MMO Art Designer Chris Bourassa

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This is a great interview with Chris Bourassa who handles most of the Iron Realms art work and has worked on projects for other large gaming companies. He talks about his background in the gaming world, his progression of work for Iron Realms, how he does his art, and some tips for getting started in the art business. 

If you want to see more of his work, check it out here.

Fortress in a snow storm

Here is the transcribed version of the interview for your reading pleasure.

Space Marine

Ben Gorlick: Alright, this is Ben Gorlick and I am here with Chris Bourassa.

Chris Bourassa: Hey what's up?

Ben Gorlick: I thought it would be fun to do another interview for Iron Realms and while not a lot people know you, they likely know your artwork. You are one of the artists who has been doing artwork for the Iron Realms games, is that correct?

Chris Bourassa: Yes absolutely. I've been doing art for Iron Realms for a couple year now.

Ben Gorlick: Can you give us some background and how you became one of the Iron Realms artists?

Chris Bourassa: To be honest.. I can't remember. Matt Mihaly was running it (Iron Realms) years ago, six or sever years ago or something, and he somehow found my stuff and sent me this massive e-mail to do 26 characters or something. I got them all done and every time they wanted to update their art they came back to me which has been awesome, because they're a lot of fun to draw.

Ben Gorlick: That is awesome. How did Matt Mihaly find you exactly?

Chris Bourassa: I was hosting some art on concept art at the time and had a website. I've always had a full time job in video games, so I haven't pushed my online profile, but I always had a bit of a presence. 

Ben Gorlick: What kind of video games have you worked on that were a full time job?

Chris Bourassa: I worked on my own IP for a couple of years, we were going to do a play station 2 game but then Sony cancelled that, and then I got a job doing Rifts for the n-gage, an exciting platform. I did Sonic for the psp, I did Monster Lab for the Wii, and then I was the character art director for Armada of the Damned which was a Pirates of the Caribbean type of game and then it got cancelled six months before release. That was like 3 1/2 years of work so that was kind of hard.

Pirate Image

Ben Gorlick: Wow. You put a lot of time into that Pirates of the Caribbean game?

Chris Bourassa: Yea, it was looking really sweet but they had a change in strategic direction.

Ben Gorlick: Once that happened, did you decide to go freelance?

Chris Bourassa: I've always maintained a certain amount of Freelance going, predominantly for Iron Realms, but I always wanted to see if I could make a living doing freelance stuff. I decided to see if I could making a living at doing just freelance about a year ago and just dived into that.

Ben Gorlick: What are some of the first characters you remember doing for Iron Realms?

Chris Bourassa: The first batch was for Lusternia. A lot of anthropomorphic stuff, beast men, etc. Looking back on all that stuff, it was kind of crazy to see, I'm kind of embarrassed looking back.

Ben Gorlick: Why are you embarrassed?

Chris Bourassa: A skill change, practices makes you better.. It's cool to go back and see my old stuff, and I've definitely gotten more familiar with Iron Realms and stayed up to date with the game changes from the website and every time I get a new character I get a text-brief about the characters.

Ben Gorlick: How did you come up with the base foundation of your first text-character graphical illustrations?

Chris Bourassa: That's what makes it great. The Iron Realms art always has a distinct edge or slant, and they have an interesting sensibility when it comes to fantasy content. There stuff is always so tweaked, it's not just an Orc or not just a Goblin. That's what makes it so interesting, creating something that speaks to the description and injects some of my own sensibilities into it. Trying to find that balance, and Iron Realms is always really good to work with and I like to think at the end of the day they are happy for my stuff.

Ben Gorlick: The players are really taking a liking to it and if people are not familiar with it you can go to the Iron Realms site at

Ben Gorlick: Tell me a little about the creative process you create these with. Is it drawn on paper or the computer?

Chris Bourassa: The original Lusternia art I did pencil sketches of first and then I'd scan it and color it in photoshop. But then, as I got more experienced and the hardware and software progressed. I still start in the same way, in black and white before I start getting mixed up in color. If you dive in too fast, you get lost in the foods, and sometimes you can compromise your design in favor of getting your work done. I try to be a little more deliberate.

Ben Gorlick: How exactly do you get your characters out there as a Freelance out there? How do you get paid to do art?

Chris Bourassa: If you're just getting started, I say go get a job. Don't rely on the Internet to support you. The Internet is cruel, it's not a place to just build a career. I think you need team experience and working with a group of people that challenge you. I couldn't imagine graduating art school and then sitting in my basement trying to make a living. You need to get out and get pushed, otherwise you're going to spend all day drawing anime' girls and dragons, but you're not going to get any better, except at drawing anime' girls and dragons. If you get out, you can make contacts and go from there. It's always good to keep a blog going, and have an internet presence, but you can't just rely on it.

