In Memoriam - Michel Koiter (of Twincruiser)

Born: San Rafael, Argentina - 3 May 1984

Passed away: Rotterdam, The Netherlands - 18 March 2004

n Thursday 18 March 2004 my twin brother Michel passed away because of a heart failure. In a matter of three days he progressed from a simple fever to a life-threatening situation which, in the end, took his life at the age of 19. Doctors tried to reanimate him in his last two hours in the hospital but they could not help him. After his death they examined his body and especially his heart for any clues on the cause of his situation. My brother and I have always stayed away from alcohol, smoking and drugs and we were very active in the martial art of TaeKwonDo. The tests indicated that his body and heart were absolutely clean. Being the exact genetic copy of my brother, I was thoroughly tested in the hospital for almost four hours one week later. Those tests concluded that I was in a perfect and healthy condition. To this day, the doctors have no clue on the cause of his heart failure and his passing remains a quick and mysterious one...

I want to thank all for your support to us in the years we have worked and lived together— Thank you, art communities and art supporters, for bringing so much joy to me and my brother. Although we are separated physically we will always be Twincruiser in spiritual essence. In turn, let me enlighten you with the story of my hero, my brother. I have left people touched, strengthened and enlightened with the speech at the funeral and the times after. It is now my life's mission to write and spread his story and realize my brother's dream. May my brother's life inspire you like it has inspired me...

» René Koiter (of Twincruiser)

My Hero, My Brother

Allow me to illustrate a part of Michel’s life story.

Michel was, especially in his last years, heavily interested in religious, philosophical, theological, symbolical and mythological questions, themes and concepts. From a very young age he had encountered many stories…myths, legends and biblical tales to name a few. I can vividly remember how, when we were 9 years old our father gave us a ‘Greek Myths’ book. We were so inspired by these stories that we even attended a school where they taught Latin and Greek. Besides these passions, my brother was also gifted with the guitar and had the ability to create art. The latter gift is probably the one which you all most identify him with.

However there was one passion, one form of storytelling that he loved very dearly….cinema. He once said that movies are the ultimate form of art because all the other arts flow in it. In his last years, when he attended the art academy of Utrecht in the Netherlands to study illustration, he was able to learn and gather a lot of knowledge about image and storytelling. At some point this year he told me that he had ideas to tell a story in the form of a movie. But somehow he never wanted to reveal the ideas for the movie project…not even to me. “Be patient…I will tell you the complete story when we get there”, he said. “Absolutely”, was my immediate reply. My trust and faith in my brother was so strong that I followed him everywhere he went…

The last book he read to gather more knowledge for his projects was The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Campbell tells how the ‘hero’ is born; how he lives, suffers, battles…succumbs…but in the end, still vanquishes. Campbell describes how the ‘hero’ is the foundation of the story…the center of this entire society…the one person around whom all existence revolves and by whom all of life is driven.

Michel used all of these philosophical, religious and mythological themes and concepts which he loved so much, to analyze the stories he encountered throughout his whole life. And he described and applied them…like I do now. Naturally, of course, he needed that knowledge to tell his story in his works and in his secret movie project. Now that he is physically gone I have the urge to apply these themes surrounding the ‘hero’ on the works he left behind and analyze his life with these themes…his story.

Michel literally played a hero once…in a theatre reproduction of the classic epic the Iliad. He played the Trojan hero Hector who defended his city against the charging Greek armies. I played one of the Greek warriors…Ajax. In one scene I was the one to confront the mighty Hector in single combat…I lost the battle but survived. However, Hector was killed in another confrontation and at the end the audience remembered Hector best and ultimately he was the one to claim victory.

Michel inspired and touched many who came in his path (a characteristic attribute of a leader…a hero). That is why you are all here in this place, at this exact time, at this point of existence…to honour my hero, my brother. But Michel has left pieces behind in this life and Michel has left them because he wants to send out a message to you all. Although Michel did study Illustration, he once said to me: “I am not going to be a pencil-artist when I finish my study…I see this study as a step to something very different”.

