Creating Epic Illustrations: A Discussion with Mike Gardner

High-impact visuals can make a great game even greater! At Disruptor Beam, we keep this in mind while developing our games. For Star Trek Timelines, we recently posted a piece of epic key art created for us by illustrator Mike Gardner.  Mike is a veteran concept artist who has worked with us on our first game - Game of Thrones Ascent - and is now continuing with Star Trek Timelines.

Mike Gardner

The artist, Mike Gardner, in his natural habitat.

For this latest piece our Art Director wanted to create a one-on-one conflict image that told a story. She put Mike to the task, and he set out to create a Klingon vs. Borg illustration. We sat down with Mike to discuss his process and learn more about how he took this particular piece from concept to completion.

4 Panel Draft

Mike sketches out a few ideas to decide on a composition.

Mike works almost exclusively through photoshop, on a Wacom tablet, so sketches start there and not on paper. With an arsenal of more than 100 brushes at his disposal within the program, he picks and chooses the best ones to bring his art to life.  Though, for this piece there were about 8 or so different brushes in particular used to create the scene.  He also challenges himself to learn new ways to use light and light sources in his projects, in order to get the best look possible.

We asked Mike about where he starts and learned that step one is always to explore a cargo bay full of reference materials. For this piece, he immersed himself into TNG episodes focusing on the Borg and Klingons. He watched clips of their interactions; watched the way they moved on screen. He also looked through reference books and images in order to have the best understanding of both races.


Capturing the details of the Borg.

“I know how important it is to get it right for the fans,” he says. “They expect a certain level of detail, so most of my time early on is spent researching. The Borg especially have so many components to closely examine. I want to make sure I get that right.”

Step 1

The scene begins to take shape as Mike creates the composition.

We also asked Mike about when and what he decides to keep in a drawing vs. editing out. “I’ve learned to trust my gut over the years,” he said. “With just about 30 years of experience, I’ve developed what I feel is a good instinct for what makes a dynamic piece of art.”

Mike told us that it helps that he has established a great working relationship with our Art Director, Angela. While Mike feels the painting “often runs itself,” Angela gets him started with a few sentences and then he goes from there.

So, how long does it take Mike to produce a piece like this? About 35 hours - the bulk of that being the initial research up front - however some images can take up to 3 weeks.

In Progress

Even up to the final stages, details change and solidify.

“With the Borg you can really dive into and explore their detail and I really wanted to get that character right.  Sometimes I also try to learn something new each time around, like a new lighting effect or a new brushwork style that makes the piece really pop.”

We’re lucky to have such a dedicated and talented artist as Mike on our team, helping us visualize the world of Star Trek Timelines!

Here's the final art piece in case you missed it!

Borg vs. Klingon