The story of New Worlds Project: #7 – Rebooting New Worlds Project through visual art
By Kim Smouter, Co-Founder of New Worlds Project. See part 1 of the story of New Worlds Project here.
Fast forward to 2013 and a series of circumstances led to a rekindling of interest in revisiting the concept of New Worlds Project. It had been nearly three years since I as a co-founder had done anything substantive on the site, aside from answering the odd customer service request from a user unable to access their account… but in any case, the circumstances came together and the admins came together to discuss whether it was time to bring back our community to life.
With a lot more spare resources, extra cash to funnel into the project, and a complete re-envisioning of what we wanted to set out to do, we were ready to begin this Reboot. One of the first things which we did was to reposition ourselves away from being a pure-play play-by-post role-playing game. This is indicated in our 360° creativity concept which essentially places our community as a facilitator of creativity – whether they be in the form of art, music, or creative writing. The role of our setting, and our community resources is to inspire, encourage, and support creative expression.
This rethinking in our approach is the culmination of a reflection which already began some years ago in the form of New Worlds Project’s incorporation as a non-profit corporation and our exploration of play-by-post methodologies in schools. Whilst trials were promising, we lacked the support from the school systems to take it much further.
New Worlds v1.0’s visual identity was achieved with a volunteer graphics team
Even when we launched the project in 2003, I think there was an underlying ambition to see New Worlds Project as a truly multimedia project of which the writing was an integral, central feature. But in 2003, we also had as part of the project a team of volunteers graphics designers who had been recruited from a variety of places. Renderosity.com, scifi-meshes.com, and CG Society are all places we went to collect our first generation of volunteer artists. We recruited about 10 artists covering a variety of expertise ranging from characters, to ship designers in particular.
We gave them a shared e-mail account, space on the forums to post their artwork and discuss how they could contribute to the site, and we maintained a relationship with many of them. The approach was useful in building relationships with a number of artists who regularly contributed the artwork to the site, but it was also a process which required us to arm ourselves with patience to get the designed outcome. But, as the community leaders really had no resources to contribute to paid commissions, it was the only way to go.
Star Army of Yamatai’s inspirational approach
Star Army of Yamatai was very inspirational in the sense that they placed both a great deal of emphasis in securing original artwork to reinforce their identity, but also placed actual monetary resources to commission artists. Additionally, Star Army’s decision to work with contracts to ensure copyright was transferred to Star Army so that it could control the artwork seemed to us a good idea to proceed with. We wanted to take that thinking forward for our own reboot and have commissioned several dozen art pieces that are being released bit by bit on the digital sphere.
Why is it important?
For us, and for Star Army of Yamatai too, I think, the original artwork is critical to make the setting more accessible, and also brings things to life in ways that only visual art can achieve. Already during the reboot, we were amazed how by just having a cityscape, our species that we had written so much about over the years felt that much more real. Each image has been worth every euro spent on them.
A Resourced Graphics Design Team
The first thing we’ve done was re-establish a graphics design team, recruiting our graphics designers based on a careful study of their portfolios that they themselves have published on the sites referenced above, but also DeviantArt which is a fantastic source of talent. We set them up with an email address to exchange ideas, keep information flowing, etc. But also, of the annual budget we have allocated to New Worlds Project, a whopping 75% of our annual budget now goes to financing commissioned artwork.
Graphics Design Team Members are invited on the basis of a terms of reference document which outlines their roles and responsibilities as a member of the Graphics Design Team and also provides a transparent overview of how much money we intend to give out each year to graphics work.
We also elected to recruit a talent pool of approximately 15-20 persons with clear specialties assigned. What we promised them was a steady stream of commissions that they could bid for. Each month, we issue calls for proposals which describes what we’re looking for. Each commission has an identifier 2013-xx and we go to great length to connect them to the site resources so they can get a feel of the setting. This call for proposal also indicates a low-end, ideal, and high-end rate that we will pay for a commission. We tend to pay out between €150 to €300 permission. The call for proposal and contract form the basis of the commissioned work and we generally give a month or two for the artist to complete the work or risk the contract being award to someone else.
Always work to a contract
For each artist, we work to a contract which provides that New Worlds Project has the copyright of the artwork commissioned and can do what we want with it moving forward, but also grants the artist the right to use the artwork for their portfolios, etc. It’s important to give the artist this opportunity because not only can they promote your activities to new audiences, but it also compensates for the time spent on low-paid projects which nonetheless lead to great quality.
Also, make sure you are clear with your commissioned artist that the amount is a fixed amount for the commission regardless of the number of hours spent. It’s okay to change pay conditions for subsequent commissions but never accept a renegotiated figure for the artwork unless you’ve fundamentally changed the project.
Know what you want to commission
We’ve evolved our thinking about what we want to commission and have learned a lot about the terminologies and the differences between a matte artist or a 3D modeller. Because of the nature of our setting, we needed to split our resources and ensure we had people able to render our alien species, our starships, our cityscapes, and in the future interiors too. We’ve recruited and looked for people strategically that could deliver these skills. It’s also important to think about whether the artist has the potential – just because the artist has only done Trek artwork doesn’t mean s/he isn’t flexible enough to change to suit your style.
What we’ve learned from the process is that approaching this in a very methodical, strategic, and professional way is key to develop a good relationship with the artist commissioned. We also don’t hijack the creative process, there’s a reason why they’re the artist and we try to respect their talent and not be over-prescriptive. By allowing them to express themselves, you’ll achieve a better result.
Where we haven’t quite nailed it, is fostering the community feel amongst the Graphics Design Team. But I hope to work on this in the coming years as we continue to reinforce New Worlds Project’s now unique visual identity.