“For many people obsession is a bad word, but I have no shame in it and feel lucky to have found the thing that defines me.”
Mr.Perez, thank you for taking time out of your day to chat with me today.
“Thank you for having me.”
What is your current title and where do you work?
“I work at a company called Cyan Inc., and I am a 3D artist there.”
What titles have you worked on previously?
Interesting, so would you say you’re more of a character artist? Environmental artist?
“I’d say I’m an environment generalist because my work entails just about everything that goes into making one from scratch. Though, I do enjoy creating characters, I’d have to brush up on it if I wanted to get hired professionally.”
What’s the typical day of an artist in your position?
“That’s a tough question because it changes all the time, one day I could be working on lighting, another day I’d fix bugs or create new models–or learn something totally new. I love that kind of dynamic, it makes working there way more fun. I typically go in at 9 and finish at 6, we really don’t have much crunch which is maybe a bit weird for the industry, but we have our moments.”
Huh…I’ve always imagined game companies — and the tech industry in general — being on a crunch time. However, tasks can still be accomplished with correct planning, funding, and communication in your team.
“Oh definitely! I’d be lying if I said we always had everything planned and good to go, but I think our team is great at finding intelligent solutions that work technically while resonating with our audience. The team really has a good handle on how to excite the player base.”
Where did you grow up?
“I grew up in Sacramento California, just basic suburbia.”
“Getting a job in the industry is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, it was constant working day and night either applying for jobs, making contacts, or improving work.”
When did you decide that you wanted to get into the game industry?
“The first game to put the thought of doing any kind of game related work was actually Myst, my dad was nice enough to get me an old software package called KPT Bryce and I got my hands dirty making environments there. Maybe that’s why I feel more comfortable with environments today, the program was pretty terrible at making humans. I think I was about 10 or so when I started messing with this stuff.”
“I had loved games at the age of 4 when my dad (thanks again dad!) got me and NES. But it was the game Final Fantasy VII that actually made me realize that I wanted to create games for a living. But at that time, it was only a theory–one that many people brushed off as impossible or silly because games were much less popular in the 90’s compared to today. So, I set out at 14 to create my first game (instead of doing my homework). It was a lot like Myst with 3D pre-rendered backgrounds where each movement had full motion video, and a few puzzles. I remember having 2 Macintosh computers constantly rendering my movies, while I coded on a PC. Anyway, long story short, when I saw my dad’s reaction playing my game, it was a cornerstone that made me realize that I wanted to make video games for the rest of my life, no matter the opposition.”
Wow that’s crazy! My dad wouldn’t even let me touch my Gamecube until 5 years after it was gifted to me. Where did you go to school?
“Really? That sucks! Actually my dad wasn’t always happy that I was so into it either, but he was happy that I was doing work in it rather than just playing.”
“I went to school at the Art Institute of California–San Francisco and got a bachelors there.”
Did you feel like the university helped you or at least prepared you to get a job in the game industry?
“Yes and no, honestly the school wasn’t amazing, but it did help me make good contacts which ended up being valuable, and there was a lot of learning I did on my own. I can’t recommend that school because of both outdated hardware and lectures, and a huge price tag. There were a few teachers I thought were super boss though.”
“Getting a job in the industry is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, it was constant working day and night either applying for jobs, making contacts, or improving work. The School did try to help through the Career Department, but the industry doesn’t like to hire juniors typically so it took about 5-6 months. For part of that time, I actually got a job as a tester, so it was pretty stressful juggling that job with trying to get 3D work on nights and weekends. This is where my coffee addiction began.”
“Then I got lucky with a startup facebook company called Lootworks, and they were focused on making a game that had pre-rendered backgrounds and 3D polygonal graphics on top of it (Resident Evil 1-3). It was a super fast paced company, but it was fun. I didn’t get paid much, and it all kind of dwindled after a while, sadly.”
Hey, you have to start from somewhere, right? Where did you do your job hunting? What year was all of this happening?
“I spammed gamedevmap! I already loved learning about new games and companies, so finding the companies to apply to wasn’t too tough. I also used Gamasutra and other typical sites. This was all happening around 2010.”
Well, it seems to have worked out for you. What skills or traits are important as a 3D artist?
“I think there are several, if you work in games, you definitely have to know and play games themselves well in order to understand your audience and get ideas on how to push things forward from the current landscape–and not only in the genre you’re working in, because it’s amazing what you can pull from other games and other art in general. Then, you can discern what they will likely focus on or get excited about. Other than that, silhouette, contrast, scale, and originality in your piece goes a long way to not only guide the player, but to hope to create something beautiful, memorable, and immersive.”
“…you can’t go halfway on anything because there is always fierce competition coming from all angles, and you have to constantly improve yourself.”
What advice would you give to someone who is pursuing your career?
“I’d say that they have to be very sure about that goal, I have known many people, mainly in school, who were there, but weren’t actually sure they wanted to do it for their entire lives. I’m not saying people have to do this their whole lives, but the school is expensive enough that you’d likely be paying for it for a huge chunk of your life, and it can also be difficult to head into other fields with a skill like 3D modeling. I met some that were basically just trying it out at the school before they decided anything. I think that’s a bad approach, and it can waste time/money–it’s important to practice and try things out before school in a game engine or a beginners program like RPG Maker so that you get a sense of how much you enjoy doing it and what resonates best with you in terms of what role you’d like to play in making a game.”
