In early July, BAFTA sponsored the Changemakers strand at the Children’s Media Conference (CMC), the only UK event for those involved in developing, producing and distributing content to children on all platforms. Breakthrough Brit and games illustrator Anna Hollinrake was one of two BAFTA new and emerging talent representatives at the event. Here she discusses her current project, finding harmony in the workplace – a topic she addressed at CMC – and her dreams for the future. Words and interview by Chris Schilling
Award-winning artist Anna Hollinrake loves teaching and helping others, though she admits she’s currently having a hard time taking her own advice. An outspoken critic of the glamorisation of overwork in the games industry, she concedes she’s having to “blast through commissions” at the moment. In fairness, she has a very good reason for taking on more work. “I’m currently saving up for a new graphics tablet because mine has died on me,” she says.
Broken tablets aside, her career is progressing on two fronts – it was both her talent as an artist and illustrator and also her keenness to speak openly about the need to find a healthy work-life balance that helped bring her to BAFTA’s attention last year, when she was named a Breakthrough Brit. PawPrint Games’ Bloody Zombies, Stainless Games’ Magic Duels and Climax Studios’ Lola and the Giant are just some of the wonderful games that fill Hollinrake’s creative portfolio. She feels particularly passionately about mental wellbeing, illustrated by her recent Changemakers appearance at the Children’s Media Conference, where she gave a speech about the perils of burnout. She speaks from first-hand experience: during her first year at university, an 18-hour painting stint left her needing months of physiotherapy. Still, it had an unexpected silver lining. “By my third year I’d become the course’s unofficial stretch guidance counsellor,” she laughs. “People would come to me and say, ‘Anna, there’s a pain in my wrist’, and I'd be like, ‘OK, let’s go through some stretches.’”
She’s recently moved to London to make it easier to juggle her professional obligations with her desire to help others. Indeed, Hollinrake’s current role as senior artist at Dream Reality Interactive has been all about finding the right balance, too. Contemplative VR adventure Arca’s Path proved an oasis of calm amid the bustle and noise of this year’s E3, though making a peaceful and relaxing experience – and one that looks very attractive – has been anything but simple.
“You’ve so many things to consider at once, and the main problem is that you’re rendering everything twice,” she explains. “So, you’re immediately losing a lot of the processing power just to render those things doubly. You have to use a lot of sneaky methods to get it to work properly and feel just as immersive. But you can definitely find lots of interesting ways to do that.”
You have to be very considerate of what you’re doing to the player and where you place assets [in VR games]...There have been occasions where I’ve been testing in a VR headset for two hours, then I basically have to go and lie down somewhere dark
Focusing on hand-painted, heavily stylised 3D art during her time at university has clearly stood her in good stead, though VR’s limitations have taught her plenty about adapting to ensure player comfort. “You have to be very considerate of what you’re doing to the player and where you place assets. You might have trees that are looming over areas, and if the player’s head clips through them that will be a little bit unpleasant.” And if motion sickness is an issue for certain players, pity the poor creators who have to spend time finding ways to prevent it. “There have been occasions where I’ve been testing in a VR headset for two hours,” she grins. “Then I basically have to go and lie down somewhere dark.”
Now I’ve had this opportunity with Arca’s Path, I’d like to make something else that’s quite narrative focused
Arca’s Path, Hollinrake says, is the kind of project she’d like to be involved with in the future. In light of her compassion for the wellbeing of her peers, it’s no surprise to learn she wants to build experiences that are inclusive and provide a feeling of warmth and home. “I feel like that’s something as an artist I can help curate. Now I’ve had this opportunity with Arca’s Path, I’d like to make something else that’s quite narrative focused.”
It wouldn’t even necessarily have to be games, she says; she’s quite happy working in such other mediums as films and comics. Something along the lines of Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley might be just the ticket, she thinks. “You can see how much people appreciate those moments of peace and tranquility,” she says. “I’m reminded of something [Night of the Woods artist/writer] Scott Benson said, where someone told him they’d just run around the town to feel calm. I’d love to create something like that.”
To read the first part of this interview, click here.