Interview with Fernando Forero
Senior UI Artist Diablo 4 at Blizzard Entertainment
Hi, my name is Fernando Forero Pinilla, I’m a Colombian Graphic Designer and I work as a Senior UI Artist on DIABLO IV at BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT. Previously I worked at CD Project on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I also contributed on earlier prototypes of the UI in Cyberpunk 2077, and unannounced AAA games.
I’m based in Munich, Germany, I’ve lived in two different cities in Germany and have moved around different countries like Colombia, Poland, and the USA.
I’m an image lover and explorer with a deep curiosity. I create my designs mainly by intuition, as I’m constantly experimenting. I love to read and listen to music, one of my dreams since forever is to become a musician/music producer, my eternal incomplete dream.
My mind revolves around topics like art, painting, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and history, and I’m always hungry for knowledge and intriguing subjects that bring interesting points of view about humanity, life in society, and its development.
How did you start in the industry?
My first ever UI Art project was on THE WITCHER 3. The whole backstory of this event could be told in two versions, the “Instagram version” or the “real one”. I prefer to tell the real one.
My relationship with video games comes from my obsession with images and image creation, so alongside my illustration and concept art work I started to get into video game production. I was motivated by creativity and design, not just by my pure passion for the industry.
When I was young, it was impossible to see myself working with video games. In Colombia, when I was a kid, it was just impossible for my parents to afford a video game console. With six kids to raise and take care of, providing the very basics to live was already a luxury. My experience with consoles and video games came primarily from small video game shops and arcades in the city center. Those places were not exactly the places to hang out at as a kid, and you would have been in deep trouble if your parents found you there. I also got access to consoles like Nintendo through one of my best friends whose parents were in a better economic situation than mine. Sometimes my friend would lend me his console for the weekend and I would play it for a few hours with my brothers, but generally at home, video games were not well received by my parents.
Back then we didn’t have any kind of education in Video Games, and knowledge of web design and tv animation in universities was basic. During the first years of my career as a Graphic Designer, I was mainly focused on print jobs rather than digital until I applied for a job in a company which was mainly dedicated to web design. From there I got to experience the basics of the UX and it was an opportunity for me to learn more about web design. Over 12 years I gained expertise by always trying and experimenting with new things, while I was completing my university studies at night.
In 2009, in Colombia, I got married to Weronika Kwiatkowska, a painter, visual artist; a beautiful Polish girl, and we decided to move to Poland. I thought that we would probably have a better quality of life in Europe. At the time, some of my illustrations and artwork were already being exhibited in different countries, and I was getting featured in some Graphic Design magazines and books.
Unfortunately, once I started living in Poland, life just got harder and harder every day. My life in Europe started in a grey medium-sized town. There, people did not want to speak english, even if they know how to (p.s. my English was also bad). To most people I was just like a ghost or a shadow, and on many occasions I felt the fear of being a foreigner; work opportunities were zero, over the first months living there I sent more than 250 CVs to different companies and received no answers. After a few months I lost all my savings just trying to survive, with my wife supporting us on the side with a very mediocre job. My mother passed away back in Colombia, and I didn’t even have the money to fly back home. Getting freelance work was also difficult, so I decided to dedicate more time on the fonts creation process and get some money from the distribution and licenses sales.
Weronika and I then moved to Warsaw, the capital of Poland, with very little savings, just enough to pay the rent on a very small space for a few months. Weronika found a job (not her favorite) and I started also getting involved in some small freelance jobs. That experience helped me to get better jobs, like the one me and Weronika did for The Baltic Opera or the one I did for MTV Europe. Sometimes our finances were decent and sometimes very bad. For the first time in life, because the work was not constantly coming in, I started to feel the fear of becoming a homeless person.
