GDC 2015

GDC is over; I'm over my cold; it's now spring break. Time to finally talk about what happened! 

At first I was really stressed out about GDC and having to work all week at it as a CA (Conference Associate). This is my last semester at school so I have a poop load of things to do. I have my thesis that I have to finish, my Spring Show submissions, and I'm working on 7 separate productions (hey, that's 5 less than last semester!). I did need a week to get away from it all though so even though I was freaking out, GDC was perfect. 

GDC was amazing. While CTN is great for inspiration, I felt that GDC was super amazing for networking. Part of it was because GDC is a week long conference and is located in downtown San Francisco so there would be a bunch of after parties and such where you can go and meet people. The other part is the Conference Associate program, that I attended GDC as, where the 400 people who volunteer to work the conference are also professionals in the industry and really love being a CA due to the conference and the community that it has created. It also helped that I said "screw it with shyness and comfort levels, I'm going to go meet people" and since I knew practically nothing about game development and I would just go "I know nothing, tell me everything about you and what you do".

I've been wary of the games industry because it felt like another pipeline, another world, something that I don't quite fit into. It was amazing to see how the technology is developing, as I sat in a panel about Unity and global illumination and rendering, and it was exciting to hear that studios are beginning to look at lighting as a separate position instead of something that an environment artist does. I learned that I would fall into either a character artist or an environment artist category. I learned exactly what localization does and it is beyond just translations.

I met so many awesome people. My fellow CAs were all great and it was amazing getting to know them on a personal level as each night we would all just hangout in the lounge chatting or playing games. I got to play a lot of Super Smash, I learned how to play Witch Hunt and Joust. I particularly enjoyed that people know what I'm talking about when I say Munchkin and I don't have to explain that it's a card game parody of RPGs.

One of my favorite parts of GDC is that it's not a bunch of animators! Love you all but I want more variety. It is especially interesting to see that in games animators aren't the kings of the pipeline, instead they're just like everybody else to serve the game design.

I initially signed up for a bunch of after parties but I really only went to handful of them. Free food and open bar! The most important ones that I went to was Riot and Blizzard. I got to talk to some awesome people there and really network.

I used up the last of my business cards at GDC so it's time to design some new ones!

I was hoping to come away from GDC being even more inspired and create more work, which I kind of was, but I am more so now impatient to graduate and get a job in the industry to work with such amazing people.


The Art of Riot

A few nights ago Riot Games brought a bunch of our alumni and came to AAU to give a talk. There was Kenny Carvalho (art recruiter), Laura Deyoung (visual design director), Bo Lu (concept artist), Chengwei Pan (concept artist), Rory Alderton (senior animator), and Moby Francke (principal artist).


For those who don't know of Riot Games as a company in general, Kenny Carvalho started the evening off sharing the culture. Riot Games is about focusing on the player experience and for gamers who take play seriously. Their mission statement is actually "to aspire to be the most player focused company in the world". As such, the artists working on LoL aren't just churning out artwork but are also all working together both in the pipeline and ingame as players to ensure that the world and characters that are being created are cohesive and appealing in multiple experiences (gameplay, visual, sound, etc.).

Now, to know more about the art we go into the presentations of the artists.

Laura Deyoung, the visual design director, has an extremely interesting story to tell. She wasn't specifically a 3D artist or an illustrator but rather in graphic and web design. She was good at what she did but did not see herself doing web for the rest of her life. Instead she really wanted to get into the games industry but felt doubtful of herself as she did not the background in 3D art. No worries, she got in later on as it turns out there is a department for people with her training and that is visual design, or sometimes labeled as UI/UX artist. It was small way back when but it has been steadily growing, and will only get bigger, and I often see posting for those positions all the time by game studios now. Laura stresses that visual design is a very complicated and specific field so that people with the certain skills need and should be hired for it instead of just asking a someone to make something up.

