Thursday, December 27, 2018

Give it Time ⏰

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.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Desperation is Bad Cologn 👎

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,

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Someone to Mentor Over You 💪

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 😁

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Little Somethin' on the Side 😉

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.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Extended Crunch is Bad. Bad, bad, bad 💀

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.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Don't Relax Just Yet 💤

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.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The More You Know 💪

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.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Holy Trinity of Game Dev 😇

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 😁

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Don't Get Comfortable 😰

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.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

F*ck the 85% mark 😱

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 😈

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Devil's Advocate 😈

Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

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.   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. 

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.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Know Your Limit 💣

Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

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 yet 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.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Grunt Work 😤

Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

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.  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?  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). 

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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Nothing is Sacred 💔

Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

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 and  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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Its about the Team 🏆

Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

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.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Perfection is a MYTH 😱

Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

I've come across art directors who want all of the art in the game perfect. 
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: 
"Man. if only I'd have changed X, Y, or Z..." 
"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.  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.  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  can. Not perfect. Just good enough.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Reputation is Everything

Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

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.  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 Thing™  😉

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Failure is an Option 😱

Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

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:

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.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Shut up and Listen (actively) 👂

Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

An amazing tool you can develop for yourself for the industry (or anywhere for that matter) is knowing when to listen and when to speak. One of the hardest things for us to do as humans is to actively listen to someone and to really understand what they are communicating. To "hear" them.

We live in a very fast paced environment where everyone has an opinion. We have to filter so much of this out: what's garbage, what's relevant, what's just distracting. When engaged in a conversation with someone, especially when its deemed important, we have to be in the present. Not wondering what the next assignment is, or what YouTube channel to be watching next, or what you'll be having for dinner.

This means setting aside yourself, your pre-concoeved notions, your distractions, your anticipations, all of it, in order to be fully in the present in that conversation. Put your electronics away (laptop, cell phone, whatever) because they can cause undue distractions. Stop looking at your watch. (I never wear one during interviews). Its perceived as rude and that the other you have other things on your mind and they will believe that they are not important. Make sure that the environment is conclusive to conversations (a concert is not, for example). Basically do what you can to clear away distractions fo focus on the person, or persons, before you.

People like to be listened to. They want to fell appreciated and that what they are saying is important. Sometimes they want affirmation that they are being heard so you'll need to sometimes repeat back to them what you just heard. This could also reinforce, inside yourself, that you heard them correctly. But don't just echo. You may have to reword what they say. Especially if you are not in agreement, that gets into negotiation. A subject for another time.

At the right times you'll sometimes need to ask questions to get to the root of the conversation. What id the real reason for the conversation? How important is it? Has an issue already been solved, they just don't know it? Can you learn something from this?

Sometimes they just need to vent and are not looking for a solution. Maybe they just want a sounding board for their frustrations about something, This is where merely listening is all that is needed. Empathizing can also help, if possible.

There are times when you you'll want to interrupt, to state you'r opinions. Those are the times to really shut up and listen because you don't want to miss their point that may be hidden. Being able to effectively communicate is an art form that needs cultivation and practice. And realize that no none is good at active listening the first time. And that' OK 😊

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Rule #1: Cover Thine Ass

Onegai shimasu (おねがい します)  🙇

Rule #1 is not as crude as it sounds. It has to do when you're in the digital industry and life itself. Its not about selfishness. Its about taking care of yourself first in order to help others.
Its simple: How can you take care of others if you can't even take care of yourself?

Disclaimer: Like with most of the entries of this blog it comes from personal and professional experience.

There are going to be times where you will want to help your family/studio-mates or even be responsible for them. How can you help anyone if you're sleep deprived, physically ill, or worse? You can't. In order to be able to help anyone you have to be physically, mentally, even sometimes, spiritually fit enough. You must have some sort of balance in your life to help others. If not you will be drained of all energy to the point that you'll end up hurting yourself and others without realizing it or meaning to do so.

There is potential for this in the industry, less nowadays. For many of us the work/life balance is actually very important. To be able to spend time with our loved ones and have time for yourself to recharge. I was in the AAA industry for a time and there was a great deal of pressure put on me even when my managers stated there was no pressure. However, everyone in the studio felt the pressure. I knew a change had to happen, between missing a chunk of my son's early childhood and when I fell asleep at the wheel of my car on my way home from work (another story for another time).

It takes dedication and a willingness to take care of yourself, especially before things go bad. Most importantly it takes knowing yourself and a willingness to accept when you're not at your best. And that's the hardest thing to do: to accept and admit when you're failing yourself. Some of the signs to be aware of are:

  • lack of restful sleep
  • worsening of eating habits
  • shortening temper
  • lack of empathy towards others
  • not getting any of your own work done
  • a growing addiction to something (alcohol, drugs, food, games, whatever)
  • suffering personal relationships
  • these are just a few

    Now, there is also a gender bias. "The man works so hard! He deserves a break. She wants a break just for taking care of the kids? She's so selfish!"
    This is not a modern standard so much anymore, yet it still exists. I know sides in both camps. 

    No matter what, you have to take care of yourself. You have to make sure that you have an abundance of energy to give before you give or you'll be empty before you know it. Make sure you can get your work done before helping your teammates finish their work (don't do the work for them, of course)

    Your industry teammates are your extended family. You'll spend more time with them than your real family. Don't kill yourself for them. The industry does not need martyrs. It needs problem solvers, teammates, and real leaders that can see beyond the projects. To the human side. 

    Don't fall into the trap of being guilted into staying past your scheduled work hours. Neither your health, nor your pride, is worth the damage. If the project is scheduled properly, and if everyone does their job properly, this won't happen.

    Making games or films should not kill any part of you. Its entertainment, for crying out loud!

    Friday, February 16, 2018

    Welcome ^_^

    I want to welcome you to my Dojo. This blog is going to cover a number of topics from surviving the game industry, art, my personal views on philosophy or psychology, and a number of other things. This is not a site for art tutorials (although I might have links to some that I really like).
    Everything on this site is my personal views and not that of any company I'm affiliated with.
    More to come in the near future now that I have this site functional. Your patience is appreciated ^_^