One day I saw a job post advertised on a website, it was CD PROJEKT looking for a graphic designer, but the role was not for their video game business. I took the chance and sent my CV, attaching my cover letter outlining my experience in designing for multiple platforms and for different mediums. Somewhere along the way, internally, an Art Producer and an Art Director on Witcher 3 saw my CV and invited me for an interview. After a standard hiring process which included several interviews and a test, they offered me the role of Junior UI Artist. I signed my first contract in video games the same month that, exactly when, for the first time in my life, I had no money to pay the rent.
CDP hired me just three months before E3, when they publicly announced the production of Witcher 3 with a playable demo. My first project there was that demo, and after that I worked for the whole Witcher 3 production, also participating in some early UI prototypes and concept art of Cyberpunk 2077. Sadly, during all that time, my feelings and experience in Poland didn’t improve. My feelings of work were not great, especially due to over working (plus another personal point of view, of feeling that the company culture never allowed me to feel 100% part of the team).
After living in Poland for 6 years I decided to leave CDP and we then moved to Hamburg in Germany where I got a better contract and generally speaking a better work/life balance. Hamburg is still one of the best career moves in my life because of the environment and the life I built around which I am able to share with my beloved wife.
What are your responsibilities at Blizzard Entertainment?
I must confess here that one of the first games I played on PC was Diablo and Diablo II.
At Blizzard I work closely with the UI Lead, the Art Lead, Art Director and UI designers, and I help explore design ideas for the aesthetic look and style of the presentation of DIABLO IV UI. This then moves into the creation of screen designs, iconography and type design, through to completion of the final assets ready for in-game implementation (using wireframes and information provided by UX, design and gameplay, and with the support of my UI team).
During the first years I was the only UI Artist on the team and, just recently, we got the support of a new talented colleague.
Aside from my work on the UI Art, I’m very lucky to be able, from time to time, to help create assets for the Diablo IP and help my team not only the UI, but also assets for marketing purposes, printed editions, assets internal purposes, and in-game world art assets (specifically symbols and sigils).
What is the favorite part of your job and what is the hardest part of your job?
My favorite parts of the job are the initial steps, the ideation phase, the moment when you use your creativity as a pure resource. You are able to create different possible aesthetic routes for the visual representation of the UI in hope to find the strongest and convenient way to build the final look and feel of it all for the benefit of the game immersion. I love the feeling of discovery during this process. The other nice part is related to the relationship you create with individuals in your team and the sense of teamwork as well. By experience, I know that sometimes this value of “teamwork” is very vague in some scenarios due to company culture and/or individual personality.
The hardest part is probably related to accepting the reality that everything you work on is susceptible to changes. This can be due to many reasons such as game play, art direction, implementation, team agreements, and also you need to be aware that sometimes many of the things you work on and produce will never see the light of the day.
Where do you get your motivation and inspiration?
I’m lucky to work in a role that is related to my interest in images and creativity, so part of my motivation is the fact that I just love to create. I do it even when it is not related directly to work or clients. For most of my life, I suffered from depression, melancholy and/or internal dissatisfaction, and even in my darkest hours I felt the need to look for channels of expression as a way of instinctive healing. So I have found that I can still continue to do creative tasks by channeling thoughts and ideas, feelings and concepts into unique creations.
When I’m feeling fine and I find peace inside of me I can still be creative like everyone else, with a sense of purpose in the things you are doing. In recent years, my main motivation and engine is my family, my wife and my son. I dedicate the hours of my professional development to them.
Inspiration comes from everything I was and I am exposed to. I do believe that the more you have inside your brain (through reading, seeing, analyzing, feelings), the more resources you have that will help give you answers to specific problems. As a graphic designer I always encourage colleagues and students to be curious, look at interesting things with a critical eye, train your eye, train your aesthetic values and increase your knowledge.
What do you do when you get stuck?
Getting stuck is a common thing that happens to all of us. On this point I want to first say that I do not believe in creativity as an ‘external entity’ that is out there, that gets into the mind of the creator who is just waiting for it to come. For me creativity is a by-product of sitting at work seeking creativity and ideas through the process of “doing” and from being critical of your creations.
