Don't Get Comfortable 😰

General / 15 May 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡
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 Β 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.

https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/606073044/comfort-zone

F*ck the 85% mark 😱

General / 09 May 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

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 😈

Devil's Advocate 😈

General / 02 May 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

In my opinion all director level managers (like Art Directors) need a Devil's Advocate. They need someone to ask the hard questions. Someone who is on the front lines with the rest of the crew. A person who can keep an objective view of the goals and the team. What Directors DO NOT need are suck-ups and yes-men. They don't need anyone to feed their egos. Independent thought is so important as well as double checking to make sure the Director is on the right path for the team.

This means the Director must be flexible. To bend and not break. Good Directors are not dictators. Β  they are adaptive to new and unexpected situations and actively listen to their crew. If the majority of the team is in agreement that the product is going in the wrong direction, the Director should listen.Β 

One of the toughest things for a Director to do is to make an unpopular decision. Like letting a team member go. These types of decisions must always be for the benefit of the team. Or the company. The Director will have to have a thick skin to withstand the potential fallout and redirect frustrations to creative efforts. So long as the decision is a benefit to the product, or company, it will work itself out. What's even more difficult is if the director has a personal stake in the decision. Example: the person being let go is a friend. I've had the unfortunate duty of letting friends go from jobs. Its worse because I brought them into the job to begin with. If directors appear to be callus or cold it's because they may be doing their best to keep an objective distance of the team and the product. This is why it can be difficult for friends to form and maintain a company. Business and the longevity of the products can sometimes interfere with friendships.

Keep in mind that a Director will do his/her best to maintain scope of the product or company as a whole. Which is why they need a Devil's Advocate. Sometimes the Director needs to be questioned if they decision they are making is a good one. That its actually good for the rest of the team, the company. Directors must always maintain the long view. In which case the Director must seek council with their Devil's Advocate.

A Director's success will be reflected in the rest of the team's success. In the company's success. The rest of the team will want to work with the Director on the next project.
And a tight team, that trusts each other, is a successful team.

Know Your Limit πŸ’£

General / 25 April 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

It takes a long time, and diligence, to be really good a something. Some people have a natural knack for whatever they are good at. You can't be great at everything, though. I recently had a discussion with one of my students who wanted to be good at everything. I said that it was impossible. Our industry wants people to be exceptional at one thing. To be good at others. And then willing to learn new skills later on. Even in indie studios there are people who have specializations yetΒ have to do a ton of other work because there is no choice.

The best way to be good at something is to love what you're going. I mean really love it. Where you can see yourself practicing this thing because you find it fulfilling in some fashion. Once you get really good at it then you can pick up other skills or add to it.

I don't think I'm good at drawing. I struggle with it. I can get by enough to communicate what I need, and sometimes that's enough. I am very good at hard surface modeling, especially robots. I enjoy it. I'm really good at fine art photography. I can't live without taking photos, although I enjoy it as a side gig and not my main source of income. I'm good at other things and really such at others (no one will ever see my animations).

I thought that being good at everything was going to make me more valuable when I first started. I was wrong. All it did was make me just passable. Once I focused one one thing, and got really good at it, then I was asked to do other stuff. I still held on to being really good at that one thing, which was hard surface modeling. Afterwards I added UV mapping to my skill set. I found that I enjoyed it. UV mapping drove other people insane! So I took advantage of that }:-)

I always tell my students that if you do the thing you love, everything else will work out. Which is why you can't be good at everything. You can't love everything. You're only human and can't split yourself that much. Follow what you love, what you can do every day without loosing your shit, and learn other skills on the side.

If you attempt to be great at everything, you'll be great at nothing.
A paradox? Maybe. Yet it's the truth.

Grunt Work 😀

General / 17 April 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

When you first get into the industry you will not be giving the glory assets, no matter how good you are. Those items will be reserved for the more experienced team members. In the game industry you'll probably be given mundane assets, like crates, or background animations, or something else that is considered grunt work. Β When I got in I had to make dozens of UIs with a maximum of 2 colors, black and green, and a resolution of 640x480 each. Eventually, down the road, I got to make cool stuff. Even help develop whole worlds

