Marc Knelsen: The Mind Behind Rivals of Aether's Concept Art


Marc Knelsen is a 29 year old artist hailing from Brazil currently known in the Smash Community for his work on Rivals of Aether. He still views himself as a young artist since he hasn’t been an artist for that long. Before 2013, he was a graphic designer at a couple of local agencies, working mostly on web design and social media advertisement. He grew dissatisfied with the job and felt he wasn’t making enough of a difference, but he didn’t have any other skills that he could easily apply elsewhere.

It wasn’t until 2013 that he began to reconsider his path in life. A friend convinced him to try out a Schoolism Live Workshop taught by Bobby Chiu and Nathan Fowkes in Florianopolis, Brazil. Though expensive, it was a life-changing weekend - not only because of what he learned about working as a concept artist, but because it was the reality check that got him motivated.

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Marc’s studies kicked off in 2013. While the part in Brazil he was in had few opportunities for education about concept art, he started to buy books and take classes on art fundamentals. Shortly afterwards, he began applying his education to real life, taking commissions to fund his education.

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After visiting São Paulo in December 2014 to attend the first edition of Comic Con Experience (Brazil's largest comic and geek culture convention) and discovering so many inspiring artists and opportunities he could never have had where he lived, he decided to move. There, he gathered other artists/art students to visit museums, take life drawing classes, visit zoos and parks to draw people and animals and to attend workshops and networking events at art schools such as ICS, instructed by famous artists like Mike Azevedo, Paulo Ignez and Carlos Luzzi. He emphasizes how the fundamentals are the most important part - how being able to see structure in the things around us and understanding the anatomy and gestures of people and animals is key.


"It’s important for aspiring artists to realize getting better at art is all about hard work, repetition, filling countless pieces of paper and a lot of sketchbooks. It’s also a lot about drawing from life. I know we many times get tempted to stay in the fanart realm (I did that for a long time, drawing my Sonic and anime OCs), but art foundation is learning to draw what we see out there, in the real world. Only then we can use our imagination to create things from what’s out there.”

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Anyone who knows Marc as an artist can tell you that he loves drawing frogs. He always felt that frogs, in creative works, often have an approach that’s either way too realistic and poorly expressive or something that was so cartoony and shape-based that it ended up losing the connection to the animal itself - never a middle ground. In November of 2016, after Dan Fornace saw the reference sheets Marc was commissioned to make, Marc was asked if he was interested in producing concept art for Rivals of Aether. He had to google Dan’s name at first, but soon he was excited at the prospect of working for him, seeing that Dan had worked on some of his favorite games like Ori and the Blind Forest and Dust: AnElysian Tale. He was nervous at first and took about a week to answer Dan, but he agreed.

Character Creation for games was very new to him. He had to start considering things like gameplay and sprite readability. For the first 5 months, he only had direct contact with Dan, which sometimes made it difficult to understand what the other team members expected from his work. Currently, he’s fully integrated with the team, which helps a lot - not just with interaction, but also the possibility to work on new ideas to improve the game even further.

When Marc started working on Ranno, the rest of the Rivals of Aether team was only expecting a character sheet. He felt that just a couple of finished images wouldn’t be enough to communicate aspects like character moves, so he also provided a few sequences of key frames to help the rest of the team during the sprite animation phase. They loved his work so much that he was asked to work on all four characters.

Ranno was the ‘easiest’ for Marc so far since it was within his comfort zone. Clairen was a bit more difficult and time consuming to work on, since her special moves were more complex and her design was shaped by her backstory. Months later, the team decided to make story panels to use for her reveal video. They only had a month to get everything done, but it was worth it.

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Of the four new characters in the pipeline, these two have already been released, the third is in the sprite animation phase, and the last is in concept art phase.

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“What defines me the most? I want to make characters that relate to people.” Marc said towards the end. He knows people love characters, so whenever he is out, he loves to imagine people as characters. He takes the subway a lot in Brazil, and the illustration above is one of his many representations of this. It’s what he’s found to be his true joy in art - taking something, and exaggerating it.

When asked what it's like to work on Rivals of Aether, Marc said “I feel very blessed to work on Rivals of Aether as my very first game job. It’s a successful indie game, It has a great team made of amazing people, a great community and they’re constantly out there in tournaments and game conventions. I know this is just the beginning and there’s still a whole lot ahead, but I can’t help but to be very happy with what I currently do. I know I probably earned this, but I also think there’s a factor like ‘Being at the right place at the right time’ (I guess that was when Dan went to Twitter to look for artists who could draw nice frogs? hahaha) and doing a good job when the opportunity comes. But I think most importantly of all is that RoA has been a great place to learn. Especially for me who didn’t know much about the field. They taught me what I needed to know and they’re also open for new ideas and viewpoints. For now, I’ll just keep working hard to improve my own craft, as an illustrator and concept artist, and make sure I’ll give the best of me to all current and future projects.”

You can find Marc on Twitter and Artstation. Rivals of Aether is available on Steam and on Xbox One.
Lucas "Thirdkoopa" Guimaraes