How Things Take an Unexpected Turn for the Best: Mr. Satoshi Arakawa’s Journey Into Becoming a Character Artist

by Joshua Diokno   

Already 14 years in the gaming industry, Mr. Satoshi Arakawa has seen and experienced all that an artist of his caliber can experience. And he is grateful for everything. Starting off as a Bio graduate and working at a Pharmaceuticals after, he didn’t imagine that he’d ever come back to his first love. he enrolled himself at the Art Institute of California San Diego, and it went on from there.

Now he produces pieces that would give every Pop Culture geek a run for his money.
He has worked with companies of repute like: Sony Online Entertainment, Trion Worlds, Daybreak Games, and Amazon Game Studios, building a strong portfolio that would have us picking our jaws off the floor.

So let’s get to know Mr. Satoshi Arakawa and see how he gained his status as a full-fledged Chaaracter Artist.

Xeno Creatives (XC): Have you always had a passion for producing 3D? How did you get started?

Satoshi Arakawa (SA): I’ve definitely been an art nerd my entire life. I started scribbling when I was a kid and drew a lot of traditional art throughout high school. I took a detour in college where I studied Biochemistry and didn’t really touch art for 4 years; that was quite an experience! But once I got my degree in Bio and worked at a Pharmaceuticals company for a couple years, I realized I wanted to go back to my passion. Games were really starting to boom and I found a local art school and enrolled almost immediately. 3D was a new world to me but it was incredibly exciting. I had never considered a career in art until I discovered 3D.

XC: What’s it like being immersed in the 3D culture?

SA: I love it. I’ve been doing 3D for over 14 years now and it’s been a great ride. I owe my professional career to this great industry and the community built around it is truly amazing. With social media now, it’s so much more fun to be able to interact and share with other incredibly talented artists around the world. Though I haven’t met the majority of them in person, you get to create relationships with so many new people. Don’t get me wrong, I have many former and current coworkers that I am great friends with haha. In terms of actually doing art, I feel incredibly fortunate that my hobby is also my job. Sometimes, someone will ask me what I do for work and I tell them, “Character Art.” Then they ask what I like to do in my free time and I tell them, “Character Art.”

XC: What or who influenced you the most? Was there ever an art piece (digital or otherwise) or artist who led you to decide that producing digital art is something you want to do for life?

SA: I wouldn’t say that any specific art piece was responsible for inspiring me to dive into Digital Art. I suppose the catalyst was my love for video games. I’ve been playing games since the Atari days but “Final Fantasy VII” was what really catapulted my desire to get into actual 3D art.

In terms of what really pushed me into learning more about ZBrush, I remember being awed by the likes of Rafael Grassetti, Gregory Callahan, and Magdalena Dadela. I remember being invited to the very first Beta test for ZBrush 4 and Greg and Magdalena were both participating–it was quite nerve racking! On a personal level, My family has always been very encouraging with my career, for which I am very grateful.

XC: Could you describe how your day runs in production? What are the common challenges that a 3D artist like you encounters day-in, day-out in a project?

SA: This has varied quite a bit from one company to the next. Currently I’m on a project that is very early in pre-production so my schedule is much more in flux and it involves a lot more experimentation. If I’m working on a project that is in full production, I will basically figure out where I am schedule wise on a specific task and make sure I hit whatever my current deadline is. For example, if I’m 2 days into a sculpt that I planned to take 5 days in, I make sure I can progress enough that day to stay on track. I like to have my tasks broken down and planned far in advance so I can give accurate dates to my lead/AD on when something will be done. The biggest challenges I face tend to be hiccups between Character Art and other disciplines.

Working with the engineers, designers, riggers, and animators, there is a lot to consider. I try to constantly check in with those guys to make sure what I am working on will function well in game. So, you just have to stay on top of the small details and make time to adjust during the character creation pipeline.

In terms of 3D Character Art, you tend to run into small snags quite often. Most of them are kinks or bugs in the software or issues getting your assets into your game engine. The good thing is, the longer you work in the industry, the more you learn about how to avoid some of these pitfalls. I have worked in proprietary engines my entire career so there would be constant work-arounds or “hacks” we would come up with to make sure our art would work properly in-game. It really helps when you have a great team around you to help you problem solve when these issues arise. I have been fortunate to call some amazing Character Artists good friends and coworkers.

XC: We’ve seen your works online and we are totally amazed. Do you have any favorite pieces? Any personal pieces that you actually produced out of sheer love? If so, what would these be and why?

SA: Hmmm, I tend to just see the flaws in something as soon as I call it done. Just a by-product of being an artist I think hehe. I will say the first time I really felt like I leveled up was when I made my Batman character back in 2014. It was for Comicon Challenge and I really wanted to push myself to do something better than anything I had done before. Taking part in those challenges was a great way to push your skills. You would get to know so many amazing artists in those online challenges and it was a great forum for feedback and sharing knowledge. Some of the guys I talk to everyday stem back to those challenges. As for what excites me in creating personal art, I love comic book characters. So many of us grew up on comics so it’s just so ingrained in our minds. As you can see, a lot of my personal projects are my own takes on various superheroes. I really enjoyed creating my Wonder Woman and Ironman characters.

XC: What would you consider your biggest or most exciting project to date?

SA: My biggest project was probably my Wonder Woman character. Since I have kids, my time is very limited outside of work. I still love to do art but I usually only get a couple hours here and there. Wonder Woman pretty much took me a whole year to finish! But I really enjoyed the journey and was motivated to keep going despite how long it took. I think that is key when doing personal art. You have to choose something that you feel will motivate you to follow through to the end. But, just like every other artist, I have hundreds of projects that were thrown aside and lost to time haha!

XC: If you were to market yourself what would you highlight as your edge?

SA: That is always tough as I am never really satisfied with where my overall skill-set stands. Perhaps my edge is striving to improve every day and work with those around me to create something unique. If anything, I really enjoy interacting with other artists and sharing feedback and knowledge. I always try to be a proponent for increasing more team development, especially within the Character team. I also love mentoring others and learning from them as well.

XC: If you weren’t a 3D artist today, what would you be?

SA: I suppose if I never switched to art, I would still be a scientist at a Pharmaceuticals Company somewhere or maybe a professor at a university. I didn’t hate the work and you meet some incredibly smart people in that industry. I recall one funny incident where I was doing some research and a repairman fixing the lights asked me for growth hormones. So I’m sure my career would have been chalk full of interesting anecdotes!

Want to see more of Mr. Satoshi Arakawa’s amazing works? Click here!

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