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Getting into the Game Industry (Inspiration of a different kind)

I've noticed a trend here at Polycount recently. We've been getting lots of new posters asking about getting into the game industry. I figured we could use a sticky thread where we post our stories for others to read and take inspiration from. There's a bit of solace to be found when reading about other's trials and tribulations when it comes to achieving a goal that you want to achieve as well. Take our experiences and apply them to your current situations.

So for new posters and those wanting to get in, I suggest you read through everyone's stories and find the common themes:
Work Ethic

Thread Rules:

Do not reply to any posts. This will be a moderated thread. All replies will be removed. This is a thread for stories only.
Try to follow my layout for easier reading. It helps to break it up into segments so people can go directly to the segment they want to read about.

Pretty simple.


The early years:

I grew up in a migrant family. Every summer we traveled from south Texas to the Panhandle to work in the cotton fields. On the rare occasions that I didn't work, (yes we broke all kinds of child labor laws) my dad would give me paper and pencils to draw. He showed me how to draw people and cars. This is my earliest memory of drawing. Since then I drew as much as I could. I filled up notebook after notebook with armored military soldiers, tanks, jets, robots, etc.
Growing up in South Texas I never felt like I fit in. I even had to attend a parent / student / teacher / faculty meeting in which I sat there and listened to kids in my 3rd grade class tell my parents how weird I was because I did nothing but draw all day. No child should ever go through that. Either way, that didn't stop me. I became a bit of an outcast and kept only a small amount of nerdy friends. I drew as much as I could all the way up until high school where I met one of my best friends. He was an amazing artist and my art only fed off his. He taught me how to draw superheroes and together we became a pretty good art team.
By my senior year I had decided to go to the Art Institute of Dallas. I moved up to Dallas in 1998 with no money other than just enough to make my next school payment. I applied at every single restaurant / retail place I could find between the school and my apartment. Eventually this led me to Texadelphia. I kept that job for 3 years. It was my main source of food and came to be the place where I made a majority of my art while sitting at the bar during slow hours. The restaurant also served as a meeting place for a lot of my game industry friends. Free sandwiches and discounts on beer brought in a lot of the Ritual guys.

What pushed you towards the game industry?

My parents saved up and bought me an NES when I was little. This pretty much did it for me. In 4th grade my friends and I began drawing up level maps on graph paper. I began creating stories and characters to fill them up.
When Jurassic Park came out, I watched a lot of the behind the scenes specials and became very interested in the special effects business. It made me want to become a 3d animator. I went to the Art Institute and quickly realized that animation wasn't for me. I began modeling high poly characters and realized I didn't like that either. My passion seemed to be with the low poly characters that were so popular at the time (Playstation 1 era). I loved how the artists had to convey so much character with such a limited amount of polygons. At that point I knew that games were for me.

The break-in:

My time at the Art Institute was interesting. I quickly found out that I wasn't learning as fast as I wanted to learn. My friend and roommate at the time, Juan (martinez / monster) introduced me to a new website called 'Polycount'. Together we formed 'Team Dallas' and began making Quake 3 models (Vash, Throttle, Bonecrusher, Gaben Helm). Shortly after that I dropped out of school (only had 2 1/2 quarters left) and began working at Texadelphia full time. Determined to not become a statistic, I worked hard on my portfolio. I began sending out copies of it to every game company in town and across the United States. I set up my art website and posted my portfolio for all to see.
Juan dropped out of school shortly after me. I front loaded his work schedule (@ Texadelphia) so he could focus on getting a job in the industry. 3 months later he did. He told me to quit my job and focus on my portfolio. 3 months later, I received my first contract job. A month after that I got my first studio job at Mumbo Jumbo. A friend I met on Polycount (Wrath) suggested me for an artist position there. I took the art test and got the job.

What to take away from my experience?

- Never compromise your passion once you find it. Quality of life is much more important than quantity of paycheck.

- Never lose focus on your goals. Often times life will kick you hard and it's easy to lose focus, but the ones that regain that focus are the ones that will make it to the end.

- There is never any shame in getting help from your friends. Shit happens. Life is tough. There are people around you that are willing to help you get through the tough times and would love to see you accomplish great things.

- Never underestimate the power of networking. The game industry is very incestuous. We like to work with people we've worked with before and people that we know very well. Often times the demanding hours of the game industry has us all working very closely, so it's always safer to go with those you know.

- Always be genuine. People know when they're getting bullshitted. Always be yourself. Be humble. Smile and talk about anything and everything. Just because we're in the game industry doesn't mean we want to talk about games when we're out having a good time. Be personable.

- Live, breathe, eat art. When you're trying to get into the industry you need to build up that portfolio. You have to want it 24/7 to compete with not only your peers, but the unemployed professionals too.

- Be up front and honest with yourself and your art. Be able to take a step back and look at your art critically. Don't sugar coat it. Compare your art to your peers and professionals. They're your competition. Are you on the same level as them?

- Don't try and be everyone else. Be yourself in your art. Sure, superstar artist so and so is awesome and you wish you could be like them, but guess what? You're not them. Be yourself and be awesome at that. Most of the superstar artists didn't become awesome by trying to be someone else. Long ago they blazed their own path. It was their individuality that made them stand out from everyone else.

- Don't be afraid of taking a risk. Things are rarely given to you in life. Most of the time the things we want most are the ones that involve the greater risks. Don't be afraid of getting into debt if it will help you achieve your goal. Debt payments are nothing in comparison to achieving a life dream. At the end of the road you'll be able to look back and thank yourself for taking the risk and living the life you always wanted.


  • Justin Meisse
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    Justin Meisse polycounter lvl 17
    The early years:

    My little brother and I have been drawing all our lives. Our favorite pastime was to lay a sheet of newsprint on the floor and fill it edge to edge with a Where's Waldo-esque scene of monsters and explosions. Things really changed for me when my parents got me “The Minds Eye” on VHS in the early 90's, I became obsessed with CG and I would hunt for any information I could – I ended up buying a lot of Clifford E. Pickover's books. Those books involved a lot of complex equations plugged into expensive machines to produce primitive 3D so I just assumed I would never figure out how to do it myself. We didn't have a computer so it was all mysterious voodoo to me.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    I messed around with primitive game making programs and Doom mapping when I inherited my parents' office computer around '94 but I never got to far without the internet. In '96 we got dial-up and that changed everything. I got heavily involved with Quake 'skinning' which lead to working on various mod teams, my first taste of game development. I got a little bit of popularity under the name Ysgalon:

    When I was 18 I decided I wanted to make this my career so dropped out of my C+ programming class and started taking art classes. I spent 2 years going to the local community college on a scholarship while working full time as a computer tech to save up money – after that I transferred my credits to the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale to finish my Bachelor's degree.

    The break-in:

    I posted about it before so I'll keep it short – I graduated to my dad being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It took the wind out of my sails and I just resigned myself to a career in IT. In 2006 I decided to give it another try, I failed an art test for Cryptic but soon after Chris Holden let me know about an opening at Mythic. A few months later I had the job :)

    What to take away from my experience?

    Artistic talent isn't going to be handed to you on a platter; you've got to go for it, fall on your face, pick yourself up and try again.
  • poopinmymouth
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    poopinmymouth polycounter lvl 17
    What the hell, sounds fun!

    The early years:

    Never really even thought about art till Senior year of HS. I decided based on my love of watching Beast Wars I wanted to be a 3D animator. My dad asked around at his church if anyone knew anything about computer graphics, and a guy who had gone to VCU for computer stuff agreed to give me some advice. He told me to go to a cheap school like VCU for a year and finish art foundation studies, then transfer to somewhere with a real computer graphics degree like SCAD. I followed his advice, but in hindsight I wish I'd stayed at VCU where I had a full scholarship rather than to SCAD where I ended up owing 45k USD.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    I was studying 3d Animation for films and just wasn't liking my classes. I was starting to worry, this is an expensive degree that I don't want to use. Winter break, Hawkprey published his public art test for I forget which company, and I loved his art so much that I decided to give it a go, having never done low poly work before. (You can still see them online here: http://www.freewebs.com/radiantwings/wip/wip.htm) We were only supposed to model one and submit it, but I had so much fun modeling 8 days straight I did both and sent them in. Working with someone later in my career who had been there at the time, they seriously considered me for the job till someone much more experienced sent in both also textured (and really well done too). But after that, I was hooked on low poly. I went back and changed my major to Games, and took every game art class (there were only 3) I could, and focused on anatomy and modeling classes.

    The break-in:

    I was terrified in University of the job market. It was still 2 years away, but I could see how many graduates even just of SCAD couldn't get gigs after school was over. I'd be 80k in debt with no skills for another career. I had trouble sleeping. I decided I had to get an internship to help up my chances, so I book marked every job page I could find on the internet, and every morning and evening I would check them, and reply to anything whatsoever that sounded like a beginner could fit. A company in Austin Texas was offering a junior artist position. I told them I wanted an internship, they said they weren't interested in internships but would consider me for the paying position. I read their post on a Wednesday, had a phone interview Thursday, and wanted to fly me from Savannah to Georgia on Friday. I did fly out, and they offered me the job based on my latest projects. So instead of coming back to school after spring break I packed everything in a Uhaul and drove from Savannah to Austin. I went from paying 36k a year in tuition to making 33k a year, which I thought was great at the time, though no benefits, but I was 21 and healthy so that was the least of my concerns. While there I taught myself hand painting textures in after hours by entering a lot of the contests on CGchat.

    What to take away from my experience?

    Network with your peers, online and off. If you are in a school, identify the good people, befriend them, ask about their projects, offer help if you can, pick their brains. Many times your fellow students are working on cooler stuff than the teachers can show you, AND are more likely to help with job recommendations than your teachers can. Don't do it in a slimy way though, the goal is to make friends with other passionate artists, not collect business contacts like pokemon.
    Keep up with the internet! I know I'm preaching to the choir here on polycount, but I can't count the number of times I've given a lecture to a class of 3d students, and ask "who has a 3d artist hero whose art they love?" and not a single hand goes up. They don't know. They might have a game they've played with art they like, but they don't know any individual artists, and certainly don't pour over their construction jpegs and textures.
    Be fastidious in keeping inspiration folders of good UV layouts, wireframes, textures, shaders, etc. Study them. There is so much to learn from existing art.
    Maintain a webpage. The longer you have it, and the more people link to it, the higher your google search results. Google "3d freelance artist" I'm the first result. This comes from the amount of people who link to my page (mostly for tutorials) and the fact I've done some basic SEO stuff for my page.
    Bookmark the job pages, gamasutra, the forums individual jobs pages, anything you can find, check regularly, if you're the first email, it will get more attention than when they are reading post 50. Include your name and the job position in the subject line (character artist: Ben Mathis), and include a small file sized image of your best work in the email.
  • Kwramm
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    Kwramm interpolator
    I'm from Austria and I work as lead technical artist at Virtuos games in Shanghai, which is China's biggest outsourcer for game art with clients like Activision, Sony, EA, etc.

    Early years
    I have to say I've been the nerd kid who drew comics in school and handed out copies to other classmates. In classes I often preferred to draw over taking notes.

    I knew I wanted to do something with computers as soon as my dad brought home a Sinclair ZX 81. I moved on to a VC20 playing early games on cassette tape and painting on my dad's XT on MS Paintbrush. Later on the C64 there was Geos Paint and later DPaint on the Amiga. I really liked the idea of using a computer to do art.

    Game wise I grew up on titles like Pirates, Maniac Mansion, Ultima V, Ghosts'n'Goblins, etc. I've always been more of a RPG / Adventure gamer though.

    At this point the idea of actually making games for a living was not in my head yet. At this time most games were still done in America (far far away) by teams where you could most often count the number of people with two hands.

    I decided to do the next best thing and attend a technical high-school focusing on business management and programming where I learned things like SQL, C, project management (next to regular high school subjects) and more obscure things like accounting and Cobol. They did not offer any drawing or art classes at all though - it was just not considered important for learning how to be a programmer.

