김형태 Hyung-Tae Kim Interview at NCsoft “Blade & Soul” studio

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Meet the super-star Korean Artist Hyung-Tae Kim! 

If you are a player of games such as Magna carta, War of Genesis, or just have a fondness for beautiful character art overall, chances are you have at least come across some of 김형태 Hyung-Tae Kim‘s beautiful art before!

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After years of being his fans we recently had the opportunity to meet him face to face and have him give us a mini tour of his current studio at NCsoft ( Terra, Lineage, Aion, Guild Wars) where they are working on Korea’s newest online gaming title based off his beautiful designs and art direction ~ “Blade & Soul“!

Arguably, Hyung-Tae Kim is one of Korea’s most iconic industry gaming artists and has held that position for several years. He is known for his beautiful style which is a Korean “Manwha” aesthetic of sorts, blending beautiful yet complex clothing designs with layered textures in pieces rendered with creative lighting palettes. His poses are often very dynamic and beautiful, part realistic and part warped to accentuate the character’s anatomy

His work is pure gaming eye candy ~ each piece is impossible to just glance at in passing, it pulls you in to study and really appreciate each little detail. Many artists will agree that his work is fairly iconic now and it has inspired whole range of artists since he hit the scene ~  today in Seoul many of the promotional art pieces you see for the insanely popular online games here in Korea often bear a few stylistic details and lighting color choices that are surely thanks to his influence.

I first discovered 김형태 HyungTae Kim’s beautiful art when the game Magana Carta 마그나카르타 was released in America, did you know that was a Korean game?  Like many other people, I was attracted immediately to his touches of vivid colors within cooler color palettes and his amazing costume designs~  in fact it seems that his costume design is a very big appeal for a lot of his fans.  He is one of the few artists that when I see a piece I think “Ah I wonder how this could be pulled off with cosplay? I want to see!” and I don’t even cosplay myself haha.

Nara and I are both professional artists for a living, he has a BFA in Animation and I have one for Illustration~ so art is a big part of our lives! I am more of a random inspiration collector (fabrics, vintage cards, etc) but Nara had been an art enthusiast and collector since I met him! His personal office is like an art book library and his wall is covered in signed print editions and paintings.  Thinking back to our times as students in 2002-2006 one of his great motivators as a young aspiring Korean artist was Hyung-Tae Kim who had just taken the international stage~

Nara’s walls and “inspiration folder” always had something of Hyung-Tae Kim’s pinned inside, when I remember our old dorms his pieces with the vivid touches of neon come to mind and it makes me nostalgic!  After college Nara collected many other artists to inspire, but he always has held a special place in his heart for Hyung-Tae Kim 김형태 and made sure to collect all of his art books…I remember him hunting for months to track down Hyung-Tae Kim‘s first ‘OXIDE’ book which was very rare since it was only released in Korea.

Through a Sister of a friend we found out that we can actually get a tour of NCsoft- Seoul as industry employees and Hyung-Tae Kim was willing and kind enough to show us around himself! (*_*) 꺄아~~~  Nara was so excited!  I was excited to of course, I love meeting the artists behind the work and was insanely curious to see what this man was like, but I was really excited for Nara since he is such a fan.

It is always surreal to meet someone you respected from afar for so long, you know?!

When we moved to Korea I joked that he should bring all of his 김형태 collection to have it signed in case we meet him and he laughed “now that would be amazing, but I doubt it” So we left them all in storage… well shit! XD hopefully we can bring them another time!

Behold~ the amazing Hyung-Tae Kim!

He gave us a personal tour of the department and was kind enough to sit down and let us interview him with some questions that we had been curious about, so I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to share with all of you!  We are just fans and fellow artists, so while it’s not an in-depth complex interview maybe you will find it interesting and get some questions answered of your own! Nara made sure to ask all the questions that artists might want to ask him, so if you’re an artist fan of his work you will find this interview very useful.

