-proclaimed “idea boy” Cameron Davis at his mansion home in Studio City, CA. It played like this: I arrive at 3pm. A genuine French Maid invites me into his backyard where I interrupt him hot tubbing with (apparently) the performers of a Cirque du Soleil show. After toweling off and handing me a “breakfast mimosa,” we sit in lounge chairs in the shade of a massive avocado tree.
GW: So you’ve taken a break from games for a while to write and illustrate your first book. Tell us a bit about the project.
CD: Well it’s done in a pretty traditional children’s book style but it’s probably a little darker and more involved than what you’d typically think of as a “kid’s book.” It’s mostly for myself and artist friends, family, etc. I wanted to make something pure that didn’t have to appeal to large audiences.
GW: Can you talk about the story?
CD: I guess it’s kind of an epic adventure story through a dream world dealing largely with innocence lost. It’s kind of my interpretation of life since moving to Los Angeles. The story is nothing you haven’t heard before but it’s a personal piece. It’s kind of a requiem for my childhood. Like everything I was inspired by as a kid filtered and spit out by the hand of an adult.
GW: What made you want to quit games and make a book?
CD: I mainly wanted to take a break and learn new things. I was doing most or all of the character design on five Guitar Hero games in two years and that was quite a production. It didn’t leave room for growth in lots of areas but it was a blast.
GW: On a game like Guitar Hero, where the characters are customizable, how do you approach designs? What are the most important elements?
CD: Guitar Hero 3, the first one I was involved with, wasn’t customizable yet. That and GH5 had original characters. For World Tour I was mainly designing assets (clothing). I became more of a fashion designer on that one (laughs). But the most important elements for the original characters were nailing the overall feel and style of the genre of music the character was supposed to represent.
GW: Why have characters at all for those games?
CD: Mmm, so people like me have a job? (Heh) No, I think it’s good because everyone wants to be a rockstar and those characters give the player a face to relate to.
GW: What should people take away from your upcoming DVD series?
CD: Hopefully people come away having confidence that they can create a solid character design. Something that is engaging both on visual and emotional levels. I think too often students focus on “cool shapes” and pleasing aesthetics (I know I did!) and think less about the psychology of the visual cues they’re giving. The dvds focus on how to “design” more than how to draw or render. I talk about basic design theory and then take you step by step through the ideation process all the way through a final illustration.
GW: As far as personal work and promotion goes, how do you keep your name relevant in games while working on personal projects?
CD: It’s probably a mistake but…I don’t really. Nobody knows who I am! (smiles)
GW: Where do you see yourself going next with your career?
CD: I’ve always seen myself getting into feature animation. I could see myself at a Dreamworks, Pixar, or Laika type studio. In faaaact I’m going to be looking for a steady gig soon I think. (Hint, hint aforementioned studios)
GW: I expect a 20% finder’s fee if they call you… Any advice for up and coming character designers?
JH: Go look at life! Go talk to people. Travel. Keep sketchbooks. When you’re working professionally, everyone at that level can draw so you need to come with ideas more than anything.
GW: Cool. Well! Thanks for your time, man.
CD: The pleasure was all mine! …another mimosa?