“So basically what I’m saying, is that it’s 3D Artist or Bust, you can’t go halfway on anything because there is always fierce competition coming from all angles, and you have to constantly improve yourself. If you don’t get a job for awhile, that’s part of the struggle, but you’ll definitely get there if you care enough–and I fully believe that. It often comes down to who wants it more.”
So, true. There is always someone who will want to hustle harder than you.
“Yep, and I will crush them! [Laughs]”
Do you have any favorite tools or plugins that you use in your work?
“We have our own tools we’ve written for Unreal Engine 4 and 3ds Max that have sped up our workflow. Many of these things were covered at a GDC talk my Art Director Eric Anderson gave. If it ever becomes public, I encourage a watch. Other tools like ‘make instance’, or ‘UV shells to poly groups’ is a nice one.”
“I really love both Maya and 3ds Max, I had previously loved using Unity, but now working in UE4 for a couple years, it’s been so fun that i’m not sure I can go back by choice! I’ve also learned and utilized other programs such as the substance packages, they’re pretty intuitive and fun.”
How do you keep up on the latest trends in 3D art?
“I talk to my friends and they tell me about the smaller programs like ‘Ipackthat’. I visit 3D art sites like Zbrush Central, Polycount, Digital Tutors, CG Society–to name a few. I also enjoy going to GDC and hearing the awesome talks and their demos on the show floor.”
What were some of your misconceptions about getting a job as a 3D artist or going to the game industry as a whole?
“My biggest misconception was that I initially wanted to do more than 3D art (audio, game design, programming), and I was sad to learn that I had to actually pick one skill to concentrate on, rather than be involved in every facet of game creation. It makes sense, because with the current state of the industry, it’s good to be focused on one or few skillsets in order to be competitive.”
I’m on the same page as you. I really enjoy learning and doing about anything that makes the game, even the things I’m bad at. Unfortunately, we have to choose one or the other. What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
“I feel most accomplished working on our current game called ‘Obduction’. It really harkens back to my high school days for me, of playing Cyan’s games and then making my own. It’s really odd and amazing to me how things have come full circle. It’s too bad we are just about wrapped up with it! I just hope it comes together well and that the fans enjoy it.”
I can’t wait to see how it come together as well. There is some buzz about it on the ‘net.
“Nice! Yeah, we are trying to build some hype for it, though it can sometimes be difficult to judge current hype.”
What one game has influenced you the most?
“[Laughs], what an unfair question! Kidding. Well, I’d say the original Mario Brothers technically influenced me the most because it started my incredible addiction, it was the first to show me how powerful actual interaction could be.”
What trends in the industry are most interesting to you?
“VR VR VR!!!! The new tech forces developers to try something new, rather than the huge amount of rehashes we are seeing year after year. Let this derail the cycle and bring the stagnated industry forward.”
Have you had a chance to work with VR?
“Yes, our game Obduction is going to be VR ready at launch on the Oculus Rift. It’s been a real joy testing the game that way.”
Are there any differences between creating 3D art for a VR game and a non VR game? Do you use the same programs to create art for VR?
“You can create a piece, and it’ll automatically work in VR, so to an extent, there is no difference. But if you want to go the mile and make something that can really take advantage in VR in every way, then there are some differences, yes.”
“Thinking about how the game looks in 3D is a big one, there are certain gameplay elements or visual cues that you can only see in 3D if authored correctly, and it can show the player something different than they are used to seeing. 3D also helps with immersion when the environment is fully scaled correctly with real life.”
“Frame rate is a big issue also, because it needs to be smooth in VR, or it will annoy many users. However, since VR frame rate is higher, you need more bandwidth and therefore need to think about how to adjust your graphics so that they run fast and still compete with other 2D games. This part can be challenging, especially when on PS4, the frame rate for so many games is only 30, compared to Oculus Rift’s 90, or PSVR’s 60-120 frames per second.”
“Normal maps are also flat in VR! This is pretty bad considering that normal maps are such a normal part of the workflow, I recommend using parallax mapping instead when possible. It looks better in 2D with parallax mapping anyway.”
“Aside from these few tidbits, VR still has big question marks in terms of its potential not just for graphics, but gameplay, and that’s exactly why I’m so excited about it!”
How do you like to spend your time outside of work?
“Honestly, I have a problem ‘turning it off,’ I game a lot on my free time and usually don’t finish my games. I enjoy talking games with my biggest gamer friends and bounce game ideas or learn about some diamond in the rough game I may have missed. Having people over for game nights is a regular thing, as well as going to game and anime conventions! Aside from games, I do like to play racquetball, yeah, it’s still a game.”
If people wanted to find you, where can you be reached? Twitter, email, website, etc?
Nice. One last thing, describe yourself in one sentence. What is your tagline?
“For many people obsession is a bad word, but I have no shame in it and feel lucky to have found the thing that defines me.”
I love it! Thanks for your time today.