The Crystal Habit Podcast: Episode 25 [Musical intro]
Segment 1: Intro MEAGAN MARIE: Welcome to episode 25 of the Crystal Habit podcast! This episode is actually broken down into two segments. The first one will continue our breaking into the game industry feature. This time we’re going to take a look at concept, character, and environment art with three individuals from the studio. I’ll say right off the bat, these gentlemen are hilarious, and a large majority of the podcast is the four of us breaking down into laughing fits. But regardless of the laughing fits, their advice is fantastic and I think it offers great insight into what to expect if you’re getting into gaming in one of these more artistic vocations. After that, we’re going to take some time out to talk to Scott Amos, who is an EP here at Crystal Dynamics. We’re going to speak to Tomb Raider Definitive Edition and give you a breakdown on what to expect from that release, which is coming out in late January. Enjoy the show!
Segment 2: Artists
MEAGAN MARIE: Welcome back, everyone. Thank you for tuning in to the Crystal Habit podcast, episode 25. I can already tell you guys that this episode is going to be a lot of fun, because the guys in front of me have a hard time keeping a straight face. This week, we’re going to focus on some industry opportunities for those who are looking to use their artistic skills, specifically. There’s quite a few opportunities, it turns out. We’ll be taking a look at concept, character, and environment art today, and then next episode we’re going to tackle animation, VFX, and UI. So! Let’s put a name to the voices you guys hear giggling in the background. It’s my fault for picking the room with the glass walls. You guys are just seeing everyone else walk by. First, we have concept director Brenoch Adams. You’ve been on the podcast before.
BRENOCH ADAMS: I’ve been on a couple, yeah.
MEAGAN MARIE: You’re a pro at this. All right. Then we have lead character artist Dan Roarty.
DAN ROARTY: Yeah, how’s it going?
MEAGAN MARIE: And then lead environment artist Josh Bapst.
JOSH BAPST: How’s it going, guys?
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s going well. I think if they could answer you, they’d say they’re excited.
JOSH BAPST: Should I not pose questions to the podcast group?
MEAGAN MARIE: No, I think it’s more immersive. [laughter] I think they appreciate you taking the time to ask.
JOSH BAPST: I meant the question.
MEAGAN MARIE: So let’s start off, first and foremost, by defining exactly what each of your jobs entail, how you interact with each other in a studio setting. Let’s start with Bren. Concept director. As a concept artist, what is your role and responsibility in making a game?
BRENOCH ADAMS: We’re responsible for the blueprint level of stuff. Having to work with these two jokers is quite difficult. [laughter] Even being in the same room with them.
JOSH BAPST: Let’s not beat around the bush here.
BRENOCH ADAMS: You guys suck. Just to put it simply, it’s more of the blueprint level. We’re able to provide the characters, environments, props, and storyboards and so forth that go out to Dan to be able to create characters, or Josh to be able to create environment art. It’s a fun job.
MEAGAN MARIE: As a concept director or artist, are you constantly working? Is your workload front-heavy, at the beginning of the project? How does that transition as you get into development?
BRENOCH ADAMS: We don’t have a huge group of concept artists, so in general we start out by having—There’s five of us right now that are on this current project. We start off by doing just about everything you could possibly think of. Storyboards, characters, environments. As it gets toward production, it’s more of the filling holes here and there, and trying to make sure that everyone’s fed info, so that when we get the point where we have to paint over something, and someone’s not clear about something, we can give them the quick sketch and whatnot that’s going to keep moving forward. At that point, we usually have established what the general look and flavor of the whole deal is. It’s more about providing as much info and support as we can to each team.
MEAGAN MARIE: Dan, as a lead character artist, are you still considered a concept artist? Are you working primarily on concepts, or do you work on actual implementation in the game?
DAN ROARTY: I’ll be working with Bren or one of Bren’s guys. He’ll deliver a concept or work in progress concept, and then I’ll conceptualize it in 3D based on what he’s done or what one of the other concept guys has done. It’s pretty cool. There’s a lot of back and forth. Sometimes there’s more strict concepts you have to follow to the T, but usually it’s more loose, where Bren or one of the guys will leave a bit to the artist’s interpretation, which is pretty cool. Taking what he does in 2D and bringing it into 3D.
MEAGAN MARIE: Do you guys ever get into little ownership disputes, where you’re like, no, it has to be this way?
BRENOCH ADAMS: No. I think part of the process of going from 2D to 3D, it’s a weird gap to cross, because it’s never going to look quite how you want to in 3D. Dan consistently will take it to the next step and make something that we did in 2D quite a bit better, I think.
MEAGAN MARIE: So it’s an evolution, rather than a direct translation.
BRENOCH ADAMS: Absolutely. That’s the point. We need somebody like Dan to be able to bridge that gap.
MEAGAN MARIE: How about you, Josh? As a lead environment artist, are you working with concepts and implementing them into these actual 3D worlds?
JOSH BAPST: Yeah. Typically, when we get started on a process, the art director and concept director will get together to flesh out the tone and composition for the spaces we’re looking to build. What’s the space going to feel like? There’s a giant beard looking through the glass at us…
MEAGAN MARIE: Wait…
JOSH BAPST: I don’t know if that man has a face. I’m pretty sure it’s just a beard.
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s not even Movember anymore.
JOSH BAPST: We’ll flesh out the backdrop of the world the player interacts with, that they explore throughout the game.
MEAGAN MARIE: Now that we understand what you guys do here, let’s take a step back and understand how you got to this point. We’ll start with you again, Bren. What sort of education or training did you receive to get to this point?
BRENOCH ADAMS: I went to the glorious San Jose State University. I went through the animation and illustration program there, with a bunch of terrific professors. We had a lot of exposure to games and film and so forth. That crafted what I want to do now. They were instrumental in showing and directing me into, hey, what do you want to do? Games, film, whatever? I was like, games are awesome! It felt like the right avenue. From there, working ridiculous hours, not sleeping – which is what we all do here.
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s pretty universal.
BRENOCH ADAMS: Yeah. I ended up going to a company out of college up north in Novato, and ended up here in 2008, working on Underworld.
