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Joao Sapiro thread of ramblings

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Joao Sapiro sublime tool
Hello ! since i hate medium and all the new content share platforms, and i love polycount, ill leave my "writing" on issues that feel important to me regarding the industry here ! Check below for the first post ! ( this way this type of content is also indexed by the Internet, thus not beeing in a discord bubble etc ).

A disclaimer : Everything that i type here is based on my professional experience and thus it WILL have its biases, i am human after all. Im also not claiming that i know best than anyone nor that X is better than Y, if something comes across like that, its my own opinion wich doesnt make it necessarily true, nor represent my employers view on the matter.

Now onto the meat and tatters : 


  • Joao Sapiro
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    Joao Sapiro sublime tool

    Long development cycles and "self-pleasing" practises, why they are terrible for the product...

    Being a character\hard surface artist for a ton of productions and being inside their feedback\approval stages, I have seen my fair share of “why is this being done that will only be noticed by 0,0001% of the player base and is making Artists waste a ton of time on it ?” 

    For this, i need to give context, i need to show a more global picture of how Game Artists operate in studios ( it might change in some studio settings, this is just a broad generalization ) :

    • Art Directors : making sure that the visual aspect of the game is consistent and has a clear defined direction and that the assets all seem to fall in place in the same world, since hundreds of Artists are working on it, its bound for differences of execution to happen, each person is different and has a certain way of doing things.
    • Art Leads : They used to be Senior Artists and are the bridge between the Art team and the Project Managers\Producers, they define a lot of the Art Production pipeline together with the Tech Art\Other departments ( ideally ).
    • Senior\Mid level Artists : The ones making Art assets, either characters, environments, weapons, anything you see on the screen apart from VFX and HUD\UX.
    • Junior\Interns : Future workforce that is to be train in the current studio workflows, usually supervised by Senior Artists ( ideally ) and are to be expected to be slower to make assets in the first times, in my opinion, they are the best bet in development staff as long as you have a solid pipeline defined and a clear vision of how things should be done, otherwise, they can be quite costly and a liability.

    Now, let's say the game production is set to take around 3 to 5 years, remember, the more time it takes, the more it has to sell\keep player traction, and, again, I`m making a broad generalization, as each production has its unique aspects and also the target audience\live service or not etc etc, but let's go with a traditional non-live service type of game. We can start at the pre-production stage.

    During pre-production, it is my professional opinion where the “make it or break it” aspect should happen ( in terms of Art aspect which is what i am more proficient with ), as it's here where it will be decided all the tech budgets such as ( won't put them all again due to them being too many, but more relatable to art aspect ):

    • Targeted for console ( closed hardware) or PC ( open hardware, and for the love of god don't aim at the highest end GPU that only 4 or 5% of people have…) ?
    • Overall Visual Direction of the production
    • 3D aspect of the game, how to achieve it with a test asset or several depending on scale, usually by a Lead Artist together with the Art director, both character\items and Environment. This can be done while the prototype of the game is being developed, and use that time with the whole team to make sure that blockouts can be started after approval by the Concept Art Department. Blockouts are fast to make and even tho not yet implemented in engine, it's better to use this time to test-rig them while implementation is on “hold”, i believe doing so at the same time can interfere with the initial blockout of the game “fun” aspect.
    • Memory allocation for characters\weapons\environments\vfx etc etc, as well as the overall pipeline and the techniques that are to be expected ( normal mapping vs pure geometry, modular sets for environment vs ( mostly ) all unique a la Rage Engine by Id Software etc etc , there are a ton of different aspects that i could sit here all day and number ).  Making sure to reduce texture  memory footprint and draw calls is a must, while also maintaining visual “beauty”
    • Deciding if master shaders are to be used by characters\weapons\ environments as well as anticipating any special cases that will exist thus leaving some budget for that
    • Making tests with blockouts of the game prototype ( boxing ) to make sure the game is fun playing with some random cubes\boxes\cylinders, this should be the main focus on the whole pre-production as it will be this that will allow iterations to be done easier sans all the technical blocks of art assets, and also, making sure you have a fun game to showcase to investors just using basic shapes. This in my opinion is something that is being left behind to “wow” investors that are not tech-savvy with visual aspects, rather than gameplay, which is what players will fixate more after release ( graphics are important yes, but a beautifully looking game if plays in a non-fun\grinding way wont retain players as easily )

    Once all these aspects are “solved” together with all the others that aren't mentioned, we should move onto full production, but making sure that during the testing stage, there is always updated documentation present, as this is one of the biggest time saver to a whole production as it saves time from Leads and Seniors to answer\give feedback on stuff that, by just existing in confluence, shouldn't be asked. Your internal staff and Outsourcers will be VERY thankful for this, specially Juniors !

