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Crafting Worlds: An Interview with Rasmus Poulsen

INTERVIEW
June 11, 2024
Interviewed by:
Mearg Taddese

Meet Rasmus Poulsen, the creative force behind AAA games at Io Interactive and the enigmatic Technouveau online.

With a childhood steeped in creativity and a career marked by innovation, Rasmus brings a unique perspective to the world of game design and digital artistry.

To get started, could you introduce yourself?

My name is Rasmus Poulsen. I am a Franchise Art Director at Io Interactive where I do AAA games. People online might know me as Technouveau.

Looking back at your childhood, what were some of the key influences that shaped who you are today? How did those early experiences guide you towards your current career path?

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a creative family. My mom was a hairdresser and my dad a musician, and as such I saw that it was possible to make a living pursuing crafty and artistic endeavours. I was often touring with my dad, and played with the other music kids underneath stages and in storage rooms full of gear. This was a view into a completely different universe than what most people get to see, and I experienced many adults with varied and odd jobs. I think this made me less afraid to believe that a creative route was viable to the point where I have never ever questioned if it was.

When it comes to your creative process, what ignites your inspiration? Where do you typically find the spark that drives your projects forward?

When I am deep into a project, it is usually the project itself that is the biggest inspiration. Meaning it speaks to me and tells me what it needs and where I could take it. This might not be logical or smart, but there's usually more things I want to do, than what I have time for.

Reflecting on your production experiences, could you share a story about a particularly challenging or unexpected task you encountered? How did you overcome it?

I think the most challenging task in games is ensuring good layouts that are pleasing to the player and that do what the different crafts require of it. Another challenging, but fun task, was to envision and deliver on the visual style for Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days. I worked closely with coder Ole Ciliox to ensure the game had a low fi digital look to it. That was very challenging but also a lot of fun, because we were treading unknown waters with an aging engine. It felt very punk and it was very satisfying.

Can you share a moment when you felt creatively stuck? How did you realize you were facing a creative block, and what techniques did you use to break through it?

I get creative blocks from time to time. Times when I feel low on energy or inspiration. I only have two solutions. Either take a walk, go for a trip or step away from what you are doing for a while. That tends to work for the bigger blocks. For smaller blocks, it's simply about working through them. Even if you don't feel like it, you do it anyway. And it will usually pass.

In collaborating with fellow team members, including game designers and programmers, how do you ensure that the artistic vision remains in sync with the overall gameplay experience?

Teamwork is super important of course. Often it's enough to generate and discuss ideas together and see what happens. I find that a casual atmosphere where the team is solely focused on generating ideas creates the best results. Staying open minded and forward looking, allowing for a few random trains of thought. Wonderful things can come from this. Then you can get critical the next day, when you've slept on it. If time does not permit for this method, I find that giving a precisely defined but flexible and very lofty brief is the way to go.

Could you share insights into one of your favorite projects?

In my spare time I am working on a project I call Shockfront. It is a cyberpunk ode to the films and games that formed me in my youth. Wipeout and Akira being among the most influential. I am not super far with it yet, but I am having a great time building city assets, look-dev testing, and designing ships. I also think about what the world means, what it is saying and how to play with both, tone and meaning. It is by far the most complicated hobby project I have ever done, but I am trying to stay playful and loose, so as not to get too bogged down with concerns or planning. I think it will end up being a trailer or short, and I am planning on selling the city kit as an asset pack as well. I am quite excited about it.

let's talk about time management. How do you balance your time, particularly when juggling personal side projects and other commitments?

Like mentioned earlier I think it's important to take breaks. That said, I usually gain energy from doing my hobby projects. Having a free space to pursue what I enjoy without worrying where it "fits" and how it is or isn't "meaningful" is a stress reliever all in itself.

How do you balance game's creative vision with technical constraints like platform limitations or budget?

Often, I don't see the aesthetic choices that I am interested in to rely much on technology. Usually they are tech and platform agnostic. At least when I conceive of them. Obviously it becomes very important when getting down to it, and I am often fortunate enough to have very skilled and technically minded people around me, with whom I can discuss how to best achieve the visual ideas. Normally I have a sensation for what I want to achieve, rather than being inspired by tech or a new technical possibility.

What's your secret to success as you've advanced to roles like art director or lead? Any tips for those aspiring to grow into similar positions?

When I started in games I was hired as a concept artist. But I was doing 3d, assets, textures, effects, and even level design. So a good start is being hungry and curious and getting your hands dirty doing many different things. Having a wide interest will help you see the big picture, before obsessing about the details. And this is important when being responsible for where to go. The big picture is built by foundational choices, where the details are simply flourish. I think I was obviously hungry and ambitious, and just respectful enough to not piss off my bosses along the way. So handling your interests with passion and with respect, might just end up with you getting the responsibility as well.

Looking back, what are the key lessons or knowledge you wish you had acquired earlier in your career that would have greatly influenced your current situation?

Good question. I have always had the luck of being incredibly focused on what I wanted to do. In games I was always about the visuals, and that worked out well, based on the stories I told earlier. In that sense I have no regrets. Though if I were to give my younger self some advice, it would be to experiment more on the side, and to take more chances. With artistic styles, selling assets online, or whatever. Keep exploring and be more loose and un-concerned.

Who in the industry do you see as an inspiration? Is there someone you've looked up to?