MEAGAN MARIE: Very cool. How about for you, Dan?
DAN ROARTY: A Canadian boy, so I didn’t grow up around here. I went to a college—At the time it was called the Center for Digital Imaging and Sound. It’s been changed now to the Art Institute. Kind of the same thing. Any waking moment, I’d be living at the school. My first gig, I was actually still in college. One of the owners of the college was friends with a guy from MTV. He just happened to be in the school at the time. He saw the demo reel I was working on and offered me a contract there on the spot. I finished off the demo reel, did a little small film for MTV, and then the same kind of thing. Got into games and moved my way up here to the states. Now I’m at Crystal.
MEAGAN MARIE: Very cool. And you, Josh?
JOSH BAPST: I went to school in Brooklyn, New York, at Pratt Institute. I got a BFA in computer graphics and interactive media. After I graduated, I did a couple of freelance projects in and around the greater New York area. I don’t mean to sound like a rock star, but…
BRENOCH ADAMS: Relax.
JOSH BAPST: I worked in some commercial production houses – modeling pre-vis for Pillsbury Doughboy and for booze commercials. It’s a pretty big deal, I know. I was walking around like… No surprise where I am now.
BRENOCH ADAMS: There is that.
JOSH BAPST: Then there was only one triple-A game studio in New York at the time, Kaos Studios, THQ. I got my foot in the door through QA there, and quickly worked my way up and got promoted to art producer. I worked there until the studio closed in 2010, and then I joined the staff here at Crystal Dynamics.
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s interesting, because one of the—I think this is becoming less of a conversation, because people are realizing how technical the field is, even if you’re doing art. But there was for a long time a conversation about, do I need to go to school? Do I need to have a formal education to work in games? A lot of the time, when it came to more of the artistic vocations within gaming, people would say, well, as long as you’re just super talented, it’s not as much of a priority. Where you do you guys fall on that? Do you think it’s a mixture of being self-taught and trained and also education?
BRENOCH ADAMS: I don’t know. Talent will definitely only get you so far. All of us here have worked our asses off for hours and hours. It’s all about mileage, about making sure you’re dedicating yourself to the craft. I believe that about just about anything. There is a technical side to what we do. There are a lot of roadblocks and a lot of things we can’t do that somebody in film might be able to. Those are starting to go away slowly, but we still work our asses off constantly to make sure that we’re—This industry changes so fast. We have to be able to keep up with it. I would say the technical understanding that people think they have to have coming in, you will learn here, and you will get it here. You just have to work extremely hard to be able to keep up with it.
MEAGAN MARIE: That’s important too. Hard work, talent and training. It seems like a good balance.
DAN ROARTY: Like Bren said, we’ve always been driven. In school, school will teach you some things I don’t know if you’ll necessarily be able to pick up all on your own. The foundational art history. Learning a lot about film, and even about 2D animation stuff, which is pretty cool. I don’t think I would have been able to teach myself that kind of stuff. For me, though, I think I’ve learned the most working in the industry, working with all these guys, but I wouldn’t have been able to move to the states and get a green card and all that stuff without education. From that standpoint, for me, it’s been super important. The other part of that is, I don’t think anybody—You always have to keep learning. You’re never going to stop. Bren does the same thing, and Josh as well. You go home and you’re obsessed about it. You’re working on stuff all the time. It’s a constant learning thing.
JOSH BAPST: Yeah. The university experience is a good framework for keeping you oriented and propelling you forward in terms of your education, but at the end of the day, you have to be very proactive, since the industry is constantly changing. Technology is constantly changing. You want to be testing out all the new technologies, playing around with Unreal Development Kit, any new Z-brush type of programs coming out. Not just relying on the framework of your curriculum, but also seeing what you can learn just by getting out there and networking with people.
DAN ROARTY: It’s good for contacts and stuff, too. We still—It’s such a small industry. You go to school with some of the people you knew back in the day, and you still talk to them. Mike Wizowski?
BRENOCH ADAMS: Yeah.
MEAGAN MARIE: The smallest big industry.
DAN ROARTY: It’s crazy how small it is.
MEAGAN MARIE: Okay, so let’s jump into, what’s the day to day like working at Crystal in your position? Who do you collaborate most with on a daily basis? Do your general positions collaborate a lot? Do you work with other vocations and specialties in the studio frequently?
DAN ROARTY: I don’t work with Josh much, which is disappointing. We always have such a good time. [laughter] You do work with a lot of different disciplines. From the tech side and the art side. You do collaborate with all the disciplines, which is pretty awesome actually. I really like that.
JOSH BAPST: The studio here definitely has a smaller, more boutique feel. The pillar of our production is that everyone is collaborating together. It’s important that art, design, animation, characters, effects are all working hand in hand toward building as great an experience as possible. We don’t try to approach our day to days in solid form. It’s very organic.
BRENOCH ADAMS: Yeah, it is very free form. It depends on what we’re working on, but we will go to just about every discipline. If we have to get some rendering help, we’ll go to some program. If we have to get some character work—We just bounce around. That’s one of the beautiful things about where we are here. We’re able to go do that. There’s no velvet rope where we have to stop and say, wait a minute, you can’t talk to him. We are able to talk to anybody at any time, which keeps things flowing.
MEAGAN MARIE: How does that day to day evolve as the project goes forward? I imaging you start out first, just establishing in general what the character looks like and how they will be implemented in the game. As you get further in, what are you working on and refining?
DAN ROARTY: It’s funny, when you talk to people—The day to day, all the day to day is different depending on what you’re working on, but from a character standpoint, I’ll constantly work back and forth with Bren on what his vision and feeling are for the character. We’ll start off with block meshes, building it in Maya, getting some basic proxies in. Then John will rig it up, throw it in game. From there, we’ll look at the silhouette and start out building the high-res using Zed-brush…
BRENOCH ADAMS: Heyoooo!