Ben Gorlick: I know you have a blog and website. What is it?

Chris Bourassa

Ben Gorlick: You have a comic strip too correct? Died Again?

Chris Bourassa: It's a good chance people haven't heard of it. I brought up the idea for one of the Iron Realms sites to mildly entertain people, and I approached the idea deliberately to do as little work as possible. It's black and white, super flat and I just try to have fun with it and use it as a break. I was worried if I committed to some elaborate art style, it would just bog me down and then I'd start to resent it. I just treat it as a 2-hour departure from what I normally do. Working with the writer Matt has been really awesome too, he's a really funny guy.

Ben Gorlick: What's your favorite character you've done for an Iron Realms game?

MMO Bard

Chris Bourassa: Some of the recent stuff came out pretty good. I was really happy with the Satyr and the Grook, I felt like a hit a bit of a stride. The bard for Imperian that I finished off six months ago. I liked the rough for the Siren, a lot of people hate the Siren, but you know.. working from a very short brief, and the rough was pretty sweet, but as I kind of pushed it I think it got kind of off track.

Ben Gorlick: Maybe in the future would you be willing to show your creative process to the viewing audience, do a quick sketch, show some of the styles that you use?

Chris Bourassa: I did a tutorial once for Babe Lab, step-by-step thing, and since I have four more guys to do for Aetolia, and I'll just pick the one that turns out the best and I'll put it together in a bit of an article. 

Ben Gorlick: That would be great. Is there anything you'd like to share?

Chris Bourassa: I love it when people write comments on the art that Iron Realms posts on the site. It helps me understand the sensibilities of the Iron Realms fan base, it's cool to get a window of what's important to the community. I think the response has been really healthy for me as an artist so I can understand where to take these things in the future and what people really respond to.

Ben Gorlick: Chris, I appreciate your time, we look forward to more of your art on the Iron Realms sites. We'd love to talk with you more in the future.

Chris Bourassa: Thank you so much for having me on the show!


Moar Lusternia art. Make us some Glommies, except the illithoid. Those are creepy, no offense. >_>

I'm praying for some more trill-related art, personally.


I love my trill peeps :/ 

Trills are those symbiotic creatures that are one part humanoid and one part worm in the stomach right?

+1 fellow trekkie




I've always been curious as to what an Igasho actually LOOKED like...big, muscled and hairy is all I ever get, even from looking at denizens

Peeps can't fly. Free the Gingerbread men!

By that, you mean sexy sexy khephera?


- Sadhyra

I loved the satyr/monk, that's for sure. It really has something.

However, as a big fan of W40K, I love the picture of the Space Marine. Great job!

Great stuff, I enjoy and appreciate your work and can't wait to see more.

Those are some greak works.


I love this guy's art - as long as the subject is male. That all looks really awesme, he gets the mood exactly right, and fills in little details that make every piece seem perfect. (Achaean Atavian, Imperian Bard, Kohdon Predator, and pretty much everything on his DA.) Past commissioned art had been really light on this, a dwarf would look like any other fantasy dwarf, so this is obviously not a simple thing to get right.

If the subject is a female though, they seem to sacrifice 80% of their character and become a doe-eyed, huge-breasted fantasy babe with as much skin bared as possible. I don't know if this is intentional, a directive given as part of the brief by Matt or whoever commissioned the works, but it was funny as hell to see Achaea's Siren art touched up with more clothing added. Their eyes just seem kind of dead and empty, compared to the really striking characterisation of his other art. Looking through his DA, the Witchhunter pic was an exception to this.

And oh man I am sad to be reminded about the Pirates of the Caribbean game :( That looked so amazingly awesome in all regards and then it was axed. There is no justice.

I agree to an extent on the female bit. They do indeed have overly large breasts.

But in my experience, in many years of IRE now, that's a hazard of being accurate to the majority of what's found in player descriptions. The fact that a great deal of the artwork he's been commissioned to do for IRE directly is promotional work, too, plays a part. From what I've seen of the advertising campaigns, the target audience in general isn't existing MUD players, it's other gamers from Farmville players to WoW addicts, and the women found in his art, while not always the most wizened by appearances, do tend towards being eye catching, which is the point of promotional artwork.