Michel applied a very smart technique to analyze concepts, themes and words from the stories he encountered. One man inspired him to do it this way…Tolkien, author of ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Tolkien analyzed every word he encountered to try and find meaning. He would probably ask himself many times: “What does this word mean…how is this word related to other words?” Michel’s function in this world was that of an illustrator. So I ask myself now: “What does illustrator really mean?” This word comes from the Latin verb lustrare which literally means ‘to illuminate’. The function of the illustrator (the one who holds the light, the light-bearer) is to enlighten other people, to illuminate an existing concept in a different light, with the ultimate goal of sending out a totally transforming vision to humanity. In this light you should all start to view his works and life differently so that you are able to extract his message so you may learn, grow and evolve in your own lives.

Michel once got an illustration assignment from his education to portray ‘the illustrator’. After much search and reflection he decided to portray the illustrator as a juggler. A juggler is one who plays with and is able to keep objects in the air with balance, strength, calmness and flexibility all in one. He is a cook who manages to mix several ingredients (speech, writing, art, etc.) and prepare them into one dish (or message). He is the magician…the wizard who is such a master in his craft that he is able to combine all the elements of this universe into one massive concentration of energy. This energy he may change and manipulate at will to finally release it into existence in order to transform it.

I notice that a lot of people have trouble in approaching me. Naturally— I was the one person that was most connected to Michel and people cannot possibly realize how I am going to react to the situation. All I can tell you is: “Approach me, talk about how you saw Michel and I will be proud to talk about him because it gives me joy to see how many people are fascinated and inspired by the story of my hero, my brother.”

Of course I can’t tell you all the details, characteristics, themes and layers of this story. Michel had a certain subtlety in acting and in transmitting his messages and visions. I realize now that I have to respect this characteristic of him and apply it in my own life. But be patient…I will tell you the complete story when we get there...

Shrine of the Fallen Warrior in World of WarCraft

Where once a hero set foot on his native soil a monument has risen
Where now part of his essence resides a mystical boon will be given

Upon the monument the runic initials MK have been engraved
To honor all the journeys and battles the fallen one has braved

A hero's enduring spirit transcends many worlds beyond our own
Only those with steadfast dedication find a bond with this unknown

Travel the continents and scour the lands for the shrine standing tall
For in the presence of the monolith the warrior will be with you all



Worth the Fight

June 14, 2003.

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You guys have some really great art! I am gonna forward the site to some of my friends at work. I especially like the dwarven warrior one. Dwarves are about my favorite race to draw, next to orcs. Take care guys and keep up the killer art. Rock ON!

-Samwise


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It is August 2010 as I am writing this tribute, being well over seven years since my twin brother Michel and I received this little out of the blue email from Sammy commenting on our personal art site called The Halls of Creation. It was right about the time when Warcraft III's expansion, The Frozen Throne, was about to be released and World of Warcraft was in its alpha stage of development. Both my brother and I were hitting up college in the Netherlands back then and we paid our dues by selling our creative chops as art mercenaries (freelance illustrators, for the uninitiated). My brother was the illustrator and creator, with me taking on the colors, graphics and web design.

Our artistic alias of Twincruiser kind of fit that concept. It was a user name we conjured up when we launched our first online StarCraft game back in 1998. We shared one computer so we had same the account as well. Befitting this idea, we thought of a cool name and so Twincruiser was born...a massive terran capital ship dwarfing the battlecruiser and such a juggernaut of a vessel that it had to be piloted by two captains. Without a doubt, StarCraft and the other Blizzard games had clearly branded our souls. You could probably imagine the geekgasm when we read Sammy's message. It's not every day that one of your art heroes mails you personally and compliments you on your work. I vividly remember Michel's reaction, he was ecstatic!

Apparently, Sammy googled his name and found our website because we prominently listed him as one of our inspirations. What Sammy didn't know though is that at around that time we were contracted to do illustration work for the Warcraft Dungeon and Dragons books. This series was meant to package the Warcraft franchise into a pen and paper role-playing game and also prepare the lore and history for the MMORPG that would become World of Warcraft.

So to make sure our illustrations for the books were up to blizz-snuff, Sammy became our personal art director of sorts and introduced us to another crazy cat named Chris Metzen. Of course, Metzen was no stranger to us, being another one of our art champions in the game manuals. Taken under the wings of these two giants, we soon strapped ourselves for the Blizzard rollercoaster ride of our life. It was definitely the most artistically creative experience of our career; going back and forth with Sammy and Metzen, jamming out ideas, talking art, joking around and play-testing the World of Warcraft alpha.