    The idea of becoming a full time programmer for business applications after graduation seemed kinda dull. Somehow I found out that you can actually learn how to do 3D and movies. I came across Ringling and the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale. Ringling asked for a portfolio, and having no art training whatsoever (and just so-so English skills) I had no clue what a portfolio was and what they were expecting. After getting lots of cash ready, lots of documents approved and an English test I was on the way to America 6 months later...

    What pushed you towards the game industry?
    Nothing really ;) At high school graduation some people had the fist Voodoo cards and I though "Man does this 3D stuff look shitty!" - and compared to the hand drawn 2D goodness of LucasArts adventures it did. My goal for the next years was film. I still kept playing games like mad though - especially Ultima Online got me hooked, and cost me much time which I should have spent working on my folio.
    I really just ended up in games after my first gig in London ended and I needed a job again. The next company that hired me happened to be a games company.
    Fortunately games ain't the same stuff as in 1998 any more, thanks to tools like ZBrush, better technology and higher budgets :)

    The break-in
    Navigating classes at the Art Institute was a science by itself, but I feel that I managed to pick the best instructors most of the time. I got a pretty good foundation and didn't feel as lost as some of the newly graduated co-workers I ended up with in some companies. Yet I wished they would have had a proper portfolio class.
    In retrospect I have to say my reel was laughable and I couldn't get a job right away. So I moved back in with my parents in Austria, doing all kinds of freelancing jobs - games, web design, logos, visualization. Next to that I was busy getting a proper folio together and sending out tons of applications (including VHS reels!)

    However this took its toll on my family. They weren't happy that I was still at home, having no real job and not earning much money. This was a hard time, especially when my dad had to have major surgery. It took me a lot of convincing telling my parents that I knew what I was doing and that I just have to hang in there now.

    At some point I even applied at the local electronics market as sales clerk. I had a talk with the general manager of the store, who was a really nice guy. At the end he said "You know what you really want, and if I hire you, you will be gone the second you get a job. I cannot hire people like this, but I wish you good luck and hope you get a job soon!".

    A month later I got a call from a studio in London, if I were available for an interview. Sure I am! They couldn't pay any expenses but I had to grasp the chance (thanks Ryanair for offering $5 tickets to London). 2 weeks later I was on the way to London, with just a suitcase full of stuff. I made it! I got in!
    Finding the next jobs was much easier - my first industry job was a real door opener - although until today I'm not much of a networker. It was mostly having the experience on the resume and a folio to show.

    What to take away from my experience?

    Hang in there! Getting into the industry is tough. Don't just look for junior jobs - look for jobs that "you can do!", no matter what the text says. The worst thing that can happen is that you get no reply. The best thing - you get a job!

    College is there to tell you where to look, what to do. But you still have to look yourself and study. You still have to do what they tell you to do yourself. College is not doing the work for you. You'll be doing the studying, you'll be doing the hard work - college just pushes you in the right direction. (and never believe the career services people ;) )

    Don't look for a lot of cash - if your job satisfaction comes from a big paycheck, games may not be the right thing. But there are many other great things which make up for it. You get to work with other creative people in hopefully a stimulating environment. No suits and ties for you. You get to see your name on the big screen. See the box of your game on the store shelf. This is just great. Johnny-paper-pusher don't get to have this in his boring office job.

    But the best thing is, it's a job where you can see the world and expand your horizon! I immensely enjoy this aspect of my work. Living in foreign countries is one of the best things. You get to know different cultures (and hopefully learn something from them), get new friends, try their food, see new things...

    Don't burn out too fast. You worked so hard to make it into games - try to stay in for the long run. Don't get burned out by crunching away like a maniac in the first years of your career. That's a good way to become to hate the games industry. And after investing so much into getting in - is it really worth getting out 2 years later? So keep a healthy work-time / me-time balance.

    Keep learning! Not just software. Learn about different art styles. Learn about cultures, languages, technology. Make sure you have many sources for drawing inspiration and new ideas. Eventually it all flows back into your work and becomes part of it.
  • alexk
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    alexk polycounter lvl 12
    The early years:
    I've always liked video games but my dream was to work in the music industry and I (stubbornly) pursued it for many years. I eventually decided that I wanted to get into music production and engineering. More years were spent and I ended up as an intern, or better known as a "runner", for a local recording studio. During that time, I got a chance to see the day-to-day life of an engineer and I came to the hard conclusion that I didn't want that life.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    I felt angry at the years I lost pursuing what I thought was my dream career. I sat down one night and wrote on a peice of paper some of the things I wanted out of a career and the best match happened to be a game industry job. My brother has been working in the game industry already, so, on a whim, I asked him to teach me how to make stuff for games. I used google and online tutorials to continue to teach myself, and after about three months of trying it out, I started to really enjoy it. So, I took a leap and committed the next 2 years to teach my self game art and get myself up to being employable.

    The break-in:

    Like everyone else, I sent out applications to several studios once I felt I was ready. My first attempt yielded no replies. About two months later, I sent out more but I also started to randomly add lead enviroment artists and HR of the studios I applied to in my LinkedIn. The next day, I was very surprised that one of the lead environment artists I added, actually emailed me saying that he saw my portfolio and was going to ask HR to get me an interview. Next thing I know, I'm booked for an interview at Next Level Games and accepted my first job in the industry!

    What to take away from my experience?

    Sometimes, life throws you curves, you just gotta keep swinging. I'm 32 years old right now and I'm in my 2nd year in the industry. That's freaking old to be a junior artist! But who cares, if you like it and you think it's a career you want, then go for it. Getting that first job is a combination of having a solid portfolio and perseverance. I knew that once I got myself to an employable level with my art, it was just a matter of time before I got hired as long as I kept applying and updating my folio as needed.
  • chrisradsby
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    chrisradsby polycounter lvl 13
    The early years:
    I never really developed my artistic talent as a youngster, I have a twin brother who early on started designing webpages and getting into graphic design, I however spent my younger days playing video-games. Becoming a video-game developer was a far-off dream, the industry was never really big in Sweden. We had some companies, most of them not famous enough to even be known to gamers. DICE being the biggest one with Codename Eagle and Battlefield.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?
    After I finished my University education, 3 years of Interactiondesign I found myself jobless. There were no Interactiondesign jobs for people without real professional experience. We had some basic 3d-modelling courses during my education and I nailed all of them. I decided then Summer of 2009 to learn everything I could about creating 3d-models for video-games. It was just one of them moments where you go all in and bet it all.

    I knew that it wasn't going to be easy, but I was ready and had the discipline to be able to make my dream happen. I always wanted to be a game-developer, I just didn't know how to become one, so I set out on a journey to find that out.

    The break-in:
    I started out just googling "3d for games" and found my way to Andy Gahans 3d-for-games forum. Where I first started to post all my progress, I had some really basic stuff but I attacked new projects like a beast. I planned exactly what I needed to "know" and get skilled at to get to a near professional level. I spent around 8 hours a day , every day. I was unemployed at that time, living off the money I had saved up. After a while I got a part-time job as a 3d-Studio Max teacher for 18 year olds in High School.

    I kept working on my skills, networking and making friends. Looking back at it my portfolio was really inconsistent, looking for jobs with such different quality between the projects made the whole thing look really bad. However Andy Gahan, the admin of the forum noticed my quick growth and decided to help me get in, he provided an artest from Evolution Studios (Sony)

    I continued working hard, growing and one summer day in 2010. Andy called me up personally saying that I got a job. 2 weeks after that I packed up my things and left Sweden to help develop Motorstorm Apocalypse. I'm in eternal debt to this man, helping me get into the industry. It's a weird combination of Skill, Talent, Networking and Luck. Being the right guy at the right place, at the right time.

    What would've happen if I never found his forum? It's an interesting thought.

    What to take away from my experience?
    It's never to late to change course and going for your dream. Sure I was 22-23 when I got in, but to me that felt like I almost lost my chance. People tend to think (even me) that it's too late but it never really is. I have friends that have broken in their 30s closing into their 40s.

    It's very important to have discipline, if you want to get good at something, anything. You have to spend time developing that skill. It won't come by itself, sure some people might have a better natural understanding of things but that will not be anything without hard work. Plan what you need to learn and get those skills to a near-pro level, things will be set in motion by itself.

    • Never be afraid to move country, to experience new things. In most cases it'll be for the better, it's a harsh industry where everyone needs to be at their best to stand a chance. Then better your chances by broadening your search to other countries.
    • Respect everyone, you're an artist, you're a brand. Be nice and respectful on the Internet, treat others the same way you want to be treated. Respect and be nice to people you're working with, everybody is a part of the game development, don't look down on anyone. It won't help you even the slightest, you'll find that most people are nice and have their story to tell, you might learn something good and interesting.
    • Give comments and crits to people and most of all learn to take them yourself. Once you're in, spend some time getting to know your fellow game-devs.
    • Keep working on your skills, if you're not working directly on a project, work on something that might help you grow indirectly. Start photography, digital painting, read books about art and surround yourself in a creative and inspirational environment.
    • Don't rush it, the most awesome artist usually have lots of experience on their backs. I know we want to get better quickly, but don't sacrifice other parts of your life that's important to you.
    • Finally, start networking, twitter, facebook, linkedin, 3d-forums. Spend a lot of time getting to know people, show them your work. Show them you're willing to improve, the rest will sort themselves out. There are always pros willing to help people get in.

    /Christoffer "Chris" Radsby
  • d1ver
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    d1ver polycounter lvl 14
    I feel that my story might a bit different, because I found that getting in wasn't the hardest part, but rather the most time consuming and misguided

    The early years:

    Oh man, I've been exposed to video games since I was around 3, I think, when my brother found the chinese ripoff of SNES under the sofa 2 weeks prior to new years holidays.) Battle tanks, Mario, Duck Hunt were real fun and we'd spend a lot of time playing but I didn't loose my mind completely until our parents got home and IBM 386. Mortal Kombat just blew me away. I should've grown pretty deranged since I was a fan of an extremely violent game responsible for creation of ESRB, since I was around 4:) I even had my parents make me a crappy Scorpion costume for Halloween.) Also Wolfenstein, Doom I and II(I still remember cheat codes by heart), Day of the Tentacle, Gabriel Knight and Police Quest - I didn't know english at all so those were just interactive moving pictures that still captivated my imagination.
    I've been following games since then.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    Firstly I had a friend at around 6th grade who came to school and shown us a picture of Luxan the dragon(from 3ds Max 5 image set)
    He said he created the picture, which was just a bunch of bs, but I didn't know it at that time and I was really hooked, so I asked how did he do it and he said in 3ds Max. So I got digging into it, buying books and reading some internets, slowly and painfully going through years of trial and error.

    Secondly, a russian game magazine published a couple of small articles on altering textures in GTA:VC and some other minor modding. So I started painting skins in paint and was really amazed at how can people paint them so good since MS Paints' toolset was extremely limited. But still, looking under the hood of a real amazing game got me really excited and slowly convinced me that that's what I want to do in life.

    So I picked up programming, 3d modeling and music, thinking that if I was to make a game I'd have to do it on my own, since I had no friends interested in it. I wanted to switch my general high school for the one with art classes for my last school year, which was a real challenge. All other kids have been studying art for 10 years and I didn't even known which side of a pencil is supposed to draw. So I spent the whole summer sitting in their studio painting and drawing everything they had and eventually they agreed to accept me. Though it turned out the school was actually crap:) but It was a great lesson in self discipline and commitment.

    The break-in:

    I was doing my first year at the belarussian State University studying international affairs and economy(since I figured art education was pretty crap and was taking me in the wrong direction). Through the whole year I was struggling with my 3d at night and studies at day. Closer to the end I got really sick of it and I was confident that nothing but professional CG would be a waste of time from now on. So I got down to making a portfolio during my last exam session(instead of studying:))

    1st Portfolio was done but there was only a handful of CG companies in belarus to send it out to. 3 to be precise. Obviously I've got no reply. So I worked more.