When I first started playing Achaea about 5 years ago it wasnt the art that drew me to it, it was the story and the atmosphere, while I browsed the website I saw some of the art which if I am not mistaken was drawn by Chris, as per the interview he said he has been working with Matt for quite a while. I came across some of the art and though it was intrigueing it wasnt the main draw, <although the picture of the Raja Knight ended up being the basis for my final character selection> now all that being said, I do have to say that the artwork has come a long way from that one pic of the knight and is faintly reminiscent of Vallejo in my opinion. Chris keep up the great work I love all your art. Now as to the subject of the female versions of characters in art well althought i do agree that not all characters that are female need to be overly voluptous unfortunately that is the trend and what people expect to see when they see a female fantasy character. It helps to define the differences between say a male warrior in full armour and a female character in full armour when all you can really see is the shape of the body. and as far as sirens go in my opinion I would think that the picture of the siren is almost spot on, in that the eyes though looking dead and empty, I dont think that is what Chris was going for I think rather he was going for an enchanting look in that if you stare at them too long you lose yourself in them but that is my opinion, either way Chris keep up the great work you really make IRE a place that has been opened up to more people who might have been searching for fantasy artwork and end up staying for the game!

It's obviously a selling "feature". Enlarged naked parts of women's anatomy will sell anything, so why not use it to sell the text game?





text games have artists?


no seriously, very talented!

some great funny art. I love the art already and want more! Like a character raging, siren jester... something that makes me spew my morning coffee.


Siren jester would be win!

I really enjoy the artwork that he's been producing. Quality work, I tell you. I spend about 30 minutes over every artwork he does, just admiring the skills and style that went into it. Absolutely amazing.

cool interview.

I liked that I could read it, and not have to watch the video! I read faster than I uh, load videos etc, I guess.

cool interview.

Interesting read. Definitly an excellent talent, but I agree that his females come out looking more like sex objects than anything relating to the games.

I really really love his style and can't get over some of the pieces, but the guys tend to be much more interesting than the girls. I don't mind a sexy girl, but there needs to be more to it than that and some times they just don't make sense.



Niceee. :)

I love Chris' artwork, and the DiedAgain comic makes me laugh every time, but I'm STILL caught up on that voodoo-looking rat guy that was drawn for Aetolia. I'm pretty sure there are none of those in the game -_-

Chris, I absolutely love your artwork, especially the landscapes. They have this amazing painted look.

This guy sounds talented.  Wish I could see it. 

From what I undestand, he has done the pieces about a few races in Achaea. Forums for Achaea have them, someplace in several topics / the achaea website.



is actually quite funny, and I have a long list of regular comic strips that I keep track of.

This art is awesome. It'd be fantastic if he did a few more pieces relating to Midkemia.

I'm sure it is on his to-do list somewhere.

Chris is a very talented and skilled artist, but I must express some sympathy with the earlier comments re: his portrayal of female characters. What's up with that, Chris?


Comparing the picture of the Atavian with that of the Siren, or the Forestal:

One has a very dynamic, interesting pose and angle, action, that wingaling man is clearly in a battle, cocksure and confident as befits his class. The women, on the other hand? They're...I dunno, just kind of displaying their very generous racks. It's not a notion I can get behind, no matter how skilled the artist.

Not everyone can or should have a dynamic pose, and I'm not saying that everyone should seem to be fighting - quite the contrary, there are lots of interesting things besides fighting in IRE games, but I really wish that the distinction between passive and active couldn't be made on a gender basis.

Really amazing artwork! Just earned a new fan!


The matrix has got to be my favourite one that he's done in the gallery

sorry to be a moron here but his art really looks stylistic of the early wow art before they went over the top with cartoon styles. or even, does anyone remember the balders gate art?

I actually liked the early Lusternia stuff, artists are their own harshest critics.


And Died Again is pretty funny!

This is some really great artwork, and it helps bring these text games to life. Everyone has their own mental picture of the people and places, but some of us less creative, less imaginative types appreciate the perspective of a truly talented artist.

No question. That guy is seriously talented.

As well as being a skilled, talented and prolific artist with a great eye for detail, we can now see that Chris Bourassa is handsome to boot - which really begs the question as to how he is so unknowledgeable with regards to female anatomy.

Chris' images are really well-drawn. I don't like all of them, but even amongst the ones I don't like, I think they are still excellently done.  I also find articles like this interesting, especially when accompanied by a video interview.  Love behind-the-scenes stuff to see how things happen.  Keep up the great work, Chris!

Sorry for the double post, but I just realized I forgot to mention his and Matt's comic Died Again. It's hilarious.  I don't know who had the idea to give it the perspective of NPC's in a MUD/RPG, but that is just amazing.  I mean, what major NPC from an IRE *wouldn't* be more than a little frustrated at being put with puffins or ...





...nerfed just as hordes of players bang on your door??

I do like all of the artwork on the website.  Concept art is always fun.  Kind of makes me wonder what Agrias would look like if I won, considering his description is less than detailed.  :)



I used to draw concept art for Iron Realms.  Then I took an arrow in the knee.