It’s 5am right now and I’m having trouble sleeping, so I thought I should write a blog-blog to update all who care about the exciting new events that have been happening in my life. This is a Prince and the Pauper tale, featuring art, video games and, of course, nerds.
Where to begin.. I guess we’ll start with last year. June 2009, my contract as an illustrator with Griptonite Games had ended, leaving me… once again, unemployed. I didn’t think much of it, despite the panic on the news about the economy going down. I figured… with already 3-4 years of game industry experience and it taking an average of 1-2 months to get another job each time this happens I shouldn’t be so worried. Well, worrying eventually came when the months started rolling by and rapidly. I was exhausting all my resources to find another job, but with no luck. I started trying to teach myself other programs, hoping that I could just apply to other different position. I dabbled in web/html, Flash, Illustrator, ect; but couldn’t really grasp any of the knowledge as well as I could if I were in a classroom setting. So, I decided looking into going back to school.
I graduated from AIS in 2006 with a BFA in media arts. I looked back to AIS as another resource, thinking I could get another BFA in graphic design in only half the time since my credits could transfer. Well, guess what. Even at half the time, half the classes at half the cost, counselors told me it would come to a total at $30,000+ for a year and a half! WHAT?! I’M UNEMPLOYED! Do I LOOK like I have that kind of money on me?! Onward goes my search for better prospects…
7 months of being unemployed, a friend of mine, “Chu”, who works at Arenanet, sent me a link about an Arenanet workshop that was being held at Bellevue College. Arenanet’s top concept guys would be demonstrating their badassery in front of an audience. Well, little did dearest Chu know was that the workshop was to promote a new school called FuturePoly.
FuturePoly was developed by a small crack team of artists/friends who are highly reputable in the gaming industry. The prices of the classes were literally a fraction of a fraction of what I was previously looking into. So, this got me thinking… if I go into graphic design, which had WAY more job openings than my current industry, I would have to start all over from the beginning. All the years I spent gaining experience and learning the pipeline and loving the people in the game industry would pretty much mean nothing, and I would have to start from ground zero all over again. That, and I already knew that I loved the gaming industry and the people that worked in it. Graphic Design is a whole nother beast that could potentially be great, but could also be a huge mistake, let alone costing way more money to do so. So, I decided to risk it. I don’t know if the industry wanted me anymore, but enrolling into FuturePoly was me busting out the big guns and trying to hang onto this career as hard as possible.
Meeting the guys…
Before officially enrolling into the classes, the guys at FuturePoly invited me out to a lunch meet up. There I had lunch with one fellow potential student and 3 of the top guys from Arenanet; Jason Stokes, Horia Dociu and Kekai Kotaki. The guys told us the run down of their plans for the school and that we would be part of the first set of students (18 per class) if we enrolled. Jason asked me what my history was leading up to enrolling. I told them about how I’ve been a contractor in illustration and never felt comfortable with 3D, just figuring it wasn’t made for me. I went off about how the 2D jobs I used to apply to and get hired for were dwindling and that I needed more skills to keep me in the industry. He told me that I was a right fit for the classes and that they were there to train those who, not only wanted to learn, but needed to learn, and that he would teach industry standards and workflow. The biggest ear-catcher was him telling me that he wasn’t going to be like my previous school, where they teach you everything about the program all at once. He was going to keep it simple and teach only what he does at work and not go into all the do-dads thats 3DsMax has to offer when you might use a specific kind of tool feature only once or even never in your entire career. That really hooked me. Horia sat across from me; I knew this guy through reputation… knew he was the cinematic lead for Arenanet and couldn’t really understand why, a guy so busy as he was, going to take more time out of his schedule to teach classes that most likely wasn’t going to have these guys “rolling in the dough.” I asked Horia why they were doing all this. He lit up and went off into this passionate rant about art schools being all business and less art; allowing students to graduate with less than mediocre and unguided portfolios. He seemed pretty pissed that there were so many schools out there that would charge ridiculous amounts of money for these end results. Woah? Are you SERIOUS? Teachers that are passionate about having their students succeed? What rabbit hole did I fall into? Reverting back to my question he said that they didn’t want that to happen anymore. That they would use their industry experience to guide student portfolios and to help them find ways to work efficiently; and to be as prepared as possible when starting their first day of work. I liked Horia.
Jason and Horia asked me what I was expecting from them and what I wanted to get out of FuturePoly. Everything they said struck a chord with me… painfully and personally. Hopefully, I acted cool about it, but deep down I felt a bit emotional, because everything they said was exactly what I wanted and the more I thought about it, the more I felt like this terrible 8 months of being unemployed and feeling worthless would finally end. I didn’t really know what to say; I may have stuttered a bit and just shrugged, because they said it all, even more than I could’ve thought up. What can I say? I signed the enrollement papers immediately. It was either this was going to be somewhat of a disappointment, or it was going to be life changing; which are odds I’m fine with. Either way though… that was one hell of a sales pitch.