It was at this time as well, that Sammy pitched Sons of the Storm. It was something that was percolating in the recesses of his mind but he didn't quite have the juice to make it happen. The idea was to have a website which would showcase Blizzard artists and their works. At first it was meant to show off personal art (untied to Blizzard) but we got the OK from high-up in the company to proceed with galleries of all the franchises. Knowing full well the beast this website would become, we decided to build the site for him. At that point, Michel and I spliced the workload, with him reining the illustrations for the D&D books and me engineering the web bulwark for Sons of the Storm. On December 19 of 2003, www.SonsoftheStorm.com was launched. We called it SOTS for short. It premiered with Samwise as its first artist, contributing an already impressive art count of about 150 individual pieces. A month later, in January 2004, Metzen joined the ranks as the second 'Son', delivering his classic black and white manual artwork we all know and love.

From here, the SOTS updates took a dive as attending college together with the ramped-up production for the Warcraft D&D series had Michel and I totally booked, so to speak. I recall we struggled to schedule in one manual in particular; Shadows and Light. It was going to feature many of the heroes and deities of the Warcraft universe. Michel was so amped to start on these illustrations! After all, this was his opportunity to really shine and show that he could nail these unique characters. However, he never got the chance. On March 18 2004, my brother Michel passed away at the age of 19.

The cause of his death was never really understood. A flu had struck him which in a matter of days would become progressively worse, to the edge that his body could no longer cope. It was already too late when he was hospitalized, the physicians had diagnosed a fatal outcome. Sunken into the bed and hooked up to an oxygen mask, he responded to me: "it'll be all right..." I will never forget these words as mere seconds later he violently gasped and spasmed into a cardiac arrest.

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Michel,

I'm sorry we were not destined to meet up in this world. We will toss one back together when we finally meet in whatever is after this. In all the years, you were one of the only artists, let alone a 19-year-old Dutchman, to grasp the style of Blizz. Your future works will be missed and your past works will be a testament to your skills. Keep bringing it wherever you travel!

Your friend and fan,

-Sam

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René,

I'm am very sorry for your loss. My heart and my prayers go out to you and your family and especially your brother whom I'm sure is already drawing huge fantasy epics up in the Halls of Heaven. I can tell you that Sam and I have been totally blown away by your art and your love of all things mighty. You guys have actually been a huge inspiration to us. As we old men get tired and lose our creative energies from time to time, you guys brought a very fresh vibe and genuine love for the art so hard that it geeked us up just to watch your art evolve so much over the past year.

I told you before, but I am very, very honored to be a part of the Sons of the Storm and a lot of that was because of you two and the passion that you both brought to the table.

As I said, I am very sorry for your loss, René. We absolutely love you guys and loved working with you both. Michel will be missed, but we will honor his memory as best we can.

I'm sure your brother was very proud of you and wouldn't want you to give up on your art, René. Hold on to it with both hands.

-Chris


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It is hard to explain the rush of emotions during such a significant event as the death of one's twin. That your closest buddy since birth was robbed of life in such a freak accident. Time halts and I recall just solidifying, my mind soaking up the impact and consequences of it all. I drifted into limbo, clinging to my brother's parting words...

I remember the funeral, it was absolutely packed. I will be a grand man if my own even comes close to his. Our family and relatives were there. Friends and teachers from college, high school and primary school. Folks I hadn't seen in years and people my brother and I met just months before. I then realized what a unique moment in time this was. Wherever I go, whatever I do in life, I will never see that exact group composition in a single location ever again. And they were all there to honor my brother.

The greatest honor, however, came from Sam, Metzen and the World of Warcraft team. Michel was to have a monument erected in the game as a tribute to his life and work. The Shrine of the Fallen Warrior stands tall on a hill top of the Barrens, overlooking the Horde town called the Crossroads. "Where together we kicked so much ass", as Sammy put it. Michel adored Warcraft in all its facets since the first game. He had achieved to create illustrations for this world and now he would become a part of it. In fact, the Shrine of the Fallen Warrior has become a symbol for many. As I have read, players take pilgrimages to the monument to honor family, friends and guild mates that have passed away in real life. As a last honor, it was decided that Michel's artwork was to be placed on Sons of the Storm, posthumously making him the third member after Samwise and Metzen.

