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!


The occultist one he did was my favorite to date. Though a lot of our occultists are raja, it was nice to have someone's vision for the grook for the mental view.

I love the artwork that Chris does.  Its awesome!  I would love to see him revamp all the races in all IRE games.   I look forward to even more works from him.

The concept art is pretty good, I've looked at it all before.  I approve of it.

I'm really impressed not only by the color choices, but the blending you do with them. You drag a lot of details out of your work with the gradation of colors. It's a rather fetching effect.

I like the artwork done for the IRE games, even the 'overly busty' ladies. The palattes chosen for most of the pictures are very complementary to the general atmosphere and the characters, though the xorani sylvan looks... jaundiced in the sunlight.

The ladies are fiiiiiiine, people may feel indignant about tiny waists and an big boobs, but I'll go out on a limb and say while the current playerbase's opinions matter, the main purposes of making artwork would be to attract new players and like it or not, sexy sells; And honestly, only a small fraction of the existing playerbase would envision even their own character's traits as mediocre.

As for the siren's apostate eyes, it might just be the colour palatte. Or it might have been part of the brief since the main PK skill is deadeyes.


Anyway, I've been enjoying Died Again, the style to me is absolutely lovely without detracting from the story line. It's good to see artists not scared to try something different from their 'normal' styles.

...finish up your Aetolia series! Please! The characters you drew from the invasion look so badass, I'm surprised people aren't asking for them to be playable. I just got back to the game and met my first Grecht, and your picture captures exactly what I imagine that race to be. Please do imps next!!!!


Regarding the busty gals - I'm a female and I don't mind. I like to see sexy women in my fantasy and I don't think it's inherently sexist. Whenever I doodle, I make my sketch people pretty, my barbarian in D&D has "chainmail bikini" on her actual inventory list (I made sure the DM specified that!), and I rather liked my bloodelf plate-kini tank in WoW. It's about fantasy and escape and pretend - and enjoying a lavish, lush image isn't inherently wrong. 


Just put some sexy human males in the next batch of pics. ;) 

Okay first I have to ask, what's this "offending Siren" pic people are talking about? Can someone send me a link? Inquiring minds want to know and all...

Anyway, back on point - This is an interesting article. I had to laugh when he mentioned animé girls and dragons. When I was at the Art Institute, it seemed like animé was everywhere!

I'd love to know more details about Chris's creative process. When I was in school, we had Photoshop and other neat programs whose names I've forgotten, but on my current computer I don't have anything like that. Those programs are SO expensive. I've always preferred to draw by hand anyway. But I've noticed the trend in artisanals that only the colorful computer-made stuff will actually get winner. Out of the past five or six years, I saw about two black-and-white submissions actually win. And not for lack of being submitted, because there were some in runner up, and a lot in merit. It's a clear pattern and it's frustrating for people who can't afford fancy computer programs but put a lot of time and effort and skill into their work.

And even if we could afford it, it's not something you can learn overnight. It took a lot of learning and practice to work with those programs back in school, and that was more than a decade ago (wow I feel old admitting that), so I've forgotten a lot and the programs have surely changed. So even if I were to win the lottery and get Photoshop today, I'd still have to relearn a whole new medium. I recently came across some of my old materials and plan to experiment with various color media, but I still don't think it would win, as long as someone - often the same someone month after month for half a year at a time - submits a shiny computer-made one. Not to sound bitter, it's just a curious and frustrating thing, not just for me but several other Lusternian artists I've heard from.

I wonder what thoughts Chris might have on this, and how he went about acquiring the programs and learning new media.

His art work makes me secretly wish for a graphical version of Lusternia, where he does all the concept arts for every last character, mob and denizen :D

All major areas, maybe even popular bashings sites, make one of those! Astral is one thing I'd like to see. It's all so freaky... oh, oh, and maybe Vortex, too!

Your artwork is awesome, Chris. The images of the races on Lusternia are all memorable, and your artistic flair is admirable.

Your artwork is pretty incredible, there's no doubt about that, but uh... something is happening very wrong with the depictions of Aetolia.

We're pretty picky creatures, and that Necromancer? Man, I've never seen anything in Aetolia even remotely resembling that guy. The vampire is pretty spot-on, though. Huge boobs barely held in by a corset.

Is that he seek to make his works off of the comments of real players, trying to shape his work to fit not only the admin perception of an bard, or a siren, or whatever the work is.

I've not watched the video interview yet, but I'm highly impressed with Chris' works in his DA gallery and his IRE commission works.  The colors Chris has used, his detailed depictions (one of the best being the Apostate daegger), and variety with classes and races that we see are great.  There is a large attraction to good looking characters, male or female; the women as shown may seem objectified or over-sexed, but like other people previous wrote, "part of the fantasy."


Take in some reference and see how other notable artists depict their fantastic women -- Larry Elmore, Frank Frazetta, Arthur Adams.  For the more brave, give Milo Manara a go. 


IRE enthusiasts: enjoy the graphic depiction of these games that you enjoy so much.  Chris Bourassa has done wonderful work in bringing our worlds further to life.  Looking forward to more Diedagain and the vid!