I enrolled in their professional program. Joining me was a few other friends, Jacob, Lyndon and Peter. The first 3 months, I took 3D with Jason Stokes. Woah. Ok. Seriously. I always felt like a complete retard when it came to 3D, which is why I had given up on it and just focused on 2D. Well, how embarrassing is this? Jason taught the class 2-AIS-quarters worth of material in 2 weeks. Not only that, I retained the memory of it. It’s not just 3 hours of lecturing, then “ok, now here’s your homework, and go home and do it” like how I remembered in college. He showed you the run down…then made you do it along with him a second time… then redo it with out him a third time… then you applied it to a personal project. Crazy reinforcement. I never felt so comfortable with 3D before. T’was awesome. And a side note, Jason was and IS always there to help out. I wasn’t even in his class anymore and I would shoot him an e-mail with questions and he would be on top of things to help me out. Even if he didn’t know the answer he would find it for me. Jason’s awesome.
Halfway through, I enrolled into their Zbrush class, taught by Joe Pikop. Joe is HILARIOUS! Always up beat and got me cracking up all the time. Not only that, he had me cruising in Zbrush in no time. Once I tried to teach myself Zbrush and gave up because the navigation was so awkward. After the first class I was already sculpting faces. After the second, a skull! His teaching style is a little bit different from Jason’s, as Joe breaks up his time, having lecturing be the smallest part of the class, and the vast majority of it working one on one with people and mainly answering questions to specific problems. All I can say is… Hooray! I know zbrush now! *hugz* (side note: do not be alarmed with if he sudden starts dancing for no reason. I think, in theory, this is to raise morale.)
The last 3 months was in Horia’s 2D class. Horia’s class, again, is set up closely like Jason and Joe’s classes; only a good chunk of it is industry philosophy. It’s the “what you need to know when you get the fuck out there” lectures. This info is invaluable. Something that I felt my previous school lacked or was misinformed about, because when I was a student and then graduated and moved onto the industry, it was nothing of what I was told of. Everything Horia talked about in the industry was spot on in reference to my own personal experience of 4-5 years; and it was, to say the least… very nitty gritty, AS IT SHOULD BE. A lot of the art schools spoon-feed you dreams, like your life is set on the Disney Channel. He didn’t bullshit around, and I think some may have taken it as crass, being that their art still never changed or progressed, despite countless critiques, but from all that I’ve experienced, it is incredibly VITAL to be told EXACTLY what is up and to take it as so. And you must ask yourself if the person relaying this information to you has the CURRENT credentials to walk the walk, let alone talk the talk.
Nearing the end of Horia’s class and the ending of the program as well, I was a bit stressed out. Ok. I was REALLY STRESSED OUT. A FULL year of being unemployed and already on the unemployment benefit emergency extensions, Griptonite had called me back to do a 2 month contract to do some quick UI work for a game I had previously worked on, as well as, some of their other projects. I was scrambling to do as much work as I could to impress Griptonite in hopes they would hire me on, so I wouldn’t have to be unemployed again, as well as, doing as much as I could for Horia’s class so he wouldn’t think I was a lazy ass, AS WELL as, working my ass off on my 3D portfolio in preparation of my Griptonite contract ending and them not not hiring me. I was crazy-stressed out, but tried to laugh it off anyway. I was extremely worried about what would happen if I didn’t get hired at Grip, because there was a most likely chance I couldn’t start my unemployment benefits back up again, because I was on the emergency extension, that and the claiming year was going to end in a month anyway. Oh, and surprise, my apartment lease would end that month as well, so pretty much if I didn’t find a job in September I would have to consider looking for work out of state. TOTALLY DID NOT WANT THAT. So, I was.. for the lack of a better term… le fucked. These thoughts were haunting and Horia was doing his rounds talking to everyone in the class to see how they’re doing and what they wanted to achieve with their portfolio. He started talking to me and asked me what I wanted to achieve and I just told him… “to not be of temporary value. To be worth hiring for good.” 5 years going from studio to studio… I have never been hired as a full time employee. I have only been a contract artist. Talking about it with him, I think I may have started to choke up. Didn’t want to seem emotional or girly. Tried to shrug it off. Told him I was taking too much of his time and he should move on to the other students, but he didn’t let up. After class he talked with me for a couple hours. He told me what I needed to do and how I could accomplish it and he said that him and Jason would be there whenever I needed help. He told me I should start a 3D specific portfolio and told me what I should put on it and what I should work on to add to it. That night, despite having worked a full day that day and had gone straight to class, along with having work the next morning, I didn’t go to sleep until I made my new portfolio. I guess, after that talk it was “Go-time.” The end result… my 3D portfolio.
