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    2022.07.20 NC Leadership

    Creating a Culture that Empowers Artists to Grow: Daniel Dociu, Global Art Leader

    NC appointed Daniel Dociu, industry veteran with 28 years of art experience in games, as its Global Art Leader. Daniel Dociu, who had previously led the success of Guild Wars series, will be responsible in further enhancing NC’s global art capabilities and presenting the vision of the game’s core visuals. In this article, we will introduce the future that Daniel will draw to help NC’s games resonate deeply with global users moving forward.

    Daniel Dociu

    NCSOFT Global Art Leader

    Daniel is a veteran art director with 28 years of experience. He served as the Chief Art Director(CAD) for NC’s North American subsidiary NC West for 10 years from 2007 to 2017, where he led the success of Guild Wars series. He also previously served as Art Director at global companies including Electronic Arts and Amazon. Daniel was recognized as a world-renowned concept artist by various global awards including being named as the ‘200 Best Digital Artists Worldwide’ and ‘200 Best Illustrators Worldwide’ three times each at Luerzer’s Archive. Daniel was appointed as NC’s Global Art Leader in June 2022 where he is leading in further advancing the art and visuals of NC’s games.

    A bridge to connect the global expansion of NC’s games

    You possess nearly 30 years of experience working as an art director in the game industry. What led you to start your career in game art?

    In honesty, my beginning in the game industry was primarily for pragmatic reasons. I was working as a toy designer at first. Then I met a young artist who introduced me to the idea of game development, which I knew nothing about back then. At that time, it was the prospect of a pay raise that made the job attractive. (laugh) But once I got into the industry, I realized that I truly enjoyed the nature of the work and the opportunities to grow as an artist along multiple axes, which was very rewarding. Since then I’ve had numerous art leadership positions with various development studios and publishers.

    You were in charge of leading the art of Guild Wars series at Arenanet for more than 10 years. What were your roles back then as the Chief Art Director?

    I first joined Arenanet when the studio was still quite young. During this initial phase, our focus was more on developing game technology and in figuring out what type of game we wanted to make. We only had a few artists on board and game art had not been the first priority. But as the studio grew, we began to pay more attention to the art as well. To this end, my job was to attract and mentor young talent as well as identify potential senior talent, bring them on board and build a strong creative team.

    More than anything, I focused on creating a culture that was inclusive and friendly toward artists, an environment that would foster creativity. By the time I left the studio, there were over 100 artists in the studio and Arenanet had gained recognition industry-wide as a powerhouse for game art.

    You recently rejoined NC as the Global Art Leader. What will your focus be in this new role?

    My primary objective is to help ensure that NC’s games can be enjoyed by users globally. I am currently familiarizing myself with various projects that are under development and formulating my thoughts on possible directions to act upon in order to increase their resonance world-wide.

    Specifically, I will be identifying certain areas where the game art of Korean games can be adapted and tailored to the sensibility of Western gamers. This is just one component that can be divided into multiple areas of actions. I will contribute in hands-on art work to help inspire and challenge teams, to raise the quality and originality of artwork, increasing its Wester appeal. I am looking forward to help create stories that users around the world can be moved by.

    Shifting focus from the surface to the substance

    What efforts would we need to make in order for our games to satisfy and resonate with global users?

    We need to shift our focus and attention from the surface to the substance. Rather than focusing too much on the art style, we should look more into the story that we are trying to tell in the game. For example, this includes identifying certain things and values that would move anyone emotionally, making sure that our stories are rich in portraying these values. Good storytelling that truly resonates goes beyond just style.

    Deconstruction, critical analysis and challenging the status quo are essential. Expanding our games globally starts with identifying emotional experiences that transcend territorial and cultural boundaries in order to achieve global relevance.

    As an art leader, developing art talent must be an important subject as well.

    Yes, I can speak forever on this subject. Artists naturally want to grow. They have the desire and drive for self-improvement encoded in their DNA.

    My plan as Global Art Leader is to create a culture where artists can develop their talents and pursue their own artistic development path. We need to give them the opportunities to achieve their potential within the organization. In respect to talent retention, this type of art management would make artists feel recognized and be motivated to be with the company longer.

    Then how do we create such culture for artists?

    Effective talent management should be centered around empowerment and encouraging all artists to engage in creative dialogue regardless of their title, age, or role. We need an environment that appreciates critical thinking and freedom of creative expression, while promoting mutual respect.

    My role as a leader is to point the team in the general direction with clarity, while giving individuals the opportunity and the information needed to use their own critical judgement and make their own decisions, big or small, along the way. We should not make artists feel that they are merely executing on something that’s already been decided, but rather make them trust their own judgement with confidence. I feel that this is a critical shift in culture that we need to encourage.

    The power to unfold ideas into art

    Technology in the game industry changes rapidly. How do you feel the role of concept artists have changed compared to the past?

    If in the past the pursuit of precision and fidelity has at times taken priority over storytelling. Going forward our attention must shift to the substance, the ideas.

    Many people equate concept art with illustration. In my opinion, concept art is about ideas. Someone might lack some skills as an illustrator, but what is more valuable is the originality of the ideas. The more technology advances, the easier it becomes to achieve unprecedented fidelity. But the value of ideas comes from one’s ability to think creatively, truly understand the principles of design, and demonstrate critical thinking to deconstruct and analyze concepts. It is important for artists to be adaptive, to embrace change rather than resist it, to reinvent themselves periodically.

    There must have been difficulties that you encountered while working as an art director through these times.

    The ups and downs are part of our existence as artists. When I first started out as an art director for a game development company, I was in charge of leading a team of junior artists. None of us had a clear vision of where we were heading. By the time we had things somewhat figured out the company closed. The hardest part was to process in the reality that not just myself but the entire team was left without a job.

    How did you overcome the situation?

    Life as an artist is a rollercoaster of emotions. While an unclear future and unpredictable situations can be stressful, often times it is the uncertainty that brings out the best in us. This is why the initial stage of projects can be challenging but exciting at the same time. The only solution that I have found that consistently gets me out of the low points is to work even harder through those periods. When something goes down, there has to be an up-side again.

    What efforts do you make to maintain your senses as an artist?

    As I get involved with new projects, I apply the lessons learned from one project to another, which leads to incremental quantitative accumulation over a period of time followed by sudden, more significant qualitative leaps.
    I compare artists to lobsters. A lobsters will grow within its shell until it can’t grow anymore, then it sheds that shell and for a while finds itself vulnerable and exposed. But as time goes by, it gains a bigger protective layer. This cycle repeats throughout an artist’s life.

    Lastly, what would be the ultimate goal that you wish to achieve in NC?

    I want to make a difference. There are many exciting R&D efforts that are going on with NC, that haven’t been publicized outwards yet. Things are happening at blistering speed and I want to play an active role in reshaping the way we entertain our fans.

    * The above presents the personal opinions of the interviewee and not the official opinions of NCSOFT.