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If you love Korea, Art, Korean Gaming etc this is someone working hard to make this huge industry within Korea (and the world really) a beautiful place~ also, he is just an all-around cool guy so our nervousness melted away instantly ^^

Will “Blade & Soul” be available in English? Don’t worry, we asked him in the interview below~ keep reading! ^^

So as I mentioned, his current project is “Blade & Soul” an online MMORPG that launched here in Korea last fall with NCsoft~ It was a very looong anticipated game in Korea!   Hyung-Tae Kim has been working on this as the lead artist and art director from the get go, with a team of extremely talented artists to help realize his vision~ and the result is a game with seriously gorgeous and insanely detailed graphics. I am shocked how faithfully they have managed to translate his detailed art into actual in-game models.

짜잔! Here is the art department for “Blade & Soul” at NCSoft! They work together with Hyung-Tae Kim to make Blade & Soul so beautiful before launch, and now are hard at work on expanding the worlds for the released game!  Because all the assets people were working on have not yet been released to the public, I was not allowed to snap pictures in a lot of the work spaces.  Gotta respect the industry privacy policy  ;) sorry! Hopefully just a few will do!

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This was Nara and I’s first visit to a studio in Korea so we did not know what to expect~ well… it was funny because we both worked in studios in the USA and the vibe was exactly the same! Everyone was happy and hard at work doing what they loved in cubes filled with fun little toys and collectable figurines ^^

Who drew all that? Yeaaaah This guy! lol

Hyung-Tae Kim has just moved his office and was preparing for an extended trip to Tokyo, so he apologized for his work area being lackluster! Thats’ ok, just show us your pretty art, we forgive you.  On the screen is an Asuka piece from Neon Genesis Evangelion he did for a magazine in Japan I believe, he said Fanart is a guilty pleasure for him still ^^

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I don’t now how you can play the game and not take a moment to appreciate how beautiful the backgrounds are.

Another amazing aspect of the games is the background concept art~ it is seriously STUNNING. Normally I am just like “oh that’s pretty” with matte paintings and background, but WOW.

We got to pop by and visit 강민구 MinKu Kang one of the lead artists on the team responsible for dreaming up some of the lush fantasy landscape concepts. He was also the lead level concept artist for another popular Korean online game ‘Lineage’. He must have amazing dreams because the ideas he would come up for some of the levels were so awesome!  Cities in the clouds, below the ocean with ancient ruins, vast abandoned mechanical temples in deserts with sculptures the size of mountains, giant core spilling lava~ you name it.

We also got to pop in on someone testing out newly launched outfits and assets! He got to get ALL the new unique assets on his character by a click of a button. So jealous!! >.<   Ah I wanna play~

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The in game graphics looked as beautiful as a cut-scene or painting. Games have come a long way since I was a kid with my nintendo~ looks like I will need to buy a nice computer to play a fancy game like this ^^; time to upgrade my video card.

Nabbed this screen grab from Hyung-Tae Kim’s wife on her own blog hehe I think maybe this is her character in the game ^^

 

Fun side note~  Hyung-Tae Kim’s Wife is actually a VERY famous artist in Korea (KKUEM 꾸엠) & cosplayer! How perfect! Hopefully we can interview her in the future as well!  If you are familiar with Vocaloids, she does the official See-U art along with a slew of other amazing clients and projects.

Let’s play Blade & Soul together ♥

Hyung-Tae Kim Interview

We had lots of questions we wanted to ask Hyung-Tae Kim kind of from one artist to another! As avid fans of his work Nara wanted to cover everything  ^^  So we hope that these answers may be interesting to some of you (are lovely readers!) who may also be casual fans and want to know more more about him in a personal level! ^^ Enjoy~ EXCLUSIVE interview with Hyung-Tae Kim!

Nara: Let’s start with some background info about you? School, Credentials, Current work etc.

HTK: I was born 1978, I attended  Joongang University majoring in Graphic Design, but I did not graduate. I quit school in the middle.  I got into the gaming industry in 1997 and I’ve been working at NCsoft since 2005.  Currently I’m the Art Director of the game ‘Blade and Soul‘ at NCsoft studio.

