by Melissa Ashcraft

Trusting Your Expertise: Exploring the Career Path of a Game Developer with Shaddy Safadi

Shaddy Safadi When we first met Shaddy Safadi back in 2011, he was hard at work on his Cintiq 21UX creating concept art for Naughty Dog’s popular game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves for the Sony Playstation.  As a concept artist, Safadi’s role was to turn creative ideas into scenes, figures and objects. "The Cintiq really builds confidence, allowing me to push the creative envelope further than I ever imagined," he said. "It allows me to be faster and much more productive, especially when working with a program like Photoshop where the accuracy of the pen really enhances my abilities."

Recently Safadi ventured into his own uncharted territory, leaving Naughty Dog behind and launching the Santa Monica, California-based Concepting Studio, One Pixel Brush, where he is Art Director for some of the biggest titles in the gaming industry.

One Pixel Brush Logo

Wacom: How did you get started in the game industry?

Safadi: Concept art as a standalone job was JUST becoming a viable career option when I was enrolled at the Art Center College of Design, and around halfway through their program, I realized that my love of video games could be folded into an actual art career. After graduation, I got my first job at a restaurant in my hometown and during that year, I juggled my time at the restaurant with working hard on my portfolio, until I finally landed a position at a small studio in Colorado.  Sadly, the studio folded, but I quickly got an offer to work on a small cartoony PSP game at Naughty Dog. Although that game eventually got shelved, I had the good fortune to be promoted to senior concept artist for the industry-changing blockbuster games, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

My job involved close, iterative work with game designers and environment artists to establish specific lighting, color and believability benchmarks never before seen in a video game. This included the iterative design of many of the main characters. Paintings were created in close collaboration with the creative director and game director, and often involved on-location research to remote locals such as Lhasa Tibet, and Mulu, Borneo. We created “set piece” paintings to establish the lighting of environments with an emphasis on natural beauty and believability, as well as thorough research into the historical and organic details.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t enjoy the realistic genre for years, but eventually learned to love it and excel at it with the help and examples set by top industry talent like Maciej Kuciara.

Safadi - Swamp Basin

Wacom: We hear that one of the projects you worked on at Naughty Dog, The Last of Us, has been one of the fastest-selling PS3 games of 2013, selling nearly 3.5 million units in the first three weeks.

Safadi: I think Last of us is one of the best games I’ve played and I had the great fortune of helping out on this project in the early stages.

Wacom: You’ve recently left Naughty Dog and started your own company. That’s pretty brave of you.

Safadi: Naughty Dog is a fantastic place to work and the talent there is amazing, but it was time for a change. It certainly isn’t easy to leave a job at a top studio making good money working on critically-acclaimed games, but working independently, managing your own schedule and helping other artists become better is very rewarding.

Safadi - RYSE Wickerman

Wacom: Tell us more about One Pixel Brush.

Safadi: I think One Pixel Brush produces some of the best concept art in the industry. Our talented team has an aesthetic that is highly evolved and technically superb. That’s why we do work for many of the biggest game clients in the world, but I also think that what makes this studio better is that we are focused on pushing IDEAS not just slick execution.

Wacom: What are your key responsibilities?

Safadi: My goal is to inspire a team of 3-D artists to do their best work and strive for a visual aesthetic that is unique, functional, highly-believable and fun. A lot of the time that means making the individual artists understand that their opinions and vision are more valuable than mine. Many times artists get stuck trying to please me rather than trusting in their expertise. Encouraging them to bring their own visions to life is the biggest and most important part of my job.

Safadi - RYSE Rain

Wacom: How many artists do you employ at One Pixel Brush and are they Wacom users?

Safadi: We have four incredibly talented full time artists and three part-time ones. All of them use Wacom gear, primarily Cintiqs, all day, every day. If you do digital art you know that if wasn’t for Wacom, digital painting would not have become a part of mainstream entertainment design. If you’ve ever owned a Cintiq you know that it’s one of the best-designed and most-reliable consumer electronics ever made.

Wacom: Which Wacom products do you currently use?

Safadi: I’ve recently upgraded to a Cintiq 22HD, after 10 years with a 21UX (which incidentally didn’t have a scratch or busted pixel after a decade of constant use). The Cintiqs deliver pretty unbelievable reliability and consistency. Wacom has been the gold standard in tablet products for my entire career. My new 22HD was knocked off a 4-foot high desk, hit the hardwood floor and didn’t have a scratch or a busted pixel! Cintiqs are expensive, but boy, do they last!

Safadi - Bioshock Town Square

Wacom: Which software apps do you use with Wacom products?

Safadi: Photoshop and Photoshop :)

Wacom: Has your workflow differed since you began incorporating Wacom products? If so, can you share how it’s changed?

Safadi: The ExpressKeys and touch rings improved and sped up my workflow quite a bit, to the point where the tools disappear and I can work subconsciously thinking about design and natural mark making A lot of artists never use those buttons, but I always require my students to try them out because they help a lot. The Cintiqs have given us huge productivity gains.  I can’t imagine any other products coming close.

And what I used before Wacom? I actually don’t remember a time when I didn’t, pen and paper I guess :)

Safadi - Mrs. Comstock

Wacom: Tell us more about Shaddy Safadi, the person. Which fictional character would you say you most resemble?

Safadi: I would say Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones: an entitled, opportunistic asshole who only learns humility and temperance after his hand gets cut off.

Wacom: What are you passionate about? What inspires and excites you?

Safadi: Waterfalls, epic cliffs, and other types of mountainous splendor. Also Ferrari Italias, and Pomeranians, man’s and God’s most beautiful creations respectively.

Safadi - Christo River

Wacom: Can you share an anecdote about yourself that would give us any insights into who you are?

Safadi: I don’t kill spiders, I take them outside :)


Art Blog:



Safadi - Christo the Civilized Barbarian