Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Developing a business plan (long term)


4 year business plan: 2014 – 2017

The period starting from 2014 could lead to several possibilities when it comes to working in the CG industry. At the moment, my plan is to kick start my career in game development art after I graduate.
The only factor that influences how the upcoming four years shape is whether I will be good enough to succeed in the mentioned sector.

Plan A: if I manage to achieve my initial goal, I will focus on becoming better as quickly as possible to ensure I could fit in to a large variety of companies. Goal is to build up experience and reputation as an Environment Artist. Widening my network of professional contacts will play a huge part during this period as well.
By researching artists like David Lesperance, it becomes obvious that building up a solid reputation in your field is key. Mr. Lesperance, besides being a dedicated Environment Artist on the Halo 4 game at 343 Industries, he constantly creates personal 3D art material, varying from high-poly cinematic work to low-poly game assets (www.davidlesperance.blogspot.com) . He worked at Blizzard Entertainment’s Cinematic team, involved in projects like the opening introduction video for World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria. He easily made the transition to low-poly work thanks to his reputation and contacts.
I am aiming for a similar approach, one that focuses on all of the key elements that make me a valued person within the industry.
My aim is to eventually work in the U.S.A as this has been a great desire for a long time. There are a lot of personal reasons behind a move to America, but it would be amazing professionally as well. It’s good to travel and work at several companies to widen your experience. I plan to make this move no later than 2015 and will keep honing my skills and acquiring experience until then.


2014
Concentrate on acquiring as much experience as possible and building up a good reputation via the quality of my work and through an ever expanding professional contact network. Jobs would be accepted anywhere in Europe or abroad.

2015
By this time I hope to have made a move to the U.S.A. to further expand my arsenal of experience and skill set. It is also important for an artist to have a fresh mind and keep the ambition/motivation at a high level. Undertaking new challenges is important.

2016 - 2017
I am to have worked on two triple A titles for one or maybe two high-profile game development companies. By the end of 2017 I should have earned a Senior title in Environment Art.

Plan B:

There is always the possibility to approach the cinematic part of Computer Graphics. The assets which I create for games all have high poly versions with textures applied to them. If I end up with too many failed attempts in the gaming industry, I will take these high-res meshes and prepare a portfolio comprising of pre-rendered, cinematic-quality work.
At the moment, I have a few contacts at Digic Pictures in Budapest, Hungary (www.digicpictures.com). Digic is a high-end animation studio, specializing in cinematic/realistic work. They are involved with projects like Assasin’s Creed, Halo, Castlevania etc. Their work is recognized throughout the CG industry and they are considered to be one of the best alongside the likes of Blur Studios.
A friend named, Miklos Gabor has been working at Digic for three years and has been giving me advice on how to approach the company if I intend to apply for a position.
Digic tends to hire Hungarian artists mostly and Hungary hasn’t got the competition that Western Europe/America/Canada ha to offer. Earning a job at Digic would not be impossible at all with a properly tailored portfolio.
Professionally, Digic would be an amazing place to work at as the experience to be gained is excellent. I would grow as an Environment Artist and my CV would be enriched with an absolutely prestigious workplace. This could result in an eventual possibility on making a move to a company abroad after my contract ends. There is one setback with Digic, though: the wages they offer pale in comparison to those offered in the UK/U.S. etc. This would be one setback, but as mentioned earlier, I could easily find a job abroad after my contract ends.
Despite Digic being my biggest chance on entering the cinematic industry, I would still aim to apply to companies that have cinematic departments, like Blizzard Entertainment, Blur Studios, Electronic Arts etc.



2014
First three months of this year would be focused on creating a portfolio comprised of high-resolution, cinematic quality work. Hard surface assets, alongside architectural pieces should showcase in my show reel.
Starting from March – April, I would start sending out my applications to the likes of Digic Pictures, Blizzard Entertainment, Blur Studios etc.


2015
This year depends heavily on where I acquire a job. Digic tends to offer artists long-term contracts. If I manage to get into the studio, I will probably spend my next five years there. During that period, focus will purely be on becoming the best I can be and ever expanding my professional contacts.
If I acquire a position at any other company I would keep my options a bit more open and not exclude possible moves to different countries.


2016 - 2017
I aim to have built up a respectable reputation by this time as an Environment Artist. My work should reflect an expertise level that would even allow me to possibly make a transition to the game development industry.
By the end of 2017 I hope to have earned a Senior level in environment art.

