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Community Spotlight

Community Corner: Dagger6Art

Issue 006
Art by Dagger6Art showing four Grunts in the opening of a Halo Infinite multiplayer match
Photo of Alex
  -  a year ago

Welcome back to a new issue of the Community Corner!

In this series, we spotlight and interview individual members of the Halo community about the cool stuff they do, their personal history with the Halo franchise and universe, and more.

Today, we're joined by Dagger6Art to chat about their journey with Halo and as an artist and animator over the years.

Welcome, Dagger! Thank you kindly for joining us today for this month’s Community Corner issue. Introduce yourself—who are you, what do you do in the Halo community, and where can we find you?

My name is Dani, or Dagger6Art on the internet. I’ve been in the Halo community for several decades now, participating in cosplay, fan films, and now drawing and animation!

You can find me under “Dagger6Art” on most social media, with Twitter being the most active outlet. And you can also check out my portfolio website too.

What’s your Halo origin story? How did this great journey begin for you?

I was at the mall with my friends in the long-ago winter of 2001, and there was a kid in the video game store playing this cool looking shooter with gorgeous landscapes and a nifty looking gun. It was split screen so we asked if we could play with them, and we spent a while blowing each other up beneath this pretty looking waterfall.

After a while of that, we asked ourselves “Why does this game have you spawn directly behind the other player?" And using our high-school powers of deduction, we realized this was a co-op game and began to properly play, driving a crazy uncontrollable car around and saving Marines. We played all the way until the store closed and the employee asked us all to leave.

As we talked excitedly about it on way home, my dad remarked “So I guess you liked this game huh? What’s it called? Halo?”

A few weeks later I got the coolest Christmas present: An Xbox and a copy of Halo.

Connecting to what you do as part of the community, what’s your origin story as an artist? How did you discover your love for art, and what are some of your key inspirations?

I used to draw a bit as a kid. Most of it was dinosaurs from Jurassic Park or imagining what the Star Wars starships between B-wing and Y-Wing would look like. After high school, I didn’t draw a whole lot outside a few odd sketches, but as I got older I decided to try and connect more with my grandmother, a watercolor painter, and asked her for some art lessons. Unfortunately her health was declining and she had trouble holding a brush, and the lessons didn’t get too far, but it motivated me to continue learning on my own.

Two big inspirations that got me interested in visual storytelling were the graphic novel The White Donkey by Max Uriarte and the animated show Bojack Horseman, both of which I feel do amazing jobs tackling serious subject manner in ways that only their unique mediums allow for. Though a lot of my work is just fun fanart, it’s this interest in how art can convey feelings in a universal way that transcends language that is still my core motivation.

Visually, I really love Sui Ishida and Shuzo Oshimi’s painted works, as well as Tustomu Nihei’s Blame and Paru Itagaki’s Beastar manga. Something is Killing the Children is another favorite comic of mine that came out right when I was getting back into art and really got me excited to create stories.

Your Halo art really brings life to a lot of the alien species and characters we see in the series in a wonderfully (pardon the pun) animated fashion. What is it that makes you gravitate towards this particular element of the Halo universe, and where does your experience with animation come into the picture?

I love the energy of all the various aliens in Halo. Bungie really knocked it out of the park when designing them, and the core alien cast all have such wonderfully unique ways of movement, with designs that match perfectly. Jackals, Elites, Brutes, Grunts, Hunters, and so on, all have distinct feels to them.

That sense of feeling and character through movement is such a big part of animation, and even when I’m doing a static illustration, I’m working to capture that expression.

Do you have any specific favorite species in Halo?

Though I mostly draw Kig-Yar, my favorite would have to be Grunts. Their proportions and mannerisms just make them naturally comedic, with their stubby legs, flailing arms, and squeaky voice. You can have a grunt doing anything and it’ll be funny. Taxes? Funny. Radio DJ? Funny. Trying to take down a towering armor clad green super soldier with a pea shooter? Funny.

Viva la Balaho!

And what are some of the key visual characteristics of each species you really look to tap into when you draw them? Do you look at real-life animals for reference material as well?

I’m always looking at real life for reference. It helps make everything feel a bit more grounded and it also keeps your designs from becoming a “cartoon of a cartoon.” Jackals and Brutes have a very animalistic edge to them that’s fun to lean into by drawing upon real life sources.

With the Kig-Yar, I basically plumb the entire history of avian evolution, all the way back to their reptilian heritage. The feathery T’vaoan get the most bird like features; the common Ruuhtians get a mix of vultures and dromaeosaurs; and the Ibie’shan go even further back, drawing upon crocodiles for their silly grin. Did you know birds are technically reptiles? There’s a fun zoology/paleontology fact for you.

Brutes are a fun one since they’ve had so much variation and I love their more bestial Halo 2 appearance, but also the Halo 2: Anniversary look and Atriox’s specific look. When I approach them, they’re a fun mashup of bears and gorillas for the most part, very powerful hulking masses of muscle that are also quite intelligent.

I do something like this with all the various species, connecting them with a mood and looking up other things that embody that.

What are some of your favorite pieces of Halo media and why?

The Halo Graphic Novel is by far my favorite. The sheer amount of talent within it is astounding. Where else would you find Moebius alongside Tsutomu Nihei? It’s a truly wonderful collection that was so pivotal in showing the diverse storytelling possibilities of the Halo universe, and I’m so glad a new edition was published so more fans could discover it.