Next up was Chengwei Pan and Bo Lu to share their experience in creating illustrations and splash art for LoL The style of LoL can be described as exaggerated comic book style proportions and poses. On top of that they look for high polish rendering (super high fidelity that you can zoom in and still see all the detail), have dynamic lighting (show story, form, and point of interest), strong graphic shapes, and a strong understanding of color along with using a limited color palette. However, just having a pretty picture isn't enough; rather the art should echo the ingame visual and playstyle, show how badass the character is so that players want to be that champion ingame, and tell a story if doing promo art. The art that they put out is super daunting but as alumni they gave us some excellent recommendations for classes: Foundations, Figure Painting, Cloth Figure Drawing, Quick Study, Narrative Painting, and Drawing for Film. Narrative Painting and Drawing for Film were the two most highly recommended as those classes will teach you how to tell a story and how to design a painting. Lastly, while some others companies discourage this practice, Riot encourage aspiring Rioters to draw and paint their champions as what better way to show your passion and ability.

Sometimes people think of animation for games as mainly a bunch of cycles but Rory Alderton shows how they Riot make it so that every champion feels alive and have their own individuality and characteristics. It's always about what the players can see on screen so there are a few interesting challenges that rise up in games versus films. There is the matter of a free camera, player actions, and various speed modifiers that will have to be taken into account. For the camera issue, unlike in film where artists only have to animate to camera, in games there is a full 3D space with a moving camera so champions have to look good from all angles. As in LoL, the camera is in a top down view which presents some interesting challenges with foreshortening and getting a clear silhouette.To solve that issue a lot of exaggeration needs to be done. The posses are exaggerated, sometimes to the point of joints being broken, to get a clear silhouette, and squash and stretch in the shoulders, hips, and spine, and impacts, are exaggerated to help sell the weight. Player actions is about how champions can change from different states at any time, such as running to a stop or casting skills. In order to have smooth gameplay, a layering system is used in the animation so that the actions can be blended together. Speed modifiers become interesting as it changes how fast a champion runs or is able to attack. In order to keep the aesthetic of the character and prevent animation from breaking, at higher speeds, animations are kept simpler. With Shen stacking attack speed items as an example, at top top instead of seeing all the inbetweens what is visible are only the poses so that the characteristic of the champion and the movement is still kept intact. Lastly, cycles can get a bit boring but Riot always tries to add a little bit of fun into it. Particularly with the newer champions, when idling players can see that they break up their actions a bit whereas older champions that haven't gotten revamp'd yet, such as Amumu, has a somewhat dull head bob cycle. It helps keep the characters alive and interesting.

To finish off the evening, Moby Francke talks about art clarity and creating art with a purpose.  To showcase his portion of the evening, Moby shows upcoming artwork to the update of Summoner's Rift! Clarity of art is the quality of visual elements to be easily understood. Clarity is so important because gameplay is kind and art is supplementary. Art is very important but it is in support of the gameplay. What the art should do is to ensure that everything is legible with contrast and strong silhouettes. What makes it somewhat challenging is that there are a whole range of champions from whimsy to dark which the environment has to be suitable for. In order to create the appropriate environment, the focus is put on primary, secondary, and tertiary form instead of detail. As such, the upcoming Summoner's Rift looks somewhat more stripped down, more painterly, and simplistic. While the environment may not as be as full and lush with foliage, it is very visually appealing with champions traveling and battling across it.

MMO Video Games and Guild Wars 2

I used to play a lot of video games, particularly mmorpgs. Unfortunately that fell to the wayside as I started working towards my master's degree in animation and vfx since it takes so much of my time and I'm at the labs at school all the time with three classes and seven projects on my plate. It also did not help that my computer was old and it had a hard time playing any of the more current games. For example, I only got past character creation in Skyrim before I gave up due to all the lag and I couldn't even get through that with Wildstar. Instead, to amuse myself, the only games that I had were phone games like CandyCrush or I would go onto Kongregate and play some flash games there. It was depressing. Especially since I started feeling that I was a bit out of touch with the current state of games and the industry as I gradually become distanced from it due to lack of exposure. Now that I have a new computer, through the suggestion of my friends, I've picked up GuildWars 2 and have been playing it for a week so far now.