    Something very important as well,  is to make sure that there are no “recipe” deviations of the workflow, for example: 


    • Avoid bypassing blockout stages to go straight to high poly stages…
    • Avoid baking normal maps without even sending the lowpoly for review in case there are memory-inducing problems in the future ( z-fighting, tons of uv seams and material seams, super long thin triangles that mip like crazy\are performance drains,merged\unmerged pieces unecessarily that make rigging harder, etc etc... )
    • Make sure to respect approval stages and the feedback direction given, always make sure to reach a compromise on stuff that the Artist wants to do vs what is asked…And most importantly, avoid re-visiting stuff cause we are just sick of looking at it, dont forget, the target audience has never seen it. This is not about US !

    This will make sure that each asset is tailored with the memory budget in mind and even tho “but muh nanite” is a bit prevalent, it will allow for smoother gameplay, more room for special effects like ray tracing etc to not have horrible frame rate due to the saving of resources on aspects that are in direct control of the artists. Standardized workflows to be as non-destructive as possible should also be encouraged, so that Artist X can pickup the assets from Artist Y and avoiding having to redo stuff, like colapsed smooth modifiers\non-preserved booleans, Zbrush modeling in hardsurface that needs to be altered, thus having it beeing redone from scratch…

    To finalize this, as an Artist myself, i can recognize several ego problems in Visual production for games, i am at fault of this sometimes, altho i am trying to get better at it, what i mean by this : 

    • Even tho Art Assets ( ideally ) end up on our portfolio, it is important to realise that those extra 3 workdays i spent working on some small part of the model that only I can see and think it will be seen as “finesse”, by players and even team members, its only seen as ego-stroking, i would have just wasted 3 days where a blockout of a new character could have been made, me helping out other departments that need help with feedback or simply updating some documentation guidelines. We need to think as a whole and the more useless time spent on stuff that the players wont notice ( visualize ) will have a direct impact on resource alocation, thus weakening the end result.
    • I see Artists boasting about stuff that only they notice on their models when in reality their models have perfomance-inducing flaws that could have been adressed instead of ego-boasting, and making sure that the whole team can recognize these and avoid falling in that trap will cut development time quite considerably ! 
    • Making sure that perfomance saving techniques are used on all Art assets is a must to avoid the “oh shit, the game runs crappy at launch, could it be this character with 4 separate texture sets so that players notice this tile pattern on his leather to the atomic level…?? could it be the insane ammount of separate geometry that is giving tons of intersecting geometry to the graphics card together with a ton of other aspects ?” Sadly, with Leads and Seniors leaving in droves, it also has the knowledge go with them, thus not properly training the next generation of Senior\Leads, wich will make a loop of bad perfomance inducing decisions beeing made…


    Its very important to think of a game production as a whole, avoid egos and LISTEN to people that want to say something, even juniors can teach Leads alot ! This shouldnt be a self-masturbatory experience, this should be a Team effort that in the end, if it goes well, everyone wins !

  • Joao Sapiro
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    Joao Sapiro sublime tool

    To preface this “article” : Everything stated here is totally anecdotal, as in, based on my own experience and what I observe\talk\learn through other professionals. It DOES NOT necessarily represent my current employer views nor i speak on their behalf, this is opinionated and seen through the glasses of my own individual professional experience. This whole article also is solely focused on the Art aspect

    Don't take anything i say here as a “rule”, and if through my way of writing it comes off like that please let me know so that i can properly rephrase it. Always question dogmas !!

    Now let's get to the meat and potatoes.