    2nd Portfolio was done in in another month and a half I think. I send it out to the best company around and after a week of torturous waiting got a mail saying that I was pretty impressive for my age, but still not good enough. So I dropped the idea of on-site employment and tried to meddle with freelance. I got a few gigs during the course of the summer and every single time I got ripped off and not payed in the end.
    So I tried my luck with another local company. They gave me an art test which they said I would be "lucky to complete" in 2 weeks. I killed myself to finish in 1. And after I brought it in for review to the art director he started pinpointing at some really weird mistakes that either were just plain illogical or a result of poor specs I was given. You can still find my thread here on polycount asking "wtf is "monomesh"?". I was given an opportunity to redo the test, but I just chose to move on, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I've made. In a couple of days I found that this "best" local company was looking for artists again.

    3d Portfolio:so I gathered all the freelance things I did, the new art test, and wrote a really weird\hilarious letter explaining why they cannot not hire me. They also gave me an art test. After I handed it over they said that the HR was going on vacation so I won't hear about the results for weeks. Meanwhile I was proposed another test which I gladly completed too.
    The shitty thing about that situation was that the school year was begging and I had to make a decision whether to dropout of the university. Which I did. And It was pretty scary. Like taking a step into the air and hoping that the ground would slide under my feet before I fall.

    But weeks past the HR returned I was asked to come for an interview. And in a couple of days they called me and said I've got the job. I found my letter on the inner forums with the whole company having a pretty good laugh about it.
    I was 18 back then.

    What to take away from my experience?

    - Be focused in your studies. Choose a particular position at a particular studio for a goal, even though you'll probably wind up someplace else at first. This will help you concentrate on a particular skill and become employable much faster. I literally spent years being all over the place learning all the stuff that was not vital to getting a job.

    - Have your own opinion and judgment. Dropping a shady opportunity will lead you to a better one, then begging you career with bad artists. Months after I got the job I was reviewing and art test by the outsource studio I made the previous art test for - and It wasn't good at all.

    - Getting in is only the beginning. It's not a golden key to all doors or initiation into the inner circle. If you don't have big AAA studios around then It's practically the same thing as being with a bunch of enthusiasts but just a level higher. If you want to move on and grow - you'll have unimaginably more learning and hard work ahead of you, then you've done trying to get in. Don't lose your grip.
  • Bigjohn
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    Bigjohn polycounter lvl 11
    My story is really mundane. But maybe someone else could relate.

    The early years:

    Was always kinda into art and drawing, but really as an amateurish thing. Went into programming and did that for a long time, and hated the shit out of it. Finally I met this person who was a life-drawing teacher, she invited me to come to her class. I did some life-drawing, and at first didn't like it much. Then she went over my shoulder and gave me some anatomy advice. It clicked. I never thought of drawing humans by analyzing anatomy, and fell in love with the whole thing.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    I was pretty much exclusively an MMO player, and some fantasy games. I loved the subject matter so much, and could see myself making characters for that. If it wasn't for the subject matter (Orcs and Barbarians with big axes and such), I would have kept it as a hobby at best.

    The break-in:

    Most boring part of this story.

    Made the decision to be a character artist in games. Combine how much I loved analyzing figures and anatomy, with the awesome subject matter in games.

    Had a bunch of shitty regular jobs, and worked on my portfolio in any spare minute I had. Posting stuff on GA.org and Polycount. Mostly shitty work, but every piece better than anything I did before. Kept adding something to my portfolio, and for each piece added removed an old one from it, slowly making the whole thing better.

    With each change I sent out a few resumes, and heard nothing back. Repeated that for a little over 3 years straight, and finally got picked up for a job about a year and a half ago. Haven't updated my portfolio since.

    What to take away from my experience?

    Perseverance. Just do it over and over. It's what you love doing, right? So why do anything else?

    Even if it takes you a long time, who cares? Took me over 3 years just to get hireable. Who knows how many more years to get actually good.
  • adam
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    adam polycounter lvl 18

    Saving this spot to drop a youtube link in later of my talk for IGDA. I'm going to cover my 'how I got in' story during it.

    EDIT: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/18026601
  • Geezus
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    Geezus mod
    The early years:

    I grew up with my mother only. We were, and still are, close. My mother graduated from Nursing school when I was around 7 years old. For her graduation present, her father gave her $100. She used that money to purchase a NES. My mother and I probably played every co-op game on the NES together. If I was asked to pinpoint one singular time in my life where I knew that I wanted to create interactive experiences for others, it was this time.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    Being the avid young gamer that I was, and knowing that I wanted to make video games, I started learning QBasic very early on. I ended up moving towards VBasic in my teens, and eventually went to college for Computer Science. I quickly learned that being told what to program was absolute horror. I spent more time partying than I did in class, and eventually flunked out.

    Seeing no other avenue at the time, I decided to just get into Nursing. My mother was a Nurse, I grew up around hospitals and the such, so it seemed like something I could do. I decided to enter Nursing School at a local community college. I did fairly well in the program, but absolutely hated dealing with sick people. I thought that if someone were to be in this profession, they needed to have it in their heart, not just do it for a paycheck. So, I eventually dropped out of the program.

    I was undeclared for awhile, then dabbled in Computer Network Engineering. Eventually, I just said "screw it, college is not for me." Skip ahead a few years, I'm living with 5 other people in a 2 bedroom apartment, working two jobs. Life wasn't great, but I had good friends, and I was content. One evening I started playing Ratchet and Clank. I couldn't put it down. I finished the game in, seemingly, no time. Once I finished the game, I unlocked the "making of" videos. I saw the joy and happiness that these developers had while making the game, and it spawned so much emotion that I knew what I had to do.

    I knew programming wasn't for me, so what other avenues did I have? Art. I hadn't drawn so much as a stick figure ever since I could remember, but screw it... "that's what Art School is for, right!?" I researched many schools and eventually decided on The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I needed a portfolio to be accepted into the program. So, I quit one of my jobs, got transferred down state, and moved back in with my mother. For the next year, I saved up money to live off of while in school, purchased every drawing book I could find, and worked on my portfolio. I applied to the program, and was accepted. A few months later, I moved to Pittsburgh to start college... again.

    The break-in:

    During my 4 years at AiP, I busted my ass in and out of school. I spent a lot of time on personal projects, game developer forums (primarily Polycount), and soaked up every life drawing class I could. I would head to the school as soon as it opened, and wouldn't leave until the last trolly to the dorms left, with or without class. I ended up tutoring and doing Teacher's Assistant work in my later years at the school.

    Shortly before I graduated, I started applying to any studio that had an environment artist opening, since that was my strongest skillset. I knew I wasn't going to land my "dream gig" straight out of school.

    As luck would have it, I received my first, and only, art test from Red Storm Entertainment. I poured myself into the art test, and landed a phone interview. After that, on-site interview. A few weeks later, bam... my first job!

    I was laid off several years later, which was probably one of the hardest times in my life.

    The light at the end of the tunnel was seeing an opening at Bethesda. I applied for a contract position, hoping that if I busted my ass enough I could land full time. I landed the contract position, and 9 months later, I was offered full time. Aside from the absolutely horrible traffic/drivers, I love it here. :)

    What to take away from my experience?

    If you have a dream, follow it.
    Take risks. Life is far too short to be careful 24/7.
    Cut the negativity out of your life.
    Don't half-ass anything. Nothing is handed to you.
    Bust your ass, it will pay off.
    Realize that you do not have to sacrifice your life for your dream, but you do need to make realistic compromises.
    Take advice from others, but realize it is just advice. You know what's best for you.
    Love what you do.
    ...try to do all of this while not taking on too much debt.

    At the end of the day, we're not changing the world. We're not superheros or saints. We're not saving lives. However, we are developing interactive experiences that can change a life. It did for me.
  • Swizzle
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    Swizzle polycounter lvl 15
    The early years:

    I've loved creating art for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory is of drawing and being disappointed with my level of skill at the time.

    Fast forward 14 years.

    My then-18-year-old self started to realize that I could never feed myself working as a fine artist. I don't have the patience to deal with gallery art people because they're all batshit fucking insane and love stupid shit that takes no skill. This was when I realized that the 3D stuff I'd been messing around with for the past few years could be useful some day.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    I've always liked playing video games and I've always enjoyed watching movies with crazy special effects. That said, the early inspirations that people often cite for pushing them towards the CG/VFX/Game art industries interested me in other ways.

    Jurassic Park, for all its amazing special effects, really only interested me when I was a kid because it had FUCKING DINOSAURS GODDAMN.

    Toy Story, even though it was the first feature-length CG film, only really interested me as a kid because IT LOOKS SO FUCKING COOL GODDAMN.

    The thing that pushed me towards the game industry, really, was a series of posts by Adam Saltsman way back in 2006 in the CGTalk game art section. Back then he was doing super-low-poly models with extremely limited texture palettes. The simplicity and efficiency of them piqued my interest enough that I started doing similar work (at least in terms of polygon and texture budget).

    All those early models were uniformly terrible, but that early stuff also taught me important lessons about polycounts, low-poly topology, UV layouts and texturing that I now use daily at work. They also taught me the importance of being able to work at true res when texturing.

    The break-in:

    My break into the industry was just the latest step of many over the past three-ish years that have come together to change my life. To get some perspective, it'd help to go back over some of those.

    In 2008, my grandfather died. This, in itself, wasn't really that much of a life-changing event for me. I'd never been close to him and he acted like an ass for a large portion of his life. He was pretty well off, I came to learn, and I inherited a few thousand dollars from him. Had things gone as planned, it would've been enough for me to go traipsing around Europe and looking at all the art museums I'd like.

    I never did end up taking that trip, though, because shortly thereafter I was booted out of my current living situation because of an argument. This resulted in me living for a couple of months with some people I’d met on the internet. They lived near Portland, Oregon, and I got to experience one of the worst winters they’d had in a long time. For all the bad things such as snow, less-than-ideal living conditions and the weirdness of living with people from the internet, it allowed me to do months of soul-searching between sessions of noodling around with the Source engine.

    In the time I was in Oregon, I realized that I was in a bad situation and no one could help me out of it. My father has worked at a grocery store for the past 23 years and is drinking himself to death because he can’t do what he loves — making wine instead of simply buying it and drinking it. My mother is a stay-at-home mom who killed her passion for art by having six children with a man she didn’t love and suppressing her creative instincts and talents — those instincts and talents being significant and very well developed earlier in her life. My siblings are only just becoming able to talk about their childhoods with each other, let alone effectively communicate with our parents. My aunts, uncles and cousins are mostly religious fanatics with little regard for reality or they’re estranged from their families and the extended family as a whole. I had very few friends, and all of those were more acquaintances than actual friends I could trust. On top of having no safety net in the form of friends or family, I had very little in the way of marketable skills; I’d always done badly in math classes, I didn’t enjoy writing (even though it turned out I was actually pretty good at it at some point), my public speaking skills were nonexistent, I was socially awkward and emotionally stunted from living a fairly sheltered life, and I was (and continue to be) prone to depression and brutal, crippling, physically painful social anxiety. I was in a heap of trouble.

    So I decided to go to Europe. Again. Even though I had no money left.

    In late 2009, after returning to California and staying with my parents, I found out about a study abroad program through my local college. It would take about 30 students who were attending the college on a three month trip to Florence, Italy in February of 2010. I was able to manage getting into it by borrowing money from my dad. During that trip, I took a jaunt down to Sorrento with some classmates. On the way there, riding along the coast in a huge bus, I looked out the window across the bay of Naples. I saw Mt. Vesuvius. That was the instant my life stopped sucking. I realized how big the world was, how much I still had the opportunity to see, and how I had the power to change my life for the better without outside help (aside from maybe some financial assistance, as was the case for this trip).

    During that same time I was in Italy, I found that one of the items I’d submitted to Valve as part of their push for community content had been accepted and put in the game. This, along with my renewed outlook on myself and my life, made me spend more time on Polycount and more time improving my craft. In the months subsequent to returning to the US, I poured hundreds of hours into building up my skills as a 3D artist. I’d realized that the only way out of what was still a bad situation was to push myself out of it, and the best way to push myself out of it was to build a portfolio and leave the remains of my old life behind.

