Give it Time ⏰

General / 27 December 2018
Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

Its been a log while since I was able to write in this blog. Things got extraordinarily busy, my bad ^_^
I had dinner with one of my proteges recently and he was telling me that he has yet to do what he had trained for in school. Even after being a couple of years in the industry. In fact, he decided to cane direction. To learn even more technical stuff. And he's totally OK with it. In fact, he's excited about it!
One of the things I keep telling my students, fairly often, is that chances are when you do get into the industry you WIL NOT be doing what you trained for. More than likely you'll start at the bottom doing grunt work. And LEARNING more. My protege said it best: "I went to school to learn how to learn." It's so very rare that you'll start at the top. If you do it may only be for a shot time because people who stay at the top remain there via experience. I don't recommend rushing to the top. Not being at the top means that you don't have a target on your back. You get to go home and most likely not take the work home with you. There is nothing wrong with putting in a hard days work to make someone else look good. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Being at the top means that you should have a great deal of dirt under your nails. That you put in the time, effort, and energy to get there. To know what it is it be at the bottom. The best people at the top raise others and help them, not crush them. Those people at the top sometimes carry the scars of their past and help others avoid getting them while teaching the same valuable lesson. Learn those lessons in order to avoid the same pitfalls.
Don't rush to the top. Revel in your time. Be smart. Learn and absorb all you can.
Sometimes, you get only one chance.

Desperation is Bad Cologn 👎

General / 20 July 2018
Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

When you are looking for your next gig don't sell yourself short, be smart and honest with yourself. There are many people out in the industry who want to take advantage of someone who needs a gig, AKA will work for free. Some will actually adhere to what they say and get you money or a job after their product ships and success comes their way, passing it on to you. There are others who are merely looking for free labor. There are predators.
Sometimes its difficult to know the difference. My advice is the following:

Do your research!
If you can find out who it is that wants your work. Seek them out in some fashion via your network. What is their reputation like? Have they made anything before? Are they legitimate? Do you know more about the project than they do? Don't be afraid to ask about them questions. The more you search for the truth the better prepared you will be for anything.

Talk to a mentor!
Mentors are more likely to have seen a great deal. They can guide you on whether or not this gig sounds legitimate. They can think of questions that you may not have thought of and can give you advice from their experience.

Weigh the risks!
Remember my Rule #1: Cover Thine Ass. You have to look out for yourself before you can help anyone else in this industry. Will this gig impact you financially in a negative sense? Will it take up valuable time (especially if you have a family)? Will you be able to show off the assets you worked on any time soon? Will you retain ownership of anything?
Basically ask yourself: What are you willing to risk? And be truthful to yourself.

One thing that many people have in this industry is a sense of desperation of others. People can smell it on you if you are not careful. Some will take advantage of that desperation, to advance themselves and not care about you. That's not to say that there are not good opportunities when it comes to giving away work, not at all. What you need to do is be realistic with yourself and ask the hard questions you may not want to answer.
Too bad. This is a tough industry. Don't make it tougher for yourself,

Someone to Mentor Over You 💪

General / 10 July 2018
Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

Just because you finished schooling does not mean you're totally prepared for the industry of your choice. You may have the chops to get your first job, however that will not be enough for the future. Everyone needs a mentor. Someone they can connect with on a deeper level than just pro work. Someone who can continue to teach things you didn't learn in school. Someone who can connect with you as a person. Maybe even become the wiser friend.

A mentor will be of your industry, have a few years of experience on you, and know the ropes better than you. A good mentor will look out for your best interest, especially of its something you really don't want to hear because of your stubbornness. A good mentor will play the Devil's Advocate and be your champion at the same time. Remember that even your mentors will have had mentors (may not be a bad idea to know them as well, if possible). The more you are able to garner knowledge from your mentor(s) the clearer the road a head will be for you because they may have already traveled that same rode and, perhaps, can guide you so you can avoid the pitfalls they may ran into.

"Where do I find one?" you ask. I can't tell you because it's different for everyone. Sometimes you may find one at school, a social group, or even at the job you go to. And if you have more than one it may be at different times.

I had 2 industry mentors that I found on the job at different points of my career. One who taught me how to deconstruct projects into smaller manageable parts. Another who taught me organization and to be deliberate in my work and how to refine my natural instinct for find, groom, and lead the next generation of excellent artists.