DAN ROARTY: Or Mudbox, building the high-res, getting approval there from Bren and the art director. Then going into the texturing phase, starting to build the in-game, and then ideally you put all the nice shaders and textures and stuff in. That’s when we’ll have a finished project. But it’s a long, exciting process.
MEAGAN MARIE: Is it pretty similar for you, in terms of the process of fleshing out the world?
JOSH BAPST: Yeah. For a typical environment artist on the project, it’s very similar day to day to what Dan has. We try to keep a good portion of the team focused on content creation. They’re getting in there, building all the narrative prompts that help establish the lore of our world. Then we also have environment artists, typically ones that are more senior, helping—They’re the world builders. They’re generating the composition. They’re helping tone the experience with the designers. They’re building the broad picture. As a lead environment artist, I start early in the project, in the pipeline, going down to the details, producing content, helping establish what the quality bar will look like for the game. As the project ramps up and more staff come on, I typically go into more of a managerial role, in terms of managing the direction for the environments and also making sure we have the right team.
MEAGAN MARIE: If you guys don’t mind, I like to ask this question for some of the more proactive people listening, who want to start learning tools and technology. We have a lot of people in high school who listen to this podcast. Do you have any specific tools or programs that you use regularly, or you feel could give people an edge if they wanted to start playing around in it?
DAN ROARTY: There are the standards that are super important. Maya and Zbrush, obviously, are big ones. But you’re finding out that there are so many new tools coming out all the time. It’s always really good to be super proactive and learn some more tools. MARI is a big texturing thing. There’s Mudbox. I use Shave and a Haircut.
MEAGAN MARIE: What is that one? [laughter]
DAN ROARTY: It’s kind of a newer tool they use to create splines for hair, but you can actually render hair and stuff. All these crazy…
MEAGAN MARIE: Really granular programs.
DAN ROARTY: Yeah. There’s a ton. I’m sure Josh uses a bunch. He can tell you about more of them, too. There are loads of them. You always have to be proactive and keep learning them.
BRENOCH ADAMS: It’s also about experimenting with all of them and finding what you’re most comfortable with. Dan is more prone to using Mudbox, because of the interface and how it can craft. He uses Zbrush for specific stuff. But for the most part it’s about poking at all these things and figuring out what works best for you. That, from a lower level of trying to get into this stuff—It’s figuring out what you like and don’t like about your program that keeps your workflow good. That’s something you’ll learn as you get mileage and start cranking stuff out. But try to figure out what you like more than other interfaces. That’s totally crucial now. You can get stuck with some crap that just doesn’t work and then you find this beautiful new piece of tech, and you’re like, where has this been all my life?! [laughter]
JOSH BAPST: The environment side, we use a lot of the same technology. Zbrush, Mudbox, Photoshop, Maya. There’s a lot of cool new procedural material makers coming out that we’re just starting to explore. Same with terrain generation. We’re using a program called WorldMachine that’s exciting for this Tomb Raider production, for helping create large, expansive vistas. I would definitely suggest that anybody who’s getting their start in the industry, one of the most important pieces of software to learn is some sort of development kit – using Unreal or learning the CryEngine. Looking at their content in the game environment, it teaches you so much about the pipeline.
MEAGAN MARIE: Other than the talent, the hard work, the training that we established, what other skills should you develop to cohesively work with others in a studio setting? I think it’s interesting, because people inherently see gamers as kind of lone wolves, or something like that. [laughter] But making games, you can’t just hole yourself up and be a little hobbit. You have to work with other people and collaborate.
JOSH BAPST: We were just talking about that. [laughter]
MEAGAN MARIE: I like to ask people, what other interpersonal skills and so on do you need to develop?
JOSH BAPST: I would just like to quickly say that it’s okay to be a hobbit. [laughter]
DAN ROARTY: Absolutely.
BRENOCH ADAMS: A lot of people don’t wear shoes. [more laughs] Some of the stuff, if we’re speaking to kids coming out of school or trying to get a job, marketing your own work, figuring out how to do that best... There are so many good artists out there. You are going up against Dan and up against Josh. That’s a difficult thing to do, because we’ve been doing it longer than you. There’s the business side of things, too. There’s talking to people and understanding how to make something work within a group. This is not about sitting at your desk and just cranking out stuff. This is about working with people and understanding what they’re good at and how to use them as well as they have to use you. Communication with people is paramount. Constant. I’ll be at Dan’s desk constantly, talking to Josh constantly. This is something people look at and they say, I just have to do great art! That’s not the truth. That’s a very small part of it.
DAN ROARTY: Yeah. I would totally agree with all of that. The other thing, too, especially for students, kids coming out of school, one thing you have to develop quickly is a thick skin. You can have a lot of pride in the work you do, but in the end, if someone’s giving you critiques or feedback, never take it personally. It’s almost always for the better.
MEAGAN MARIE: That’s been a recurring one, I’ve heard. You can’t be married to your work. You have to be able to iterate.
JOSH BAPST: Definitely. Also, adaptability is an important thing in our environment. There’s a lot of innovation happening within our industry. There’s a lot of change that, as a developer, you have to get used to on a daily basis. Being able to adapt to any scenario that comes your way and being able to work well with others is paramount, along with communication.
MEAGAN MARIE: What do you think is the best part of being an artist working in games? What’s the most challenging aspect of it?
BRENOCH ADAMS: I think it’s exactly what Josh just said. Everything is evolving way too fast. It’s insane. We’re trying to keep up with it. One of the most exciting things—For me, I got into games because I liked to draw stuff and put it down there and see it on a screen, moving. You’re like, oh my God, the thing I thought in my head would do this, now it’s doing that. It still blows my f—
JOSH BAPST: Relax. [laughter]
BRENOCH ADAMS: I get pumped up about this!
MEAGAN MARIE: We’re a mature game, and we’ve had Karl Stewart on the podcast before. We’ve had swearing on the podcast before.
BRENOCH ADAMS: I was about to drop like seven F-bombs now.
JOSH BAPST: Calm down. You’re yelling right now.
BRENOCH ADAMS: I’ll relax.
