December 2, 2021

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Yes, Chainmail Is Really Hard to Draw

Denis Loubet was the first artist hired at Origin Systems, where he created dozens of paintings and drawings for the Ultima series of computer role-playing games. Loubet is still active in Ultima fandom, recently painting a variant cover for Ultima VII and manual art for the Ultima-inspired game Nox Archaist.

“I’m the titular artist for everything Ultima, so people reach out to me when they’re doing something where they want that Ultima flavor,” Loubet says in Episode 456 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And more often than not I’ll go, ‘OK. Yeah, I’ll do that.’”

And while Loubet loves creating Ultima-related artwork, there’s one aspect of drawing medieval warriors that he’s not so fond of—the chainmail. “I hate chainmail, and I have to paint it a lot,” he says. “It’s so hard to get right. Chainmail is my personal nemesis.”

Loubet has one big tip for artists struggling with chainmail: Take a cue from Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics. “He basically has it so that you only see slanted lines indicating individual links just at the edge of the light, where it’s going from light to shadow, and it’s like, ‘Oh man, that’s an economy of line, and it just says chainmail, and it’s so easy,’” Loubet says.

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Loubet takes heart from the fact that even the greatest painters struggle with their craft. On a trip to the Louvre years ago he noticed one painting where the artist had redrawn the same hand over and over, before seemingly giving up in frustration. “I went, ‘Oh, these big medieval painters, these classical painters, they weren’t so different from me,” Loubet says, “They fought with their materials too.”

Listen to the complete interview with Denis Loubet in Episode 456 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Denis Loubet on Richard Garriott:

“He had me do the startup screen for Ultima I, which was an outline of a heraldic lion. He had an Apple IIe right there, and he set it up, and he had an Apple II graphics tablet. It was this big sheet metal thing, with a pen attached by a wire. The pen rattled—it was not the best construction tolerances—and I traced off a heraldic lion on the graphics tablet. The thing was, the power coming through the wall outlet was not clean, and so the power spikes came through as actual spikes in the line I was trying to draw. So I’d have to constantly erase, go back, and redraw the line, hoping that another spike wouldn’t occur in that moment.”

Denis Loubet on Ultima V:

“I went for that stage lighting sort of look, where the light was shining down on the guy with the arrow and the Avatar, and leaving the three figures in the dark in the background, and the brooding forest. The artist that set me on my career, way back when I was a little kid, was Frank Frazetta. Long ago, I saw the cover for Conan the Adventurer—I was like 10 or 12—and I went, ‘Oh, that’s what I want to do. I want to make pictures like that.’ So in a nod to Frazetta, there’s a gnarled branch on that Ultima V cover, and that’s my nod to Frazetta. ‘Thank you for my career,’ basically.”

Denis Loubet on the Atheist Community of Austin:

“One [caller] asked, ‘Why aren’t you out doing horrible things if there’s no ultimate punishment?’ And I had to respond, ‘Well, would you be out doing these horrible things if not for the strictures of your religion?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ Now, I don’t believe him, really. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say, ‘I don’t believe you, because I think you’re just saying that to avoid losing that part of your argument.’ But the fact that someone’s willing to paint themselves as a monster to win a debate point is kind of weird. … I’m glad I don’t get sucked into these weird beliefs.”


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