Again, remember that you are a part of a team. The project comes first, not your ego to make awesome assets. In most industries you will start at the bottom. Sorting the mail, organizing some asset library, monitoring a render farm, rotoscoping, etc. And they will be low impact gigs that can easily be replaced by another person. The newbies get these jobs because the upper team members want to see how good you are at what you do: can you meet deadlines? can you take direction? Β No matter how lowly the job appears you still have to do the best work you can do. Even if it lasts a while (if it lasts more than a year, or so, and you see no upward movement then you need to reevaluate the job).Β 

You might also be asked to do some pick-up work that is not your specialty for any number of reasons. Usually it's because the team is short on staff and you have bandwidth to do more work. Sometimes the work may not be portfolio worthy. Don't complain, do it anyway and get it out of the way. Now, if its unethical or really way outside your expertise, that's a different story. Talk to your manager and see if there is another way. If it's something you can do then do it. The task may not be beneath you, you're just letting your ego getting in the way. The faster the mundane task is done the faster you can get to your specialized sexy stuff.

This may be different in an indie company. In that case everyone pitches in on the grunt work because everyone is on the hook to get the project done at a high quality. No matter what situation you're in, there is no room for prima-donnas.

This rule also goes for jobs you man actually don't like (until you find something new). In my past, there were companies and teams I was not a fan of. I even got passed up for promotions at one job years ago. I still did my work to the best of my abilities and I got some really good portfolio pieces. More importantly, I got the respect of other team members and made good friends. And these will stay with me for the rest of my career.

Nothing is Sacred πŸ’”

General / 10 April 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

One of the things that we have to do as creatives (art, programmers, etc.) is to stay current with new tech, art styles, whatever. If we don't then, we become irrelevant in a very short period of time. That means being flexible and being open to change. Most of all it means that you have to LET GO OF OLD STUFF. For example, holding on to old portfolio pieces will not only date you, it will keep you from moving forward into new areas. I'm in the process of changing my portfolio and eliminating 4/5 of it. I don't remember the last dev who used basic to code anything.

You also must be able to receive critiques with a plan to take the ideas that are actionable and implement them for the future. That means looking for people to critique your work who can give you feedback that is more objective andΒ  relevant. You also have to take some critiques with a grain of salt, especially if you get a visceral reaction. Some of the critique might just be personal tastes.

The bottom line is that you MUST be willing to learn new things, change, and adapt, unless you plan on becoming a relic. Example: I am finally wrapping my hear around linear workflow for games. It's finally making sense and I plan on teaching it to my students. Sometimes, I learn new things from my students, which is very exciting.

Anyone who claims to know everything about a particular subject is FULL OF IT. There are always new things to learn in your field, no matter what it is. You must maintain a culture of learning inside yourself at all times.


Its about the Team πŸ†

General / 27 March 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

Once you get into the industry you might come in with a naive notion that you're gonna make the game/film you want to make. Better build a bridge and get over that ASAP. More than likely you were hired to do a specific job (unless of course you own the company which is another conversation). Keep your life dimple. Do the job you were hired to do. Other opportunities will arise.

Working with other people as a team can sometimes be challenging, especially if there are personality conflicts. With luck, the company that hired you has similar people like yourself. Do all you can to remember that the studio's work is about the project and that everyone has a common goal. There will be times where you will have to work with someone that you'd rather not work with. Make the best of the situation. I guarantee you'll learn something. I've had to work with people I was not a fan of in the same office. I was able to find something in them that I could respect. I mean, there's a reason they got hired. They were good at their job, and I learned a lot from them.

The shipping of a product should never be reliant on just one person. It takes a team to complete a product (there are exceptions of course, like some indie studios). Nor should the product be beholden to whether or not the teammates get along with one another. If it's so bad at the work place then it may be time to find somewhere else. And that's OK. A workplace, in our industry, should be conducive to creativity and solving problems, not feeding one person's ego.

Working for yourself is another matter. It can be very fulfilling, so long as you treat it like a job. Example: You have to ship your product at some time, therefore it just has to be good enough. You have to have limits and maintain goals, otherwise you can go on forever on whatever you're making. Even after you ship you still have to rely on others to be successful. Like those who purchase what you make.

Everyone on the team takes their victories and lumps together.