Following my brother's death, it was a period of reflection and re-discovery. What to do without your partner in art crime? I decided to return to college, determined to finish my degree in Information Sciences. At the same time, World of Warcraft became quite the hit among the student populous. So I started to vehemently invest myself in the game. Unlike my peers though, I didn't play in the European realms. Instead, my orc shaman banded with my friends at Blizzard on the American servers. Sammy had created this little Horde guild comprised of his team artists during the release of the game. Much like the alpha days, we again "kicked so much ass".

Now, for me this was an ideal situation. There is about a nine-hour time difference between California and most of mainland Europe. So when the Blizzard folk had their lunch breaks at noon, it was 9 PM in the Netherlands. Perfect timing as I had attended class and had done my homework earlier during the day. I spent the remnant of my nights questing in Azeroth with my buddies abroad. Word spread within the company about our dedicated little guild and soon other departments began to take interest. Our guild grew and we helped each other reach the level cap of 60.

During this time, I got to know many people within the different spheres of Blizzard's domain, albeit in a virtual space. Chatting about art and work, jamming out ideas, joking around...very much like the flow with Sammy and Metzen when my brother was alive. As the first level 60 in the guild, I had pretty much seen everything besides the high-end raids so I took it upon myself to share that with my fellow guildies. One has to understand that the process of working on the game usually does not equate to the experience of playing it. In order to enjoy the content the team had created, I set up daily dungeon runs during the lunch breaks. I would whizz through them together with any Blizzardite I could muster, just in time before the end of the break. My most illustrious of 'lunch runs' was the ruined dungeon of Dire Maul as its three halls provided entertainment and rewards in a bite-size chunk of one hour each. And thus, the team affectionately nicknamed me the 'King of Dire Maul', inspired by the ogre leader roaming its interior. Utter the name 'King of Dire Maul' in certain Blizzard circles and see them reminisce in nostalgia before you.

Rapidly, we grew strong enough to face one of the bigger raid dungeons at the time, Molten Core. Every Thursday was to be raid night. Raid morning for me, as I had to wake up at around 5 AM to be able to join the party. Of course many other guilds around the world had already vanquished this burning pit of hell, but for us it was something completely new and exciting. Frank Pearce, one of the founders of the company, recently talked about this experience. I am proud to say I was one of the forty to have participated in that guild effort. To see Molten Core's end-boss, Ragnaros, beaten in his own lair gave us a great sense of satisfaction and camaraderie. Oh and the loot was nice too...

2005 and 2006 marked a heavy involvement in World of WarCraft for me. But Sons of the Storm was not forsaken. Like our guild in the game, so too did SOTS expand. With company artists like Trevor Jacobs, Glenn Rane and Peter Lee as our newest Sons, we had managed to fortify our presence with an art website containing a surplus of 400 pieces. In those years, SOTS kept me firmly rooted to art and design, still "holding on to it with both hands". How did Metzen know I had such a mighty pencil? ;)

2007 was my last year in college and as a final course it required me to seek out an internship. I figured I could apply at a so-so company in the Netherlands and have a decent blotch on my resume. OR, I could bug my buds overseas and try to see if I could score an internship with Blizzard Entertainment. Fortunately, they had been building the base for a formal internship program that year and so I was picked to trial-run as the guinea pig, the first official intern of Blizzard.

Given my experience in web design, my internship entailed a position in the web team. Here, I redesigned a number of internal web tools in order to conduct usability research. One such tool was the PeopleFinder, an employee database that is jokingly referred to as PeopleStalker within the company. The new design I had constructed still remains to this day. After three months of interning, I had produced the main deliverable, my college thesis entitled Effects of Corporate Visual Identity on the Usability of Internal Web-based Tools. I nailed a great paper in academia but I quickly learned that research statistics and usability metrics were not my cup o' tea. Luckily, the good folks at web, realized the same and offered me a job as a graphics designer instead. Hmm, Metzen must have spread the word about my pencil...

