Friday, July 8, 2016

My Days Doing Atari Box Art

When I was starting out as a freelance illustrator, I did a few cover designs for Activision and Atari. 


Here's what the screen graphics looked like for a game called River Raid, where you fly a jet up a river and shoot at helicopters and ships.

The whole idea with the package art was to develop the 3D fantasy in the player's imagination. I painted the original in oil.

Galaga and Galaxians had arrays of bug-like monsters swarming overhead and dropping bombs on you. 

Although there were home versions of the game, you had to play the arcade version to see the latest levels. I wasn't very good at playing the game, so I went to the arcade and offered quarters to the kids who were good at it. I said all I wanted to do was watch them play and sketch the monsters. When I came back the next day there was a whole line of kids with their hands out. Don't know if I would do that now.

Here's one of the oil paintings I did for Galaga. I'm not sure where this turned up in print, but it was fun to paint.


I believe this one was for Galaxians. The painting is in oil, about 16 x 20. Since there was a lot of room for imaginative elaboration, I chose a more comic book look.

A new book is about to be released called Art of Atari.

11 comments:

Matt Hunter Ross said...

Great work, James! Have always loved this old cover art.

zoe said...

So it was you who built up my false hopes of the graphical delights that were never to be realized! I should have known! *shakes fist*

Nah, just kidding. I always liked the box art for those early games. It's an odd thing to remember a time when playing video games required the player to use a fair amount of imagination to visualize what was supposed to be happening.

Tom Hart said...

So cool. Your career has been, and continues to be incredibly varied and interesting. Thanks for sharing it with us! Cover art - whether book, game, LP - is so much fun and enticing (when done well). That's one of the reasons I'm happy to see vinyl making a comeback. Some of the artwork on those sleeves arguably deserves the resurgence of interest as much as the music does.

Tom Hart said...

...Tagging on to my own comment: Did you ever do any record sleeve art?

Glenn Tait said...

Definitely seeing some Jack Kirby influence on those Galaxians!

Ravi Gupta said...

wow! these are beautiful :)

pfelelep2 said...

you were behind the cover of Atari games! 0_o
I love you even more.

Carole Pivarnik said...

I love reading about your career. Boy have computer games come a long way...now we even have VR games, which once seemed like science fiction. Sometimes I wish I had been born 25 years later because it always feels like the future just beyond my assumed natural lifespan is going to be amazing when it comes to technology and gaming!

Colin Boyer said...

I always wondered why the jet would crash when you go on the land. Now I know it's in a canyon. Awesome paintings, I loved Atari box art as a kid!

Susan Krzywicki said...

Isn't it funny how someone starts out with an idea in their head, then it gets converted to a collective group and embellished. Sometimes, then, though, we wring it of all meaning and it is reduced to a limp dishrag of enchantment.

And then, some bright person goes back and puts new meaning into the limp dishrag and converts it to their personal vision for the future.

widdly said...

I remember staring at these boxes and imagining games that actually looked like the artwork.