I didn't know it at the time of watching Star Wars as a child, but Ralph Mcquarrie and Joe Johnston were particularly influential on me growing up. I had no idea what concept design and world building was, but they laid the foundations for me. Ron Cobb too, for his very down to earth approach to sci-fi design and of course Syd Mead for the same reasons, although I think Mead manages to be both credible, yet very very expressive at the same time. Recently I have been very inspired seeing what Jama Jurabaev have been doing. From the oddball spherical photoshop paintings to his blender work, he has a completely fearless and curious approach to art that I think is very inspiring and invigorating. And Ian Hubert is another more recent influence on me, for his loose approach. In his work, I saw the same methods I had been using when making games for the PS3, and the quality of his output simply made me believe in myself enough to get started with 3D again.

What tools and software are essential to your role as an art director?

As an art director I constantly use Powerpoint. Obviously I use photoshop and blender as well, but when I have a creative team, I spend most of my time clarifying concepts and explaining things. For this I use PowerPoint and do presentations. Obviously this also happens verbally at the tables and in meetings, but I do love a good, clear presentation. For my hobby projects I am in love with blender. Probably because it gave me the free option of diving back into 3D after a 10 year absence, and it made me realize that I had been somewhat stagnant for a long time. It was a breath of fresh air.

What's the experience like working at a AAA studio and building your own thing, Technouveau. And what IS Technouveau anyway?

Working in AAA games is great, and I love so many aspects of my work. Currently we are doing Project 007, and as an art director who loves design, locations and world building that is just the most awesome thing. You can imagine. But as I mentioned, I spend a lot of time discussing things, rather than DOING things. Technouveau is the vessel for me doing things. For me being in flow and creating things without the need for it to fit into any preconceived logic or whole. When you build games, everything is interconnected to a vast degree and it is what makes it fun and challenging. But once in a while it is nice to just let go, and create without these considerations. Both to sharpen my craft, but also to simply have fun. After having done this for a while, and in particular after having built many spaceship designs in Blender, Jama Jurabaev, Big Medium Small and I myself, got together and built and released an asset pack with kitbash parts. To do this I had to register a company for legal reasons, and as such Technouveau became an official entity. It is my online handle that became a registered company, and I am still wondering where to take it.

Expanding the conversation, what's your take on the integration of AI in our industry? With diverse viewpoints among artists, do you approach it with fear, enthusiasm, or neutrality?

Talking about AI, I have a few perspectives: I am not a fan of the fact that the systems are built from unlicensed image gathering, and that they are prone to enter areas of plagiarism if not outright theft. And that the tech companies might get away with it, in a similar way that YouTube was very quickly built on the back of unlicensed music and content, until they were so powerful as to be untouchable. I am not particularly interested in the idea of writing prompts, when I can be exploring art and design with my hands and my subconscious and be on a mental journey while doing so. Flow is pure bliss. It is Devine and it makes me incredibly happy. That said, I also believe AI tools are just tools and that we have yet to understand how to use them. The AI tools will likely have an impact on the arts, design, culture and society as a whole, but I think it's too early to say. Presently, we still have musicians, painters and other types of artists in parallel with a lot of technology that could otherwise have replaced them, so I am not sure what to think of the future. Ultimately, I think everything is about human connection, and I cannot foresee the ways we will achieve or not achieve that connection moving forward.

what's your forecast for the game industry's evolution over the next decade or so?

Related to the above AI question, I can imagine game engines and 3D engines disappearing to be replaced by weird systems that dream up what you want in real time. Maybe the engines will be some sort of 'framework of meaning and drama' or a game master based on the players subconscious, but where all the execution is happening in real time. And we will have no assets to feed it. Though in parallel, we might have old timey blender artists and classical guitarists hanging out, discussing the craft, and comparing blisters and stories. I think creating art will remove itself from what is needed to make and to "consume" entertainment.

As you pursue personal growth, how do you challenge yourself and continue to evolve as an artist?

Learning a new thing like 3D or Blender is really a whole new avenue. Where before I was thinking about 2D artistic styles or expression, now I am thinking about learning to set up animation and physics simulation. It's another world that enables me to express things on my own that I never imagined I would be able to. It is insanely overwhelming and insanely exciting. Maybe in time, diving back into 2D will feel equally new?

What strategies do you use to stay informed about the latest trends and technologies in game art? And how do you integrate innovative techniques into your work?

I watch films, discuss with fellow artists, and enjoy art and fashion all the time. I am not super technically minded, so I am usually not chasing the next new tech thing. I am far more interested in aesthetics and style and tone. I don't concern myself with tech trends, and will ask my smarter friends how to approach a problem I have encountered while exploring something from an artistic perspective.

If artists are interested in exploring your work and learning more about you, where can they find you?

Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/technouveau/

X/Twitter - https://twitter.com/technouveau_art

ArtStation - https://www.artstation.com/technouveau

YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/@technouveau_art

Lastly, do you have anything to offer the community? this is your opportunity to give back and contribute to the community.

You can find some brushes and a free Alien poster design on my site https://technouveau.net/pages/assets. And if you are just jumping into Blender I recommend learning the basics from Grant Abbit on YouTube. His tutorials are excellent. https://www.youtube.com/@grabbitt/playlists

As we come to a close, do you have any parting words for your fellow artists?

Just do it. Don't wait. I am 44 and I am now realizing how fast time moves. Get started. Fail. Do it again. Get going. Do. It. Today.

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Send us your job opening to hello@doublejumpacademy.com and you will be added to the next job openings list.

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