I also have a soft spot for the Halo Legends episode 'Homecoming.' The writing can be a bit corny to me, in a wonderfully anime way, but there’s something about the imagery of Daisy with the little clonely bear that’s stuck with me, this sense of lost innocence. That bear is a permanent fixture on my Halo Infinite armor.

Are there any specific art pieces of yours that you’re particularly proud of?

In 2020 I set a goal to finish a short Halo comic by the end of the year. It’s just 22 pages, the writing won’t win any awards, and some of the art is a bit wonky since I’d only gotten back into drawing for about a-year-and-a-half at that point, but gosh darnit I finished by my deadline!

There’s plenty of room for improvement, but also a lot that I was satisfied with, and I’m very proud of the fact that I finished it. I hope to make more Halo fan comics in the near future (and maybe even some fan animations when my skills grow enough).

Where do you start from when you begin working on a new piece and how does your process go from there?

I start off with thumbnailing, getting a very rough idea of what something will look like by sketching with very big, low detail brushes. I’m also pulling up references and slapping them onto a digital board. Once I have a concept I like, I’ll do a very loose gesture pass to try and capture the feel of the subjects, with capturing movement and mood being the priority.

When I’m happy with that, I’ll go back and figure out that anatomy and structure more, and then tie down the sketch with details. And once everything looks good, I’ll go back and do a final line pass, though I still try and keep it loose. And then finally coloring and lighting, depending on how I want the finish to look.

This process can vary quite a bit from piece to piece, but it’s a good general workflow if I’m not in a more spontaneous mood.

Do you listen to music when you go into artist mode? Any recommendations?

Always. I tend to associate music with visual ideas that play in my head when I’m listening, so I don’t have any particular go-to genre as much as I just play songs that will conjure up the appropriate imagery for whatever I’m drawing. This could mean everything from the Beach Boys (Driving in a humvee from Three Kings) to the Sleeping Beauty Waltz (cutting to the end titles in World of Tomorrow Episode 3). Every song I listen to, I can describe an accompanying image that plays in my head.

One that I do often return to is Frank Klepacki’s Command and Conquer soundtrack. I played those games so much as a kid, whenever I play I can see the little units running around the screen and yelling little voice lines.

Do you have a favorite medium—be it for your own work or other artists?

My own work is usually digital for practical reasons. It’s faster to iterate, and especially necessary for production work. But I love watercolors. There’s an inherent uncontrollable nature of them that you have to learn to accept and even embrace. Colors and subjects meld together in a dreamlike manner. I try and get in practice with the medium when I can, and it’s a very therapeutic break from my usual approach.

We all naturally evolve as we continue working on hobbies and skills, how do you think your art has evolved over time?

I’ve learned to separate out all my different little interests a bit as time goes on. When I first got back into art, I often tried to mash all my favorite artists and lessons together, but the fact is sometimes they just didn’t work together. Trying to meld a swoopy Disney-esque line with the thinner pen lines of anime and manga are just totally different, and a painter saying don’t use pure black conflicts with a more graphic approach. My inexperienced self would try and take in every lesson at once, but now I’m more mindful when absorbing information, keeping in mind what the teacher’s own art goals are.

So now if I want to draw a Kig-Yar that looks like she could be a Disney Princess, or at least rob one, I carry with me a different set of lessons than if I just want to paint a more creepy, monstrous-looking jackal that might stalk a Marine through a ship. It’s helped my work feel a bit more focused and less muddled and confused than my earlier pieces.

Do you have any words of wisdom to share with fledgling artists out there?

Art is about your enjoyment and self-expression first and foremost. Don’t worry about chasing likes or trends. You have no control over any of that, and sweating over it is just going to suck the fun out of art and turn it into an empty product you have to churn out. Have fun with what you’re making, and if you don’t like it? Make something else! It’s your art, so you decide what you want to create.

And if you feel worried you need those likes or visibility to be “successful”, know that plenty of amazing artists have little to no social media presence but make a living in their own art niches! You just don’t hear about them as much because, well, they have no social media presence.

What’s your favorite piece of official Halo artwork?

There’s a piece by Isaac Hannaford of an ODST facing off against a Brute that perfectly encapsulates what I loved about Halo as a kid. This anonymous marine facing off against a beast twice his size. An outclassed humanity facing off against others far greater and deadlier than them, distilled down to a moment between two individuals. Frankly, all of Hannaford’s work perfectly captures, if not outright defines, the Halo “feel.”

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I was a US Marine field radio operator with Force Recon. It feels like it was from a different lifetime, yet still something that influences me to this day.

Once I was designing some Halo armor for a fan-film during a deployment, and when I asked our snipers what they thought about an ODST sniper I designed, they said the chest plate seemed like the worst idea ever, since it’d basically be a big plow if you were trying to low crawl. But the chest plate was just too iconic to remove, so it stayed in the design.

Thank you again for giving us some of your time to share your experiences, insights, and your journey with Halo! Do you have any parting words to share?

Creation and expression are a fundamental part of the human experience, and it’s so wonderful being part of a community where that creativity is celebrated no matter what you make: cosplay, maps, animation, writing, or beyond. You are all amazing, and I can’t wait to see what you create next.

You can check out Dagger6Art’s amazing work over on Twitter and Instagram, or go visit their portfolio website!