My life would be so very different now without them and I have no idea where I would be right now. They have helped me unlock potential in me that I had no idea was there. I say "had" mentors because I now understand that they see me as their equal and we are friends. One day my proteges will be my equal. I look forward to that day 😁

A Little Somethin' on the Side 😉

General / 26 June 2018
Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

We should all have a side project that we love. Something that feeds our passion that is not our main job. To some it may be cooking. Or reading. Or jogging. Mine is photography. I can't get enough of it and I love doing it almost every day. Don't get me wrong, I love making industry art, no doubt. But with my photography I can explore self expression without any preconceived notions and it can hold surprises that I don't expect. I do sometimes make money off of that and my graphic design. However its not my main job. I think I'd be heart broken if photography was my main job. I know plenty pf photographers who's main job is photography. But even they have side passions. One of my good friends is a super talented photographer. His side passion is motorcycles. Sometimes he blends the two.

Everyone needs to blow off steam or have a different outlet in order to stay sane. It's important. One of my students says her side passion is sketching. I'm training her to be an industry artist. I told her that sketching as a side passion does not count. Because its more of that industry art. It should be something that you would not normally do at your job (and non addictive, in the unhealthy way). Something that will expand your mind into different areas. It should be something you can do at the drop of a hat or plan for if you really want to dig deep. It should be something you can get lost in. That will bring you great satisfaction, no matter how it turns out simply because you did it. Something that will bring out the child inside you and simply enjoy being in the moment. Something to release that kid in us all.

That kid is always there, He/She just needs to come out and play once in a while.

Extended Crunch is Bad. Bad, bad, bad 💀

General / 19 June 2018
Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

Crunch. This is a controversial subject and I'm still going to talk about it.
I've had my fair share of crunch time. The toughest was a straight 4 months, 7 days a week, 100 hrs or so a week. There are only 168 hours in a week, so you can understand the misery. For years I had a sleeping bag under my desk that I finally used in the outdoors a few years ago. One night I fell asleep at the wheel of my car. Luckily I was at a stoplight and my foot was on the break. It was 2am and they streets were bare. Another lucky break.

Extended crunches does bad things to your health, physically and mentally. I started to gain weight. My blood pressure spiked. I started to drink more to numb myself. I was already an insomniac so my sleep became worse. I got angry easily. I began to shut myself off from my family and friends. I held bitterness and resentment to a lot of people, mostly for no good reason at all. Once I almost threw a punch at a programmer for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It was 1 o'clock in the morning and we were all tired, getting on each others nerves. I was talked down by a fellow artist. The next day I had lunch with the programmer. I could not, and still can't, remember what he said to piss me off. Neither could he (fortunately). We are still pals. Then our game was canceled a few months later.

Productivity will slow. Mistakes will be made. Tempers will rise. 

Why is there crunch? A number of reasons. The main one, IMHO, is poor management and poor scheduling. Other reasons could include people not doing their job to help out or as arbitrary as the person in charge wants to see people working harder. I've seen it all. The IGDA (International Game Developers Association) has done extensive research on crunch time here:
And if you've not read the "EA Spouse" story, do so:
Crunch still happens. Sometimes, crunch get built into the schedule (absurd, right?) Some of my colleagues were on a year long crunch, 6 days a week minimum (and were looked down upon,  by management, if they were not there Sundays). Brutal 😫. Crunch will burn out wonderful talent very fast and they will have to be replaced (which takes time and $$).

There may be a little crunch here and there, for a couple of weeks, for polish. No big deal.It should not be used as a standard practice for working on ANYTHING. I did the calculation once one what my actual pay would have been had I'd been paid for the amount of overtime that I worked. It was astronomical. And I was certainly not the highest paid artist.

Why am I complaining? There is such a thing as a "life" that I, and many others with this experience, want to have. Down time is essential in this line of work. A balance in our lives is necessary for active creativity and career longevity. What is not right is for companies to take for granted the people who work for them. To be just a number. An asset (which I was told I was once). To be taken for granted. I know several colleagues that have started new Indie studios and do what they can for the employees to have a work/life balance because they don't want their employees to experience the same stress as they did. The change is happening, however its too slow. Does not mean you should stay away from the industry. It is fulfilling in so may ways.