    Junior Roles

    To start with, i'd like to expand  bit more on the junior role in the Game development landscape and why their search are becoming scarcer and scarcer 

    The Junior Artist is usually an artist that show “promise” or “potential” that can be adapted to a specific production in a studio, needing usually quite a bit of input and “training” by more experienced Artists, usually the Seniors, due to their vast experience in the pipeline, so basically, the Junior is an “investment” from a studio to become an asset that in the future can make up the net loss they bring to the production in the beginning, and thus become seniors themselves in the production, so, basically : faster and more efficient.

    Junior artists should never be let off to fend for themselves, while having good communication skills and being proactive about absorbing as much knowledge is a big plus, ideally they should be supervised\taught by the Seniors,but, sadly due to game productions requiring more and more production time from every artist, this is becoming a big “burden” on budgets\time constraints, since, each hour a senior uses with a junior, is an hour that is not translated directly to the production of assets\other duties, instead, it's time used without a guarantee that it will even be converted in productivity, since Juniors also learn at different rates and have different “art vices” that come from their background.

    So to sum it up : a Junior is considered a risky investment nowadays, since we are hoping the person will stick around during the years that are needed nowadays to make a big budget game, and also learn quickly enough to not be a financial\resource drain on the studio.

    So this is already having dire consequences, there are more Seniors\mid level Artists being searched instead of Juniors due to the reasons above, together with the thousands of ill-prepared students from hundreds of schools and the shitty economic climate\bell tightening on production budgets\timeframes…Wich makes productions take even less risks, in some cases, it shafts the search for juniors…There are other numerous factors that i don't have time to list, but pertaining to the issue written here it's one of those.

    Now on my professional experience, i enjoy training Juniors and love to help them out, seeing Artists level up is a great feeling and seeing them also gain confidence and get good Art production habits is very rewarding…But it does require a ton of time from me, which is removed from Art Production sometimes, and sometimes it does take considerably more time to train different artists, so there is no “time” average.

    Another big problem i see with Juniors nowadays, is how shitty their learning landscape is 

     “Oh wow Joao, that's pretty stupid to say, I mean we have a ton more knowledge nowadays than we had 15 years ago !” 

     This is true !  but before, we had all the knowledge neatly condensed on communities that all shared the same goal : Post awesome Art, give feedback\learn and be tightly knit, im talking obviously about Polycount, CgChat, Subdivisionmodeling.org , and a ton of other resource aggregator websites\forums that were easily searchable and where professionals would be willing to reach out due to their simplicity.

    Nowadays we have 10 different ways of making blockouts, 50 different ways of making highpolies and 40 different ways of making textures\low poly\uvs ( these numbers were pulled from my ass, but you get the point ). So what this causes is that artists, while learning their craft, will zero in the most “used” and usually “easier” way to achieve quick visual fidelity, which is great ! I love when stuff is quick and efficient, but the problem is, most of Artists lack the basics, they skip the simple learning fundamentals of modeling, of lowpoly, of texturing, and go straight to the finish line without understanding all the basics.

     It's like starting to build a home while working on the way to achieve the finishing touches like wood varnish and decoration but without studying the logic of the way the walls and the foundations were laid out, the WHY and the questioning was smashed through the hundreds of tutorials available everywhere on every modeling package.

    This factor is also “shitetized” due to everyone and their grandmother having a discord server ( where searching for solutions to problems is near impossible due to it not being indexed on search engines ), and worrying more about Twitter followers and their “reach”...( don't get me started on that platform, one of the advices i give to a ton of people is to not treat it as a representative of reality ). The way feedback nowadays is handled is very poor due to people not wanting honest to god feedback, nor having a centralized place to get it sadly…I mean just check an Art thread on Polycount 15 years ago, you would learn so much from a single thread…

    So we have more knowledge, but the way it is being synthesized is completely broken, thus creating an insane amount of sub-part quality by aspiring artists due to the “wheres tutorial” mentality as well…

    Ok enough ranting from an old man, let's get to the questions. I ramble a lot as you can see.

    Question 1 

    As a 3D character Artist, what skill should I increase and work on ?

    Character art positions are probably one of the hardest to fill in studios.