Preceding a brief stint in Blizzard's European office based in Paris and a multitude of US immigration processes, I officially became part of HQ in Irvine, California. There are two defining qualities of the web team that make it an exhilarating challenge working there. One is that you work with pretty much every department in the company. From Creative Development to Public Relations, the majority of them have needs for web publication. The ties I forged during my core World of Warcraft days made communication a lot easier. Knowing who, when and how to reach out comes in pretty handy at times. The other thing about the web team is that you have a varied workload as you cater to all of Blizzard's franchises. One could be designing a StarCraft tech tree page with the next Diablo 3 class announcement creeping around the corner while babysitting a World of Warcraft article detailing the newest dungeon, ready to go for live deployment within the next hour. Juggling three universes at once is ambitious but never has you bored at any time.

Personally, I don't create web pages as I used to. Recently, I have specialized as the go-to-guy for motion graphics, tinkering with applications like Flash and After Effects to create animations that will hopefully catch your eye and immerse yourself in the content. In fact, a lot of the stuff you see online that have fancy effects and motion, was most likely done by me. For example, on your next visit to www.Blizzard.com be sure to check out that big banner carousel with our poster boys' faces. Fair enough, they are not a real animations as it's taking a static high-definition art piece produced by our insane Cinematics team and me doing the meticulous 5-second FX loop on top to create the illusion of movement. But I have yet to come across these pseudo-mationsTM in other web sites, making them oh so unique on the internet. As you can tell, I am very proud of these creations.

Blizzard is such a diverse and evolving company that you get to work on additional projects next to your regular work, adding yet another layer of variety. You would be surprised to see that Blizzard employees are not only talented in their jobs but are also gifted in radically different areas. Personally, I tend to be called in for stuff like logo design, in-game motion graphics and video production. And once in blizz' blue moon, I had the chance to voice a fake unit for StarCraft II's April Fool's, called the Terratron. A titanic Transformer-esque walker made out of terran base structures. He could be summoned onto the battlefield as a last ditch effort to annihilate opposing forces. A mighty robot indeed and now beatable in StarCraft II's game-in-a-game arcade experience: Lost Viking.

And with all these crazy activities looming around, Sons of the Storm still stands its ground. As of 2009, we have about 800 unique artworks created by eight creators, reinforced by two other exceptional artists; Mark Gibbons and Wei Wang. The latter who is so freakishly great at his craft that we call him Big Wang. I guess there's always someone with a bigger pencil...

One day in early 2010, Sammy hailed me into his office. He booted up one of StarCraft II's cutscenes that the Cinematics department had been working on. "You seen this?", he asked. It was the game's protagonist Jim Raynor in his battle armor boosting the morale of his troops before deploying to a crucial assault. It cut to a close-up of Raynor's gauntlet holding a dog tag of a fallen soldier under his command. The dog tag read M. Koiter as he delivered the line "...because some things are just worth fighting for". Nick Carpenter, Cinematics' art director, had been inspired by Michel's story during StarCraft II's development and decided to reference him in the game after seven years of post-mortem. At BlizzCon 2009, I was costumed as Jim Raynor and watching the scene unfold, I empathized thoroughly...

Time halts and I recall just solidifying, my mind soaking up the impact and consequences of it all. I drifted into limbo, clinging to my brother's parting words...

— He gave up what was left of his essence to strengthen me in his last stand. In all these years, this timely reasoning has been the one guarantee that has assured my mind from breaking into pieces. Instead, this comfort has shaped my being anew, leaving me wholly transfigured as a different man. How striking is it now that my name is René, literally meaning 'to be reborn'.

Even though I artistically collaborated with Michel, he was the single driving engine. The Twincruiser vessel did not have two captains, it had one and I was his shadow. I could delve deep into the characteristics of my brother, but I say this without any glorified bias that he was way, way beyond me in many aspects at the age of 19. Truthfully, I see myself as being at his level now at age 26. I can say I miss having my brother around physically but not as much as I miss him not having had the opportunity to evolve in Blizzard. With seven years of dedication, he would no doubt have been a creative monster in the art department. I'd like to think it is this unsung feat of talent that merited my brother to become a part of World of Warcraft and now a symbol in the StarCraft universe.

As I conclude this tribute, my brother's final words echo through and begin to crystallize, almost to the point of being prophetic. I may have lost a brother, but through his death I have been blessed with a band of newfound brothers within Blizzard. And as long as I remain within their presence, Michel is alive and well.

To the family who keeps
Michel's flame burning bright.
There is no greater glory
that has been so worth the fight.


Designed by Samwise and Twincruiser
All characters and designs are ™ & © their respective owners