I first became enamored with mmos, due to the community aspect and the ever evolving and growing gameplay, when I was in middle school in Taiwan. While the top popular games then were Ragnarok Online and Lineage Online, I was obsessed with a Korean mmo called Asgard Online. I played that for almost three years until the game was ultimately discontinued. Since then I have mostly been playing Asian mmos such as Fiesta Online and more recently games by x-Legend such as Grand Fantasia, Kitsu Saga, and Eden Eternal. What was particularly great about these recent games were that they were free to play with an optional cash shop system so I don't have to spend any money. While World of Warcraft is the big popular game, I just can't get past their business model. First you pay $20 for the game then you have to buy the expansions every time they are released, then on top of that is a monthly subscription fee. That just sounds ridiculous to me, particularly since I came from playing Asian mmos. Even Asgard Online which I paid a subscription fee for only had that; updates are free and players have a choice of buying a physical copy at the convenience store which often included perks of in-game item gifts. Wildstar looked like an interesting game and I wanted to play it but unfortunately the $60 price tag is a bit more than I want to pay for a game right now, especially since I should be focusing most of my time on my work and I don't know what the economy will be like and how viable it will be to pay the subscription fee through in-game gold.

What I am really enjoying about GuildWars 2 is the world. It is large, immersive, and the game makes exploring it fun. Most games I've played had smaller maps and the jumping was mainly aesthetic only, the only exception was Perfect World International. However, I had found PWI to be unfortunately extremely dull and boring as the maps were so large that it took forever for me to get to point A to point B. GuildWars 2 instead has built an achievement system, which I am always a sucker for as I always want to collect and complete everything, and made discovering parts of the maps give exp points so that it becomes part of the gameplay and not so much as a chore that one would have to take extra time out for.

I am loving the main story plot in the game, too! There are five different races and each of their stories start out differently and they each have differing goals. My main character right now is an Asura so I can't say too much about what the stories for the other races are like since my alternate characters are only at level 5 or so. While it is interesting that different choices come up which is able to change the story for each player, it however somewhat vexes me due to that I don't know what is happening in the life of those paths that I don't choose.

While GuildWars 2 does suffer from some low res textures, low poly models, and tessellation, generally the game looks great. I particularly appreciate how there is specularity and reflection on objects. The metal is nice and shiny but still weathered and rocks/stone on a cliff or mountain, while somewhat strange to be glossy, I appreciate how it interacts with the light. While I don't particularly like the snow maps, partly because there's so much deadspace and partly because the quests were dreadful, I enjoyed running around and leaving my footprints in the snow. The best effect is when the character is swimming out of water and to the surface and water droplets splash against the screen! I laughed about how much I liked how Eden Eternal paid attention to detail to bother having buttholes on various animals, but this effect with the water splash is really attention to detail and great.

The film industry seems to be in a bit of a turmoil right now and I hear of many people, amongst those that I know, wanting to move into games as the pay is better and the job is more stable. While my passion is in film I would also love to get in the game industry, too. It is unfortunately more difficult to get into games as a lighter though since games generally don't use a lot of lighting or it is coupled in with effects. I still have my other focus in texture/surfacing/look dev which I will continue building upon!

Academy of Art University Spring Show 2014

Monday, May 19th was the opening of Spring Show! Spring Show this year is being hosted at 2225 Jerrold Ave. San Francisco, CA 94124 and will be open during the week from 10am to 6pm (closed Sundays and Mondays). It's a time where the school displays the best of the students' work from all the different departments which is an amazing sight to see. I never even knew that there was a paper sculpture class. More important than the Spring Show opening is that prior in the day is when Career Day happens and all the graduating students anxiously wait in line to interview with many various companies, such as Disney, Laika, Blizzard, Dreamworks, Method Studios, etc., that come. Since I'm not graduating yet I'm not actually allowed to be interviewed but I volunteered as a runner partially in hopes of being able to speak briefly and get to know more recruiters. Apparently the Laika recruiter, Anna Kvorning, saw my work in the show and liked it and asked for me in person so when I arrived ready to volunteer I was immediately whisked off to wait in line for an interview. I was freaking out while waiting in line as I was prepared to be volunteering and running around so I was not dressed formally enough as I usually would for an interview and I had no tablet to show my work on. Everything ended up goig well though and I guess I was allowed this one interview since it wasn't actually for hire but Ms. Kvorning just wanted to talk and tell me about the fall internship opportunity.

An extremely cool feature at the animation and vfx exhibit is that some of the posters have been augmented with an "augmented reality browser app" called Aurasma. It is available on both iOS and Andriod. Download the app, and search for the AAU channel and follow the channel. Use the app on the poster and it will sync with the camera and begin playing the video on top! You can move around and the video will be tracked to the poster.