    The next several months were pretty quiet until, in February of 2011, I received a direct deposit into my bank account from Valve for the Polycount contest items I’d made. The return on the hours I’d worked on those models and textures was astronomical. Shortly thereafter, I applied to and was hired at a local game studio. However, it was the opportunity offered by the Polycount contest that allowed me to build a new, non-shitty computer, lease and fully furnish an apartment, buy a car, and finally pursue a new life that’s not confined by the walls of my dysfunctional family and their lack of passion for life.

    What to take away from my experience?
    • I’ve had a very unique experience, but the positive things that have happened to me over the past few years have been because I either worked extremely hard, or because I went outside what was comfortable for me. Chance factored into none of the good things that have happened to me.
    • It’s important to be able to take a realistic look at your life and point to the things you need to work on and improve.
    • Never underestimate the importance of your life away from the computer; travel and friends are two things that have massively changed my life for the better even though they didn’t directly impact my computer graphics or art skills.
  • oobersli
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    oobersli polycounter lvl 16
    The Early Years

    During my last two years of HS I had planned to go to college for art. During that time I went homeless living in mid america with no homeless shelters or "help". Had to put college on hold, got a full time job cooking/managing a restaurant, finished high school and played around with 3d modeling. When i turned 21 I finally managed to get into school at AI in santa monica. Living on crap pay in an industry you hate is a great motivator to change your life.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    My family owned a distribution business that put/sold arcade games/pool tables/pinballs in bars and other places. Growing up I had unlimited access to all the classics and most great arcade games during the 90's. While everyone else was getting busy with mario I would be cranking hours on my personal cocktail table pacman. The shear amount of playtime made me always think of HOW they made the games and became interested in that. Wanting to make video games and not follow the family business/values is what attributed to my personal life hardship.

    When I finally got into art school *waste of money Art institute* I was contemplating of going into film, but after seeing how many friends would shift from job to job and never have a secure gig for more than a year, I made a goal of getting into the game industry.

    The Break-in

    It was tough. I applied with a bunch of people to get into EA los angeles. It felt biased towards how much instructors would promote you and I'm not an overly talkative or person to pimp my work so I lost out on that. Good thing since my best friend was layed off 2 months later in the seasonal layoffs ;).

    Applied to a few other places in the LA area and got shot down by a bunch of places that I had to suck up my pride and just try. Getting rejected by a crap studio breaks the ego a bit. Eventually I got lucky and got a job with a school/company colaboration project and worked on Vigilante 8 arcade. it sucked. Living on 200 bucks a month, going to school and taking a bus to downtown santa monica to work in a small office right next to the lead programmer and company owner was a weird experience. I was tired of LA and felt like I'd always be broke living there, so I saw a place in texas was hiring.

    Applied, got an art test, didnt' sleep for a couple days. Got a phone call interview, was sick with a crappy phone connection and tried to act like I knew what I was doing. A month later I was getting payed more money than I ever made before. First paycheck I probably went out and ate more than I had in 6 months and knew I'd never go hungry again. :)

    In a couple months at my job there I learned more than I did from all my years in school. In fact I left college early to work there since I felt that waiting to get my degree would leave me in a situation where I might have to wait longer to get a job. I was lucky enough to work alongside some great artist and has helped me become the artist I am today.

    What to take away from my experience?

    - Everyone is unique and has their own issues. No matter how hard things are or how bad they seem, you have to think someone else has it worse within 100 miles of you. So suck it up and just do whats needed to make it better.

    - Being successful is... a..lot of work. There is no easy street, or shortcut. if you're lazy or not committed from the start, think again about what you want before you waste a lot of time.

    - Consider the golden rule! Do onto others what you would like done to you. I always try to help people because I know I would enjoy a helping hand from time to time. it makes you a better person, happier, respected and if an Alien overlord, god or reality tv show is watching everything you do, it just looks good on your part.
  • Elyaradine
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    Elyaradine polycounter lvl 11
    Kind of a lengthy, boring biography, but I figure there's someone somewhere who's going through the same thing, and can get something out of it. :)

    What pushed you towards the game industry?
    Firstly, What I love most about games and, to a lesser extent, CG film, is how there's this beautiful melding of art and science. I've frequently looked back at artists in the Renaissance: people who're both artists and scientists simultaneously, able to invent, and be creative, and study how the world works, interpret it, and recreate it. And it's something that's kind of gotten lost these days, where artists and scientists are very much NOT the same thing. Except in game art, where a programmer who knows art, or an artist who understands game rendering and the tech, are each much more powerful and, I argue, more complete.

    Secondly, I honestly think that games are the most powerful art medium. Games can absorb all other mediums into them and turn them into games. I don't believe there's any other medium out there that has the *potential* to engage people as powerfully on every level as games.

    The early years
    I drew a lot as a kid, often drawing in school while keeping an ear out to what was happening. I also loved maths, and reading books, and playing music... and avoiding sport. Spent most of my childhood planning to get into games, somehow; the indie kind, where all of these different possible skills can come in handy.

    Then, during my final year in high school, I somehow got sidetracked. Dumbass adults (teachers, friends of my parents, etc.) would all say stuff like, "But you have such TALENT! It'd be such a WASTE for you not to be DOING SOMETHING with it! And by SOMETHING, I mean become a DOCTOR, LAWYER, ACTUARY!" And, somehow, I bought into it. I actually remember sitting in the university registration room, trying to figure out whether to take computer or actuarial science. I picked actuarial, but chose applied maths instead of accounting, just in case I wanted a way out.

    Good thing too, because I hated it. I could do it, sure, but it just wasn't satisfying. Finished the bachelors in applied maths half-heartedly, with marks far less than the stellar ones I was used to throughout school. I looked at some of my friends who'd studied similar stuff. Some of them honestly weren't all that bright, but were hard workers... and they were miles and miles ahead of me. We may have had the same degree, but they just knew so much more, at every level. Being smart isn't enough. There's no way someone who's merely smart can compete with someone with drive and a solid work ethic.

    Leaving the maths behind, I decided hey, if I was spending all of my maths time painting instead of doing maths, maybe that's what I should study. And this time, I'll work at it, and see where that gets me. I applied to art school, got a scholarship, and worked pretty damn hard. I also started lurking game art forums more, and jizzed all over the polycount wiki. Got the top aggregate at art school for each of my two years there... but I just wasn't learning enough. The lecturers didn't really know what we needed to know, and sometimes what was taught was in direct contradiction with the stuff I was reading online written by pros that I respected.

    So I dropped out with a 2-year diploma, deciding industry experience is more important. During my maths studies, I'd started a small art forum to try and learn art with a bunch of other like-minded people -- people who wanted to do art, but were trapped in other stuff for whatever reason. On there, I met a bunch of other people, one of whom had applied to a local game company and gotten in. He told me all about it, showed me some of the games they'd made (smaller, mobile games, but with lots of polish). I figured that working there, even for free, would teach me way more than what the schools were.

    The break-in
    I applied to Luma Arcade, and started my unpaid internship. I decided I'd do it for 3 months (the November-January holidays), and see how it goes. If things worked out, I wouldn't register for my final year of the art degree. I learnt more in 2 weeks in the internship than I did in a year of 3D training in college. I went from taking 3 days to make one art prop (because of how they kept making me redo it), to making a few of them a day. But it didn't look as if I'd get a job, because there was someone else there who knew more than I did who was struggling to get paid there too, and eventually gave up and left to work in simulations.

    I let slip that I may be able to program a bit... and started being given programming tasks to do. In my 3-month art internship, over a month and a half of it was spent programming. I learnt to write basic shaders, and to script in C#, and to use Unity. At the end of the internship, I was offered a short contract position to work on a Flash game, writing AS3. And finally, after a month of that, I was offered a full time job as a game artist.

    The whole time I was interning, I'd be working in the evenings, whether it was researching stuff that I needed to do the next day at work, or doing courses online (there are some really great courses that aren't expensive at all), and just spending my free time learning. Now, I mostly do art, but I also write Unity tools, and lately have started writing some standalone ones in python and C#. I get asked for advice by the programmers about how best to tackle things the artists will use, and by the artists about tech stuff. I'm sure it'd have been way more difficult to get the job without the programming knowledge, as basic as it was.

    What to take away from my experience
    • If you don't work hard, you won't get anywhere. It doesn't matter how smart you are.
    • Networking is good. In fact, socialising is good, because in pretty much all jobs you'll have to be able to communicate well and handle office politics.
    • It can take years to get your foot in the door to do something you really, really love (say, character art). It may be much faster to get in by doing something that is more useful to a particular studio (technical art, or programming), and earn a salary while working on games and being around people who do the stuff you really want to, so that you can learn more. As long as your bosses know what your goals are, they may be more inclined to let you be involved more in that direction.
    • It's okay to ask for money from your employer to fund learning opportunities. I still pay for some of my learning, but the company pays me regular bonuses to subsidise my studies on the side. Other employees don't get these opportunities because they didn't ask.
    • Have a life outside of games. Take time to spend with your family, friends, girlfriend, etc. It's easy to get lost in game art, and let your passion drive you into working ridiculous hours and stuff, but burning out happens eventually. Also, you find a lot of art inspiration in the strangest places...
  • Yozora
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    Yozora polycounter lvl 11
    The early years:

    I grew up playing computer games, my first console was the NES. I've always loved to play games, and when I was at school I enjoyed doing art too.
    But I never aspired to work in the games industry and I also never aspired to become a artist of any kind.
    I used to like building gundam models and thought I either wanted to make that into my career, or end up making actual real gundams :p

    When I got into my teens and first started to get into PC gaming online, I wanted to become a professional gamer because I was winning some money from tournaments. Didn't quite make it though and ended up quitting.

    Like most students, I was led to believe that I had to take a certain path of education to get a "decent" job. So after my GCSE's, I went college, and after college I planned to go uni.
    Due to some family business, I had to take a gap year in between college and uni.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    I had to pick a course to study at uni, and I couldn't think of anything in particular. All I really felt like doing was playing games all day.
    One of the few friends I made at college had told me about a computer games design course that he chose to do.
    It kind of made sense to me, I like games, why not study how they are made?

    So I enrolled and got into Staffordshire University. The course introduced me to a lot of things, 3D modelling, texturing, rendering, rigging, animation, particles, level editors and a bunch of other stuff.

    All of this stuff can be found out online, but I was clueless and lazy. I really did need to go to uni to discover these paths.
    The first 2 years of the course we were just doing regular "3d art", the limitations and requirements for making art to be used in game engines were barely hinted to us.

    I still had NO idea on what I wanted to do at this point. 3D modelling and animation was fun, but I just didn't see it as a career.

    On the final year of my course, there was a hand held games module that really introduced me to game art, and more importantly, to Polycount.

    That module and the link to Polycount was really the point where I had finally discovered an actual career goal to seriously pursue in my life. It was a great moment :)

    I do not regret choosing to study a games design course. I discovered my career goal by choosing this path and I also met some important friends there.
    But if you are already on Polycount then you already have a decent idea on what your career goal is so I'd never recommend people to study a games design course on Polycount, not for the purposes of getting a job as a game artist anyway.
    If you were to do it, then do it for the social and networking reasons and make sure you choose a uni that will provide for those things :)

    The break-in:

    It took me a year after graduation to finally find a paying job.

    I started off applying to my favourite companies in the UK, followed by "decent" looking companies and then ultimately followed by just applying to every single games company I could find in the country.

    After the first month of searching and barely getting any replies, I started looking into joining indie teams/mod groups because that's what a few people on Polycount suggested to do.
    Ended up joining a few failed mods and stuff until I found a successful HL mod team that made Zombie Panic: Source.

    Learnt quite a bit there about working remotely and felt inspired/motivated to do creative stuff. I found that joining a decent team really is helpful for that kind of motivational boost.

    Later on I joined a very ambitious indie team called Sandswept Studios. It wasn't a paid job and the "idea guy" was exactly like the highly ambitious idea guys you always hear about on forums like Polycount.
    Except... he was actually decent and our project did finally get completed (even if it took 2 years to start selling copies of the game :)). I recently received a cheque for the work I did for them, so that was cool.