MEAGAN MARIE: Are you trying to—
BRENOCH ADAMS: I’m just staring at Josh blankly now, trying to remember what I was talking about. I got so pumped up about something. Games are so much fun!
MEAGAN MARIE: The changing environment, the changing landscape, keeping up with that. That thing. [laughter] Dan and Josh, do you have similar feelings?
DAN ROARTY: I’m a big film guy, but just seeing how much tech is evolving… Being able to see something in real time is really cool. You’re noticing right now that you’re getting a lot of transition, guys from film coming and starting to work on games. The gap between both is dramatically—It’s closing. It’s getting to a point now where it’s going to be hard to distinguish pretty soon, the difference between the two. It’s awesome. From the art side, you’re able to start working on stuff that’s closer to something you’d see on the big screen, and being able to marry it with new and cool evolving technologies. It’s awesome.
BRENOCH ADAMS: It’s exciting to see some of the stuff we’ve been seeing just really recently. Some of the newest stuff we’re seeing—Internally, we have some stuff that’s like, whoa! How are we doing that? That’s awesome!
DAN ROARTY: That’s what I think I’m most excited about, some stuff we’ve been doing here. We get so many smart, talented people here.
BRENOCH ADAMS: Except for Josh. [laughter]
MEAGAN MARIE: Poor Josh.
JOSH BAPST: Look at your shirt. That’s a hell of a shirt.
BRENOCH ADAMS: You’d like me to take it off?
JOSH BAPST: No, that’s okay. I think that… [laughter] V-neck!
BRENOCH ADAMS: Hi! It’s my v-neck.
JOSH BAPST: People in California don’t appreciate v-necks as much as the east coast guys. [more laughs] I actually have to wear an undershirt sometimes under my v-neck.
BRENOCH ADAMS: Just for context for people out there, Josh looks almost exactly like Conan O’Brien’s son.
JOSH BAPST: I’m not even sure if he has children. But I have called him about it. I tried to convince him that I was… He saw the v-neck and new immediately that I was not…
BRENOCH ADAMS: This is getting… Oh, look.
MEAGAN MARIE: You guys are making an argument for me to start taking pictures during the podcast.
DAN ROARTY: Holy cow.
JOSH BAPST: I’ve been talking for a while. I forgot the question.
MEAGAN MARIE: The question was, the best and most challenging part of being an environment artist.
JOSH BAPST: Right. I think Dan touched on it. It’s the quality bar that’s the fun thing to hit. This is such an art house sort of studio here, where everyone is trying to push it as far as they can in each discipline. Being able to build the worlds that Lara Croft can explore is really an honor. It’s a legacy game in our industry. The challenging part is getting that done on time, for sure. [laughter]
MEAGAN MARIE: That’s probably universally challenging, across most game studios. I have no idea what that noise was…
JOSH BAPST: Yeah. Being able to handle the duality of both… Is this getting closer to my nose? [big laughs] For anybody who’s not—We don’t have video here, but I don’t have the soft little protector for my microphone. It’s lodged right between my eyeball and my right nostril. It’s very hard to focus, guys. I apologize. We’re going to retape this.
MEAGAN MARIE: There were some huffing noises.
BRENOCH ADAMS: This will never hit the net. [laughter]
JOSH BAPST: We should just take a picture of me after this and post it right on the podcast. Who is this idiot?
MEAGAN MARIE: I’ll replace the album art with your face. There we go. Okay, a couple more questions, because I know you guys are super busy. What’s the potential advancement in each of your specialties? Concept artist to concept director and so on. Can you guys step through the advancement and what people could look forward to if they stuck to one thing for a while?
BRENOCH ADAMS: As far as going from concept to concept director…
MEAGAN MARIE: In a career, if someone was specifically looking into concept, wanting to work in concept art, how could they advance themselves?
BRENOCH ADAMS: It’s going to be a very consistent message. Especially with concept art. It’s about this vicious cycle of self-hatred, where you realize that you’re not as good as the next guy out there that you just saw, and trying to get better. And so there’s those skills that you have to constantly develop alongside the fact that now you have to work with people. It’s about understanding, about working with people, and eventually managing people. If you’re working with different concept artists, how to train them and make them better. Recognizing some of the things they’re potentially not doing right for what the game needs. The step going from concept artist to concept director was simply, be able to help younger concept artists get better. One of the more important things is that concept art for games is very different from concept art for something like film. Even though--I’m positive this is not about painting pretty pictures, even though it is about painting pretty pictures. This is about designing something. Games are going to have a lot more roadblocks that a lot of younger artists are going to have to figure out. Concept art, specifically, for what we do here, is maybe not exactly what people think. It’s not always about making something beautiful. It’s making something functional, and then making it beautiful.
MEAGAN MARIE: Form and function.
BRENOCH ADAMS: I think that’s one of the recognitions… Going from concept artist to driving concept artists, that’s a big gap to get. Understanding that you’re here to help everyone else understand what the hell you’re actually making.
MEAGAN MARIE: And so—I’m not sure if this is applicable to any of these fields, but can you then move to an art director role, where you’re overseeing an artistic vision for a project, from any of these specific vocations?
BRENOCH ADAMS: Yeah. Absolutely. You totally can. Josh probably can’t… [laughter]
MEAGAN MARIE: The skills are applicable, though, once you move from the content to the managerial to more of a vision…
BRENOCH ADAMS: Okay. This is my take on this whole thing. Really it’s about—You have to say to yourself, I’m going to be art director now. There’s a bit of a shift. Now you have to drive a vision a little differently. It’s not necessarily about executing work constantly. Now it’s just a different mindset. But you can absolutely choose to do that.
MEAGAN MARIE: Okay. How about for you two? Is it a similar path, if you move up the ladder in character and environment art?
DAN ROARTY: Probably pretty similar. Speaking to what Bren was saying, I think you have to know what you really want to do. I love sitting down. I love making badass characters. I love doing all that stuff. I don’t necessarily know if I would—I guess you can move on further. But I really enjoy what I’m doing now. I’m lucky enough, in a lead position at this studio – which hasn’t been the same at some other studios I’ve worked out – that I’m able to a ton… [laughter]
BRENOCH ADAMS: And it’s laughing. We talked about this…
DAN ROARTY: I’m able to do a lot of hands-on work and keep pushing a lot of the art stuff. When it comes to all the scheduling and that kind of stuff, we’re lucky enough to have some pretty awesome producers that handle that. For me, I’m pretty content right now. I’m pretty happy.
