|17 Nov 2020|
Could you start by explaining a little about your career path to date and exactly what a 3D artist does within the gaming industry? Was it something that you always wanted to do?
My day to day job as a 3D artist involves me building 3D environments, texturing props and lighting game levels. I use various pieces of software like Maya, Substance, Zbrush, Unreal Engine and Unity to help bring the final world the players will explore to life.
A lot of the job involves iterating and perfecting the scene you’re working on until it runs well in game and fits in with the final vision of the directors.
Regarding how I got into the industry; I’ve always loved animation, comics and games. When I was younger I knew that I wanted to work in some kind of job related to the film and games industry, but I wasn’t quite sure how to get there. At school I would spend most of my free time drawing, writing stories or designing worlds. I was very fortunate to have a sculpture teacher that understood my interests, and he advised me to study 3D animation at University. Studying animation meant that I could continue to pursue what I enjoyed at a degree level and would hopefully result in a good career path after graduating.
While I was at University I had the opportunity to learn a wide variety of skills and disciplines. This helped me decide on what I wanted to specialise in after I graduated.
For a long time I thought that I wanted to work in a children’s animation, however in my second year in University we had a guest lecture by some artists from Splash Damage (the developers of Gears Tactics). I liked how much collaboration there seemed to be between all of the various disciplines and how much ownership artists got over their work. Following this my programmer friend and I decided to work on a game together as our final project. This taught me a lot about the game production pipeline and really helped me hone my skills.
In the final months of my degree a studio that specialised in making VR experiences offered me a job and I accepted. While working there I managed to work on some great projects for Lego and Cartoon Network. After working there for three years I moved to work for Hutch Games, the studio that makes F1 Manager, Top Drives and Rebel Racing. I’m currently working there and am having a lot of fun working on new content for Rebel Racing.
You studied Computer Animation Arts at university. Would you recommend to those interested in a career like yours that they study a subject specific to the gaming industry or would a more general computer science degree be a good choice to keep their options more open?
I think it depends on what career path you’re interested in pursuing. One of the great things about my degree was the fact that I was able to try out lots of different disciplines. For a long time I thought that I wanted to be a character animator, however it wasn’t until I tried environment modeling that I realised that world building and scenery construction brought out what I loved most about animation and games - storytelling. The other benefit to my course was that it was actually an amalgamation of three different courses. My course was very art focused, however the other two courses were more programming heavy. This allowed us to collaborate together like you would in the industry.
I think a pure computer science degree would only be useful if you decide that you want to go into a developer or engineering role. On the other hand, if you know that you want to work on film, animation or games degree but are unsure what you specifically want to do, it’s ok to take a traditional illustration course and learn 3D on the side. There are so many great tutorials and resources online at the moment. As long as you have a strong sense of composition and artistic theory you should be able to find your way into the industry.
You appear to have always been more interested in the Art side of the industry, could you tell us if there was anything else that you did to help you stand out when trying to get your first job in the industry? Did you do some work experience or did you create a portfolio of your own ideas?
While I was in University I did work experience over the summer, however this was just to help me figure out what kind of path I wanted to go down in the future. Paid experience is better valued, but this can be quite difficult to get while you’re still studying.
For most jobs the first thing that employers will look at is your portfolio. This is more important than your degree or other qualifications you may have, so making sure it stands out is really important.
There are a lot of games companies out there and they all have different art styles so creating a portfolio that caters to all of these studios can be rather tricky. Often when people think of games they think of gritty first person shooters or apocalyptic themed RPGs and will create a portfolio filled with guns and blown out buildings. However, the fact is there are only a few studios that create those kinds of games. Instead I’ve found that creating a portfolio of work that displays the core principals - lighting, composition and form to be more helpful. Creating projects that have interesting colour schemes is important too as it’ll help your portfolio stand out among the other applicants.
Several images from Will's portfolio
What advice would you give those reading this on how they might break into the gaming industry?
Networking is extremely important, not because the connections you make might give you a job, but because you’ll be able to learn as to how others got to the point they’re at. Go to as many industry events or talks as you can and learn from the best.
My first job was in Guildford, a town that has a large number of games companies. While working there I went to a weekly life drawing class run by industry veterans. Every week I would show them the personal projects I was working on and they would give me feedback on my work.
Posting your work on websites like ArtStation and Discord groups that focuses on the discipline you want to specialise in is important too. It wasn’t until I started posting my work on the EXP Points Discord that my portfolio started taking leaps and bounds over where it was before.
After you’ve done all of this, look for roles online. Research the studios that have positions available and cater your cover letter and CV to them.
The final piece of advice I would give is don’t give up. Breaking into the industry can be very difficult and is extremely competitive. However if you keep improving your portfolio you’ll get there eventually.
It seems at the moment that the gaming industry is going from strength to strength, contributing a huge amount to the economy and more of the positive aspects of gaming being recognised than the negatives. As someone working inside the industry, what are your thoughts about where the industry is heading? What trends or new technology can you see coming up in the next few years?
Tools will always continue to make workflows more efficient and graphics will become better, however I think the big change is going to be VR. Many studios have been trying to get VR off the ground for sometime now. But the graphical limitations when it comes to producing VR content have really held the medium back. Now as we enter this next console generation and more powerful graphics cards are coming to the market I can really see VR taking off around 2023. VR is a great medium as it doesn’t just have potential when it comes to creating games. Many film studios now use VR to help design their sets and I can see games studios using the tool to help plan levels and create assets too.