Jan Frischkorn (Art Manager)
Jan Frischkorn went from car mechanic to modder to 23-year veteran of the sim racing industry. Now Straight4’s Studio Art Manager, Jan’s job has given him access to the CADs and internal workings of hundreds of the world’s most iconic race cars. We asked him to take takes us on a quick tour of how he got here, what he’s seen, and what’s next for him and the upcoming sim.
You’ve been around since way-back in the Geoff Crammond F1 game era. So how did you first get involved in the industry?
That’s a long story! … I started my career as a car mechanic and one of my hobbies was modding games, particularly Geoff Crammond’s F1 Grand Prix game which I played using a rubber-band-driven steering wheel on my first PC! I don’t even want to think how long ago that was …
When Grand Prix 2 was released in 1996, I started changing the liveries of the cars and soon I was able to update that game with complete F1 season updates, including drivers, helmets, matching performance, and many other graphic upgrades. Some friends helped me with 3D model updates to make it complete. These season updates from 1995-2000 were free to download and proved to be incredibly popular.
Around that time, I began an email exchange with a guy named Ian Bell, with whom I shared Grand Prix 2 setups, little knowing that our mutual passion for racing and sims would end up with me working at his studio for 20 years!
Around 2001, I was invited by a friend onto the SBDT Forums and discovered a group of guys working on a mod for EA’s F1 2000 game. The plan was to turn the F1 game into a complete FIA GT 2002 simulation.
I loved that idea and started helping them with texturing 3D models of cars. That project turned into the now infamous GTR 2002 mod, which was downloaded over 100,000 times and remains one of the most successful and iconic sim racing mods of all time. So good, in fact, that it got the mod team into contact with Henrik Roos (Swedish FIA GT driver and team owner at that time), who saw the potential and founded SimBin together with Ian Bell.
I quit my app coder job in 2005 and joined the company as vehicle artist, working on GTR – FIA GT Racing Game. And just like that, I wasn’t a modder anymore, they told me I was a pro now.
You were Lead Vehicle Artist for a decade after that?
During the production of GTR, I saw that the vehicles (and some other areas of the game) had a lot of bugs, many of which were often not followed up on. We were all quite inexperienced in professional game development back then of course, so I simply started listing the bugs and organized fixing them in a structured way. I was then asked if I could lead the vehicle team and that’s how it all began.
What I love about this job is working with a motivated and happy team. I did and continue to do my very best to form a real team and to keep the motivation up all the time. Nothing beats passion combined with a good working environment.
You’ve seen the inside-and-outside of thousands of cars via CAD and whatnot through the years. What is the most beautiful car you’ve ever worked on?
Wow, that is a really difficult question! I could think of hundreds of cars there …
I’m usually a Porsche guy, but that still leaves many cars on the list. If I had to select one, then it would have to be the 1978 Porsche 935/78 Moby Dick with Martini livery. Beautiful flowing lines, iconic Martini livery, and the brutal flat-6 twin turbo engine. I got that car as a 1/18 scale model here in my office.
Actually, I got a lot of 1/18 scale models here. Cars are my passion!
Back for Project CARS, you worked on creating not only the cars but even the engines and guts of all the cars. Was the idea to showcase those engines and internals in-game?
Oh yeah, we spent ages with modelling the details in every car. The artists loved that, because they’re all enthusiasts. And the community in the WMD forum loved it as well.
We actually planned to have a showroom in the Project CARS game, where you could walk around the cars, open bonnets and doors and whatnot, and discover the beauty of the details.
In the end, we ran out of time and had to set priorities to other critical areas of the game, so that feature didn’t make it in the final game.
A shame really. Funny thing? You had to damage the beautiful cars in-game to be able to see the lovely details!
So you’re S4’s Art Manager now. What does this role entail?
The job is not much different from the Lead Artist job, just that I organize all art teams now. That is vehicles, environment/tracks, characters/animations and VFX. My main job is to facilitate the Art Team Leads, so that they can do their job without roadblocks, so it’s closer to a producer role now.
What excites you most about the new sim you’re building?
Apart from the usual things (realistic physics, detailed cars, laser-scanned tracks, etc.), I’m mostly looking forward to the real innovations we’re bringing to the sim racing community.
Unreal engine offers a lot of new exciting tech, which can make our life a lot easier, but that is usually all “under the hood” and mostly not visible to the players. What will make a real difference is the plan to integrate AI into the sim. We’re all really excited with what we’re seeing in the sim already and the process is just beginning.
Speaking of developing on Unreal Engine. Does that come with challenges, and what’s the promised payoff?
I guess we could write a book about this!
We developed and used the Madness Engine for over a decade, but at some point, you must face the fact that a relatively small team won’t be able to keep up with all the new tech. It is totally amazing though, what we achieved there!
Unreal Engine offers a lot of exciting tech out of the box, but it is far-away from a plug-and-play solution. We still have to develop a lot of solutions to tie it into our racing sim.
That starts with developing shaders, which include damage, dirt, and rain effects (am I allowed to even mention that? I guess so!). Every tech feature needs to be integrated to the game logic, and because Unreal is not a racing game-specific engine, the code teams have a lot of work, and the learning curve is still steep. We’re still testing and evaluating many things.
What’s the best part of your job.
The best part is working from home. I’m flexible with work times and don’t need to commute every day. Modern communication tools make it possible to still stay in contact with your team.
Who would have thought 20 years ago that running a complete company in a remote environment was possible at all? We did it and proved that making AAA-games from home can be done, and here we are, doing it again.