Glenn de Leon Garza is an experienced 3D artist whose portfolio includes games like Star Wars: Knights of the Eternal Throne, Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered, and lots more. In this interview he will share his thoughts on recent gamedev industry trends and building a career as a 3D artist working on major franchises.
How do you get into gaming from anywhere in the world? What to expect from a 3D artist job? How to land a lead artist job and work on the world’s most famous Star Wars franchise game?
I had a chance to sit down and talk about these issues in greater detail with Glenn de Leon Garza, an experienced 3D artist whose portfolio includes games like Star Wars: Knights of the Eternal Throne, Star Citizen, Borderlands 3, Friday the 13th, Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered, Farming Simulator, and others.
How does the guy from Mexico get to work for major studios and lead the art for world-class gaming franchises? How did it all start for you?
I always loved playing video games. We often played with my brother and uncle–they were constantly bringing us new games. I was fascinated by these unique virtual worlds–though we only had a Win 98-based PC and many games my brother and uncle could get were just demos you can run again and again. Games like Perfect Dark always amazed me. Also, sometimes the game package included the DVD with the backstage of building a game, which was my favorite part as I wanted to know how they did it? I wanted to learn.
A screenshot of Perfect Dark
Unfortunately, 10-15 years ago in Mexico, there were few options for pursuing an artistic career. Back then, there wasn’t anything directly related to video games; the focus was more on films and animation. However, there were a few places you could study video art and a limited number of employers who might need talent in this space.
Happily, two years before my high school graduation, a local college in Monterrey opened a Digital Art Major program, and I decided to use that opportunity. However, it was more IT-focused rather than an art-related program. We had lots of classes on coding. Many of our tutors were IT professionals with a limited educational background; they wanted us to learn independently. Still, there were some animators and video art professionals among our tutors, and that was great!
Also, another miracle: by pure luck, I’ve found an internship for a recently formed outsourcing studio in my town. They were the only company creating game art in Mexico at the time. So imagine my surprise when they’ve accepted me! Even better, they were willing to teach me how to do it! I’ve never looked back since then. Just one week after graduating from college, I was already working for them!
And what was the path from working for a Mexican studio to Star Wars, Borderland, and others?
In this field, there is only one thing that matters: your portfolio. Therefore, you will have to build it step by step. This is what I did. One of the first projects I ever got to work on was for this MMO in outer space called DarkOrbit Reloaded. The most important thing I learned from this project was that it made me aware of how little I knew and how much was still left to learn. To be honest, it wasn’t a complicated project. However, as for a recent graduate, even this was overwhelming for me. However, the support of my team helped me to tackle this challenge.
I worked hard to strengthen my skills, which helped me when our company got games like Heroes of Dragon Age or The Sims. I was happy to get a chance to work on something for The Sims, as that was one of my favorite games back in my childhood!
I was building my portfolio, focusing on 3D art, which became my specialization step by step. I’ve posted online my best designs, and this is how recruiters from my current studio found me. This is how I got to work on Star Wars: Knights of the Eternal Throne, Star Citizen, Borderlands 3, Friday the 13th, Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered, Farming Simulator, and other great games. It might sound too easy, but it took years to get to this level!
Star Wars: Knights of the Eternal Throne
Speaking of that, you have like 8 years of an active career in gaming now. What are the significant changes in the industry that happened during this period?
Well, the world has changed. Mobile emerged, hardware performance and connection speed skyrocketed, which allowed more realistic digital universes, which are always available online for anyone in the world. All these factors have affected gaming: for example, now, you will struggle to find a purely single-player game. But, on the other hand, everyone wants to play online.
New games now look way better than they were before in every tiny detail. Of course, a regular player might not even notice it. Still, professional artists will spot that you now can easily distinguish the copper from the iron on the screen thanks to an improved rendering quality!
GameDev has become faster and more optimized. Unreal Engine 5 has become an industry standard and empowered game designers worldwide to create detailed environments and textures their players can explore. In addition, tools like Metahuman Creator allow shrinking the time needed for real-time characters’ creation from months and weeks to hours!