    Before the completion of that game, I ended up finding a job posting on gamedev.net about joining a team called Interwave Studios, who was apparently transitioning into a actual game studio.
    They had these grand goals of putting everyone on a salary and stuff and to be honest at the time it did sound like another overly ambitious team, but I had nothing else more important to do so that didn't stop me from joining anyway :p

    My first 3 months there I was just making props and stuff like I was for Zombie Panic. But then things started to happen, and they really did end up handing out contracts to the team!
    I worked with them remotely for 18 months on a salary. It was my first ever paying job in the games industry, but it didn't FEEL like I "broke" in just yet, because I wasn't working in a actual studio.

    Anyway, a few months after my contract ended with them I ended up joining a mobile games company in London; Ideaworks Games Studio. I got the job via a recruiter from http://semag.co.uk/.
    That was my first in-house job :)

    What to take away from my experience?
    • Mod teams and indie groups ARE a "way in" and also provide great motivation. I don't think I could have stayed motivated without finding these teams. My experience with them directly led me to my first paid job.
    • It's never too late to aspire to become a game artist, it's not something you had to dream about doing all your life.
    • It's not easy. If you're never inspired or motivated to keep going, then ask yourself if this really is something you want. If it really is then it'll work out. Hard work and perseverance is all you need.
  • imyj
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    imyj polycounter lvl 8
    The early years:

    As with everyone else I grew up playing games. I got into games really early on and despite not having reached my mid 20's yet; my first gaming experience was on the Amiga, it was on the Amiga that I started using Deluxe Paint and began making really basic art in it. I always had fun making art so it was always something I wanted to pursue but I never really thought it would make me any money. I got really hooked on FPS games such as Delta Force 1 and Counter-Strike and I played those for years whilst making 'signatures' and stuff on gaming forums.

    My initial interest was in programming, web-design and graphic design and I worked freelance since I was in my teens. I took a year out after school to figure out if I wanted to be a programmer or an artist, or even an architect. I chose to go to university and I studied 'Computer Arts' for 4 years.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    It was an easy decision for me - I love art and I love games. I wasn't prepared to work in an industry or a job which I wasn't passionate about. My portfolio was pretty varied and I could have made the decision to become a standard web-designer or something but after I took part in Dare to be Digital (student games competition) I realised how much I loved making art as well as how natural it felt.

    The break-in:

    I think because I've been working towards my career since I was in my early teens, the break-in was pretty straightforward. After I graduated I had a huge list of experience (such as working with BBC for a year) and also some achievements on my CV (The game I worked on won the Dare to be Digital competition which received 2 BAFTA nominations). On top of all of that, I kept a pretty extensive portfolio online and I received a lots of interest from the big studios in the UK as well as companies outside of games. After university I took the opportunity to check out some of the studios when they offered me interviews and it was really insightful. I settled on Crytek working as a 2D Artist; and the experience as well as being generally proactive had helped me bypass any Junior role. Since working there I have contributed to Crysis 1 on the consoles and Crysis 2. After a bunch of hard work and commitment, I was promoted to Lead 2D Artist where I worked on Crysis 3 and Homefront: The Revolution.

    Two and a half years into my games industry career I moved over 3000 miles from home, accepting a position at Ubisoft Montreal as Graphic Design Director, becoming their youngest director, aged 25.

    What to take away from my experience?

    I actually wrote up a response recently to this question for artists looking to get into the industry from my experience so far, (I'm still learning myself):

  • cholden
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    cholden polycounter lvl 13
    The early years:
    This always makes me feel like an asshole because I'm an idiot, in Elementary school myself and several classmates were pulled aside in the morning to interact what they called the"gifted program" which had all the top students and me. I throw myself under the bus here because a lot these kids were top level students, and I didn't really do so well with grades. So it felt strange, but I rolled with it because FUCK 1st period. You know what I'm saying? Every few weeks, we'd change to some different crazy activity instead of going to school with the rest of the kids, such as playing chess, working with computers, etc. During that time I did my best to recreate the Mario Bros. experience since the NES has just been released. These computers didn't have the graphical power, but I did get the bug for making games.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?
    I'm in high school, and I gain a great friend that's into computers and PC gaming. After being introduced to Wolfenstein3d, one of the most changing experiences of my life happens in the release of DOOM. With it's heavy community base, tools, and the early internet in the form of the dial up BBS allowing for map sharing, DOOM was at the right time for me and changed the game. I began building levels, sprites, and game play mods immediately. It wasn't long before I had an entire episode of levels with new monsters, weapons, and so on. This was all lost on an old family computer.

    I was blessed after graduation from high school with enough money to buy my own PC. Again, the computer pal mentioned earlier was there to point out the right computer to run what had just dropped on the world; Quake Test. This was the step into 3d modeling and the same time the internet came to be. I got started making skins for Quake clans as well as creating mods. At my best in those days I had a Quake Skin and a Total Conversion site on Planetquake.

    The break-in:
    In 1997, I received a contract to work on a Quake II add-on and one of the mods I worked on was to be included in Extremities, both in store PC games. It felt great.

    From there, a game journalist covering a company knew they needed an artist, and hit me up based on all the preceding work. It was a surreal experience as I was brought in as "the professional" from what as basically a couple mods. However, it proved apt as many of them were emotionally unprepared for critical discussion. Aside from the turmoil, I stuck with the project through a few E3's, met some great people and the project's release with a valuable credit.

    Industry Experiences (I just happened to write all this so I included it)
    From there I've moved forward to fulfill a dream with a fellow animator to work on a PS2 game. We got more than that with a Game Cube and Xbox release of Goblin Commander. Networking is another word for friendship. That same animator, Chad Gleason (now runs his own studio), introduced the concept of an education game. Using Serious Sam engine, we made a demo that was actually pretty sweet. Huge level, 3rd person, robo-girl character, germ monsters and good times. I forgot about this for a while. Months later, after layoffs, I get the call asking how much I want to design this game and hire my friends. The next two years of my life I lived the dream.

    With goals of an artistic leap after that project I went to Mythic to work on Warhammer. Networking certainly helped get my name in the basket there with a big thanks to polycount. For a while there, Mythic was the place for Polycounters and kids from full sail. One of the best work experiences of my life because I got to work with so many good people. A while after ship, the layoffs came, and luckily I was in the early droves of throwing darts at the board to pick. It was a sad and scary day for a lot people. It came as a big surprised how cool, even relieved I was.

    One of my friends that was laid-off didn't understand. This was his first job making games, and was worried for his future. I explained this was a process, reminded him how good he was, and helped him rebuild his portfolio. Naturally, before this I regularly reminded people that we did ship the game, and they should have their portfolios updated in case of layoffs. That evening, all I had to do was update a line in my resume and drag out all the games I had time to catch up on.

    I always save my money, and severance from a layoff isn't always so bad either. I took a well deserved sabbatical. Traveled, made a lot of personal art, played a ton of games, and finally, was very picky with a long job hunt process. Rarely we are granted the commodity of time and choice so I took well advantage of it and dodged a few bullets.

    Back at Mythic one of my buddies applied, and earned an offer that he turned down. Fast-forward a few years, and he wants me to come be his lead artist over at Illfonic. I turned him down a few times, but ended up taking it after my break because Colorado is amazing. So far, it's been great. I get to work in the top level technology and travel the world for shows and training. So I started talking about it.

    What to take away from my experience?

    - Do what you love
    if someone wants to pay you for that, you win!

    - Always Push Technology
    irrelevance comes quickly.

    - We are one
    Yea that hippy shit. I mean networking.

    - Be Driven
    If you can master one skill, you have the inner drive to master anything.

    - Set high goals
    and a lot of small ones along the way

    - Elevate those around you.
    Part of networking. As your friends succeed they can aid in your success

    - Have fun.
    Have fun.
  • odd_enough
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    odd_enough polycounter lvl 9
    I am currently a 3D Modeler/Animator at Lighthammer FX doing mostly hardsurface environment assets and VFX. I switch hats often (as you usually do at smaller studios).

    Early years

    Throughout the 25 years I spent diving through various interests, a similar theme was prominent through each phase: the NEED to create. Looking back on my childhood, I must have seemed like a strange kid. I rarely ever talked, even to other kids my age. I had these massive tubs of legos and kinex and would sit there for hours and hours building contraptions. Apparently, this was very confusing to my parents. It wasn't until 5 years ago that I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which makes my childhood a whole lot less confusing.

    It seems that I lot of us have had similar experiences in school; Being the strange kid who struggled through grade school. I was anything but a model student. I don't think I ever acquired an 'A' grade on anything during my time from grades 1-12; Mostly C's, D's, and F's. I was told by many teachers throughout those years, that if I couldn't do well in school, I wouldn't be able to attain the job I wanted.

    Part of the reason that my grades were so poor, was that I played video games on my computer every day, and barely got any work done. I also dabbled with the Descent 2 level editor (which was cube-based) as well as Ray Dream Studio that a friend of mine had. Naturally, my parents would take away the computer for a few weeks as punishment, but I would just find other ways to amuse myself. I would start drawing (I use this term loosely as my drawing skills were and still are horrific) concepts of spaceships, robots, and weapons (I was big into Descent at the time).

    Yet, even at that point, I was not interested in art. Wasn't on my radar at all, at least not consciously. I started my interest in game development early when I joined the Descent 4 mod team in 2001, when I was just starting 10th grade. My role was that of the sound designer. Throughout grades 6-12, I was very interested in music creation. I learned the piano, the guitar, and a few brass instruments, and had stocked up on a handful of studio condensor mics and mixers. I knew how to manipulate sounds to get a desired sound effect, so it seemed like this was the direction my life would go. I even looked at Full Sail as a potential school to go to for sound design in movies and games.

    I followed my sound design pursuit after high school, recording some friends and their bands, and I made a little cash on the side. But it didn't stick. I got bored and realized that I truly didn't know what I was doing. The drive to figure that out just wasn't there.

    Graduation from high school was rather anticlimactic. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, and thus I did not want to head off to college only to find out that I wasted my money (which ended up being the main gripe most of my friends had about college, so I guess I dodged a bullet there). So for 6 long years, I did nothing but play video games, while living in my parents house. I did try to pick up on programming during that time, only to realize that I sucked at it.

    The drive to create was still there though.

    The Lead-in

    There wasn't so much of a break-in to the industry as a long and gradual lead-in. Around spring of 2009, a buddy of mine had a birthday coming up and wanted to do this crazy video prank/joke/collage thing (I won't link to it out of sheer embarrassment at how bad it is). I saw a certain type of effect in a commercial that I wanted to replicate, and I did some digging and found that the software used was called Adobe After Effects. I had never heard of this thing before, but downloaded the trial and saw what I could come up with. I was able to pick it up right away; The UI fit me like a glove and I instantly fell in love with it. I started to make short animations here and there, following Video Co-Pilot like the rest of the mass of newbies wanting to learn how to make cool shit. Don't get me wrong, VCP was great for starting out, but they don't really go past the "give a man a fish" to the "teach a man to fish" mentality.

    For that, I required something more substantial. I needed to learn more about art/color theory, principles of animation, best practices, and develop my own techniques and style; Something that would set me apart from the mass of tutorial copiers. After about a month of fooling around with my own animations, I asked the professor in charge of the art and film department at the local post-grad tech school to see what he thought of my work. According to him, I was beyond anything he could teach me, so I went on to attempt to do some freelance work here and there.

    Freelance sucks. I hate it. So many variables that you need to take into account if you want to be successful with it. It is nerve wracking wondering how (and moreover, IF) you're going to make any money for the month. Success in freelancing largely depends on how much demand there is in your area of work, and how well you're able to market yourself. I started off making promotional videos for a few of the larger LAN party groups on the east coast; GXL, FITES, and PITTCO. I had the opportunity to do these only because I was part of FITES staff originally, and the other two just jumped in on the fun.