Plan C:

If my attempts to enter the CG industry become a complete failure and I end up not being able to make a proper living out of producing 3D art, I will open up my own business.
Having lived the majority of my life in Romania with frequent visits to Hungary, it is clear that the CGI education is lacking immensely (especially in Romania). This is based on personal experience, as the early years of my journey in Computer Graphics composed of self-taught sessions only. 
Later, after carefully studying a large range of video-tutorials from prestigious companies, such as Digital Tutors, Gnomon Workshop, 3DMotive, Eat3D, Lynda.com, Escape Studios etc. I feel I understand what separates mediocre tutoring from a highly effective one.
I also had the opportunity to teach 3D Studio Max to two groups in the past. These groups, each comprised of 15 people provided me with a good insight into the world of tutoring. After the end of the program people expressed their satisfaction and I feel confident that I can succeed in the tutoring industry as well.
People in Romania and Hungary can hardly afford the prices Digital Tutors and similar companies are asking. Also, the tutorials provided are strictly in English, which is not the most suitable language in these regions.
My plan is to offer online and in-class tutoring possibilities regarding the most popular CG software of today. With proper research, planning, advertising, some professional CG experience under my belt, a degree and low tutorial prices, I feel there is a possibility to start up such a business.
Plan C could come to life even if I do succeed in the gaming or cinematic industry. I would have the budget to open up the business and hire people to maintain it. It can be a plan for the far future, but could act as a backup plan, should I need it.




2014
Involve myself in as many freelance projects as possible and shift my studies to a more Generalist approach. A Generalist approach would be crucial in order to teach a bigger variety of programs and topics to the students.
During the third part of this year, I hope to have started up the business in the city, Cluj Napoca, in Romania. Patience will be required to achieve profit and most likely the first few months would require re-investing the profit into the company in order to stabilize it.



2015
As proper profit starts to come in, I will be able to hire several local people with proper skills with relevant software. I plan to offer courses relating to a wider range of software. Courses should multiply and occur more often.
I would use the income to make a proper advertising campaign for my company, including TV ads, radio station ads, presentations at universities and schools etc.

2016 - 2017
During this period, the company should be completely on solid ground and have earned a decent reputation. I hope to achieve a monopoly position in Romania.



2018 – 2022:

According to Plan A:

By this time, I have achieved a Senior level in Environment Art and have worked on several triple A titles.
Eventually I want to obtain the experience necessary to earn a Lead role. A Lead Environment Artist is faced with decisions that affect the game on a bigger scale. I actually would be involved on planning the environments and assets. 
By looking at Lead Environment Artist job postings it becomes clear that such a position would involve significantly more responsibility, but would provide a more engaging experience for me as an artist. This would be a leap forward financially as well and would cement my reputation even further.


According to Plan B:

Having worked four years in the cinematic industry, I expect to have gained the experience required to obtain a position at any of the leading companies.
From Digic, I would expect a switch to Blizzard Entertainment’s cinematic department as their visual style has always inspired me. This switch would be a huge leap forward financially as well, which will allow me to start up my own business back home as a back-up financial source.
I expect to have gained the Senior, and eventually a Leading role in Environment and prop art. I wish to represent my companies for which I am working for at major events such as conventions, conferences etc.

According to Plan C:

By 2008, the tutoring company should have grown immensely compared to when it started out.
I hope to have secured a studio flat big enough to allow for a fully professional mentoring environment. The company might start up a side business focusing on creating 3D art (adverts, banners, logos, animations etc.) for a wide range of clients. This new service could even be run by the successful students who finished a course or more at the company, hence raising more interest.

Conclusion:

My professional future is completely linked with Computer Graphics. The next 4 months will be essential on how the near future shapes out, but I will constantly examine the possibilities this industry offers and aim to be successful.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Developing a business plan (short term)

One of the big requests of Professional Practice was to plan out a business plan leading up to graduation and beyond.

The aim was to develop a schedule and an organized approach to reach our goals. The purpose of this to better prepare myself to enter the professional industry after graduation.
Developing an organized schedule in order to reach my goal can be really beneficial on many ways. Often times I've found myself working and working, but I did not know what I was aiming for on the end. I did not have an end goal. This affects your focus and you are constantly thinking about your final desination. Having an organized schedule makes you more aware of what you are doing. This way you maintain focus and you can also keep track of your progress.
Having a schedule with deadlines is also a good practice to mimic an actual professional situation. When working in the industry you always work for deadlines. You have to be swift and produce good work at the same time. By developing a business plan I can practice and earn experience regarding deadlines.