Nara: What were some of your favorite shows or movies growing up?

HTK: I was really into comic books growing up, particularly Japanese. I’m a giant fan of “Battle Angel“, “Ghost in the Shell“, & “Evangelion“.

Nara: Seems like you enjoy anime with strong women ^^

“Battle Angel” Piece by Hyung-Tae Kim

HTK: I enjoy anime with strong sexy powerful women, I think they’ve definitely influenced my work growing up.

Nara: Who is your favorite fictional character and why ?

 HTK: My favorite fictional character would be the hero from ‘Battle angel‘. Her name is ‘Gally’. I believe her name is ‘Alita’ in English. I really like how she’s constantly searching for herself…

 Nara: I remember you did a chapter for Udon’s StreetFighter graphic Novel. You did a story about ‘Cammy’, who is also a character searching for her identity. ^^

 HTK: Ah, you saw that ^^ I like Cammy. I actually did a new illustration of Cammy standing over her beaten down opponent for a new Street Fighter book. Unfortunately because I drew her in the center of the double spread page, her sexy pose became a little hard to appreciate. ^^

 Nara: Is there an artist who you absolutely admire ?

 HTK: I keep going back to ‘Battle Angel‘. I’ve always looked up to ‘Yukito Kishiro‘ -the creator of ‘Battle Angel‘. I’ve been an avid fan and even wrote him a fan latter. He recently released a limited edition ‘Battle Angel’ art book series, and he had published some praises by notable artists in the inserts of the books. He actually put my fan message on a book insert. ^^ It was so surreal because on another book from the series, there was a fan comment from director ‘James Cameron’ too.

 Nara: lol Wow. I completely forgot that ‘James Cameron’ was a huge fan of ‘Battle Angel’ too. He was making a movie of ‘Battle Angel’ wasn’t he?

 HTK: Yes, and I was so disappointed to hear that the movie has been put on the back burner again.

 Nara: Can you tell us some of your personal favorite artists?

HTK: Ugestu Hakua 白亜 右月, Terada Katusya 寺田克也 and Range Murata 村田 蓮爾 to name just a few

 Nara: You have a beautiful and unique way of drawing figures. Do you ever use reference or a live model ?

 HTK: I think if you look at my figures, its pretty impossible for humans to actually pose and look like that. ^^ While I may get inspired by certain poses, my drawings are generally from my head. The poses and anatomy are heavily exaggerated, to my taste. I actually get more inspired by lighting than poses. ^^

 Nara: Your work blew up with the game “Magna Carta” on PS2,  I know a lot of people who bought the game just to see your art! The internet even created a name, ‘HyungtaeKim Style’ of drawing because so many people were mimicking your style of art, I even saw a “Hyung-Tae Kim style” tutorial haha. What do you think helped your work be so distinguishable from other character artists?

 HTK: By no means I think I’m the best artist. I look up to a lot of artists, and I think there are so many great artists that are technically way more talented than I. However, there is one thing I like and feel confident drawing, and that is character. Not Character design, but actual characteristics of the character. At the time when I started, a lot of game character designs were very “showcase design” oriented. Generally character designs for gaming were more about aesthetics of the characters looks and clothing with a stiff expression.

I like giving my characters more attitude, mannerisms and personality in their poses, expressions and clothing. When I think about designing a character I always think about the character personality and the outfit he or she would ‘choose’ to wear as opposed to them being given to them. I see my characters a certain way, and I think that’s what makes my characters unique to my style. I’d like to think that’s what made people interested in my art work.

 Nara: Do you have any advice you can give to aspiring art student fans ?

 HTK: Seeing as how I didn’t finish college I don’t think I should. ^^ I can only speak for what helped me, and I was a big comic book fan. I had always wanted to be a comic book artist and have been training to become a comic book artist. By training constantly to become a comic book artist, I’ve always kept my creativity and inspiration flowing. I was always thinking about sequences and context. The education I went through taught me refined skills and techniques to output my creativity but I had never wanted to be just a good technician.

 Nara: What are your choices of tools ?