Learn to listen to what is needed rather than dictating what should be done. Sometimes in these processes your mind enters into a sort of flow and you are able to get answers to the needs and questions of the tasks. But sometimes your mind encounters walls that block your view, limiting your space for actions, so in those moments I just need to take a pause from everything I’m doing and give space between me and whatever I’m trying to create or solve.
I try to get my mind juggling different tasks, or expose myself to different visual topics, so that after that pause I can return to that hard task with fresh eyes, giving myself a possibility to get a new point of view, a new perspective. When you are stuck, overthinking the problem will just increase the feeling of frustration, which will eventually make you blind at the end. That’s why it is healthier to take pauses and distance yourself from the work. This helps keep my mind fresh at work, as I need to balance my tasks and sometimes work on two different things at a time.
Of all the projects you/your company have produced, which one are you the most proud of?
The UI ART project I did after leaving CD Projekt Red at GOOD GAMES during the time I spent living in Hamburg holds a special place inside me. This was UI Art done for an AAA Unannounced project. I basically did all, running this project with total visual freedom, with great support from my Art Director, the great group of leads, and obviously from my UI Team.
I still recall the pleasant feeling of commuting in the mornings to go to work, spending a great time with colleagues, every of them friendly and supportive, and finding real satisfaction at the end of the day, zero-crunch time that allowed me to spend time with my beloved wife and discover the beautiful Hamburg, or just spending time at home enjoying our time together, building dreams and projects. I had a great work-life balance during that time in Hamburg.
This project gave me the chance to do what I am doing today on DIABLO IV. Because of this project, and my professional experience shown in my portfolio, I was contacted by John Mueller, the Art Director working on Diablo IV with the initial idea to join BLIZZARD (I still think how crazy is that… an Art Director from Blizzard getting in touch because he likes your work and want to see if you are ok with the idea of being part of such an iconic company and IP).
Today I’m very proud of BLIZZARD, and absolutely thank them for their support allowing me to work from Germany, honoring me with being their first employee working abroad. I love the culture of my team; the supportive approach, the honesty, the friendliness, the zero tolerance of toxicity, the encouragement to keep balancing work and private life, the respect for the employees, the openness to diversity. I’m very proud of DIABLO IV and the whole team, and being part of this is an amazing achievement in my career impacting deeply my life.
How and when did you learn typography?
I started in type design and typography all on my own, learning during the process of doing things. I personally see every character on a typeset as an image, with shapes, directions, proportions, and dimensions that at the end have the power of communicating something even before composing a word.
When I was young I dedicated a lot of time experimenting with fonts, looking for alternative ways to compose a message or trying ideas. By working on logo design and corporate branding for clients I started exploring logotype design and doing my own fonts for those projects. Sometimes, when I liked those logo designs, I used them as a base to design the whole alphabet. Doing this constantly gave me a specific experience that was refined through the years with research and readings around type designs. This was vital during my initial hard months living in Poland as I was mainly focused on designing fonts and distributing via MyFonts, which worked very well. Now I have publicly published and designed more than 20 font families.
What’s the craziest typography you’ve ever created?
Maybe not the craziest, but the first font was a complete challenge (all of them were) because I had to learn to use the software on my own. I have a special interest in experimentations and intuitions, so I wanted to create fonts with an alternative edgy look and wanted to make fonts that I could use on my own experimental designs. So I tried to deviate from formal font design and tried something else different. It was frustrating but I had a lot of freedom.
I stepped away from font design quite a few years ago and I’d like to create some new fonts, but it is a long hard process and right now I have very little spare time in life.
What’s your point of view on the future of gaming?
Many people talk a lot about virtual reality, but for me the big thing will be “Automation”, the point when technology will speed up the process of game creation supported by technology, taking tasks from the hands of developers. Automation will help to enable creatives because they will focus their efforts on conceptualization. On the other hand automation will generate a risk for employees and work force inside companies. Companies will always go for cutting cost of production, and automation may help them to achieve this.
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