    So to make Character art Standout, we must work on skills that allows us to make those more convincing and in a way that showcases craftsmanship, so the reply i always give is : Study anatomy, not only human, but also of animals, the way bones and muscles behave have all a reason to be and are all interconnected, one of the things it really helped me was to go to live drawing sessions and to observe animals in nature. Going outside and just simply asking someone that volunteers so that you stare uncomfortably to their face for a while while you study the bone structure, the “why” the face looks like that and behaves like that in diff lighting conditions, these are the foundations i would love to see Artists tackle more before jumping in to Zbrush and make high frequency messes. 

    The other advice is to look at shapes from macro to micro, and work first in your macro shapes before worrying about detailing, look at your models zoomed out and compare with references, ALWAYS use references, never do things from your head since ( unless you're already super experienced ), what we have in our head is most of the time flawed in terms of accuracy. A great exercise of this is to grab a bust base mesh and just work on the first subdivision level, it will force you only to work on the macro shapes !

    Another thing i recommend is to avoid making fanart of already existing art, as you will most likely make it not as accurate\good as the original artwork, thus adding another layer of scrutiny to your art piece, this is something you can do later when you're more experienced and even add your own spin !

    Question 2

    What type of Concept Art should I use to showcase my abilities as an aspiring character artist ?

    This is one of the hardest to reply because i'll have to use my stamp of “it depends”, if you're aiming to a stylized art studio like Riot or Blizzard, make sure to tailor your learning to that style, if you want to work on realistic games, do the same…Just make sure that the standard of quality  you aim to, is the quality present on those games, break as many almonds as you can to try and reach it, ask for feedback, deconstruct the assets as in study them ingame, look at available post-mortems\study game files to really understand the logic of what goes on there.

    Now I'm not saying “oh just produce artwork that matches one of those studios!”, that would be almost impossible obviously, but make sure the bar you're trying to reach is the same, to push you in a good direction. Eventually you will get there and get the attention of a studio.

    Now for the concept art itself, I am more impressed by loose concept art being chosen and the “gaps” of the concept being filled by the 3d artist, thus showing good problem solving skills. I also prefer to see concept art used that challenges modeling skills, not just boring boxy stuff with booleans, but flowy sci fi shapes that look fcking awesome.

    Question 3 

    Do you recommend any type of events or volunteer work while I search for a job in the industry ? or should I focus 100% on my portfolio ?

    To this one i say “both!” There are game jams, mods that come to moddable games, even indie productions that sadly don't have the budget to pay properly to artists where aspiring artists could work on ! hell even CS2 skins ! anything that will have you in a community while you learn your ins and outs of game engines\implementation will always be a plus. I prefer to see people create cool artwork for mods\projects etc than to just spam artstation and twitter.

    So basically yeah, you can do those two at the same time, and they will help you immensely. Polycount still has a section where you can offer your help for projects !

    Question 4

    What are some of the key things you look for most when hiring juniors?

    To me, i'd rather see juniors that KNOW how to showcase their skills  and that tailor correctly their folio to the role they are achieving, elaborating on that :

    • Clear and clean showcase of the art with lowpoly and uvs and textures, you have to assume i have 0 context of who you are and what you are capable, if you SHOW me what you can do i'll know about it, if you only showcase a kickass rendering of your character but no breakups, i don't know how you got to that result, if you know how to make propper lowpolies, uvs and if you understand the basics of texturing.

    • IS proactive on the search for knowledge and keeps trying to produce assets to study\practise, since artists that barely produce anything for a year, ( even tho i understand people have different backgrounds\struggles ) dont showcase that, i keep seeing the same people posting the same artwork for years on twitter hoping it would get them a job and honestly sometimes having an entitled attitude of “i keep sending my folio that is outdated for two years and not even getting replies ! This industry sucks!”

    • The ability to communicate questions and search for knowledge to me is as important as the art itself, if you're a person that barely asks me questions when I'm open to that and thus struggles in production\stresses themselves is a big no-no. I understand some people are shy, but I can't read minds nor what they are struggling with if they don't tell me. Reading and having questions about whatever documentation\asset samples are a must.

    Question 5

    For those trying to get freelance gigs, how can they reach out to a company to make themselves available for the work?

    LinkedIn message to an art director, spontaneous application on the company career page?