HTK: I always do my sketches in pencil and scan them. I usually color in “painter” and do the refined color tuning in “photoshop”. If you look at all my final drawings in its actual blown up size you can see that the outlines are all in pencil, I like the feeling it gives.

 Nara: I noticed you were using a smaller mid-size tablet to draw at work. I would have thought an art director like yourself would be using a huge fancy Cintiq! ^^

 HTK: You know, I was given a Cintiq, but I quickly turned back to my old tablet, because the Cintiq started heating up making my hands hot haha^^

 Nara: Now you lead a team, but care to share with everyone what was your VERY first job EVER?

 HTK: My very first job was actually transferring traditionally inked comics to the computer and coloring it. I dipped my foot in digital coloring really early in its day, so at the time I was working under comic book artists who would still use screen tones for coloring in their drawings. ^^ Digital painting was still very new back then, and I had wanted to become a comic book artist so that was my first job to get my foot in the door.

 Nara: Your fashion sense in your characters are really unique and fun, making it really challenging and appealing for art enthusiasts and cosplayers looking to re-create your concepts. How do you come up with these designs and where do you draw your inspiration from?

 HTK: I like getting inspired by unrelated things. Like shoe-laces and parts of motorcycle engines. My favorite fashion designer is Alexander Mcqueen. I get inspired by his work a lot too.

 Nara: Have you ever thought about doing fashion design? I would think you’d be really good at it, and I personally would love to see your run way show. ^^

 HTK: You know, actually my younger sister is a professional fashion designer for a big fashion company here in Korea. She always looks at my drawings and scolds me saying “my designs realistically make no sense”. lol I think if I were to take on fashion design, I would be scolded a lot for designing unwearable clothing.

Ah~There was also an incident at a game release expo in Korea once. We were releasing a game and an avid fan came in cosplay as one of my ‘sexier’ characters. She ended up getting kicked out of the event hall by security for dressing too risque for the event.. I still feel a little guilty about that.. haha! ^^; After that incident, my upper heads often crack jokes about my designs being way too ‘adult’ for anyone to wear ^^

 Nara: What is your favorite thing to draw?

 HTK: I like drawing characters with attitude.

 Nara: Which do you like drawing more. Male or Female? ^^

 HTK: Definitely Female ^^ I like drawing muscles and anatomy, so when I draw men for fun, I often end up drawing them topless or really macho and buff- looking… my peers often make fun of me for drawing handsome men like that haha.

 Nara: When you’re not drawing for games, what do you do? Are there any secret side projects?

 HTK: Since my involvement with “Blade & Soul”, I’ve been living and breathing it for the past 7~8 years. Even during my free time at work, I would draw characters for the game.

 Nara: My goodness.. Don’t you ever get sick of it and want a break?

 HTK: Well, occasionally I draw fan art that ends up getting published. I like drawing fan art for fun. As I showed you, I’ve been drawing ‘Asuka’, ‘Cammy’ and ‘Alita’. Actually, since the release of “Blade & Soul” it’s less busy and I HAVE been working on an animation production with Japan but I can’t release any detailed info about that project at this time. I think 2013 will be the year for me to try new side projects. ^^

 Nara: In your involvement in the creation of the game “Blade & Soul“, did you work on the story aspect of the game as well?

 HTK: During the starting process, I was involved in the story. As we progressed, the project grew along with the production team, until eventually the scenario writing team took over. Now that we have launched the game, the art team is working on new levels and assets to provide new excitement for the users.

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 Nara: The ability to customize your own characters in “Blade & Soul” looks INSANE!  There are so many options available to make your characters unique to your own taste. Do you come up with all the costumes and assets yourself?

 HTK: No. We have a strong art team consisting of talented concept artists, environment artists, as well as fashion design artists that constantly come up with new assets for the game.

 Nara: We sifted around online and found a lot of “Blade & Soul” fans abroad are playing the game without knowing what the heck is going on in the story because the game is all in Korean. ^^ For them, when will there be an English version coming out?