Perfection is a MYTH 😱

General / 25 March 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

I've come across art directors who want all of the art in the game perfect.Β 
Guess what: THERE'S NO SUCH THING!!! We are only human, and nothing humans can make is perfect. Ask anyone in any industry and you'll hear the same thing:Β 
"Man. if only I'd have changed X, Y, or Z..."Β 
"I could have done it better"
"I almost got it right"

All you can do is get it (whatever it is) to good enough because there are deadlines to keep and budgets to stay in. Β The consumer won't care much (or even see the perceived mistakes) as long as you did your best. And that's what really maters. If anyone asks you that they want perfect (or you chase perfection) it's asking for the impossible. All you can do is your best, and nothing more should be asked of you or asked of yourself.

Yet I see the opposite all the time. From so many people in lead positions asking for unreasonable goals and those under them striving for the impossible. I've seen artists and programmers slave themselves to achieve perfection only to be crushed by self disappointment and then the self-doubt, which leads to making your craft worse.

All the should be expected of you and is your best efforts. What you should give is your best effort. Always. Even if it's not glamorous. Say you've got your first job in the industry and you're goal is to be a character artist. Well, when you start chances are you'll be making crates for a while. So make the best damn crates you can, on time, and within the budgets. Ten be ready to take on the next oddball task. Β Remember, no one starts at the top and succeeds. You need experience to get to the top. So hone your craft and make those crates as best you Β can. Not perfect. Just good enough.

Reputation is Everything

General / 19 March 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

Right now is Spring Break for my students an Several of them are at GDC this week. So I feel that this would be an appropriate time to talk about reputation.Β  The moment my students walk into my classroom (aka The Dojo) I tell them that their reputation begins at that moment. That they should not aspire to become a professional artist. They have to BE the professional artist. Their fellow students will be their first connection in their nascent network and they will be remembered by their actions and what they say long after graduation. Their reputation will precede them. This is especially important should any of their classmates be in a position to make or break hiring decisions. And they don't even have to be the hiring manager.

I found out last year how I got my first job at FASA Interactive/Virtual World in Chicago. I had submitted my portfolio and one of my images caught the eyes of the Art Director. I had photoshop'ed a mech in a photo of the desert near where I used to live. OK, I showed that I had technical know-how with artistic chops. The next thing he did was ask around the office about me. I was known there and folks said good things about me. I had no idea that my reputation went that far! After that he took a chance on me as an intern. And the rest is history. I still keep in contact with that AD, Dave McCoy, who became one of my mentors. This was my first lesson into having a good reputation. It didn't sink in until years later when I changing jobs and good things continued to be said about me by people I didn't know.

A bad reputation will go further and do some serious damage. I have seen people get black listed from the industry due to their behavior (these are few and extreme cases). Most of the time the bad reputation prevents them from fully succeeding.

Remember that you are just 2 people away from your next gig.
And the rule is simple: Don't be an asshole. It takes work and persistence to be a decent person yet it WILL pay off. After a while it becomes second nature to treat others the way you want to be treated. Just remember that all it takes is one really bad episode to the wrong person.

On the flip-side a good reputation will take you further than you can imagine.
And that will always be a Good Thingβ„’Β  πŸ˜‰

Failure is an Option 😱

General / 13 March 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

One of the things I constantly see in the industry is stress. A lot of it. Much of it is early on in a person's career and it's usually about failing at something. Especially in young developers. Here's the ting: it's OK to fail. So long as you learn from your mistakes in order to never repeat the same mistake. The place to really make mistakes is in school because you will (or should) have a support network to help you figure our what you did wrong so as not to do it again. Google has a team where they're job is to fail:
http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-25880738

The pros make mistakes all the time.
"Whaaaaat!?!? Lunacy!" I hear you say. It's true.
Most people, with untrained eyes, will never see the mistakes. It happens all the time, it's how you react to your mistake that will result in a good or bad outcome. I made a big one once. I used the wrong collision volume for an asset that was everywhere in a city scene we were building. The game went from 60fps to about 5fps after my submission. This was all due to a miscommunication on my lead's part. It took down the whole game studio wide for almost a day. We found Ethel problem and I redid the collision volume in 5 minutes and re-submitted. Problem solved.

There was no finger pointing, no accusations, no hiding or crying. Just people who wanted to solve the problem. And it's ok to feel like you screwed up. Everyone does. What is important is how you deal with the fallout. That being said, it's also important for how your teammates deal with it.

Now, it can get messy when everyone is crunching and nerves are frayed. It may be one of those times where you, or they, need to take a moment and step back. So long as everyone works to resolve the problem.

Remember, it's about the project. Not an individual or their ego.