Let’s start with a simple question - what do you do? What is your job?
I’m a 3D generalist, so I basically work as a 3D artist, and I fill in whatever else we need at MAGNOPUS.
A separate part of the art team does the pitch work, but once the project has been accepted, we take care of all the art production. Sometimes though, we’ll start working while the concept artist is still figuring things out and we’ll be there to support building the environments. In an ideal world, we would jump in when the pre-production is almost done, when there’s already a good vision, but in the real world in a real studio, there are deadlines and different windows of time and some things overlap.
It’s one of the things that's great about real-time - you can work alongside each other, and easily switch things out. It’s not like a traditional movie production where you have a linear workflow and you have to wait for one team to finish before you can start.
Ice texture created by Sidney on Unreal Engine
What skills do you need to do this role?
Believing in yourself is important, as is being adaptable and quick on your feet. When I started with MAGNOPUS, I was a modeler in 3DS Max - and they said, we don’t use Max, we will train you in Maya. My opinion was ‘OK. Let’s do this!’’.
But I can see how people wouldn’t even try. Maybe they’ll say "I’ve been working for two, three years in Max, I don’t want to switch to Maya.” That’s a bad attitude. In a month or two I had adapted to Maya. Being able to adapt to different situations is essential. You won’t know everything, and you shouldn’t be discouraged by it.
You mentioned Maya and 3DS Max. What other softwares are you using?
At the moment, day-to-day, I would say Unreal Engine, Maya, SubstanceDesigner, Substance Painter, Z-brush, Photoshop is not really day-to-day, but I do use it. And then there’s a whole bunch of management stuff, which you don’t also learn at school, like JIRA or Miro. They are tools to communicate with your team. I think I spend at least a third of my day communicating with other people.
"The first time I heard the fact that you never stop learning in roles like this, I thought - that sounds exhausting! But it’s not like that. It’s enjoyable, and I know that I’ll never stagnate in my role."
So I assume communication skills are pretty important in your role?
They are. Being open to critique, learning how to critique other people, being able to bring up a problem without stepping on people’s toes. It’s all very important. Normally, people aren’t too sensitive to feedback or challenges, but you always have to think about how to bring something up. Having a bit of empathy really helps.
Who do you have to communicate with on a daily or weekly basis?
In our team, it’s our director of art, our producer, and the rest of the art team. My girlfriend, Liesbet, is on the team too - we sit next to each other when working from home, which makes communication and collaboration really easy. We’ll sometimes work with the engineering team – if it’s a really collaborative project, we’ll do stand-ups with them too.
So, if we could go back a little bit, like how did you get this job?
It was a really stressful process! At our school, you had to do an internship, and most people got hired by the company they did it with. The studio I worked with did offer me a job, but it was a very small studio with very limited projects, and so I didn’t take it and I went on my own way, trying to find something outside of Belgium. I looked in France, Germany and in the UK. I was sending a lot of emails, and getting a lot of responses – “Your work looks great - you’ll hear from us soon” - but so many people never contact you again, and they never replied to me when I emailed them again. It’s hard.
Then I went to the Unreal Academy - a big conference - and I saw Sol from MAGNOPUS present. He said he was hiring at the end of the talk, so I got in touch. I got a response and was quickly hired. Then I got replies and offers from two other companies! So in the end it all came together.
But it did take me half a year to get to that point. I think a lot of people find this the biggest hurdle, and I know people from school who gave up looking after a couple of months and went and worked in a different industry. Which I get, because I was on the fence for many of those months, thinking “should I be doing something else”?
Auto welder 3D model created by Sidney
While you were doing all that applying, I assume you were also working on your portfolio?
Yes. The biggest problem I had here was that I really liked working on the technical side of things, so the moment I had that bit figured out, I parked those projects and went on to something else. I should have finished things, rendered them out, and made them portfolio-ready.
We actually got a chance to help with some hiring here and it was interesting looking through the portfolios. I’d say it’s really important to vet your portfolio. Just having one piece is too little, but pieces that aren’t great quality will bring down the overall quality. Getting feedback from people on it is very important. I met a friend at an internship fair who works at Rocksteady, and asked him to have a look at our portfolios, which was really valuable.
What’s your favourite part of your role?
I love that we all get to take on so many different jobs. It’s fun to be able to switch. I like the combination of technical and visuals in my role. I’m not a programmer. But I like the technical elements. I also like the part when I finish a project, like pulling together the lighting. Putting the finishing touches to a project is great. I also love that we’re really trying to push the boundaries at MAGNOPUS - we’re definitely on the cutting edge. Which is great for me because I like to learn new things.
The first time I heard the fact that you never stop learning in roles like this, I thought - that sounds exhausting! But it’s not like that. It’s enjoyable, and I know that I’ll never stagnate in my role.