6 month business plan:







8 month business plan: 

June – September 

This period will consist mostly of job hunting and working actively to always better my portfolio and skills. Attending networking events will be at least as crucial as before.

Networking:

Polycount.com meet-up (June or July – date undecided yet)
GDC Europe (13th – 14th August, Cologne, Germany)
Eurogamer Expo (26th – 29th September, London)
and others as they are announced.

Applications will be sent out to the following companies:

Blizzard Entertainment
Bethesda Softworks/ZeniMax
Blitz Game Studios
Bioware
Electronic Arts
Turbine Games
Codemasters
Guerilla Games
etc.

Main priority will be on companies that work on RPG/fantasy themed games as my portfolio mostly will be tailored to that genre. Along the way, I will have created hard surface models as well so I can apply to a bigger variety of game studios.
All of this will highly depend on the contacts I make throughout the February – May period as well. Throughout my networking I may find work opportunities that could change my plans. The goal is to immediately find a job after the SS2 hand in to start acquiring professional experience.

June – July:

This period will mainly focus on getting a job. I will approach my main targets (Blizzard, Bethesda, Bioware etc.). If no appropriate response comes, I will attempt to get into somewhat smaller companies (Turbine, Guerilla Games etc.).
I plan on entering a bigger competition on Polycount to get more exposure. If my initial applications don’t get me a job, a good performance at such a competition could do the trick. It will be good practice as well and I will constantly work and improve myself.

August – September: 

Plans vary in terms of results achieved throughout June-July.

Plan A: if I manage to obtain a job I will focus on fitting in as quickly as possible. Focus will be on performance to stabilize my position. New recruits can easily find themselves out the door. This is especially true for internships as it is very hard to obtain a full-time offer after it finishes.
Building a good relationship with my colleagues would be a top priority as it is important to keep in mind that I’m not just an employee, who keeps creating assets, but I am also a team player and need to blend in to my work environment. Good contacts might lead to my recommendation as a permanent Environment Artist.

Plan B: If I won’t be able to obtain a full-time position or internship, I will undertake freelance projects. I will possibly turn to my new contacts, which I made throughout the networking events attended. Also, there are numerous websites offering freelance work (e.g. Polycount, Freelancer.com etc.).
I will also examine my failed attempts on acquiring a full-time position/internship. Based on the results, I will set up new study and working sessions to amend the issues.
I will consult my industry contacts on advice on how to improve my portfolio.
The main goal is to, eventually acquire a full-time position, but if that does not happen until August, I will undertake freelance projects. At the same time I will focus to fill in the missing gaps to achieve my initial purpose. Freelancing would be a good way to obtain experience and of course to manage living costs, but the plan to get into the gaming industry will stay intact the entire time, no matter the outcome.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Job research 2

I have done a significant amount of job researching at the start of SS1, which can be read HERE .

During Professional Practice we were asked to do this once again, so I went ahead and researched several other companies.



First of all I looked at how the application process is built up for Blizzard Entertainment. Again, it becomes obvious that above all, I need excelent traditional art skills and a general feel to what makes something look great. Secondly, technical skills must not be ignored at all. Programs such as 3DSMax, Maya, ZBrush etc. are heavily required as well as Photoshop. Nothing has changed since my initial search. What is different this time is the fact that I actually looked at the application form.

It asks candidates to provide quite a lot of information. I've also learned that cover letters and recommendations can be uploaded as well. I will surely ask for a recommendation letter before applying to any company.




Bethesda Softworks asks for pretty much the same skills as Blizzard does. The only thing separating these companies usually are the bonus requirements. It is always a big plus to have a good knowledge about the games these companies develop. Having a good understanding and grasp on the visual style of the Elder Scrolls or Fallout games is a big plus when applying to Bethesda. Also, skills with the Havoc tools is a plus as well.
Same goes for Blizzard. If an applicant has played the game and understand how the company aims to entertain and above all understands the visual style then this is considered a big advantage.
World of Warcraft's architectural elements tend to be a parody of their realistic counterparts from real-life. Every church and house has a cartoony/curvy silhouette to it, whereas the Elder Scrolls games tend to be a bit more realistic, similar to the Lord of the Rings style.


