Zap! Pow! Bang! Pew Pew! You’ve seen the sound effects in comics, accompanying intense scenes of mayhem and madness. Now, these effects have been made into sprays and stickers that adorn the gauntlets of the latest epic skin, Comic Book Tracer—a love letter to the influence of comics on the themes and style of Overwatch.
There’s more to Comic Book Tracer, however, than just the little details that give her unique artistic flair. The skin is a product of the collaboration between Overwatch concept artists and the talented team behind Tracer: London Calling, the latest comic in the Overwatch universe.
We spoke with Arnold Tsang about the creative process behind the latest Overwatch challenge skin, his love for comics, and what Tracer means to him.
How did you get into concept art and the gaming industry?
I started off in the comic book industry back when I was in high school, then went to college for classical animation. When I graduated, I wasn't sure I wanted to pursue either of those things, and some of my friends who had graduated earlier pointed toward an opportunity to do concept art for video games. I decided to give it a shot, and I never looked back after that.
You said you got into comic book art in high school—how did that go?
I’m from Toronto, so I used to go to Toronto ComicCon, now known as Fan Expo, with my friends. One year, we brought the comic book we had all worked on together to the convention to show it around. There was this one booth off in the corner of a local studio—Dreamwave Productions—that liked what we’d made and decided to give us jobs as interns. That was how I got my foot in the door in the comic industry.
What was the transition from the comic industry to the gaming industry like?
It’s funny, because I think a lot of artists in the comic book industry eventually ended up transferring to the game industry. A lot of my friends that I worked with back in the day now work for different game studios. Back then, interest in comics was declining and the gaming industry was on the rise. Jobs in games—especially for art—became more accessible.
In terms of the art transition, there was a lot I had to learn. There’s a difference between being an illustrator who paints a pretty picture and being a concept artist who comes up with ideas and designs that serve a game. The leap between comic book art and game art is even larger. One is about using sequential images to tell a narrative story, while the other is about capturing all of that story within a single design.
Are there any comics that have had a significant impact on your art style? What are some of your favorites?
Comics have always been a huge part of my growth as an artist. I got into American comics slightly after the 90’s boom. I was a big fan of Joe Madureira’s run on Uncanny X-Men. Joe’s art really opened the door to “manga-inspired” styles and he was a huge inspiration for me. On the manga side, One Piece is my favorite Japanese comic, and the only one I’m still following every week. Eiichiro Oda is a master at creating unique character silhouettes, and that’s something I try to learn from him.
What was the process like translating the comic art style to Tracer’s model?
We wanted to capture the essence of comic books. Comic-style sound effects really stuck out in my mind, along with the notion of panels from the comic on Tracer’s leggings. I thought that would be a cool way to celebrate comics in general, as well as have the Tracer comic represented on the skin itself.
With that in mind, I did a first pass and chose colors for Tracer’s outfit to match the comic panel leggings. From there, we wanted to get the artist of the comic, Babs Tarr, involved. We sent her that first version and she was super excited about the idea and gave us suggestions for different materials and jacket patterns, as well as some very specific hair and makeup thoughts. We then translated her 2D drawing into something that would work for Tracer’s 3D model as best we could. She also had the idea of putting the speech bubbles on Tracer’s gauntlets instead of where they originally were on her jacket, and I thought that was super cool.
What was it like collaborating with Babs for the skin?
Babs Tarr is super talented. We’ve wanted to work with her for a long time now and I’m glad that we finally got that chance with this comic. We did our best in translating the inspiration from her ideas and her paintover of the skin’s first concept, as well as from her aesthetic sense—especially with the colors we chose. I really like the way Babs uses a lot of pink and very vibrant, psychedelic colors, and we tried to represent that in the skin and translate her style into the design.
Do you have a favorite detail on the skin?
The sound effect bubbles. We ended up making those into sprays, and the team added voicelines to the sprays for the first time—so, when you spray BANG! she says Bang! which is super cool. We also got the chance to localize them into seven different languages with the art and 13 languages with the sound effects.
What’s the most creative part of concepting skins for you?
It’s different depending on the type of skin I’m making. Typically, we work on two types: epic and legendary. Legendary skins are what you think of when you hear the word skin—it’s a total recostuming of the character. Epic skins are similar to recolors, but we try to do as many creative things as we can to make them unique. When working on legendary skins, it’s always about the hook—you find out what the theme is, then you pinpoint what’s visually compelling about that theme and try to work it into the character.
This Tracer skin is an epic skin, and for epic skins it’s a bit more challenging because the artist has to stay within the boundaries of the character’s basic geometry. However, it forces us to be more creative—what can you do with texture and color and patterns and decals? Every now and then we’ll change some things with the geometry, like with the hairstyle and the headgear on this skin. With this skin, we were able to take advantage of comics being a visual medium, and use those as the hook for the outfit.
Tracer was inspired by a class designed for Project Titan—what was her transformation from that game to Overwatch like?
Titan wasn’t a game about heroes; it was more about classes and jobs. And Tracer wasn’t Tracer—she was the Jumper, and you could choose either male or female, and she had a set of skills and weapons to choose from. With Overwatch, it was a conscious effort for us to be making heroes instead of classes. That was the big shift for us that really sold the concept of the game—we didn’t just have player characters dressing up as different classes. We had actual heroes with backstories, personality and depth. While we always liked the gameplay and character potential of the Jumper, it wasn’t until we came up with a name for her and gave her a unique story that we saw the creative direction for Overwatch unfold. From then on, we knew we wanted to keep making heroes who had as much depth and story as Tracer. She was one of the heroes who paved the way for that.
As a character, what does Tracer mean to you?
People may know Tracer as the poster girl, but she’s not just a character we use on covers and posters; she also encompasses the values of the game, the universe, and the Overwatch development team. The hopeful optimism that she brings, her style, everything about that character was very instrumental to us finding the identity of the game.
Taking what we had in Project Titan and turning that into Tracer. . . When that happened, it breathed life into the project. She was our first character, and she’ll always be special because of that, and because her development was an important turning point for the team. When we saw her in the game for the first time, it was incredible. That was when the game was born.
Through September 28, pull out your pulse pistols and pew pew your way into the fight to earn rad new rewards—including the Comic Book Tracer skin and six sprays with unique sound effects—by winning games and watching Overwatch on Twitch. Plus, celebrate the release of the latest Overwatch comic, Tracer issue #1!