Andrei Riabovitchev is a concept and character designer with over 30 years of experience in the animation and film industries. He began his professional career in 1991 and has since held various roles in the animation and film industries, including storyboard artist, production designer, character designer, and most recently as concept artist on Andor. Despite his packed professional schedule, he still finds time for personal work and projects, using AI as a creative partner and NFT technology to mint and sell his work.
Brady Walker: Outside of the crypto art world, you’ve been a working artist in film and animation for a while now, right?
Andrei Riabovitchev: My professional career started in 1991. Connections are important in everyone’s life. Someone recommends you for one job, then you just keep the ball rolling by getting more and more recommendations. When I finished university, a friend of mine recommended me to an animation director who was looking for new talents. I didn’t have a portfolio, so I created one in a week; it was four or five pencil drawings on large A1 sheets of paper that I tore in half. The animation director liked my work and gave me my first job as an in-between artist. So the animator draws the key poses, and I drew all of the frames in between.
I love animation. I watch every new Disney and Pixar film. I worked in the animation industry for 14 years before moving to the UK. I worked as a storyboard artist, production designer, character designer, and even directed a couple of commercials. After moving to the UK, I continued to work in the film industry, mostly on films.
BW: With all these jobs where you were a hired gun, what kinds of projects do you find your personality coming out? Where you look at the work, and you say that’s me, that’s my work.
AR: When I create characters, I think about the stories that a character can tell. You can tell a whole story with just one person.
Creating a character isn’t just about their physical appearance but also their relationships, background, and history. A character with an older sister might look different than a character with a younger sister and different than a character who’s an orphan with no siblings. You build the whole story to reflect in the character.
Some characters are easy to create, while others you think, wow, this is impossible.
It’s particularly challenging to create female characters. Producers and directors, especially when they’re all male, have lots of opinions on what a woman should look like and how she should be portrayed. There’s an amount of personal taste involved.
There was one, a boy; he’s a boy the whole film until the end when it’s revealed he’s a beautiful princess. So I had to draw a boy who would be convincing as a beautiful princess and a beautiful princess who would be convincing as a boy. It’s quite challenging. But I like challenges. Otherwise, life is boring.
BW: Are most of these character designs based on a script or existing stories?
AR: When I first started doing character design, it was for a project that was written by a producer who didn’t have a detailed description of the characters. So, I had a lot of freedom to add my own personality to the characters. That’s probably the first job that felt like, okay this is me, a little bit.
But then later on, when I started working in the film industry, I realized that the director, producer, and studio bosses all had their own opinions on the characters. It’s not your work at that point. It depends on the director, really. So, it was less about my own personality and more about pleasing everyone else in the chain of command. But this is not bad, it’s just that there’s less of my own personality in the characters.
So, I started doing more personal work and projects where I could put more of my own personality into the characters. Some jobs let me bring my own vision, some jobs less.
BW: How much time do you have to devote to personal work?
AR: Very little at the moment. This is because I’m working. <My day starts at 6 am. I quickly brush my teeth, have a shower, maybe eat a banana before leaving, then drive to the studio, which takes about 35-38 minutes. Once I arrive, I have about an hour before my official work starts, and during this time, I try to squeeze in some personal work, like drawing or creating ideas.
The most important thing in the creative process is having ideas; the rest is technical work that can be done later. I work until 6 pm and then drive back home to spend some time with family and relax. I usually don’t have much time for personal work during the week, but sometimes on the weekends, I’ll draw on paper, which helps remind me of my old days when I only drew on paper, and there were no computers or mobile phones.
BW: How does AI fit into your creative process?
AR: What I like about AI is it’s like a second imagination. For me, when I use AI, I often think “Oh, this is boring” or “not interesting,” but then I click a button and it’s like, “Whoa, what’s going on?” It sparks my imagination and I start thinking about how I can use the image. With AI, I don’t have to spend a lot of time drawing a whole pose, for example, I can just fix the hands or change the proportions. It’s also much faster than traditional methods. If you use it in a unique way and tweak it with your own ideas, it can look fantastic. Overall, AI saves me a lot of time and provides inspiration, but it’s not a substitute my creative process,I still like to draw and have full control of my creativity.
BW: Tell me about The Hunter. I see it alluded to on your social profiles but can’t find any other information.
AR: I used to work with a producer as a production designer. He offered to fund a 15-minute animation project if I came up with an interesting idea. I started thinking of a project, my first idea being a music video about a couple dancing and the road crumbling behind them, symbolizing the circle of life. I didn’t have time to pursue it due to my busy schedule and work, and I never finished this idea.
So, then I started to develop a concept for an ancient warrior on a horse who would be a vampire hunter. In my mind, the story would involve this warrior and his friends fighting against vampires and a powerful empire located in a castle. I was curious about how a normal person would fight such advanced and powerful creatures in ancient times.
One of the scenes I drew was of the warrior standing on horseback with an ancient weapon next to a spaceship. I found this concept interesting, and my mind began to work in that direction.
I showed my sketches to my art director at the time, and she was impressed. At a London workshop I was speaking at, a concept artist liked my sketches and asked about the brutal-looking character with a big weapon and spaceship. I told him it was a personal project I was developing, but I wasn’t sure if I had a name for it yet, like “Hunter” or “Vampire Hunter.” He suggested I talk to a friend of his who was a children’s book writer and could possibly help me develop the story. I agreed but mentioned I didn’t have money to pay for help. He said his friend would help out of enthusiasm, and he gave me his contact information.
So I connected with this guy, and he was really nice. He said he could help me out with my project. At the time, it was just a small idea, but it’s grown a lot since then. It’s not just one story, it’s a bunch of different characters and adventures. It’s like a huge world. So he helped me develop the story, and we worked on it for about a year. But then he got busy with his kids, and our collaboration stopped. So I continued working on it alone for a while, and then another guy joined me. We spent another year working on it, and it was okay, but there were still some things that could be improved. But anyways, that’s the basic idea of The Hunter.
It’s a story about a father looking for his daughter in a multiverse. There’s this place called Nowhere that connects all the different earths. It’s not a fantasy or a Star Wars-type sci-fi story, but it’s got some cool elements of both.
BW: Can you tell me about your pieces that allude to visions of the metaverse? I’m thinking specifically of “Tribal Angel of the Metaverse” and “Finding Gods of the Metaverse.”
AR: When people started talking about the metaverse, I got curious about what it is and what it could look like. The metaverse doesn’t exist yet, but it should be something huge, like building the whole earth, at least, and maybe a couple of planets.
One producer I spoke with had an interesting idea: to create a new world, the old one needs to be destroyed. So something needs to happen for the old world to crumble and fall apart, making way for the new one. In this new world, there would be cleaner buildings and technology, and maybe even new forms of energy.
I also thought about what would be in this new world and what would be left of the old one. For example, ancient statues or ruins that are crumbling and falling apart, but in the background, you can see cleaner and newer buildings.
Religion is also an important aspect to consider. Some people are still religious and may want to see gods and angels in this new world. But we can’t see everything, we only see a small percentage of what’s around us, and there could be other dimensions and worlds we don’t know about yet.
This idea of building the metaverse sparked my interest in physics, quantum physics, and the multiverse. This ties into The Hunter too. It all started with the main character, a gatekeeper, who guards and protects the world from other worlds, but then there are gods, demons, and angels.
BW: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self about art and creativity?
AR: Two things: The first is to be patient. The second is to learn 3D.