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Borderlands 2 Shorts - Tales from the HQ

Back in the fall, 2K Games took a project, the Borderlands Cooperative, to the Academy of Art University where they not only had students pitch stories and their storyboards but then continue on to produce the three winning stories into shorts. Through the process of creating the short films, a documentary was made! It took awhile but the documentary and the three shorts were finally premiered back on Thursday, May 15th and now publicly on Youtube on Unfortunately the documentary primarily focuses on the story artists and the animators, leaving out all the rest of production so I was not in it. I had the privileged of working on the shorts as a texture artist. I was going to light a few shots but unfortunately whenever I went to ask for shots, nothing was ready yet so I decided to move on to other projects. Congratulations to all my other friends who have worked on this and it was extremely exciting to see my name out there and public. Apparently the livestream when the documentary and shorts premiered capped out at over four thousand viewers at a single time. [youtube] [youtube] [youtube]

Autodesk CG Student Awards

Autodesk CG Student Awards 2014 are the original and the largest awards dedicated to students studying for careers in Next-Gen Games and VFX/Animation industries. Once again, there is an incredible line-up of sponsors offering over $230,000 in prizes and 15 Studio Internships (Bootcamp Placements) to the lucky winners.

The CG Student Awards is truly an incredible opportunity for students and alumni to not only showcase their work to industry experts, but it's the best possible way to launch your career in these competitive industries.

To be involved, simply upload your demo reel, shot breakdown and your best artwork and show it off to the judging panel for review. Good luck everyone!

All computer graphics students worldwide that attended an accredited course between January 2013 - May 2014.

Examples of suitable courses are Computer Animation, Bachelor of Computer Graphics, Animation and Interactive Media, Game Design and Development, 3D Computer Animation, Digital Effects, Computer Visualisation, Computer Science, Visual Effect (VFX) Courses. All other courses with similar curriculum are deemed suitable.

The judges are looking for any of the following skills, but not limited to: Modeling, Texturing, Rigging, Pre-visualisation, Architectural Visualisation, Animation, Lighting, Compositing, Live Action, Character Animation, Editing, Concept Art, Coding, R&D, and design.

Over $200K In Prizes
We are constantly amazed by the prizes offered by our sponsors, and this year is no exception. Get involved and win big!

15 Studio Internships
The CG Student Awards is about helping kick-start career and partnering amazing new talent with the best companies in the world.

Stunning Custom Trophy
Winning the awards is made even sweeter by taking home a huge custom trophy build by our friends at Ownage. It doesn't get better than this.

$80 For Every Entry!
Yep, you read that correctly! You receive over $80 in prizes just for showing your awesome work and getting involved.

Career Opportunities
Showcase your skills to some of the biggest names in the industry and start building your connections and uncover career opportunities.

Compare Your Skills
You spend so much time working with other students in your classroom. It's time to check out what other students are doing around the world. [vimeo 88405518 w=500 h=281]

February Game Dev Drink Up #32

Game Dev Drink Up is an event that happens on the second Thursday of every month for people in the games industry or wants to be in the games industry to spend the night relaxing, having fun, and socializing. From the event page: It's that time, and we can't help but feel loved that you'll be spending Valentine's Day Eve with your local DrinkUp chapter. What better way to celebrate your passion of video games than with your local game development community! So, join us, Thurs., 2/13 for a candle-lite evening of networking, tasteful libations from Twitch & raffles of surprises you'll hope to win.

San Francisco - RSVP on Facebook- When: Thurs., 2/13 from 8 - 11PM Where: Dear Mom – 2700 16th St., San Francisco 94103 Raffle & 50 free drinks by Twitch Contact: Warren Price

I'm just posting the San Francisco one here but there is a Drink Up event in other locations, too, such as Los Angeles, Dallas, Las Vegas, St. Louis, and Tokyo. You can find more information about those meetups on the event's website at

RSVP'ing isn't necessary, it's just to help get an idea of the numbers that will be there. Not a game developer? Not a problem! This is open to everyone and is a great opportunity to  meet people you might like to work with some day, ask a few questions, and - more importantly - have a few beers among friends.