HTK: We’re working very hard to make the game playable abroad also. At this time, we are hoping to release an English version of “Blade & Soul” by sometime next year (2014)

 Nara: What was your hardest or most difficult moment working in the game industry?

HTK: I would have to say, while I was working on the presentation for pitching “Blade & Soul“. I had worked for 3~4 years on the initial start up of the game and was compiling a movie for the pitch to the executives. If it had been shot down, the entire project which I have been babying would have been scrapped. It was such a huge project and was going to need a huge budget and commitment…I can’t even tell you how worried and stressed I was heading up to that pitch presentation. Thankfully everyone LOVED it and from then on, I was stressing out about meeting everyone’s high expectations.

I can definitely say “Blade & Soul” was the hardest project I’ve ever worked on. I’ve worked on it for 7~8 years. When I started I was in my 20s and with a blink of an eye, I was in my 30s ^^

 Nara: That is a really long time to work on one project. How do you keep your sanity? I can barely work on the same project for a year in animation before I am hungry to start something new ^^

 HTK: I’m hoping that I never have to work on another 8 year project again~ haha! I’m planning to take a looong 4 month break in Japan soon so I can recollect myself and work on new things.

 Nara: All artists occasionally fall into ‘slumps’. I can’t imagine how masters like yourself would, but do you fall into a slump too?

 HTK: As a matter of fact I do fall into a slump!  I’ve fallen into a pretty big slumpabout 3-4 times while working on “Blade & Soul” actually. As the production team grew, I was managing more than I was drawing on my desk…after a while, I felt like I lost my touch of drawing. I was feeling unsatisfied with my drawings and I threw away so many sketches that I felt quite frankly looked like crap.

 Nara: How do you overcome your slumps? Do you have a secret cure ?

 HTK: Actually I have a perfect remedy that works every time for me. I dig up some of my really really old drawings, and I redraw them ‘new and improved’. It always works. I open my really old sketches and draw some of my old characters and it always makes me feel better. I think it tricks me into thinking that I’ve improved and boosts my confidence up! haha

 Nara: That is an AWESOME remedy~I will definitely have to try that!  Ok, my last question is something that ALL your fans including myself are dying to know~  when is the next Hyung-Tae Kim art book coming out???

 HTK: I blame “Blade & Soul” for my lack of released art online. ^^ I think maybe this year or the next, there MAY be an Art of ‘Blade and Soul’ book release. I can tell you now that if we compile the art we did for the game we can easily fill 4 giant books. Unfortunately when this book will see the light of day is not up to me. ^^

 Nara: 4 books?? Yes Please!! I had my parents dig up Korean book stores to get OXIDE and OXIDE2. ^^ Unfortunately the only accessible book of yours in America was OXIDE 2X, and your fans definitely would like to see more.

 HTK: Haha Thank you ! I really think this year will be the year where I can start getting my life back again. ^^ I’m sorry for keeping all the fans waiting, and I will do my best not to disappoint. ^^

HyungTae Kim’s blog : www.unisonous.com

Big thank you to Nara-Oppa for conducting the interview and translating everything into English for us!

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Yes, the images above are in-game graphics! Amazing detail in the designs~ Korean online games are breath-taking

Sexy and fun style! Even in-game you can see the tiny spikes in her outfit as she battles <3

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I hope everyone enjoyed this little visit with Hyung-Tae Kim and peek into NC Soft’s offices!  We are so grateful that we had the opportinity to meet with him and see the people who helped create and maintain such a beautiful game, it seriously looks like so much fun and I was so impressed with how they are able to intergrate that level of beauty and detail into an MMORPG. wow. Thank you to Hyung-Tae Kim who kindly came in on his day off before his visit to Japan to show us around and speak with us, Nara and I hope he continues to make beautiful things for many years to come.
김형태 씨 저희 블로그 인터뷰시간 내주셔서 감사합니다 ~ ^^

Are you a fan of Hyung-Tae Kim or any of his games? Recognize his art from any other projects or art books? Have you played “Blade & Soul” or are you looking forward to playing it when it is released outside Korea?  Comment and share below!


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