Atomhawk: Bringing ideas to life

A single spark of inspiration has the power to bring things to life. Landscapes can be raised or destroyed, ideologies spring from nothing, and worlds are born each time an artist lifts their pen. Ideas are what drive every industry and without them the world simply wouldn’t be the same.

Seven miles inland from the North coast of England sits Gateshead – home of The Sage, The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, and Atomhawk, a studio that focuses on giving form to creative ideas. Founded in 2009 by three concept artists and a UI designer, Atomhawk has evolved from a small team into an influential concept studio with offices in the UK and Canada. 

Over the course of a decade they’ve become a key player within the video games industry, and have been a creative force behind groundbreaking titles including Fable, the LEGO Games, and Mortal Kombat. “We’re working on six unannounced AAA games right now,” comments Tim Wilson, Managing Director of Atomhawk. “Some of them will come out in three or four years time, so we get a glimpse into the future of the games industry which is super exciting.” Their influence has also spread into film with the studio’s concepts being used on blockbusters such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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The creative team

What drives Atomhawk’s success is their artists. “I’m really lucky,” says Tim. “I’m surrounded by some incredibly talented people. I get to bask in the reflected glory of these world class artists, all of which have got their own styles and their own takes. And I see them take these briefs and then bring them to life, in a really short space of time. That’s one of the advantages of digital art, that we can create things super quickly to a super high level of finish and really convey those ideas.” Because of that reliance on the digital world Atomhawk are keen to give their team the best tools available. But more than that – they commit to technology that fits the talent.

For Principal Artist Charlie Bowater that means having her work right in front of her. “I just use my Cintiq and Photoshop,” she says. “I know some of the other guys will mix in 3D but I just like Photoshop and that’s it.” Ever since her university days, Charlie has been using Wacom tablets. “The first ever Wacom I got was twelve years ago and it was the first time I ever used Photoshop. And Wacom was just Wacom – if you wanted a tablet they were who made tablets, I don’t remember anybody else making them at the time. So it feels like it’s synonymous with the art industry. And now many years later I still use them and there’s a whole bunch of products to choose from now.” 

This is  Atomhawk’s true strength – their commitment to their team and giving them the tools that fit each individual. “The wand chooses the wizard, as it were,” laughs Tim. “In the past four years I’ve seen the pipeline and the process of an artist change dramatically. A single programme, say maybe Photoshop, is now complemented by a whole range of other programmes so people can use Blender, Keyshot, Substance Painter, 3D Coat, or Modo. It’s really up to them to figure out how to get to the end result as quickly as possible. But also we do rely on having a great technology partner that can actually advise us on what’s out there, advise us on the best deals and the best brands, and allow us to experiment through things like trials.”

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Defining workflows

Since 2016 Escape Technology has been working with Atomhawk and their artists to ensure they have the right tools to define their own workflows. We provide a single point of contact to the team and their parent company, Sumo Digital. “Escape are on hand if we need tech support which is great,” Tim comments. “There’s a myriad of processes and products that are always getting updated. Having someone who’s got their finger on the pulse is super important for us.” 

With a large team of artists using different tools and technology, sourcing the correct hardware and software can come with a variety of challenges. “For us it’s about having the technology that allows the guys to get their ideas down onto the canvas as quickly and effortlessly as possible,” Tim adds, which goes hand in hand with Atomhawk’s ethos of providing the best possible environment for their artists so that they continue to bring ideas to life.

When two concept artists and a UI designer started Atomhawk in 2009 they laid the foundations for a studio that has become internationally renowned. Atomhawk continues to build on its success, evolving inspiration and driving the ideas behind some of the most successful video games and films around today.