JOSH BAPST: I think for environment art, there’s definitely several tiers. We have associate, mid, senior, and principal. If someone’s looking to further their career path, there’s two tracks that present themselves. One’s very similar to what Dan’s speaking about. Specifically, for the environment side, that’s the principal artist role, where they have several years of experience, and they’ve shown us incredible amounts of quality they can achieve on the project. We try to keep these sorts of guys in a position where they can continue to make content. Then we also have the lead track, which is more oriented in the, how are we gonna get this all made? What’s the pipeline going to look like? What are the feelings for all the spaces we want to hit across the project? Big picture. [laughter] You just peeled out a little gurgle there. You should probably put this close to your eyeball, like I did.
MEAGAN MARIE: We’ll see if that was picked up on the podcast.
JOSH BAPST: Somebody’s a little gassy. It’s endearing. It’s nice.
BRENOCH ADAMS: I’m emitting all kinds of things. [laughter]
DAN ROARTY: This is actually still way more productive than I thought it was going to be.
JOSH BAPST: The air pressure feels a little different in here.
MEAGAN MARIE: Okay, I’m sorry. Pipelines!
JOSH BAPST: You can focus more on becoming an environment lead, or working more toward principal artist on the environment team. Then that can of course evolve into art director, creative director, game director in the future. It depends on the individual, what their strengths are and what their ambitions look like.
MEAGAN MARIE: The senior-most artistic directors and so on on projects can come from any specialty, if they’ve shown their skills?
DAN ROARTY: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
BRENOCH ADAMS: Absolutely.
MEAGAN MARIE: I looked at a couple of resources online, and they actually broke down some things that you should try to diversify your portfolio with when presenting it to a project. Things people maybe wouldn’t have thought of, like certain character expressions, or trying to make sure you’re showcasing different types of work and your thought process and so on. From a professional standpoint, what is important to highlight in your portfolio, to show a diverse skill set?
BRENOCH ADAMS: That’s actually a—That’s like a seven-part question. But the first part would be, from my point of view, to cater your portfolios toward what you’re applying for, if that makes sense. No matter what work you’re doing, whether you enjoy doing more of the action-adventure, sci-fi, whatever you end up doing, wherever you send your portfolio, people are obviously going to look at the first page first. It has to speak about—This comes back to marketing your own work. It’s catering your portfolio toward what you want to do. Dan could speak more about the character stuff, but if you want to do character stuff, you should put that first in your portfolio. If you want to do environment stuff first, do that. It’s always better to have a large number of different looks. But if you can do everything, make sure you space it out correctly, and you’re not just throwing everything in there hodge-podge. I would recommend to everyone throwing portfolios out there to get a lot of people looking at it, so they can tell you what they think is working for you. Usually what I think works for me is not what works for me. [laughs] It’s something completely different. They’re like, you didn’t put this piece first! What are you doing?
MEAGAN MARIE: What feedback would you guys have?
DAN ROARTY: I’d say first and foremost, quality over quantity. Sometimes we see some portfolios where people are enthusiastic to put as much stuff as they can on there, but when you have weaker elements bringing down some of the stronger stuff, you’re going to notice those first. From a specifically character standpoint, showing the ability to do great anatomy on a male and a female. Being able to be a little more versatile when it comes to some of the styles. Being able to see really realistic things, or something a little more stylized. Good use of color, fold logic, facial expressions, like you mentioned, those are really good. Just have something that looks badass, basically. [laughs]
BRENOCH ADAMS: That’s what it comes down to.
DAN ROARTY: You can tell from looking at portfolios if something is just really awesome.
BRENOCH ADAMS: You make a totally crucial point, which is, don’t ever put something in there that you’re kind of iffy about. It’s always compared to that. You keep looking back and saying, their work’s great except for this piece of shit over here. [laughter]
DAN ROARTY: One more thing I will say, we went to a recent…
BRENOCH ADAMS: A party. It was up in the city with that dude, we hung out and had some drinks, that was fun.
DAN ROARTY: I wasn’t there, guys. What?
BRENOCH ADAMS: Sorry.
DAN ROARTY: We mentioned the gap between film and games, that it’s getting so much smaller. I’m noticing a lot of people, because they want to get into… [everyone cracks up] I’m just going to keep going, all right? Because they want to get into games, you’ll see a lot of people trying to make these really low-res assets, just to show, hey, I can make an asset for a game. But the geometry we’re using right now is so dense, we’d rather see just correct, proper topology. If it’s super high res and it’s super awesome and it’s great and it’s going to blow us away, that’s great. You don’t need to show us these really low-res game assets.
JOSH BAPST: Yeah, I’d agree with pretty much everything from Bren and Dan. They covered most of it. It’s all about quality over quantity. It’s much better to focus—If you’re an associate to mid-level environment artist applying to Crystal Dynamics, you’d have a strong portfolio in our eyes if you could show us several props of different types – natural versus man-made and so on. Really exposing the details to us, showing us your texture maps, showing us your modeling, showing us your process for how you took it from Zbrush or Mudbox into Maya or an editor package.
MEAGAN MARIE: So process is important. Should you have just polished pieces, or is it good to show some of your work flow in there?
JOSH BAPST: It’s always good to show—I definitely like to see the work flow, because it shows me confidence, as far as them knowing what they’re doing and how they like to do it. It lets me know, okay, if I bring this guy on the team, how is he gonna want to work? Where can I see him with the team?
MEAGAN MARIE: The last question is super open-ended. Any final advice for people looking to break into the game industry for concept, character, or environment art? It can be anything -- your past experiences, things to do, things to avoid…
BRENOCH ADAMS: Bribes. [laughter] Bribes.
MEAGAN MARIE: You just disheartened everybody listening.