Digic Pictures is an animation studio, that produces pre-rendered/cinematic quality work. Applying for a job through their website is a bit different: it does not follow a sofisticated application procedure, rather it tends to put more freedom and creativity in the aplicants hands. They clearly state that an artist should not concentrate on the technical elements, but on becoming a better artist.
If someone wants to apply then they can send an e-mail to which you attach anything you see fit (e.g. cover letter, CV etc.).


Blitz Studios has some great tips on what they would expect from a 3D Modeller & Texture Artist. This article is immensely helpful, especially if one is planning on applying there.
They reinforce the importance of a strong grounding in traditional art as well as how crucial the technical elements are today. These tips contradict with what Digic states, but one has to be able to see the entire picture: yes, growing as an artist and being able to create amazing visuals is important, but if you don't have the technical skills to bring those ideas to life via 3D Computer Graphics then you have a problem. The technical elements of today are very sophisticated and it takes years to learn them. One should not only focus on pencil and paper, but also train to get excellent technical skills.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The start of Professional Practice + creating a flyer task

A new mdule has just started at university, which is called Professional Practice. Our tutor, Timothy Lozinski (who I was working for at LAUNCH) explained the puprose of this module. The module helps us prepare to mature out of the "student life" and become a professional.

The module explains how to approach several topics, such as networking, tax planning, approaching job applications etc.
Timothy talked about a wide range of subjects, like how to introduce myself as an artist and make myself to be perceived as a professional, instead of a student.
I was reminded and provided with good tips on how to create and design business cards, how to present my work online etc. Timothy explained the importance of having an online portfolio that has a unique look to it. It is important to stand out of the competition and to not look like "just another artist". A lot of effort has to be invested on how people perceive you. Your professional image is crucial in order to be successful.

One of our first tasks was to create a flyer. My group's flyer had to contain useful information about the post graduate opportunities in Animation around the West Midlands. My specific role was to research Coventry University, University of Worcester and Funding information in general.

As a first step I went ahead and looked up the official websites of these universities to find out as much as I can from there. The websites lacked some information so I had to call up University of Worcester's information line to ask about funding possibilities.
Our first flyer did not end up being very good as the design did not do the information justice. After that, I went ahead and took over the designing part as well. The aim was to keep things really simple and clear. I don't think that with information that people actually seek you need to create some exotic design as it might distract the viewer from the actual information.

Here is the final look of the flyer:



Thursday, December 6, 2012

SS1 module - work compilation

Gates of Silvermoon:



Skeleton animation (at least 720p recommended for optimal view) :


Jewelry animation (freelance):


Arm watch - Photoshop work (freelance) (watches were in perspective, had to redraw them from a perfect front view):


Architectural asset:


Perspective drawing:

Color tests:






Monday, December 3, 2012

Compositing and finishing

I have rendered three different passes to be used for the compositing stage.

The first pass was the color/raw render pass which contained the color information of the scene. Sicne the color now contained the Global Illumination data in it, I've killed two birds with one stones, there was no need for a separate GI pass.

The second pass I have rendered out is the Ambient Occlusion. As mentioned before, this is necessary to bring all of the small details and darker areas to life. The color pass by itself cannot grab all the detail needed, so Ambient Occlusion is a must have.

The last pass rendered out was a so called RenderID pass. This pass gives every model a different, solid color. This allows me to mask out anything within the scene if needed. For example, if I add in a volume light effect, I can block that light out now and simulate it being behind a tower or another building. The light can shine through the leafs of a tree, but in a realistic manner, where the leafs actually obscure the light.


I didn't have to render out a separate alpha bass for the background as that was included in the color pass.

The next step was to take these into After Effects and begin the compositing.

First, I need to combine the maps and then begin to tweak the colors and add an appropriate background as well as the chosen audio.


Here are some images from the final footage:



To create the final image, I have used RedGiant Magic Bullet software, which I've found to be amazing for creating different visual styles and not having to be very technical about it. 
I've also used the Knoll Light Factory plugin for After Effects to quickly add in some very appealing lighting effects, such as simulating the glow of the sunlight and the glow on the blue crystals as well.

I have added an intro scene to the animation to slowly catch the viewer's attention before the main animation part begins. The audio chosen is from the game itself, thus providing the authentic Blood Elf feeling and carrying the animation through.