    It was during this time that I realized that I can't freehand draw for jack shit. So I stay away from that. But vector art? Now this is something I can get my head around. Makes a whole lot more sense! Case in point:


    The big slap in the face for me was stepping into the murky waters of corporate and studio freelance. A friend of mine who worked as a motion designer for a studio that did work primarily in TV spots, called me to do some work on a rebrand pitch for the Sundance Channel. Mostly just logo reveals. I was just starting to use Cinema 4D at the time to compliment my motion graphics in AE. Suffice to say, that at the rate they accepted to pay me, well.. they didn't. After a few emails back and forth, as well as sending the invoice a few times, I gave up. Fortunately, I started an internship at a web dev shop nearby called MudBrick Creative.

    The Break-in

    SO! On to the meat of the story. I started working at MudBrick back, well... literally 1 year ago this month. I started off doing motion graphics stuff for them. Website animation here, demo reel there, exploding cubes over here, minor web assets, etc. Later on, I started to get more into 3D modeling, and learning how to model instead of just kitbashing primitives together.

    Around March of this year, my boss suggested that I spool up on UDK so I can start to remake our office (which I heard was demonstrated at DevLearn in Vegas this week). This environment was to be used for this crazy contraption called a Virtusphere. A Virtu-what, you say? It's a giant hamster ball on wheels that you run around in with a gun controller and a VR headset. A completely nauseating experience, as our programmers have insisted that I be the guinea pig for their testing:


    Since then, part of MudBrick has broken off to form Lighthammer FX, and are now developing games for PC and mobile. So, a bit of a long and gradual process, but I got there, thus fulfilling my teenage dream, and spitting back at the teachers who told me I would never get here. Huzzah! The height of this adventure has been having lunch with the Creative Director at Ubisoft, Jason VandenBerghe. Seriously awesome guy.

    What to take away from my experience?

    Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself. The twitter 3D art community tends to be a fantastic group of people if you want near-instant and constructive feedback. Not only online, but in life as well. If you hang around people vastly more intelligent than yourself, sure.. you might feel stupid, but over time, the intelligence can rub off on you, and you will be a sharper person because of it. Use that noggin! Most of us have barely scratched the surface of what our brains are capable of.

    Generate contacts and form relationships. Networking and contacts are your greatest ally.

    Build up your skill set. The more proficiencies you have, the more viable you'll be in the long run. Don't get me wrong, you should still specialize in a specific area of work, but don't limit yourself to that. The more you know in other areas, the better chance you'll have with keeping your job secure. Versatility is key!
  • Guriamo
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    Guriamo polycounter lvl 16
    The early years:

    I started out creating levels for Doom2 using an editor I found on a shareware CD. Later when Duke Nukem 3d was released I did load of Levels for that. Always experimenting and trying to push things a step further with the given stuff. I did countless level for that all lost on old HDDs I'll probably never find again.
    The same time I also got Klick&Play, which would let you create 2d games easily and without coding knowledge. I did lots of small games with that.

    My first experience with proper 3d software came (as with a lot of people) after I saw the first Toy Story in the cinema. I installed a version of 3D Studio R3 about an hour after the movie ended, and started to play with it. The first stuff I did was completely forgettable but I found the taste.

    Later I became quite involved in the german HL1 modding scene. Doing mostly Weapon model and a few levels. The primary mod I was working on had lots of potential but failed because our coder jumped ship, which was quite bad as we were just a 4 man team (Modeller, Coder, Level Design, Animator).
    After that I continued contributing to various mods and did stuff here and there. never thinking about being good enough to do it professionally.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    When I was young I was (and still am) a hug he comic fan. Mostly French/Belgian comics, which influenced my drawing style quite a bit to this day.
    I always wanted to do something art wise, but always had my mind on comics. As I am not the best writer that wasn't a good combination.

    But since I got my first console a Commodore 64 and Master System. And later NES to SNES and all that followed I wanted to create games.
    I was always creating something. be it some levels or just design concepts, drawings or whatever.

    During and after my 1 year of civil service (in Austria we either go to the army or do civil service) I didn't do anything game art wise. I worked on my portfolio to get in the art university in Vienna but was rejected 3 times over the years. So I went on studying history of arts purely out of interest.

    By that time i had completely given up hope of getting into the games industry.

    The break-in:

    During university I met my levelly wife. She always pushed me towards opportunities as an artist. So when I found a small advert for a job doing game spec buildings on a freelance basis, Ii took that up and worked with the company for over a year.

    After I finished the job with the buildings I posted those on CG Talk. From that on out of the blue I got an e mail If I d be interested in a job at Rabcat (a outsourcing company in Vienna), which i started 2 weeks later.
    I was there for 2 years and worked on lots of interesting projects with a great team, but I always wanted to go into full development to be able to learn more. I went to the UK where I worked at Free Radical Design for a year as Environment Artist and when It closed down I went on to Bizarre Creations where I spent 2 years until it shut down. After a short 3 months stint (due to family reasons) at R* North I went on to Sweden working at Massive as Level Artist.

    I am working in the games industry now for 7 years professionally, and still enjoy it every day. I was quite lucky that I could work with so many talented people learning from them, teaching them and do so many different things to improve myself.

    What to take away from my experience?

    - never give up
    There is always a chance, never think you re not good enough. Just keep trying and learning.

    - never stop learning
    You have to learn constantly. If I see that I am stuck and don't progress I'll always try new things and learn new stuff.

    - stay focused when working
    Never rush anything. Always keep focused on what you're doing. Working calm and focused helped me a lot during the years, when you stress out you'll make errors.

    - don't overdo it
    No matter how big or prestige us a project might be, it is not worth killing yourself for it. Its good to be enthusiastic about what you do, but there are limits to everything
  • ScoobyDoofus
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    ScoobyDoofus polycounter lvl 18
    Sorry, but this shit is long. Get comfortable.

    The early years:

    I'm originally from Southern California, where I spent the first 15 years of my life, most of which living with my Mom in the LA area. She would constantly threaten to send me to a mental institution because I was always drawing "demons & monsters, why cant you draw something nice like teddy bears and flowers?".
    I'm a child of divorce (of course), and at age 15 decided I wanted to live with my Dad in Las Vegas, where I spend the next 16 years. He owns a small digital photography/software company, and I spent a lot of time there playing around & learning. Right out of High School I got a job for Las Vegas' largest Photography company, albeit working in retail at the photolabs.

    Ultimately, I spent 11+ years working in the photography industry, and eventually ended up in an Art Director level position, leading a group of 16 or so Photographers & Photoshop artists. This was a soul crushing job with massive hours, zero appreciation and a less than awesome paycheck for the work & stress involved.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?
    I spent a bit of time during my High School years thinking I wanted to be a Special Effects Makeup Artist. I loved creating characters. I loved Art. I loved helping to tell a story and create an experience. I was into all kinds of media though, from cartoons, to comics, from films to games.

    I was really introduced to PC gaming via Wolfenstein3D and then Doom blew my mind. I used some of my Dads software & cameras to replace the Doom IMP w/ photos of a sculpted bug I made and I was hooked. I think I was 15 when I first heard an interview with John Carmack and realized that Video Games were made by...ya know. People. That this was a job one could get and be paid for.

    Even at that young age, I saw the writing on the wall...games were going to become the dominant entertainment medium and eventually eclipse film, just as film had eventually overshadowed radio. Why be a passive observer, when you can participate & experience?

    After working in the Las Vegas Photography industry for over a decade, and feeling extremely unsatisfied, I left that career at 28 years old, and decided to turn my game art hobby into my new career. I knew it would be difficult, but I seriously underestimated just how difficult...

    I spent the next 3 years working whatever freelance I could get, doing odd jobs, painting houses, more photo & video work, and lots of being poor & unemployed. Eventually my savings ran out, my credit cards were maxed and I was out of options. With no job, unable to get even a crappy job (overqualified? what does that even mean?) not a dime to my name, and no income...I was forced to pack up my belongings and move to California to live in my Mothers garage.

    Yeah.... I was that cliche, 30 year old nerd who lives with this Mom. I was devastated, and really had been for a few years. My health was failing, I had accumulated a mountain of debt, and I was seriously beginning to doubt if I'd ever make it. I had no formal art or college education, very little industry experience and my morale was low. I'd done a few art tests that I had thought made me a shoe-in for the jobs...but I never heard back. I'd done some freelance for a big outsource house , but had a terrible experience. I was, frankly, mere months from giving up entirely.

    The break-in:
    After living in my Moms Garage for 4 months, I saw a post here on Polycount for an internship at a AAA company, working for an artist I admired, and had actually met in person years prior. I tentatively sent him a PM, asking if I should bother applying. His response was "Yes! I think you would be perfect. Love your new work..."

    My heart skipped a beat when I read that. Really? Finally? After all this time?
    He and I talked a little more, I talked with HR and they offered me the job.

    Trouble was, the job was in Austin, Texas. I had no money. None. No car. No way to even GET to Austin, to accept the job. And once there, no place to live, no way to get to work, etc. The position did not offer any relocation, being an internship. I was faced with now having to turn down the only offer I'd ever been made. I explained my difficulty to him, while I tried to figure something out on my end. My family was beyond broke and could not help me much at all.

    Imagine my surprise when he e-mailed me the next day saying:
    "Hey I talked it over with my wife and we would love for you to stay with us until you can get your own place."

    I flew to Austin, Texas 2 weeks later, and started working at Vigil Games in the Character Dept 48 hours after that. Now, 11 months later, I am an Associate Character Artist (full-time, no more Intern/Temp stuff) and get to work with an amazing team of some of the most talented people I've ever known. At least in a career sense, I'm living the dream, and hopefully will be for many years to come.

    What to take away from my experience?

    I think it's important to temper your passion & enthusiasm with a healthy dose of harsh realism. Things don't always work out, and you need to be prepared to get right back on your feet when they don't. Always save for a rainy day, because it might just rain for 3 years straight. :P

    I guess its cliche, but even when things seem at their worst, the smallest thing can turn it all around. However the reverse is also true, so always be ready for change. Embrace it.

    I've come to realize Persistence & Dilligence are vastly more important qualities than raw Talent or Intelligence. With sufficient patience & effort, almost anything is possible.

    Don't be afraid of rejection. Keep moving on and don't pin your hopes to one studio or opportunity.

    Be humble. It can be surprisingly difficult, as I went from being big fish in a little pond to swimming in the proverbial art ocean.
  • SouthpawSid
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    SouthpawSid polycounter lvl 7
    I am making mine as short as possible if that's cool :)
    I drank heavily with the hiring manager of the company I had wanted to work for since deciding on game art as a career. A large group of us did this once a week and developed an amazing friendship. I need to get back with those guys again, but it's a little tough living in Orange County and working in San Diego County and having the time to do anything but work doing the week ( commuting, bah). It's all about connections, and who knows YOU.

    edit: Yes I'm a social whore and I know it, but I worked real hard too :poly121:
  • Isaiah Sherman
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    Isaiah Sherman polycounter lvl 14
    The early years:
    I grew up in the small mill town of Longview, Washington. I grew up with 3 other siblings on the lower end of the economic ladder for a long time. My dad was a big inspiration to me, as even though we were in a dire financial situation for years, he continued to work hard and build things up from the ground, literally.

    I learned that if you truly want something, you need to earn it. Never rely on luck.

    As many others, I drew a ton when I was a wee lad. I always drew crazy demons and creatures that I had dreams about, enough to the point that my conservative, though well-intentioned, parents were concerned and asked me to draw nicer things.

    Through junior high and high school I focused on art classes, went to a community college to get some general credits out of the way, then moved down to Portland, Oregon to attend AIPD for a BA in Game Art & Design.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?
    Playing thousands of hours between tons of games growing up definitely played a key role ;)

    I got a bit more serious about a career-related art focus in sophomore year in high school where I met a friend that showed me the comic "Shidima" by Dreamwave Productions. It opened my eyes to digital painting.

    I particularly fell in love with a pair of Dreamwave's artists known as Twincruiser, which further led me to Sons of the Storm. It was then, back in 2004, I realized that you could do something called "concept art" for video games, and I was hooked! That's what I want to do.

    The break-in:
    Though my ultimate goal is to slip in to concept art, I knew that getting into the industry like that was borderline impossible. When I went to the Art Institute of Portland I focused on strengthening my 3D skills because I knew that was going to help open doors.

