Team Focus – The Dongrel Mar 7 - Tosh
"I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center." -Kurt Vonnegut
Hello everyone, and welcome back! You haven't seen me in awhile, but I figured I’d brush off the dust, and give it another go for old times sake. This week I've invited one of our artists here on the team, Brett Marshall A.K.A "The Dongrel" (I still don't want to know) to sit down and tell us a bit about himself, his work, and advice for any aspiring environment artists out there. I hope you all enjoy!
Hey there, thanks for joining me today! For those out there who may not know. Who are you, and what do you do here on Installation 01?
Thanks for having me! My name is Brett Marshall Tucker. I’m from West Virginia originally and have lived in a bunch of places doing a lot of different things including a two-year stint as a fine artist in NYC where I put my degree in sculpture to good use! I work on environments on i01. I like to focus on materials and have done a couple for the project so far. My work elsewhere is similar. I work full time as an instructor in environment art and hard surface modeling at a university in San Antonio, TX called University of the Incarnate Word (yes, it’s a Catholic school, haha). I also freelance for Nickelodeon on a project that is unannounced and therefore a mystery. I also work on Skyblivion as a materials artist so you can imagine how busy I usually am. Workin’ that good, good hustle!
My, you are a busy man. An environment artist at that! You're one of the unspoken heroes that we don't often hear about sadly. Though, there’s nothing wrong with a good ol’ Catholic School either. You mention your work elsewhere on projects like Skyblivion, and Nickelodeon, is there any work you have out there that our audience may have seen?
Yup, you know what they say about idle hands. They also say a good environment artist’s work goes unnoticed. If we can make work that lends to the believability of the world and it’s narrative without distracting the player, we’re good! And, unfortunately, all of the work I’ve done in my career so far has been on projects that are still in development. So, not yet, but soon(ish)! I’ve only been working in this field for a couple of years now, so most of my projects are no name, unpaid indie stuff. Just recently started getting that cash for my labor!
Oh no, not the dreaded soon! Joking aside, I can't wait to show them some of the fantastic work you've done on i01 so far, and we all look forward to seeing your work with Nick and Skyblivion! You mentioned you've only been doing this for a couple of years now, how long would you say you have wanted to be an environment artist? Is it a newer passion or something you've always been interested in?
All good things in time, Y'all. I can’t wait to see the work out there! Environment art is definitely a newer pursuit. Like I said earlier, I have a degree in sculpture and wanted to pursue that for a long time. I did a post-graduate study in Kansas where I got tired of all the physical 3D work, and instead focused on my drawing more. That’s when I started thinking I wanted to pursue work as a concept artist or illustrator. My first indie game experience was as a concept artist on a table-top game where I was first introduced to Blender. That was in July of 2016, and the rest is history! I moved out to New York to be an artist and worked on my environment art portfolio in my free time. I thought I’d get work at Rockstar or Avalanche, but I applied to tons of studios and took the first job I could, which was teaching. My degree has been immensely helpful in getting work in the arts. I have a piece of paper that tells everyone I know stuff and a portfolio to back it up. I’d never thought about pursuing a career in games before then, but I’m definitely one to take shots in the dark.
That is an interesting start to it all, especially getting involved in indie development with no goals of a gaming career. What a long strange journey it's been, eh? With all of that experience behind you, what's some advice you could give to any aspiring environment artists reading this?
The stranger the journey, the better! I think the most critical thing to do is, make work. It’s equally important to put that work out there. What gets you noticed in this industry is your willingness to adapt and work your ass off. If you put the time in, you will get it back eventually. Just don’t be discouraged when “eventually” takes its time. In the meantime, work on mods. Volunteer on an indie project. Make your own game. If a recruiter can see that you know how it's all said and done, you'll get recognized. Learn the tools, master them and fill a niche. Right now, one of the most sought after niches is material authoring in Substance Designer. Get to stringing those nodes together!
Indeed, one of the best things you can do for yourself in any field is just to start doing it. Nothing beats that experience when it comes down to getting the job done. Recruiters and developers will always look for the person who is the most dedicated to their work — a large portfolio showing that desire is priceless. Let's go into tools a bit more if you don't mind, Substance Designer is a fantastic program but could be a little daunting to beginners. What're some other tools, and material beginners can utilize to learn more, and hone their craft?
