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Community Spotlight: The works of Chemical Alia

Art & Creations Half-Life

There has been a lot of impressive Valve-related art over the years, from the Team Fortress 2 propaganda contest to WillHelmKranz’s works on DeviantArt, and among them, Chemical Alia’s paintings have to be some of the most impressive pieces of fanart we’ve seen. In this community spotlight, editors ThePerson5 and Jeff share and discuss their favourite pieces of Chemical Alia’s artwork, and present an interview with her.

Community Spotlight: The works of Chemical Alia

ThePerson5: I first came across Chemical Alia’s works in a Steampowered Forum thread in 2011, in which she was showcasing some of her fanart. The forums had been lacking in quality fanart for some time, and Chemical Alia sought to change that. The thread quickly blossomed, as many users were impressed by her artwork, and some were inspired to create artwork of their own; since then, Chemical Alia has continued to produce great Valve-related and other works, as have many users on the Steam forums, and in other parts of the Half-Life community.

Fanart is always an important part of any community, helping fans show their love and appreciation for a particular work; and so, here Jeff and I will display some of our favourite pieces of Chemical Alia’s artwork. For a complete gallery of all of her works, you can check out her DeviantArt page.

Jeff: What I really love about Chemical Alia’s artwork is how much she is able to nail the visual style of the game while making it something her own.

Also, her paintings are superb! Really gets the mood and feel of the classic Half-Life 2 level, Ravenholm and who doesn’t love Father Grigori?

This Alyx Vance Piece makes me realize that if Valve were to ever make an animated series based off of Half-Life 2, they have quite a standard to live up to.

ThePerson5: My personal favourite of Chemical Alia’s works has to be this strider drawing:

I love the detail in the environment, and the striders just look spectacular. Plus, Follow Freeman is also one of my favourite chapters of the Half-Life series. This image served as my desktop wallpaper for quite a long time, earlier.

I also really love this Civil Protection drawing of hers:

The Metrocop looks as brutal and menacing as they are in-game, and I love the Citadel rising up in the background. It really captures the feel of the first chapters of Half-Life 2. And again, the detail in both the environment and the Metrocop itself is just fantastic.

This headcrab zombie portrait is one that, surprisingly, given my huge fear of headcrab zombies, I quite liked as well:

The entire concept for this photo is just great, and it is both hilarious and slightly disturbing to see the zombie reaching into it’s chest cavity as if it were a coat pocket…

Jeff and ThePerson5 were also fortunate enough to get into contact with Chemical Alia herself, for an interview, to ask her about her artwork, inspirations, and experience at Gearbox Software, where she currently works.

1. What are some of your artistic influences?

Good art, but also bad art.  I’ve always loved art in general, and anything that impresses me on anesthetic, technical or conceptual level is what keeps me going with my own work.  I like to work in a variety of styles, so maybe my varied interests owe to that a little.  Some of my favorite artists are painters Jan van Eyck and Franz Hals from the Flemish and Dutch Golden Age, and neoclassical sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  As a kid, I spent most of my time drawing pictures from Mario, Sonic, Ecco the Dolphin games and King’s Quest VII.

2. What styles of artwork do you particularly like?

I like doing realistic styles, but I also amuse myself by drawing people that are comically misshapen or grotesque. I’ve drawn my fair share of manboobs.  I also like working with color, and doing weird things with color, but sometimes I overdo it!  So I guess my favorite styles are “representative and colorful, with a hint of weird”.  DeviantArt is the best for this.

3. When did you begin doing artwork, was this always the path you wanted to take?

One of my main goals in high school was “not to go to Kutztown University” and “definitely not to become an artist”.  Drawing was one of my hobbies as a kid, but I couldn’t fathom making money from it an any reasonable way and was afraid of becoming a hobo.  I tried to put it off by joining the army and becoming a Chinese linguist, but after that, I ended up coming back to Pennsylvania and eventually ended up at Kutztown University studying fine art.  In retrospect, I’m really glad I did that.

4. How did you get into 3D modelling?

I drew digitally in Photoshop all throughout college, but I didn’t start doing 3D modeling until grad school. Actually, I did take one elective course in Lightwave at the community college years ago, but it was kinda terrible and for a while it discouraged me from any further interest in 3D, as I thought I was totally hopeless. As I got closer to finishing college, I started to seriously wonder what I could do with my art as a career. I found out about a graduate program in Dallas, Texas, The Guildhall at SMU, from one of my classmates who was accepted there. They teach game development, with a specific path for art for games, and I was immediately all up on that. There’s no game industry presence in eastern Pennsylvania, and I knew if I wanted to get involved in something as awesome as that, I’d have to to take some risks and move. The program is more 3d focused, as 3d is a big part of the industry, and I quickly found that I love modeling.

5. What pieces of artwork are you especially proud of, Valve-related or not?

I usually start to cringe at everything I make after a few months, but for some reason I always like this one. Okay, two, but they go together!

6. What has been the biggest challenge of turning some of the TF2 cast into females?

Some of the technical limitations have been the most challenging. The new model gets skinned to the old skeleton, so the position/size of stuff like the hands, shoulders, back, etc. all have to be the same. The thinner the character is, the harder it was to get a female to look natural. Each time I made a character, I learned a lot from my mistakes, and that helped me design the next one in ways that would have a better result. I was still totally new to character modeling when I first started this project, and I know that if I went back and re-did them with the same exact designs, they’d be much better.

7. Which class has been the most fun to make female?

The Engineer was the most fun, because I was the least terrified to approach her by the time I got around to starting. I was a much more confident modeler by then, and was learning to sculpt in Zbrush, so it was a much more pleasant workflow. Her build was bulkier (and therefore easier to line up with the original model) and her design didn’t have any tricky skinning like the Medic’s labcoat/skirt. I think she turned out the closest to how I envisioned the concept, as well.

8. When did you begin working at Gearbox, and what game(s) from them have you worked on?

I started working at Gearbox in October 2010. I spent most of my time working on Borderlands 2, starting right at the end of pre-production, and I got to see it all the way through to its release. That was a great experience. I spent a few months re-texturing some old assets from Aliens: Colonial Marines and did some bug fixing/optimization, which was less fun. After that, I did mostly random stuff here and there on BL2 DLCs, and a bit on an unannounced project until I left the company this past October to work on Dota 2/Valve game Workshop stuff full time with a friend.

9. Finally, is there any advice you’d give to aspiring video game artists?

Art is hard, and as artists we’re always growing and learning. The game industry is a competitive field, and it takes a lot of practice and hard work to get involved. But if you love what you do, creating new work and spending time learning is something you’ll enjoy. Getting a job in the industry may seem crazy hard when you’re first starting out, so I suggest setting smaller, realistic goals along the way to help you work towards whatever your end goal is. Learn as much as you can about art, study the work of artists you admire, and always remember to reflect on your own work to learn from your mistakes. Oh, and make friends! Having a network of friends in the game industry will always come in handy.

We would both like to thank Chemical Alia for her time, and for all of the work she puts into producing her fantastic artwork. Hopefully you have enjoyed her work as much as we have, and perhaps it has inspired some of you to produce some artwork of your own. If that’s the case, we’d of course be very interested in seeing it, so feel free to submit it to Jeff.


This article was written collaboratively by ThePerson5 and Jeff.
Edited by Alex, feature image by David-B-737

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