With all these changes, what does a 3D artist in a gaming company actually do in 2021?
It depends on the project, but in general, 3d artists take the 2D designs from the concept artists and bring them to life following a set of technical requirements that depend on the game. For instance, a mobile game meant to be played on a less powerful platform like tablets or cellphones would have more restrictions and allow fewer details than an AAA game for a PC or a gaming console where you have more freedom, and the platform supports… everything! You will be able to enjoy higher resolution, better graphics effects.
In your opinion, what are the current most crucial gaming industry trends everyone should be aware of?
With the new PS5 and Xbox, we will encounter a new generation of games. As a result, many of the processes and workflows we used to follow to create them are getting updated and improved. So, it’s super important for any professional to closely follow these changes to stay relevant and, most importantly, to be able to make better art.
It takes as little as going back to what was considered AAA games 5 years ago and comparing them to what is AAA now to see how drastically things have changed. The introduction of Unreal Engine 5 has pushed the project quality we can now achieve to a level that was unimaginable several years ago. So, jump the bandwagon of new tools as soon as you can! That would make you a better and more valuable professional.
Staying on top of the industry news is a great topic. What is your expert advice here?
I think attending industry events like GDC is a great option. Talking to the devs of multiple projects is a perfect opportunity to learn and insights into current industry trends. Besides, sharing knowledge with colleagues is a very rewarding process in itself. I’m also subscribed to some online media outlets covering gaming and follow some professional blogs, including:
- Polycount for where to post your artwork and ask for feedback to other artists including people that work in the industry.
- Artstation is where you build your portfolio, the place to get noticed, and where a lot of recruiters find their talent.
- At GDC Vault you can find a lot of talks by professionals in the industry, a great way to learn about the industry and keep yourself informed about the current trends in gaming.
- Gamedeveloper is another great place to stay informed about the current state of the industry.
- Badking provides lots of free resources, brushes, and models for zbrush
Regarding your multiple projects, what are you most proud of?
This is a tricky question! There have been many projects, but the most memorable for me is the Galaxy on Fire. It was around the start of my career, and this game was trendy. So this was one of the first cases where I faced a project that required a lot of technical knowledge.
It pushed me to level up really fast, or else I wasn’t going to meet the quality that the project needed. Working on that project has shaped the way I work and review things. The team I worked for back then helped me a lot. They made me improve in so many ways.
What is your advice for anyone willing to pursue your path? What should one expect from being a 3D artist, and how to land a dream job?
First, this is a really great job and an exciting way to express yourself! When you see something you’ve created live in a significant game with millions of players is fantastic. I still get excited when I see something in a game that I made or got the chance to contribute to its creation. I see games as an incredible form of art. Every project has its own rules, style, and technical needs that always keep the job interesting. You should be happy to be in the industry and continually work to deliver better results. Find your way to get inspiration: read books, play games, travel. Fuel your imagination!
Second, my advice is to be prepared for hard work. Gaming is a very intense industry, and burnout is a common issue here. It is not uncommon for artists to overwork, primarily due to factors they cannot control. Crunches often happen, especially when you are in an outsourcing company. Sometimes there is a large volume of work to be done with tight deadlines. When you are working on something for, say, a World of Tanks, you just can’t fail. Sometimes we’ve spent 16 hours in the office leaving at 4 a.m. That was really challenging! Remember that being an artist is a lifelong path, and the pursuit of artistic mastery takes time, so don’t expect results overnight. Be consistent, practice as much as you can find a mentor, ask for feedback and learn to take it.
Third, focus on building your portfolio that will showcase your skills and ability to follow the style of the project. Keep focused: if you are making characters, your portfolio should consist of characters, no weapons, environments, etc. The hiring person always needs to solve a specific task, and you should let them know whether it is your unique superpower right away. If there is any confusion, you might lose your chance to work on something big as gaming is a very competitive industry.
Always have your portfolio ready to show. So many opportunities can get lost when something pops up, and you are not prepared to apply because you didn’t have your resume and portfolio ready.
And the last piece of advice is simple: don’t forget to enjoy the process and have fun creating art!
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