How concept artist Isaac Hannaford went from playing Halo to working on it

How concept artist Isaac Hannaford went from playing Halo to working on it

This article is part of INTERLINKED, a series where we speak with industry experts who influence the making of games like our sci-fi RTS CHAOTIC ERA.

Brooding space marines. Slick and shiny spacecraft engaged in interstellar skirmishes. Whether you realize it or not, you've probably encountered Isaac Hannaford's work out in the wild.

With many foundational contributions to the Halo and Destiny series, Isaac's fingerprints are all across modern sci-fi, embedded deep into some of its most iconic franchises.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Isaac and dig through his storied career and passion for his spaceships and sci-fi.

Isaac, you've had the opportunity to work on iconic properties over your career, in particular your work on the Halo series. How familiar were you with Halo prior to working on it?

Very. I was first introduced to it by a college friend. We were studying animation hoping to get jobs in film. We played through Halo Combat Evolved in a single 8-hour session playing co-op. I was impressed by the level of detail and lighting...  I wanted to do concept art for a living, and up to that point I hadn't considered doing it for games, but Halo got me thinking maybe I could.

Halo came back into my life a few years later when I was working at Volition in Champagne, Illinois. We were working on Red Faction III (what years later would become Red Faction: Guerilla). Many of my co-workers including myself were looking at Halo as a gold standard for FPS on the console, and so we played and studied it, derived lessons from it and came up with strategies to challenge and maybe even de-throne it... Unfortunately for us the timing in the industry was wrong and THQ's appetite for science fiction shooters evaporated overnight.

A few years later I helped a couple of friends develop art tests that got them into Bungie, and shortly after that when Bungie opened a position for a full-time concept artist, I jumped at the chance to join up and to move back home to Washington.  

Are there any series or properties that you would like the opportunity to work on in the future?

Absolutely, too many to name really, but Star Wars, Dune, Alien... virtually any big Sci-Fi property from the 70's and 80's. Any of the sci-fi novels off my shelf, and dozens of my own IP seeds that I've collected over the years.  

Your work deals with a lot of dark and gritty sci-fi subject matter from space marines to armoured vehicles. What would you say have been the biggest influences on your style over the years?

Doug Chiang, Ian McCaig, Craig Mullins, John Harris, Chris Foss, Moebius, Ralph McQuarrie, and many of my contemporaries continue to inspire and inform my design choices.  

What would your biggest piece of advice be for artists just starting their careers?

Find what you love (subjects, artists) and let that anchor you and guide your growth. Use reference and don’t get attached to your drawings… you’re going to do a million bad ones, get used to throwing them away.

The first half of your career is about your portfolio, the second is about your reputation. Don’t be beholden to or stay in bad situations, and don’t burn bridges, you might have a bad boss, but many of your co-workers will be in charge in 10 - 15 years, leave them with a good memory. Respect yourself and respect your client/employer. Keep trying and learning new things. Take the time to think about what you're doing with your art and why you're doing it... This will change overtime so stay in touch with yourself.  


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