JOSH BAPST: We don’t get paid a lot. It doesn’t have to be a big bribe. [general collapse]
DAN ROARTY: I think a Starbuck’s gift certificate will suffice. [more laughs] Bren mentioned it earlier. You have to promote yourself, get your stuff out there. We’re always looking at art forums and stuff. We’re always seeing the recent stuff out there. Getting your name out there and getting some strong pieces off the bat, showcasing what you can do, not keeping it to yourself, showing other people -- just promoting yourself, and work, work, work. Don’t get discouraged. It’s tough to break in for the first time, but just be positive about it.
JOSH BAPST: Breaking in is definitely the hardest part. Statistically, for our industry, referrals carry a high percentage of hires into studios. As you were saying, don’t hobbit it up in a hole somewhere. Get out there. Attend game jams, industry events like GDC. See if you can set up networking events with colleges or universities or other types of professional places. Don’t just—There’s not only one way into the industry, which is certainly the way I’ve experienced it. I’ve been an outsourcing manager, an environment artist, a producer, QA, lead environment artist… If making games is your passion, there’s a lot of opportunities out there. You just have to show the passion and the strength to work in those positions.
BRENOCH ADAMS: Yeah. That pretty much sums up everything there. You took all my answers.
MEAGAN MARIE: One thing I’ve heard in past podcasts is also, don’t wait around. You don’t have to be hired by a game studio to start making games. So team up with people. Find a programmer, just start making your own games and your own projects and putting it out there.
BRENOCH ADAMS: Yes. All of us in this room, like Dan mentioned, we go home and we do our own stuff. Every night we’re going home and doing something, usually just to get our minds off of Lara Croft. [laughter] But for the most part, the advice should be, don’t ever fall in love with your own work. It’s important to realize—I realize almost daily now that I’m shit compared to a lot of the stuff I see out there. It’s because I’ll never be as good as some of those guys I look up to.
JOSH BAPST: You’re still a really nice guy. And you’re very tall.
BRENOCH ADAMS: Being nice doesn’t cut it, Josh!
MEAGAN MARIE: And that’s the final piece of advice we’re going to go out on. Being nice doesn’t cut it.
BRENOCH ADAMS: No! [laughter]
MEAGAN MARIE: Thank you guys, despite all the laughing fits. [cue laughing fit]
BRENOCH ADAMS: Sorry, folks.
MEAGAN MARIE: I think you offered up some great advice, both practical and humorous. I appreciate your time. Thanks for being on the show!
DAN ROARTY: Thanks for having us.
BRENOCH ADAMS: Thank you!
JOSH BAPST: Thanks.
Segment 3: Scott Amos MEAGAN MARIE: Now I’m joined by Scott Amos, who is an EP here at Crystal Dynamics. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the podcast.
SCOTT AMOS: It has been a while. Probably since the beginning when I joined Crystal a while ago.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. We did an introductory podcast back then. It’s nice to have you back. Thank you!
SCOTT AMOS: Thank you. Nice to be back.
MEAGAN MARIE: Here, we’re going to talk about Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. You’re at the helm of that, organizing everybody. A good starting point is, what is Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, and who developed it?
SCOTT AMOS: Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition started in November 2012, December 2012, right before we finished the last-gen version. We wanted to say, next-gen consoles are coming. How do we take all the stuff we wanted to do and put that on next-generation hardware? How do we push the limits, the resolution, everything we could think of? January 2013 is when we actually began Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. Even then, the very beginning, the core team at Crystal said, we want to take all this stuff, everything we planned to make at that point – which hadn’t shipped yet, DLC and things we hadn’t thought about -- all of that and say, how do we take all of this to the next generation? How do we make a package and a product that feels like this great experience we’re delivering on last-gen, and then upgrade it and enhance it in ways that say, here are things we wanted to do for next-gen that weren’t possible? Things like all the particle effects, new lighting, new texturing, new rendering. We had all these ideas, all these aspirations in the original design doc. We even had—We went to Sony and Microsoft and said, here’s our vision for it, even back then. Looking at stuff we didn’t know would be possible until we got into the middle of, okay, here’s the hardware, now we can do this with it, now we can expand on it. So we started it. We needed some partners, because the Crystal team here, as they wrapped up the last generation, were moving on to the next product. So the core team stayed here at Crystal, but we needed some heavy lifting done elsewhere. We brought in Nixxes, people we’ve worked with for years and known as an external team since the Legacy of Kain days. We also added United Front Games out of Vancouver, a group that had done Sleeping Dogs. Square introduced us to them. We met with them and discussed their philosophy and their belief in how they like to make games, and it aligned very well with us. Then we had these three different studio teams saying, this is a great vision of how to take this amazing game that we’re finishing in 2013, and then say, how do we bring it to next-gen and all the upgrades it requires?
MEAGAN MARIE: There was some confusion when we first announced, that this was some sort of PC port. That’s actually not the case. This is something that’s been rebuilt. So I’m going to ask a super open-ended question and just let you go. What are the big differences, or talking points, the things you’re excited about when it comes to Definitive Edition? Feel free to get as technical as you want, because people are going to eat that up. They love the nitty gritty details.