Making games is not as fun as playing them. However it should not feel like a very slow death.

Don't Relax Just Yet 💤

General / 05 June 2018
Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

I covered this topic a little previously, now I want to spend an entire post on it. 
When you're on a project, just because you're done with your tasks does not mean you're finished working on the project. Whether it be coding, art, producing, management, whatever. You're not finished until you move onto another project. If you chill and celebrate early, your other teammates (who continue to work) will wonder why, and begin to resent you. They don't want to spend late nights and weekends working to finish the project because you decided to check out early. You're here to bring your best. When you mentally check out early, you are not giving your best. This is your ego talking, telling you that you've done enough. You need to check that ego asap.

In all my years I the industry I see this far too often. One person finished his/her task and chills out for weeks after that. Sometimes months. This makes extra work for everyone else who have to cover for things that could have been taken care of, usually small things that no one wants to do. There's always pickup work that needs to be completed. Even if you're not good at it, don't sit back and ride the rest of the project out. If you're not good at a task volunteer for it anyway because usually you can get help, and it will be appreciated. If not, others will feel the guilt for having things cut or for the final product not being as good as they know it could have been.

Remember: you are here to be a valued member of a team and to support your teammates as you expect them to support you. You're also here to be of value to the company that hired you.

That being said, I don't recommend doing something WAY outside of your expertise. 
Example: If you're an artist I don't recommend working on AI code. Stay within your field and help out the rest of the team. Especially if unforeseen circumstances pop up. Like a team member having to leave. There will be things that are out of your control that can't be wrangled with. So help out with things that are in your control. The more you help out within your expertise the faster you can honestly celebrate not only your accomplishments, but that of the entire team.

Remember: you'll take your lumps together and your victory laps together.

The More You Know 💪

General / 31 May 2018
Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

I recently finished an assessment on Lighting and Compositing with the Game Art students. Normally, the assessment calls for using Nuke to compositing the render passes. My VFX students did this, however I know that game artist will never use Nuke in the industry. So I changed it up for the Game Art students to use Photoshop instead for the final compositing. Without them knowing it, I taught them how to build textures using layers. It's the same as compositing an image, with minor differences. One of the things I told them is that the more they know Photoshop the better, and more valuable, they will be as an industry artist. What all industry artists MUST understand is that the more they can apply the basics the less they will rely on specific apps to do certain jobs. In their case I don't want them relying on Substance as a crutch. Because there WILL come a day when they won't have Substance available and they will have to create textures.

The more an artist knows about basic techniques the better an artist he/she will be and the less reliant they will be on apps to do one job. And the better they will be at using that app, like Substance. For artists I'm talking about using layers, basic design principles, color theory, understanding how light works, composition, etc. I have a friend who is a traditional oil painter and his photoshop paintings look just like his oil paintings. Quite astounding. He can achieve this because he knows the principals of traditional painting and can apply them to photoshop. As a photographer I have a deep understanding of how light and shadows work together. That knowledge transfer easily to 3D.

When I was in college I was trained in the Classic art styles, as an abstract artist, a graphic designer, and photographer. I also took art history and psychology. All of this taught me how to view the world through a critical eye and provided an insight into how people perceive art. Only towards the end of my schooling did I start to learn 3D (on SGI machines using Softimage). I was able to apply everything I learned to the new tech that was being implemented in the industry. All of my high-end tech skills I learned on the job (there was no school for video games at the time).

If you already took higher-ed art classes then you'll have an advantage. However, you can still learn the basics at home, on the internet. There is no end to tutorials and learning materials. You have to go that extra mile, though. And practice. Every day. Even if it's a small thing just to keep you sharp. It's the small things that will give you the edge over everyone else.

The Holy Trinity of Game Dev 😇

General / 23 May 2018
Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

IMHO there is a Holy Trinity of Leads in Game Development that exists and needs to be respected.

  • The Art Director
  • The Programming Lead
  • The Design Lead
  • And the Producer greasing the never ending wheel between the other Leads.

There are other parts to the team to keep the company running: executives, HR, marketing, etc. 
Here, I'm on only referring to the core development members that are creating the game.
Each lead have people working under them. ADs have artists, PLs have programmers, DLs have designers. Even Producers could have production assistants. The chains of command. 
(If you have a problem with another person on the team talk to your lead first. Ill cover this in another blog post.)

