Game Changer: Fullbright Environment Artist Kate Craig Talks Traditional Art vs. 3D Art and Technological Barriers
Welcome to the fifth installment in our new series, Game Changer! Because it’s important to signal boost the work of women in the games industry (especially lately), we’ll be interviewing the awesome, brave, and talented women who bring their voices to indie and mainstream game development. Check out previous entries: Jill Murray, Anna Megill, Brie Code, and Becky Dodd.
This week we sat down with Kate Craig (@koalaparty), Environment Artist at Fullbright Company, to talk a bit about her career and her hopes for the future.
Emma Fissenden (TMS): Can you tell me a bit about your journey?
Kate Craig: Sure! Job wise it looked something like this:
Pearl threader > pizza maker > junior park ranger > big box employee (toy department) > life drawing studio cleaner > travel photography Photoshopper > mobile games artist > Fullbright environment modeler.
The last two are from 2010 forward, but they’ve been the most fun and personally satisfying by a long shot. Education wise, I went to art school after highschool to learn illustration, then again for a year in 2009 to learn how to work in 3D.
TMS: What prompted your initial entry into the gaming industry?
Craig: I’d been working at a decent job for about four years, but was restless, and had always wanted to work in games but didn’t think it was possible because of a lack of coding knowledge. I knew my best chance was art, so I saved up some money and went back to school for a year. There just came a point where I knew I needed to make the first move if I was ever going to work in games – in hindsight, I’m so glad I did.
TMS: Can you describe what your role as Environment Artist at Fullbright involves? What’s an average kind of day for you?
Craig: On an average day I wake up, head into my office with coffee and work for a few hours, then spend half an hour outside at lunch, raking leaves, messing around in the vegetable patch (or in winter, shoveling the driveway) then it’s back to work until dinner time. After dinner I’ll sometimes pick up where I left off if I’ve been working on a model that’s especially interesting or complex.
I can divide my tasks into about four major groups – discussing upcoming models with level designers, roughly concepting the idea out in Photoshop, making the asset in 3D, and finally, placing it in level so it complements the models already in the space. On any given day I’ll be doing one or two of those tasks. Because I work remotely there’s a fair bit of Skyping involved, but every now and then I’ll head to the main office in Portland to work directly with the team.
TMS: Can you comment on your plans for your own future, and also where you hope the future of the gaming industry might be headed?
Craig: I really enjoy playing and making games, but I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what’s traditionally considered to be the game industry, in all honesty. Though there are a handful of exceptions, sales figures and leaked VR specs are a whole different world from the kind of games I live in, and my idea of the future of games is likely pretty low key stuff.
I hope games tools continue to become more accessible. I hope we continue to see weird visual novels. I hope big traditional studios keep on making the work that interests them and small creators get the support they need to do the same. I hope I get to find out what the end of Dragon Age: Inquisition is about. I hope game artists ease up on the aesthetic of cool and push for some vulnerability, and that the cross-pollination that’s happening between comic artists and illustrators continues, and that they put paper recycling bins beside registration/swag pickup booths at every major games conference and remove k-cups from studio break rooms, that I never hear another case of a woman (fan or developer) being harassed and that anyone who’s considering swatting someone else comes to a sudden and profound realization of what that might mean for another human being.
TMS: Do you have any advice for people—especially women—who might be considering a career in games? What’s one thing you wished the younger you would have known?
Craig: When first learning 3D I tried to devour it all – all the tools, all the approaches – and came away feeling overwhelmed and even a little directionless. There was just too much to know, and it was total departure from how I was used I was used to thinking about art. Unlike painting, which can be a very intuitive way of working, 3D is a manticore of part technical, part traditional art, part scorpion tail, so I found that pulling a project apart into discrete pieces and focusing on smaller areas was much more helpful.
Boiling that down, if you’d like to do environment art, make a nice, cleanly built prop. Then maybe make another. Don’t bog yourself down by thinking you have to be making these huge, gorgeous scenes when you’re first learning.
TMS: Can you talk about anything really difficult you’ve had to overcome both as an environment artist and as a woman in the games industry?
Craig: I haven’t overcome it entirely, but my education was in traditional illustration, and the technology barrier in games is something I’ll always have to wrestle with. Every day something in engine may break, or Maya may crash and I have to take a step back and try and puzzle out what’s happening and why, and sometimes I just can’t. Frustration and embarrassment are something I regularly contend with, and in the past I’ve been reluctant to ask for help because I’ve been conscious of reaffirming that stereotype of women not being cut out for tech, and then history repeats itself and the snake eats its tail.
TMS: Quick fire questions! Favourite game you’ve worked on?
Craig: Gone Home.
TMS: Three favourite games of the past year?
Craig: I played 20 minutes of Firewatch and I love it. Also Dragon Age: Inquisition. Before that I was feeling low about games and didn’t touch any for about six months, which is cool. It’s fine and likely beneficial to focus on other mediums for awhile.
TMS: Of all time?
Craig: The romanticized version of Myst in my head.
TMS: Favourite character of yours from a game you’ve worked on and why?
Craig: Sam – we both have a place in our hearts for Jane Austen.
TMS: First game you played?
Craig: It might’ve been one of those Tiger handheld games. I think there was a Garfield game where you had to eat a bunch of grey, flashing lasagna icons, because of course you did.
TMS: Coffee or Tea?
Craig: Team Coffee.
Emma Fissenden is a writer of all trades. When she’s not pushing through her next rewrite, she’s playing too many games and editing fiction at @noblegasqrtly. You can find her on Twitter @efissenden, or check out her other series for TMS, Bad Gamer.
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