SCOTT AMOS: Okay. Certainly, when we started this, PS3, 360, and PC were our foundations. We’d just finished those as a team. We’d just gotten everything that we could crammed into those consoles, into that version. We said, all right, that’s the starting point. To take the next-gen step, to take another year of development with three different studios working on it, we had to come up with something big. There was a philosophy internally of saying, even if Lara stops moving, the world never does. So it was this mentality—We called it, internally, aesthetic dynamics. The sense that the world is always alive. You’ve probably heard us say that a mantra for the team was, everything from the physics of the world, particles, foliage, water, objects moving and bobbing and reacting, all of that stuff, to Lara herself, saying, this is our chance to explore what next-gen could be. How do we take Lara as the star of the show and be able to test what next-generation technologies make possible to do with an up-rezzed and upgraded character? Tress effects was something we did for PC, but then we said, let’s rewrite it and optimize it for next-gen. Something we hadn’t seen anybody else do was bring tress effects, hair, to consoles. You have that simulated hair, thousands of strands that react to physics. When she runs, jumps, falls, moves, when the wind blows through it, it reacts dynamically and correctly. It gives a lot of life, particularly to a third-person action character like this, and personality that we just couldn’t get out of the performance before. On top of that we said, well, now that we’ve done her hair, we have to do her head and makeup. We have to do everything else. That became having Brian Horton, who’s our senior art director for Tomb Raider, craft and direct the experience of, how do we rebuild the head, the face, how do we take that a step further, both in next-gen look, but also adding new technology for her face and her skin, so that she has this technology called subsurface scattering. The sunlight comes in, passes through the first layer of skin, diffuses underneath that, so it gives it a much softer glow. It makes her look more realistic, which is amazing, great stuff for us. Again, since you see her all the time, we wanted to go even further. Up-rezzing her model. Certainly more polygons, the density of the face mesh, of the entire model. Up-rezzing all of her texture to maximum resolution, because we know gameplay is going to run at 1080p. We wanted her to look absolutely her best. Then we added a whole new material system that dynamically interacts with the environment for her. When she’s getting wet, when she’s covered in mud or covered in blood, we wanted these things to reflect and change on her outfit, so you could actually see this stuff and feel more grounded in the world as you move through that world. Lara was really the first set-piece that we wanted to say, take that star, make her even bigger and better than we had her before, and then we have to make the world upgraded around her. That became that aesthetic dynamics piece, where we said, all of this physics stuff – for particles, for reactive physics, for the world as you run through it -- we even put that on her. Things like her climbing axe next to her, or the arrows in her quiver, even the radio on her belt, as she runs and jumps and moves, those things all react physically, and are simulated to look realistic. They’re bobbing and jumping around with her. It’s an amazingly cool, nuanced and detailed effect. That’s the kind of detail that the entire team focused on from the beginning, from bushes in the world that you run through and they react as bendies, to the arrows on her back, to even bigger things, like just thousands more particles flying around, all the lighting changes we’ve done. We have a thing called color lookup table, which we’ve done in certain areas, to push the colors brighter and pull the blacks blacker and darker. You get a much more vibrant aesthetic when you walk into certain areas, like the first shipwreck area you get to. You’ll see the ocean is much bluer than you’ve seen before. It’s like a commercial, one of those sinus commercials, where the screen gets pulled back and the film is disappearing and now everything is brighter. It has that feeling in some of those areas, where we got to go and highlight it.
MEAGAN MARIE: Fans in particular have been excited about the idea of Lara’s gear moving. The hair, the gear moving, and then her boot buckles. Did you notice that? The boot buckles were something the fans were very excited about when they saw how much more realistic they looked.
SCOTT AMOS: It was a pleasure. We had dedicated character artists, guys who build the characters here for the last-generation--They said, we want to do this. For us, this was our first attempt at next-gen, being able to say, here’s where we can take Lara and just start the process. We still have another product out there. We still have future versions of Tomb Raider that we’ll be worrying about and talking about later. But this, for us, was our first proving ground and testing ground to see what we could do.
MEAGAN MARIE: How about weather and lighting? Can you expand on how that’s been updated for Definitive Edition?
SCOTT AMOS: One of the things, when we talked about it with fans and players, this island feels dangerous. It’s one of these places where we want it to not only feel alive, with all these things moving, but even feel threatening, constantly. You’ll see—It’s funny. Once we went back and added a whole new particle system and a new lighting system, all the particles are now dynamically lit. As an example, when you see guys with flashlights or searchlights, when they sweep through a rainy scene, it’s no longer a generic effect. Now each particle lights up, so you’ll see the swath of light slicing through the rain. The rain is slicing through the air. It’s like, oh my gosh, this feels dangerous. One of the guys who recently played for user research tests said, I didn’t remember how much it rained on this island. [laughs] He’s played the last-generation game, and when he played this one, he had this giant smile on his face. Oh my gosh, I didn’t know it rained there. This feels dangerous. All this… He’s right. The world feels so much brighter and different with shadow casters. The idea that when you or an NPC or a character walks in front of certain lights, it casts a full shadow on the ground or on the walls. All of those nuances really add to the depth and the reality of the experience. It makes such an amazing difference. It’s looking at last-gen, as great as it was, as great a story and the gameplay and everything that’s there that we kept intact, but now shown in this vision of… You’re walking through a burning monastery building, and the smoke’s pooling on the ceiling. Or you’re walking through the underground bunker area and the rain’s actually coming through the ceiling and pooling on the floors with reflective puddles that react as you walk through them. That level of detail just—It pulls you in very quickly.
MEAGAN MARIE: I can’t wait to sit down and play it in its entirety again. It’s one of those things that I think—One of the things we were very much complimented on was how amazing and immersive the world looked in Yamatai, on the last generation. To see it pushed even further, that’s a pretty exciting prospect. What about next-generation specific features, with Kinect and Dual Shock 4 support? What do we have to offer in terms of that?
SCOTT AMOS: Both consoles have unique features, which is great. On the Xbox One, since it has the Kinect with it, we wanted to put voice commands in from the beginning. Okay, now we have voice commands, now we can do things like have Lara change weapons or change ammo types. We even use it for shortcuts inside some of the menus where she can quickly—If you want to go through your skill upgrades or look at your map, those things you can call out and talk to your Xbox. Those are great shortcuts, a nice enhancement for the player being in the game. We took those voice commands and applied them to the PS4 as well. If you have a microphone plugged into your controller, or if you have the Sony camera, both of those will let you do voice commands on PS4. We have voice commands on both consoles. And then we also have a lean feature. Basically, in certain cinematic sequences where Lara is kind of--Climbing up the radio tower, for example. We added the ability for the Kinect to see you lean left or right. As you do, the camera will go off axis. What used to be a static in-game sequence, where you climbed straight up the ladder, now you can get a different look around where she’s at or what she sees on the other side. Again, it’s a really nice, immersive addition that people can see more than they could see before. It gives a nice touch of, I have a different way of interacting with my world. On the Dual Shock controller itself, two things we enjoy about it, there’s a speaker built in to the Dual Shock controller. When you’re using and shooting your weapons, it reacts as though you have the weapon in your hand. You’ll hear guns cocking. You’ll hear ammo changing. We use it for the radio communications, so when somebody on a radio calls and talks to Lara through the radio, you’ll hear it come out of the speaker on the controller. Again, it feels like you’re pulled more into the world. On the front of the controller, there’s that light bar as well. For us, the light bar became an opportunity to add one more enhancement. A lot of our players like to sit in the dark, play in a dark room. But if you pull out your torch, that light bar on the front will start flickering red, yellow, and orange, so it feels like the torch is in your hand on the controller, just like it’s in Lara’s hand in the game. On top of that, when Lara has a gun out and she’s shooting, the controller will flash with each of the muzzle flashes. It’s just those little details, again. All of this is about bringing a richer, enhanced experience. It feels like I’m pulled into this game even deeper than I was the last time I played it.