In an established and well functioning dev group this is the ideal scenario. If one of the Leads begins to interfere or do the job of another Lead friction usually happens because the said Lead has an agenda: to get his/her stuff done first AND does not have a foil to double check the work.
Example: If the Art Director suddenly does the job of the Design Lead then there is the possibility of the AD loosing design perspective. A Game Design Lead is there to advocate for the consumer so the consumer will play the game. Maybe reply it. So you can see the potential dilemma.
The Producer has the role of making sure that everyone is getting things done on time. The Producer will also help ease the jobs of the leads by effectively communicating in areas that are not understood by the other. Producers also love problems that can creep up and helps the whole machine keep running as smoothly as possible. 

It's important for the Leads to REALLY understand the jobs of the other Leads. Not to know HOW to do their job. Just what they are doing in order to understand their point of view.

Now, there is something to be said for Indies where there are not enough people to do the distinct jobs. Indies may not have a choice but to wear multiple hats. That in itself is a monumental task that can really grind a person down. It can also create a hard core appreciation of the other's job. 
I've worked on very small teams and very large teams. Both have their ups and downs:
  • On a small team you could feel that you have real ownership of a project. Communication can be fast and loose. Money is tight so you may have hand-me-down equipment. You may have to work extra hard to get things done. You may have to do things that are way beyond your expertise.
  • A large team could have a bigger family feel. More people to help solve problems. Productivity could climb. The project might be bigger. More $$$! Communication could be bogged down or outright lost because of the size. Since its a bigger project you might be expected to produce more. It can be an organizational nightmare for the Producer. You may be stuck doing the same thing for years.
Some people like tiny teams. Others like the giant AAA style studios.
My preference is somewhere in between, which can be very difficult to find. 
They are out there, though 😁

Don't Get Comfortable 😰

General / 15 May 2018
Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇
Something that could potentially happen to you is getting comfortable. If that happens you have started on your path to becoming irrelevant. The only way to keep yourself relevant is to step out of your comfort zone. Your can't learn anything new without discomfort.

Learning a new piece of music, or a new modeling technique, or driving. No matter what it s you might screw up (the first time) and will have to do it again and again in order to be proficient. Ask for help from those ho know how to do whatever it is. Don't try to learn "in the blind". It's always best to have some sort of reference, like a video or another person.

You will always feel out of your element until you get the hang of whatever it is you're learning.
And thats OK. Its a natural reaction. Your brain and body have to adapt until muscle memory is achieved. Or whatever goal you set out is accomplished.

It's not to say you can't feel some of the comfort of achieving a new goal. Revel in it, and be humble. No one likes a showoff. If you can teach it, then do so. It will re-enforce what you learned. As a teacher I have to do my best to stay updated on the latest and greatest tech and techniques. I also rely on my students to show me new stuff, as well. If I start to get comfortable at my job  I know I'm no longer relevant and I always feel the need to change that.

I like podcasts, especially the TED radio hour. So I wanted to share this very topic that was covered.

F*ck the 85% mark 😱

General / 09 May 2018
Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

There is a moment in every project, whether its writing a book, making a game, or creating a film, where you've had enough! Everything looks bad! Nothing is working! This thing sucks! I stink at this! That is the 85% mark. The Ugly Phase.

At this point you've spent a lot of time, maybe with others, on whatever it is. You're getting tired of it. It does not look good or feel right because you've spent a ton of power on it and it's not done. If you have coworkers you are probably getting sick of them, too! This is where you really see all the perceived flaws because it's not complete. This is the hardest part of any project to get past.

I've seen it happen. Where someone will abandon the project at this point, vowing never to return. There is no getting around it, the Ugly Phase. All you can do is find support with others, like your teammates, and do your best to keep moving. I recommend keeping things that you made at the beginning of the project to see how far you have come. If its your studies, keep you first assignment, and cringe as to how bad it is compared to what you have now. It will get better so long as you hod on and do your best to work through it.

Remember that its OK to feel these things. We're only human. Go and let off steam. What you should not do is bring others down. That will come back around to haunt you eventually.

Once you get past the 90% mark you will start to see the end in sight and hope will return. The project is almost complete. Others will see the end as well and that will help encourage you to finish.
The relief, and rewards, will always be worth it. And then you get to do it all over again 😈