    Usually contacting Art directors\leads etc directly will depend on their personality\willingness for that. I use the rule of “if they say they allow it, I will contact them”, but if you don't find any instance of those individuals saying they don't mind being contacted, I think it's safe to avoid that. Be mindful that they probably say the same things over and over to aspiring artists ( it's one of the reasons I decided to write this ).

    In terms of freelance gigs, I'd say it's almost the same as the question above : make sure your portfolio showcases that you CAN do the work and that the hiring entities don't have to guess if you can actually do it or not. Also, the constant portfolio\learning output showcased helps alot.

    Question 6 

    This is a location question: Why is it that a lot of junior jobs I find now are in other countries outside of the US? I've seen a lot of positions available in the UK and in Eastern Europe so far.

    I can't answer that one very well because it depends on the necessities of said studios, but I would put the finger on the starting junior context I gave above of them being an investment\risk and those countries having more willingness to take that risk.

    Question 7 

    Given the huge amount of junior applications you have reviewed, what are some of the main mistakes juniors make when applying?

    Basically what was answered on question 4 but i will refer some stuff i really dislike to see : 

    • Fanart using official templates, as in, from a glance it looks like it was made for the game, and stated only on the inside page that its fanart.

    • Entitlement on “deserving” the job even though their portfolio doesn't showcase what we need them to show us.

    • Spamming their always outdated folio

    • Having the portfolio hosted on platforms that make it hard for me to get to the artwork, if i have to search like a detective for artwork where you showcase me what i need to know from question 4, you're in a bad spot as i will simply give up and move on to the next candidate, even if your artwork looks kickass.

    • I don't care about anything other than the art, don't make me click a ton of sections and subsections please.

    • I don't need your whole life story when contacting us, can you do the job ? Are you someone we can actually enjoy a conversation with or will you behave like a nutjob to your colleagues ?

    Question 8

    Currently looking for a job, do employers expect me to be perfect or is it fine not being good at some things as long as I show that i'm willing to learn.

    Studios that search for perfect artists will have a rude awakening, they simply don't exist. There are only the candidates that seem to show that they will require the “less” training time.
    As stated on previous questions, the way to showcase me you're willing to learn is for me to see you trying by producing new content and evolving on each one.

    Question 9 

    I would be interested in learning how to find more freelance jobs. Especially higher paying gigs.

    The “higher paying gigs” are complexity dependent and the amount of specialized people available to do them.

    Question 10

    How does raw skill pit against actual industrial experience for you? For eg, a killer portfolio (personal projects) vs someone who has worked in a relevant industry. I need experience to get experience, that's been my worry.

    I have reviewed folios of people with industry experience with appalling skills and aspiring artists that give them the run for their money. 

    At the end of the day, it's what you can show me that you can do. Can you implement assets into freely available game engines ? what is your workflow, as in, do you do a blockout first then move on ( on hundreds of portfolios i only seen a handful where they do this, and those always catch my eyes ) ? What were your artwork constraints, as in, texture limitation and polygon limitations ? 

    Having artists with immense raw skill can be a double edged sword, the same as someone who already is more experienced. I honestly find people with more experience a bit harder to adapt to workflows due to them having bad habits that are harder to shake off.

    But this depends totally on the individual\role etc. I can't make a blanket statement about it.

    And that's it for now ! I hope this helps aspiring artists or anyone really !

    Don't take this as gospel as I said, and there's a ton of answers that are context dependent :) Also check Polycount excelent wiki for timeless knowledge ! http://wiki.polycount.com/

    Anything lemme know if you want me to expand ! contact me on my twitter  https://twitter.com/JoaoSapiro or on my Artstation https://www.artstation.com/joaosapiro 

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    It's a lot of good advice for junior artist and just general advice. But what we never see is advice for the senior and what they can do to help the junior. It's always "juniors should be doing this, not that." 

    I was studying the art style of a very popular hit game recently. Perhaps the biggest selling point of the game is the art. Everywhere you read about the game, people are going nuts about the art style. It is unique and highly polished. In studying it I found out that the entire style was conceived by one concept artist and nearly all of the characters were modeled rigged and animated by a single person. These artist are highly regarded. But they are not highly paid. In fact, compared to the value they've played a big role in generating, they might as well be working for free. 

    I checked that persons artstation and they are working at a different studio now. This may have been for a pay raise, but the job title is the same. 