Finished with FuturePoly I was still at Griptonite, working on my last days there and busting ass to get noticed in hopes to get hired fully. Friends at Griptonite supported me and rooted for me. They tried to help me as much as possible, which I am most appreciative for. Things were looking grim, and though I had asked a head of time what would amount to the end of my contract, there were too many variables for me to get an answer until the morning of my “last day.” The last day of my contract I was told it would be extended for another 2 weeks, and after that they didn’t know. That week I had received an e-mail from Arenanet, extending an offer to do an art test for their internship positions. Without a clear answer from Grip, and the chance to work on a game that reputable, I immediately accepted the challenge. Course, 1 week deadline and I have a 40 hour job, this was going to be quite the test. Other friends of mine were also offered the art test, specifically Jacob and Lyndon. Jacob and I decided to do “study groups” where he brought his laptop over at my place and we worked through out the whole night on our tests, helping each other out if we were stuck on anything, which he would then crash the night, and then rinse and repeat, we did it all over again the next day. Work was brutal running on 4 hours of sleep each night. Some nights I just didn’t sleep and would sleep in my car in Griptonite’s parking lot during my lunch hour. There was a point though, where there was a malfunction in my rendering of one of the textures. I emailed Jason at FuturePoly and he called me up first chance he got, offering to help me that day. Drove to the school where he met up with me and figured out what the problem was in half an hour. LIFE SAVER! After a week or so, Jacob and I turned our tests in. A few days later , my contract at Grip had ended and I was not extended nor hired on. So, I crossed my fingers for Arenanet.
SURPRISE! Got it. In fact, the offer was also made to Jacob and Lyndon! Hooray! GO TEAM! For scheduling purposes, they switched me to contract, which is alright by me! My first day at Arenanet was Monday. Wow. This is the business. So much art everywhere and so much talent filling up the rooms that it’s sickening! I already could tell I was going to learn so much just by being in the same room with these guys and gals. I’m part of their environment team and I sit in front of Jason, where he takes the opportunity to make fun of me, and Horia pops in from time to time smiling and telling me “don’t fuck up!” I have several friends on the character team and it’s good to finally be working with them under the same roof. I’m ecstatic and happy that my sleepless work-filled nights didn’t go to waste. Again, I am a contractor and I don’t know where it will lead me or whether or not I’ll have a permanent place here or anywhere, for that matter; but I know that I got here by not stopping and not moping, and not only not giving up, but giving it my all. I think, what people don’t realize is that if you always give it your all, you have infinite amounts to give. You can’t run out of yourself if you are the fuel that drives you, right? It’s only the intensity that varies.
The first few days…
Been working at Arenanet for the last few days and I feel like my mind is going to explode. So much to learn, so much art and talent, such a huge place; it’s hard to figure out where to start. I feel the pressure and the excitement constantly. Everyone’s been so nice and helpful there. It’s very welcoming. I just hope I can stand my ground and take on whatever needs to be done. Right now my biggest struggle is learning the tools. I’ve been learning 3D Studio Max for the last 8 months and for the most part, they work in Maya. I got a 2 hour crash course about where things are in the software, but still am having trouble remember all the material that was went over. They told me I could still use Max if I wanted to, but I figure… if they’re willing to give me the opportunity to learn Maya, and I have such a large resource of talented Maya artists around me to help, I might as well take it. Though it’s been a struggle the last few days with the learning curve, it’s still been fun. I do feel like each hour is getting easier, and that hotkeys and tool locations are starting to build up in my muscle memory, which is great! The only thing that bothers me is knowing full well that it would’ve taken me a fraction of a fraction of a fraction to model in Max what I had made in Maya. I know that no one expects me to be a Maya genius after my first week or two, but after the 4th hour of working on something and the back of your head telling you.. “You could’ve been done with this by now if it was Max” tends to be a little discouraging. So I say.. “SHUT UP, VOICES IN MY HEAD!!!” … jk.
So in the end I’ve realized that there is no end. Only constant beginnings of what lies ahead for me. Big thanks to Chu, Jason, Horia, and friends at Griptonite for always helping me and supporting me. And a congrats to Jacob, Lyndon and the other few who were able to get the internship. Much love and much art.
Pri, out. 😉
(side note: I have no hard feelings towards the faculty at AIS. I only feel that many had lectured outdated information and views about the industry; which resulted in me being unprepared and having to fend for myself when leaving the nest, as well as the curriculam being so broad that it made it difficult for me, personally, to hold onto so much information and material that was went over. There are a few teachers at AIS that I still hold in high regard, but many of my favorites have long since left the school. I wish them the best of luck.)