MEAGAN MARIE: The PlayStation 4 version has Vita support also, doesn’t it?
SCOTT AMOS: Absolutely. One of the things we’ve enjoyed with the PS4 is being able to sit with our PS Vitas and stream the game playing on the PS4 live. It looks amazing on the Vita. It’s one of those great things that, once we put it in there, it’s a remarkable experience to be able to have this tight, condensed screen with the game streaming live. You can play anywhere, as long as you’re on the same network with your PS4. It’s a great addition that we got to put in there.
MEAGAN MARIE: What sort of bonus content can fans expect on disc? It’s not just the enhancements to the game. We pooled everything together to make sure it really was the definitive edition of Tomb Raider.
SCOTT AMOS: That’s exactly right. Calling it the Definitive Edition means we had to include everything that we possibly had on the last game, everything we added from fully rebuilding this for the next-gen consoles, and then all of the content from the Tomb of the Lost Adventurer maps, eight DLC multiplayer maps, the six multiplayer weapons, four multiplayer characters, the six alternate outfits for Lara. We even included the Dark Horse digital comic. It’s called Tomb Raider: The Beginning. And then the Brady Games digital artbook, called Tomb Raider: The Art of Survival. Then we have six episodes of The Final Hours of Tomb Raider, the documentary series that we’d done. Three of them have been out there before. Then we put all six of them on this one disc. So we have everything that possibly describes Tomb Raider, all the ship DLC, all the bits that go with it.
MEAGAN MARIE: One question we’ve been hearing fans, I’d love to get you to weigh in on it. Why did we choose not to add new gameplay or modes and so on to Tomb Raider, and just really focus on enriching that original experience?
SCOTT AMOS: The good news for us is that we have an award-winning game. It’s been nominated so many times. The studio did a brilliant job of putting this game out there. The last thing we want to do is break that experience. It’s so well-paced. The storyline, we think, is fantastic. The gameplay itself, the beats, the crescendo of action all the way up to the ending, everything that’s in there feels like a great—This is the experience we want. This is the thing we want people to walk away from. Certainly the fans and press and everyone who played it said, this is an amazing game. So the last thing we wanted to do was do anything to disrupt or change that. Why would we want to rewrite something that’s already great? Don’t break it if it’s already working. For us it was more about enhancing that experience. Then adding content on top—Honestly, for us, this is a great experience, but it’s a great contained experience. We have future versions of Lara, looking at the world and looking at the game, that we want to do other versions of the game with. This wasn’t that. This was us saying, this is a kind of love letter to her fans. If you really loved what Tomb Raider was, look at this as the final vision from that game, from that story, from Yamatai, from all the world that we had there, as this final expression we can put together. This is that definitive edition. Adding more content on top of that wasn’t our primary goal, because we don’t think it needs it. We think this, for people who didn’t get to play on last-gen, or just didn’t buy in yet, this is the version where we want to go and say, this is what you should check out. Hardcore fans, they’re the people who we make these things for. We want them to say, this is an awesome experience. This shows off my next-gen tech, my new television, whatever, they have. For us, we wanted to put this experience out there and say, this is the one you want.
MEAGAN MARIE: And that’s not to say that we didn’t listen to feedback and so on. We did a huge community roundup and feedback from all of the fans and so on, based on Tomb Raider. But that’s something that’s more applicable toward the future of the franchise.
SCOTT AMOS: Exactly. That’s the big difference for us. This wasn’t some 1.5 version – here’s five more minutes of content. We don’t want to try to do something that feels like a justification. We said, this is a labor of love. This is a passion for us, to make the best Tomb Raider experience we ever can. So we took what was a great story, made it even visually more appealing, made the world more dynamic, enriched the fidelity of the experience. That was what this one was. The feedback we’ve been getting from players – everything from single-player to multiplayer, all the great ideas they’ve had – that is definitely in the team’s hands and in their minds for where we’re going next.
MEAGAN MARIE: In the future.
SCOTT AMOS: We will talk about that another day.
MEAGAN MARIE: Another day! I’m sure not soon enough for fans listening to this. Okay, great. Thank you so much for your time. Just some quick, fast facts for Definitive Edition. It is coming out on January 28 in North America, January 31 in Europe. It’ll be a launch title in Asia – that’s TBD. We’re not entirely sure when those consoles are coming out just yet. You can pre-order yours to get an exclusive artbook packaging. It’s actually really cool. The discs are built into this neat little artbook case featuring never-before-seen concept art. We went through and said, have we released this one yet? No? They’ve never seen it. You can get that at Tombraider.com/preorder. I think I got it all?
SCOTT AMOS: I think you did. That sounds great.
MEAGAN MARIE: Thank you for so much for your time, Scott.
SCOTT AMOS: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.
MEAGAN MARIE: And that is it for this episode of the Crystal Habit podcast. As I mentioned, we will focus again on art in the next episode. We’ll tackle animation, VFX, and UI. So if you have any questions specifically about those specialties, go ahead and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll make sure to work them into the show. Thanks for tuning in, and have a happy holiday.