It's really great to read about the man behind the pictures!I loved the interview.

Keep up the good work Chris!I cannot wait to have a look at your website!Good job on the comic too!

btw.I really liked the grook you did!


Chris is a bit modest about his work. He has produced a wide range for IRE and all of it is awesome while being very different. The aspect I like most is how he is able to inject cool details into the scenes that aren’t attention grabbing. Stare at a piece for a while and you will think 'yeah, that is cool' and a little bit longer you will be thinking wow, 'how about that scroll on the ouro the diabolist is riding.' He keeps it interesting even if you don't agree with the accuracy of some of race/classes.


Some of his work does have an old world, illuminated type of sensibility, which is usually rich in colour that I love. I just think the fineness of the lines could improve. I keep seeing this smudged over look on in a lot of concept fields.


Ah, this is the guy who drew all of Lusternia's character art. I do like his style quite a lot. I've heard the comment that his females are a little too busty and curvy, and there might be a little truth to that :P

Interesting article!

Daxi has small breasts. I wonder if he would be able to draw her accurately.


But seriously, I like all his Lusternia artwork, except for the taurian. The krokani. So good. It really captures the ideal of the paladin, making a usually monstrous race work as the 'secondary' race of the holy city. Plus, the fact that he is weilding morningstars is a neat nod to both the krokani bonecrushers and the Pool of Stars.


Very interesting interview and the artwork is fantastic.


wished I could draw like that

The art is pretty amazing. But most women that he draws would never be standing due to the massive breast size.

i just have a great deal of respect for anyone who can take a few words of description and form them into images everyone can see.  I cannot draw to save my life, so i'm a little bit envious of anyone who can.

Perfect for a free credit


I simply love these artworks.


You, sir. You are amazing.

The Eternal Flame is my favorite. Just... damn. Beautiful.

Reminds me of the old D&D illustrations you'd find in the manuals. Those were good, but man. This just kinda blows those things away.

When I first played Achaea a long, long time ago I remember being captivated by what little art was available, and using my memory to fill the rest. Now that I decided to play again, and really devote myself, it's amazing and spectacular to see just how much more of the world is fleshed out-- and while some things aren't exactly as I envision them, I love his style and they evoke so many more images in my head.


I love his work, absolutely love it. . All except for the died again comic strip. While I still appreciate the artwork immensely, I just don't like the style in which it's drawn.

The envy comes in on the strip being a 'two hour break'. I wanna do something that cool in two hours that is a break from being even MORE epic.

Very cool work - I've always enjoyed the racial artwork on the IRE websites. Somehow you make even grooks and horkvals look halfway decent!

- Did you play any of the IRE games yourself? (or from the competition?)

- If yes, before or after being contacted to make art for them?

- How does a person so involved with visual arts look at these text rpgs? Is it refreshing or you don't see what draws us into them so? Or maybe a perfect source for new inspiration?

Neat article and very interesting interview.

I'm stunned by how amazing this artwork is! Can't wait to see more!

There are a few pieces from the gallery that I am quite partial to. The Satyr Monk, Grook Occultist, Priest of Achaea which looks to be a dwarf,Eledhel, The Eternal Flame, and Midkemia Online Dwarf. All of these actually look like they weren't rushed artwork and that there is a bit more time into the process of creation than the others. I myself am an artist, have been for about 30 years now, drawing any and everything including my own characters in game. Kudos to an artist who has established themself into something like Iron Realms! I only wish I could have done the same long ago. Starving artists was a phrase that came to mind when I gave any thought for doing it as more than a hobby.  Great interview. It's good to hear from the artists and other folks who contribute to the fantasy world of Iron Realms games!

Chris, this is very nice. I wish I could draw like this.

It would be cool to be able to get my character drawn by him... I watch him on deviantART because he puts a lot of really cool stuff on there. Hopefully I may be chosen!

I like all of his work

I rather like his landscapes, especially Hallifax and Gaudi.

I really liked the part where he said, "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".  This not only shows that he is willing to take our advice and to constantly create, and re-create his artwork, but it allows for the players to help him gain insight into how all races and the racial clans work to maintain respectability. Of course, I am speaking from the sireni standpoint and while I was not too pleased with the siren portrait, I was glad to see him change it. Now if her clothing choice was a bit more modest I'd be happy. I don't truly envision members of the Blood Congregation and Apostates running about dressed like that... I believe Lord Shaitan would probably zap her for being a bit too revealing. 

One thing he seems to convey well is an attitude through his works. While there appear to be many varied styles of clothing, weaponry, backgrounds and actions/stationary scenes. All his characters have an undeniable attitude about them that is represented amazingly through his work.


And despite complaints about some of the overt sexiness of the female forms he paints, quite frankly the male ones are equally idealized. That is partially what fantasy art has always done, letting fantasies come to life. It may not be everyone's ideal however. It can be silly and fun at the same time.

I don't agree that the male forms are equally idealized. I can't say I've seen that.

Interesting read

Good interview, thanks!

Wish I could draw like that.

This guy has some sweet art!  Me like!

Hope we see more soon

NEat interview.

NEat interview.