    I always loved modeling & texturing lowpoly stuff, especially hand-painted work, because it most closely relates to concept art. I made sure I worked hard and put in hundreds of extra hours at home during my college life to make sure I was ahead of the curve of the student body, because I knew I wasn't competing against them for jobs. I was competing against other pros that were looking for jobs.

    During the last few months of schooling I started doing a bit of side work for Liquid Development on a Rockband game and a few other XBOX avatar things. During my last month of school, I was contacted by the modeling lead at Sucker Punch directly through PM on Polycount and asked if I was interested in an interview.

    I've been at Sucker Punch since that day :)

    What to take away from my experience?
    -It's wise to dual-spec your talents to make yourself available to more employers. Choose a pair of skills that work in tandom: modeling & texturing, lighting & effects, rigging & animation, concepting & texturing

    -Always try to present yourself professionally on important forums like Polycount. I got my job connection through here, as do many, many people. Don't act like an ass or people will remember you for it.

    -Don't rely on luck. Many people say that getting a job is a part of luck, which may be true, but the harder you work and the more you want it, the more likely you are to land something.

    -Don't let (young) prodigies discourage you. There will always be people out there that are over 9000x better or faster than you at every aspect in your life. They will probably even be 5-10 years younger than you as well, if not more. Bite the bullet, and stay determined.
  • Mark Dygert
    The early years:
    I'll start with my Parents:
    My mom was an artist first and a teacher second so she understands kids, has mountains of patients and loves art.
    My dad loved photography, mechanical things like cars, planes and computers. His tinkering spirit was infectious to me and my brother.

    It was their passion for both of these things that lead me to where I am today.

    Our first computer was a TRS-80 and it was teh Awesome!!1

    They came out with upgrades, in addition to the cassette "storage drive" (seen above) it had a unit that plugged in cartridges, these cartridges could have games stored on them, this allowed us to make our own games, which my dad did to help us with school. Trivia quizzes, clown math and some kind of maze game I barely remember.

    Before there was an ipad there was the X-PAD.

    The pen actually was a pen... which was nice because drawing on a sheet of paper was better than trying to look at the screen especially with a horrible refresh rate. You also got to keep your paper drawing which was the only proof I had that I had drawn anything on the computer... heh.
    You had to draw slowly... and it got me out of the habit of making quick sketchy strokes. Thank you lil xpad I owe you a lot.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    I loved to draw as a kid, I loved Sunday comics especially The Far Side, and I remember wanting to have my own strip for a really long time. I also loved Calvin and Hobbes and pestered my parents to buy me book after book of collected strips. Around 8th grade I started to fall in love with animation and focused on being an animator. I converted my art table into an animation desk and tried my best in the per-internet days to teach myself animation.

    My dad, wanting to foster my love of animation and technology, bought me a piece of software for Christmas called "The Animation Studio".

    It was like someone had given me the keys to the universe... I thought wow this must be what the pros are using I've got my ticket, this is it! That is until I started using it.

    All of the examples where scans from old Disney working drawings, only I didn't know that and it drove me nuts trying to get line thickness variation and opacity with brushes that just couldn't do it. I ended up trying to recreate lines pixel by pixel and it was maddening. If that was the future of animation I didn't want any part of it. So I turned to comic books instead.

    After a few more computers and game systems I was hooked on games and art. Games came out less frequently back then and I either played one game for 6mo to a year or I got bored and went back to drawing.

    In high school Doom came out and things changed.

    Doom wasn't much different than other shooters that had come before it but it did have a few things going for it. Most notably Network play and you could make maps for it.

    A friend of mine and I got into multiplayer and started making our own maps. We passed disks back and forth, called each other and dialed into each others machines it was a ton of trial and error but lots of fun. Especially when the map we where making turned into a bit of a competition as to who can tilt the map in their favor. The back and forth was incredibly fun but ended when we graduated and went our separate ways.

    The break-in:
    I threw myself into college and worked on getting a degree in "graphic arts". This was going to be my ticket to a stable job designing ads and stationary. My secret plan was that I would draw comics in my down time and self publish like Dave Sim and eventually leave my boring job. College was total BS and for 2 years they taught me what I already knew plus made me take a bunch of classes I didn't care about. At the time there was no such thing as a school that taught game art. Well there was digipen which had a wait list and tuition that made Harvard blush. They also focused only on programming at the time... YUCK...

    Then 3 things happened that set me on the course I'm on today.

    Fuck College:
    1) 4 days after my 20th birthday my dad died of a heart attack at 49. That has kind of taken the wind out of the sails of every birthday since... Shown how short and fragile life can be I decided to stop dicking around in college wasting my time and my money (working full time to pay for it) and started applying for jobs.

    2) I landed a job at "United Advertising Publications". Over the next 5 years I worked myself into various jobs and eventually I ended up managing their Computer Graphics Editing department. I met a ton of awesome people who went on to work in the industry all over the country.

    3) That entire time, I was working in my spare time to make maps, models and mods for Half Life. From those mod experiences I began to realize that an industry was growing and I might be able to turn my hobby into a job.

    A buddy I met at UAP had gone on to QA at Humongous Entertainment (local studio, kid games, long gone) and helped get my portfolio recognized which lead to a job at Cave Dog/Humongous (actually GT Interactive) as an artist. I put in my 2 weeks notice at UAP and I was excited as all fuck. I was going to focus on terrain, icons and possibly unit creation, for the 2nd, Total A Kingdoms expansion pack, basically help where I could between coffee runs and blow jobs. They also had another top secret project going on "AMEN The Awakening" that I desperately wanted to work on after the expansion pack was done.

    What to take away from my experience?

    Unstable? Yes, yes it is:

    AMEN was that project that sunk the entire studio 1 week before I started. There where grumblings that just the AMEN project was going to be shut down since it had a lot of problems. They where in way over their heads burning through cash like crazy. With the 1st expansion to TA Kingdoms not doing so well, they decided to can the second.

    Being part of a giant company they offered people positions in other studios. Feeling bad for just hiring and letting me go the director of IT offered me job in tech support where they where ramping up even as the other half of the building was being let go.

    The first day on the job was surreal, I had interviewed on site which also housed a pretty sizable QA team which was also let go. The company did an offsite firing and locked the building down and wasn't letting anyone back in until a week or two later. So when I started, the place looked like everyone had just turned off the lights and walked away... Very post apocalyptic...

    This was my first lesson in how dangerous and unstable the industry could be. Still having a shot to work for a games company I went for it. Which was good because UAP was bought by another company and was going to pack up the hub and move it to Dallas to be more centrally located and (to exploit cheaper labor). I had the opportunity to move to Dallas with my job but decided to stay in the area and try my hand in the industry.

    That was a possible lesson in disastrous relocation that I side stepped because UAP was sold again and went tits up a year or two later which would have left me in bad shape. The tech bubble had burst about that time and TX was starting to rebuild as a new hub of the industry but game dev jobs where really scarce and I don't think my portfolio would have landed me much. I also wouldn't have had the opportunity to learn like I did at Humongous/CaveDog/GT/Infogrames/Atari

    That tech support job was awesome. I was officially in the industry even if I wasn't doing art. I had to take a pay cut to get in but it didn't matter. Money has never really mattered that much to me, as long as I can pay my bills, enjoy my hobbies while providing for my future, I really don't care.

    Until 2005-6 GT had the rights to Unreal and we did support for the unreal editor, which they encouraged us to learn. We played a lot of UT-UT2k4 mods while there. I also learned max and Maya so I could make custom stuff for the office wide LAN parties.

    Tons of fun. Making mods for Unreal during the day, making mods for Half life at night. It was a non stop drunken orgy of game editing and at some point I got married and bought a condo. During all that fun GT was bought out by Infogrames, which acquired and switched its name to Atari, and proceeded to burn the company into the ground. All I can say is that:
    On April 5, 2007, Bonnell resigned from his positions at Atari and Infogrames. [2] On the day of the announcement of his departure Infogrames Entertainment SA shares jumped 24%.[1]
    The guy is a disaster, a walking tornado of bone headed mistakes. He's the Uwe Boll of our industry. He destroyed many a franchise and squandered resources in unbelievable ways. If you ever find yourself in the same room, run because there is a really good chance that a chandelier is going fall and crush anyone standing next to him. He however, will be untouched.

    Seeing the handwriting on the wall I started to polish my portfolio and shop around for an artist position.
    Q: when is the best time to look for a job?
    A: While you still have one.

    I landed an interview at one studio where I had a few friends. The pay was horrible, they worked on contract and they really didn't know if they where going to be open from month to month. So I passed and kept looking and eventually the trail went cold and I just kept working in tech support.

    We started supporting some new games and I found out they where local and I took one look at the screenshots and said "I can do that".

    It was a ballsy move and in retrospect I only marginally improved the scene which I was only aiming to recreate and added to because I was bored. But it impressed the Art Director and the Creative Director and I ended up with the job so yeah it worked! Turns out the AD was the guy who made that scene when he was an intern and it was super old. They liked the passion I had and the other stuff in my portfolio let them know I could do the job.

    I started out doing environments and when they wanted to bring characters back in house I offered to help by dealing with the technical side of things and doing animation. I've been doing that ever since.
  • Hexidine
    Hi Guys, My name is Mike-bryan van der Waard and I live in Holland
    My story may not be as way back as you all but I hope you enjoy reading it still.

    The early Years:

    When I was younger, all I could play with was Lego’s.
    I wanted to build everything and It had to go according to the booklet.
    When I got a bit older the doctor indicated that my eye sight was very poor and that my right eye would only see 30% while the other one has perfect sight. glasses could not take me back to a full 100% sight on both eyes, the weird thing was that my eye doctor told me that it was very strange that I did not bump into things because I was supposed to not see any perspective with such eye sight( but here I am doing 3d art, fuck the system)
    When my grandpa died, I did not really know what it meant but me and my brother both got a game boy color with some games ( I don’t go way back to nes times ) this was my first interaction with video games.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    Well, however I’m not sure I think Pokémon was the game I played most period, I was the first one that had Pokémon yellow in my class! And I was badass.
    later on a friend of mine discovered that he had an old Atari, and there was a adventure game on it wich was much like FF1-6 only no turn based combat, we got hooked, and I think from that moment I told myself that I wanted to make games.
    at one time at primary school still, we got offered a program where you got make things how you want it, there was a library of items and you had to put them in the world etc ( it sounds like level design, but never thought about it..)
    there was some coding you could do, to make you walk faster and fly and such.
    this was my interaction with building virtually.

    The break-in:

    High school was a fucked disaster, the first two years where oke.. I guess.. but I didn’t like it at all, I got bad grades got bullied on all the time, was laughed at etc. I was the geek everyone made fun off with the geek friends and I had suicide thoughts, what put me through somehow was, that I knew I was better than every single one of those people and that they were going to fail at life anyway.
    here I started taking every art class there was because all the people that did not bully me where also there, and those 2 classes where the best times I had.
    At one day my mentor gave us some papers, there were schools on them because we needed to pick a school afterwards, you could go to one of the schools to check them out and such
    I was like, whatever and I didn’t really care… but then I saw: Media College Amsterdam : Game Design/Art
    I didn’t even know there was such a school and that you could study for something like that!
    At that moment I knew that was my goal, I went to school to check it out and it was fucking magical, I liked every single bit of it.
    I did the intake without any experience whatsoever but only motivation ( only 30 of like 2000 got in)
    and I got in, I think I screamed till my ears were bleeding, I was freaking happy.
    Today I know that the college is not what makes you the artist, but how much you push yourself towards it.
    I don’t have Job right now since I’m still in college but I do have an internship were I am lead animator right now ( intern as lead whut? )
    I am not going to study any more after this, this was a really hard decision I had to make, I think I was afraid of the world.

    What to take away from my experience?

    Sure I’ve learned a lot from well a lot.. the best thing is I think, that you need to work hard to get somewhere, and that it will be rewarded someday.

    Never give up, I have given up several times but got back and here I am, I won prices for game I’ve made at my school, my name is in the hall of fame right there!