Excellent question and a tricky one if you don’t know where to look. Since I’m self-taught, I’ve looked in every nook and cranny for information. The short answer is to watch every tutorial possible. YouTube is your best friend but don’t be afraid to spend a little money and use a service like Pluralsight, Udemy or Lynda.com. Seriously, the worst thing you can do for your skills is not want to spend any money on learning. I’m not saying you have to go out and get a degree, but if you’re admiring someone like Daniel Thiger (Bungie) and aren’t sure if you should spend the $15 on his tutorials, you might need to reconsider how much you want it. Free tutorials can be just as helpful, but it never hurts to go straight to the source. Lots of software developers have their own YouTube channels, too. Allegorithmic, who makes Substance, has a vast wealth of free knowledge out there, which is very generous and helpful. Another short answer to this question is just to go for it. Learn it all. Lots of stuff is free to learn now and, if not, might have a monthly subscription. $20/month for all of Substance is a crazy good deal. Autodesk even has Maya LT. Unreal Engine is free (unless you make money with it). Get the software, poke around, watch videos, read documentation, and just make something!
An excellent answer to a tricky question. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. It's true, with the digital age you can just about teach yourself anything these days, but I'm curious. Earlier you spoke to how much your traditional degree has helped your career, even with it being unrelated to the task at hand. So my question, with all this information online, would you still recommend aspiring environment artists still attend a university (if they can) to obtain a degree?
The answer to whether or not you should get a degree is entirely situational. If you are unsure about what facet of game development you want to do, definitely check out some classes. If you want the experience, it’s worth it. It can help you get almost any job because it shows commitment and follows through. But, indie game work also does that. It’s definitely possible to get into the industry without a degree but may be easier with one. I have a friend that works at 343 who is 19 and has been working in the industry for a couple of years. He’s good, he’s been working hard for years, and he put himself out there. If he didn’t work on it, for free, for a long time, he wouldn’t be where he is now. College can be a great, guided way to learn, get team experience and have ample time to work on your portfolio. But that can also be done in your off hours from your job at the coffee shop. There is no right answer to this question, just different situations for different people. When people ask me this on ArtStation, I try to understand their situation before recommending either path for them. Feel free to reach out if you’re unsure!
Absolutely, with how things are these days it's entirely up to the preference of learning, commitment, and a good helping of research. I'll be sure to leave you all with his contact information down in the outro for those interested! Let's get a little more personal now; these are after-all a way for us to connect with our community. Outside of work what do you do to fill the time?
I wish I could say I played more games and music but, the reality is that, if you want to make games, there’s not much time for playing them. I love the work and spend most of my time making art. When I do decide to take a break, I hang out with my dog and play guitar and banjo. I listen to a lot of podcasts while I work so sometimes that feels like a hobby! They help keep me focused, too.
I reckon we can count podcasts as a hobby. I listen to audiobooks while working, and if that counts, podcasts do! It's safe to say this question is always somewhat redundant on this team, as our free time is actually just more work on the game haha. So, what convinced you to lend your amazing talents towards working on Installation 01?
So, I found Installation 01 on accident. I was connected with someone who commented on one of Blaze Lightcap’s posts on LinkedIn. I checked out his profile and saw he was working on this project and I had to throw my hat in. I love Halo and was looking for more work on the time so, right time, right place I guess! You guys have been doing amazing work for a long time, so I’m glad to have the opportunity to join.
Ooh, that's interesting. I didn't know anyone found us through LinkedIn! It's always interesting to hear how people stumble across us. But anyway, we can't be happier to have you on the team. As I said earlier, I really can't wait to show everyone some of the fantastic work you've done for us. Now that you've been around here a little while, how would you describe working on i01 and with the team in only one sentence?
Always keep an eye open for opportunities, kids! And, man, another tough one. How about one word? Soon. Haha, no, but seriously: “Iteration is the mother of all great ideas.” That’s true for all of game development. Trying out new stuff and doing stuff over has lead to some awesome things with i01. That’s one of the benefits of an ever-changing and eclectic team. Fresh ideas make great games.
Hmm, that's absolutely more than one sentence. But I'll give you a pass because it's all useful information. But now the show must end, and I always like to end with my favorite question. What is your ultimate Halo match? (Game, Map, Gametype)
Halo 2, Team SWAT on Lockout! I love me some SWAT.
Ooo, that's a good choice! Well, that sadly wraps it all up for this week. I can't thank you enough for joining me today, Brett. It was an absolute pleasure. If you would all like to follow some of Brett's work, opinions, or simply just want to ask him some questions for yourself you can find him over on his website, on Artstation, and on Instagram @brettmarshalltucker. Mr. Syns will see you all this weekend with another doot for you, and me!