    I wonder, with such an outsized impact this one person had on making a hit game (indie) that earned over 200 million dollars, what was their compensation? Because they did like five different jobs and it was a huge part of the game's success. Did they get a part of the revenue, or just a paycheck and recommendation for more work at $50 per hour? If they got just 1% of the net revenue they would be living a very different life right now for sure. They might still happily work at a studio making art, but they could also... do almost anything a normal person could ever want to do and not think about paying rent at the same time. And certainly the key character artist / rigger / animator has done 1% or maybe even more of the value creating work on such a project? I think so. Imagine if they are also getting 1% from the other hit games they've contributed to...

    My opinion is that if you have people willing to give so much for comparatively nothing in return, the landscape for juniors has to become more and more hostile. This sort of sacrifice for nothing is a race to the bottom. In the military that sort of behavior would be called a buddy fucker. If I was a senior artist thinking about the future of my people I'd focus in on the buddy fuckers, though it seems these people are more typically worshipped. This makes it seem like professional game developers are suffering from stockholm syndrome en masse to me
  • ModBlue
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    ModBlue polycounter lvl 7

    A big part of the problem is that too many people view this to be a passion job when it isn’t. That leads to them giving too much of themselves for little of nothing in return and of course employers know this, hence why they take advantage of so many people.
  • kanga
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    kanga quad damage
    e e cummings has discovered the interwebs
  • odd_enough
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    odd_enough polycounter lvl 12
    Joao Sapiro said:
    Are you someone we can actually enjoy a conversation with or will you behave like a nutjob to your colleagues ?
    Define "nutjob" 🤔 
  • zetheros
  • Joao Sapiro
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    Joao Sapiro sublime tool
    Joao Sapiro said:
    Are you someone we can actually enjoy a conversation with or will you behave like a nutjob to your colleagues ?
    Define "nutjob" 🤔 
    I would say someone who you have to constantly walk around in egg-shells/is very hard to work with in general, stuff like extreme arrogance/lack of empathy and value of the time of others. Thats what comes to mind hehe
  • iam717
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    iam717 greentooth
    Glad i caught this in time, i hate the put on a fake face/smile b.s. the worlds going to shit in a hand basket, these big companies buying everyone out and closing all the studios, it is almost every year now, we even have a thread for layoffs showing the trend in motion. 

    If i where to go to apply or get grilled about who i am or might be in the work place, why do i have to be fake, sure i am happy to be there and "possibly" get a "job" but it is not a sure thing. 

    Last place i went to the people looked miserable, it was like pulling teeth for conversation, perhaps they where warning me, either way i didn't get the gig, cause it was outside of my ability. (environment)
    I am one of the "dumb" ones that want job security cause I'd like to live out my existence in the studio i applied for.
  • ModBlue
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    ModBlue polycounter lvl 7
    You probably dodged a bullet by not getting hired by those guys.

    My last job had a boss who kept changing the projects direction to where every freakin week I was doing concept art for something new and his assistant kept rewriting game docs. She must've spent days on that stuff considering how many pages of content she wrote out with visual examples. All of that went down the drain by the next week lol and during the weekly meetings we had, you could just see the sheer disappointment on her face. We had a co-worker who hardly ever showed up over the months, kinda came to meetings whenever she felt like it and when she did....she had just about zero work done to show. There was always an excuse about why she didn't have this/that done despite having so much time to do it and she always seemed to be off key to what the project needs were. She would've been fired at any reputable company. I also kept getting lied to about "oh you'll eventually become permanent" month after month until eventually right when they were finally gonna make me permanent, they shut down the company, dropped me and I never heard from them since.

    I did some research on him and discovered he's got multiple companies, each with very few employees which he can't seem to maintain for long. No wonder. Horrible management skills, lying to employees on the regular about their job status and just downright indecisive when it comes to having a vision. This man just wastes huge amounts of taxpayer money on failed businesses one after the other and should be the poster boy for every business school of what NOT to do when running a business.

    Remember the captain who ran the titantic into an iceberg? Well this guy ran the company into an iceberg, then purposely steered it straight down to the bottom of the marina trenches with the propellers at full power.

    I didn't see it at the time because I was desperate for a job, but when I look back at it red flags were FLYING
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