    I’m not really an advice giver, but I think what I’m trying to say is, If you want something, go get it.
  • slipsius
    Thought this would be a good place for this.

    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIQ4Yty1ask"]IGN's Top 100 Game Developers: Humble Beginnings - YouTube[/ame]

    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgwG-VBKStU"]IGN's Top 100 Game Developers: Industry Advice - How to Get Started - YouTube[/ame]
  • Hank_Newgarden
    I am new here, my first post, I've been an artist for a while now and I've been teaching myself 3d. I've been working with Blender but found what seems to be lots of opportunity using 3dsmax. So I thought I'd give it a try, I was looking for projects to work on and came across a Mixamo contest that I was thinking of entering.
    Unfortunately I only have a student license for 3dsMax. Since the prize is cash in the slim chance I won and received the cash would that then make me commercial. Part of entering the contest agreement is that I give up the rights, but if I'm using 3dsMax student license, do I still have the rights to what I produce?
    I don't think I'll be making money with the program I just want to learn it and find a job. I'd buy the software but it's way beyond me justifying it right now.
    Does Autodesk even pursue this kind of stuff?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.
    I didn't really know where to post this question. I did some searches on google but really didn't find anything about it. The license document probably has something in it but its just too torturous to read.
    This is a great forum and site, best I've found so far,
    thanks,to everybody
  • slipsius
    This is definitely the wrong place for that post, Hank. Create a new thread in the general discussions. This thread is for inspiration, how you broke into the industry and stuff like that
  • Alphavader
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    Alphavader polycounter lvl 11
    Great articles.. i really like to see more..!
  • skankerzero

    If anyone else has any stories they would like to contribute, please do!
  • beefaroni
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    beefaroni sublime tool
    I'm a bit hesitant about posting this, but I hope it can be helpful for people currently in school or recent grads. Someone on the hangouts mentioned this thread so I figured I'd write something up

    The early years:
    I grew up not thinking about being a 3d artist. In high school, I dicked around with Photoshop to make some custom sprays for CS:S and played around with basic web design/flash. I ended up going to school for Digital Art, and thought I would just continue doing what I had been doing.

    Fortunately, in my second semester of college, I took a 3d foundations course that really changed my attitude towards art.

    We used sketchup to create 3d models that were printed on flat paper and then folded into physical models. I think this was the first time in my life that I actually really put tons of hours into something productive. I would spend 30 hours per week on some assignments because I found that really putting the time into something could lead to cool things (who would have guessed..).

    The next semester, I began to spend my free time creating shitty 3d models. I really didn't have much of an idea of what I was doing, and wasn't progressing too quickly. Fortunately, in 2013, about 2.5 years after I began school, I discovered Polycount. I saw tons of work on here that really blew me away. I started going through peoples portfolios and resumes and saw that a good amount of guys had insanely awesome portfolios by the time they graduated. I knew I had to get there somehow. During this time, I also started going to school to sit in on the upper level animation courses to see what they were doing and try to learn from the older students. The teachers never had a problem with it which was awesome.

    In January of 2014, I was fortunate enough to land a 6 month internship with a small advertising studio in Boston. I told myself I would not waste this opportunity and started a plan to work towards making cool CG stuff. Every Sunday, I would cook enough Chicken and Rice to last the week (lunch + dinner). This ensured I was not wasting hours a day cooking, or wasting money by eating out all the time. I went to the gym every other morning (wake up at 6:45am). After I got home I could quickly eat and then work on personal work all night. I also only went out on Friday nights, and reserved almost my entire Saturday and Sunday to work on personal work more. My boss was also super supportive and would look at my personal work at the end of the week and give critique/advice. I ended up creating this piece in June of 2014 (https://www.artstation.com/artwork/african-union-armed-forces-84e732ef-a067-4710-b928-ab7f93283f3e), which was really the first time that I made anything that I was really proud of. It was the result of a lot of thrown away work and re-doing and re-doing and re-doing stuff until it looked good. I guess it may be a bit embarrassing, but I spent almost 6 months on this project. I'm not kidding when I say stuff was getting thrown away all the time. I really didn't want to give up on this project so I just kept pushing until I thought it looked good. I guess my view was that other people can work hard to create cool stuff, so I should be able to as well with enough time.

    During this period, I lost a decent amount of my friends I had made at school. I only went out on Friday and I really cut back on my drinking/partying. I actually don't drink much at all anymore, half in fear that I will not be as productive as I can be. It was a bit tough at first but I kind of had this revelation that long term happiness and really working towards something cool is more important than short term happiness (partying and going out). I also think the combination of working out in the mornings and focusing on something productive (setting goals) helped my anxiety a lot and helped to eliminate my depression from middle school/high school/early college. I still am a bit anxious/awkward from time to time, but I think overall I am a bit more confident then I was.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?
    After my internship, I realized that I disliked VFX/Advertisements. Everything that isn't directly seen on the screen is just thrown together. If the side of a building isn't seen, it doesn’t even need to be rendered or touched. That didn't excite me.

    I guess I finally realized that the magical part of 3d for me was creating worlds and objects that could really be explored. I have always enjoyed games more than movies and I remember spending insane amounts of time exploring Bioshock 1 and really enjoying the atmosphere they created. From then on, all of my personal work has been game oriented.

    The break-in:
    After I finished Dandelion Observation Deck, I got an email from a Blizzard Employee about a Weapons Artist position for Overwatch. I wasn't finished school or actively looking for work; however, I jumped at the opportunity and took the art test. While I didn't get the position, they kindly let me post the art test online. I posted it to my ArtStation and a friend suggested I get a Facebook so I could post it on there as well.

    I posted it to Lunchcrunch, and within a few days, an Art Director at Hi-Rez contacted me about a Weapons Artist position on a new game they are working on. I talked on the phone, they flew me down, and I had a job a few weeks later. I moved to Atlanta in March of 2015 and finished school remotely and graduated in May of 2015.

    Now that I'm in the industry, I still continue to work on personal work almost every day. I really want to see what hard work can achieve. Maybe nothing, maybe something cool. Who knows..

    What to take away from my experience?
    - I believe that sacrifice is a large part of being an artist. I have seen a lot of people who are passionate about 3d; however, they spend too much time playing games, hanging out, or partying to actually put in the hard work that's required.

    - Interestingly enough, all of my networking I did in person didn't really help me find a job. It was more being active online and posting my work that ended up getting me a job.

    - You have to be able to throw away work and take critique. Any project that is rushed to completion is ultimately a waste of time, because it won't help the portfolio as much as if it was really pushed (that was horribly written).

    - Don't be too ambitious with projects. Large projects end up being thrown together to be called complete or never finished. Small projects are more manageable and result in quicker sanctification of something cool that's finished. To give an example, that camera I did took 1.5 months to finish. It's a fucking camera. I could make that pretty quickly now, but my noob ass last year took 6 weeks to make that. 6 weeks, for a small camera. If I had tried something more complex, it probably wouldn't have gotten finished to the same standard. I try to tell this to people on here a lot and the people who listen end up with great small pieces of work.

    - Know your goals for each project. With my bust, it was to do Zbrush hard surface sculpting, practice V-Ray rendering, and concepting. The Camera was a focus in hard surface modeling, creating a low poly, baking a normal map, and PBR texturing. The environment after took the principles I had learned with the camera and added multiple props, lighting, tiling textures, and a few other things. I think what I'm trying to get at is I never tried to learn 1000 things in 1 project. I try to let each project build on the last and have a goal to try to learn a new thing or two with each one. This keeps me from getting too frustrated with learning thing after thing after thing but also allows me to learn a new work-flow or technique every project.

    - You're not going to learn everything in school. You have to push yourself on the side. If you just do the required projects it's not going to work out. None of my portfolio is actually from school projects.
  • Lamont
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    Lamont polycounter lvl 14


    I’m from the US, but currently living in Japan. I’ve worked for small CG outsourcing firms and contracting until I started at SCEA in San Diego, then moved on to Midway and eventually found my way to Ubisoft in Osaka.

    Early years

    I’ve always been into drawing and art. But what I liked spanned many things. I liked the idea of being a doctor, but I liked drawing for a living. I was obsessed with games since Intellivision. I thought I would be an architect, because that is what seemed in line with what I liked. Then about 7th grade I was like “I wanna make games”. My folks freaked out. Especially my mom because back in 1990, there was no real game industry and it seemed like a fad to her. No internet. Can’t find resources. I would write letters (with cute pictures of Mario and such) to Nintendo and call the game help hotline and just talk (206-885-7529). Then one day… this guy was like “You know what, they opened some school called DigiPen in Vancouver”. I freaked out. I called them and they were like “Yeah, you need to be a smart SOB to get in… programming and all that stuff…”.

    So at the time, I thought to be an artist, I HAD to be a programmer. So I designed a game around one of my stories and would spend entire weekends at the Office of Education in my town as it was the only place that had the tools for programming. I would read the C and C++ books like bibles. But it made no sense. How in the HELL can all this text turn what I draw into a freaking game? I got discouraged. But I would still go and study this stuff. Even after not having ANYTHING to show for it, not even a compiled “Hello World”. I was failing high school. Way behind in credits. My teacher told me that nothing will happen in my life if I don't get the hell out of HS. I started studying. Taking extra classes just to catch up and get out on time. And one day I got the application to apply for admission to DigiPen about middle of 12th grade. My mom filled it out and sent it in. I would come home and wait for a letter or a phone call. We got a letter a few weeks later and they said that they don’t take student loans from the US, so we’d have to pay 100% cash. My folks couldn’t afford that. I was crushed again.

    There was no info about this stuff. No one really knew anything other than “Be a computer engineer”.

    Around that time, I was a lonely game maniac. I would call to the Capcom game help line and just talk about games, not really asking a question about what I was playing. I was calling Capcom so much that I would request to talk to certain people. And the guy was like “Hey, we have artist here, and I know they have them in Japan.” So I got out of HS and went to the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I hated 3D, it was new and scary to me. 2D was the way games are. It was Capcom or nothing. I wanted to make characters for Street Fighter 3. Screw you and your polygons. I tried, and got sick of the Academy because I wanted to do games. It seemed like it would never happen. I was about 18 at the time. Then I moved to San Diego with my GF and went to Platt College. I would sit in the class and doze off because it wasn’t game centric. Then the teacher talked to me after class and was like “What’s your deal?”. I gave him my story and then he was like “Education is what you make of it. This school may not be focused on videogame stuff and 2D animation, but you can take it on yourself to use the internet and study this stuff and apply it to your lessons. Think about how it can apply in that industry. You sitting and sleeping or dicking around is a waste of space and money.”

    I finally got my own PC and finished the school. I got what the teacher said and applied what he taught to games (or so I thought). I had a Mac at the time and the closest thing to 3D was Pixels 3D for me.

    What pushed you towards the game industry?

    I like games and art. It is a really awesome medium. The technical challenges and the limitless feeling when it comes to making it.

    The break-in

    My resume went all over the country. And got turned down by all of them. The general thing was “You know nothing about game art..”. It sucked. Ego was destroyed. Later I applied for a job at a small company called 3D Pipeline in La Jolla CA. The guy doing the interview saw the potential and hired me and saw my stuff on CGManga.com. It wasn’t games all the time, it was a little of everything; movies, military sims and R&D or something. I learned a lot there. I took the job as a stepping stone and an extension of my education. I wasn’t paid like some friends in real game companies, but I liked the freedom to explore. We hired another artist who was really into vehicles and I learned a lot from him in terms of art for games and everyone there. I started modding No One Lives Forever and NOLF2 around that time as well.

    What to take away from my experience?

    Fight. Learn. Roll with the punches. There is SOOOO much information out there than there was 16 years go. Failure is there, it’s gonna come around. Just fight. Any moment you get study something. It’s not easy. The people you see at the top of the page and whos work is awesome are people who started at 0 just like you. They fought, and are still fighting, learning and absorbing.

    Don’t let yourself get comfortable in your job or position. Always strive to improve. I’ve been guilty of this from time to time, and it shows in some areas.


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