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3D Game Art "Career"

 

I am not sure how many of you can relate to what I am about to write.  I am sure it spans more than my specific story and I hope it does for relatability purposes.  It is somewhat of an origin story without an ending, or at least I would like to hold out for a good one.

My name is Cougan Waddell and I am a 3D Game Environment artist.  This is the line I have used while applying to a countless amount of game developers throughout the last 6 years.  To be honest when I look back I can see that I wasn't at the top of my game.  My skills were new and though my attempts were honest, my work didn't represent as well as it needed to.  I needed to learn more and evolve as an artist and I truly believe I have.  So why do I find myself jobless in my desired career?  The amount I think about this question is almost sad but it is a question I need to ask often to keep me adapting and working to get better.  Below I will discuss my journey and things I have noticed over the years.

EDUCATION.  The first school I attended was the best and worst experience I had as an intro into how to create art for games.  It was a small school located in Saskatchewan, Canada that was close to home.  It seemed awesome at the time.  A room filled with computers occupied by eager artists ready to learn.  An entire year to just absorb and create worlds using the craziness of my imagination.  I didn't know it then but my learning experience was horrible.  The teachers didn't know as much as they let on and most "classes" involved the instructor giving us an assignment and letting us go at it with only a small amount of instruction.  I could go on about the negative aspects of this place but I prefer the positives.  First off, my friends.  I met a few people at this school that will be my best friends forever.  Like minded individuals who I bonded with to a point of brotherhood.  These are the people I learned from every day.  Trying new things and sharing our ideas to ensure we stayed up to date.  We still do it regularly to this day while playing games or just sharing projects.  The other positive was that I had a year to learn programs that I needed to know.  The basics are still the basics and they are very necessary.  

LOCATION.  I would wager someone could correctly guess how many game companies are housed in Saskatchewan?  At the time none and if I am correct, there still isn't anything there.  I applied outwards to the coasts of Canada and this is where a sad reality set in, very slowly.  Why take a guy from the middle of nowhere when we have all the talent we need right here?  EA, Ubisoft, Capcom, Rockstar, Bioware and many others obviously receive multitudes of applications and how was I to stand out?  So something needed to change and it came together all at once.  I needed more education and I needed to be where game companies could see me up close.  Off to Vancouver I went, the promise land of games!  A beautiful place with beaches and mountains and a game developer that I could possibly call home, but before all that, it was back to work.

EDUCATION.  My second go, this time I was armed with much more research as to where I could get the best experience.  My parents are to thank for finding this gem.  A small school called Think Tank Training Center on the North Shore in Vancouver.  This school brought me back into the fold and taught me what was relevant and what I needed to do to create something that would get me a job in the games industry.  Their classes were held later in the day because our instructors worked in the film and gaming industry.  They knew their stuff, but the best part about Think Tank was the internship.  I had two mentors, one from United Front Games and the other from Slant Six who are currently at Crytek and 2K Marine respectively.  Amazing guys and they taught me pretty much everything I know.  Also met some amazing artists who still blow my mind every day with the things they can do.  Film, characters artists though, our skill sets don't cross paths too many times.  After school at Think Tank I felt as high as a cloud.  My mentors and teachers praised my work and my confidence was at an all-time high!  "I'm in", is all I could think.  With what I learned and where I was there was no way my career could be stopped.  Here is what I created and shared with every game company, big and small, in Canada, multiple times.

http://couganwaddell.wix.com/demoreel

LOCATION.  I didn't think this would become an issue again after I moved out west to the promise land but while I was finishing up school I started following a disturbing trend.  Game companies dropping like flies.  Rockstar packed up and went to Ontario. Propaganda, A.C.R.O.N.Y.M, Pop Cap and a few other Indies shut down.  Slant Six, United Front Games, Relic, Radical all running into layoffs.  What the hell is going on?  The worst of it is not that these companies are gone or almost gone, it is that the game art market is now flooded with artists who have experience and will work for what I would work for, so why take me?  Companies here aren't entirely dead but they are swarmed with artists of fallen companies.  So I looked east.  Quebec and Ontario with their wonderful tax breaks to cg companies and a nice healthy market.  A familiar question is asked once again, why would we hire someone from the other end of the country when we have so much home grown talent?

Stuck is how I feel these days.  I am constantly working on new projects when I can and trying to stay up to date on engines like the Unreal Engine and CryEngine.  Freelance is hard to come across and even harder to find time for with my current job.  Joining a not-for-profit team requires quite a time commitment as well and I certainly do not want to neglect my wonderful girlfriend as she already puts up with my crap. Where do I go?

OPTIMISM.  The next generation of games is about to begin and I think a lot of companies are learning how to make a splash with gamers again.  Companies like Capcom, EA and Ubisoft will still pump out their usual yearly games but I think a lot of Indies will evolve into functional mid-size companies that stay independent and continue to innovate.  With Sony talking about how easy they want to make it for indie developers to make games for their console, I can only imagine Microsoft will do the same, this should also sprout many new indie studios.  With new consoles will come announcements for new 1st party developers and hopefully new IPs.  When Microsoft opened Black Tusk Studios here in Vancouver about 5 months ago it was a small light at the end of the tunnel.  Clearly one studio will not be able to hire all of us but if successful enough.......you never know who might want in on some Vancouver action.

BC tax breaks.  With Ontario having such a wonderful tax break for game companies it is no surprise that companies are moving or opening up studios there.  BC does no compete in this sector yet recognizes the opportunity lost by not matching blows.  Elections are upon us and luckily a change in leadership seems to be on the horizon.  Promises of higher tax breaks for our industry have been tossed around, but a promise from a politician is like high fiving a chicken.  You can swing all you want but the end result is never quite what you wanted.  I can only hope a significant change is made and luckily the first step is about to happen.

In the end I choose not to give up.  I love what I do and someday that will be recognized, either that or I will have to hold someone hostage till an agreement has been made to allow me to make something for a to-be-released game.  An inconclusive ending to a somewhat depressing story.  It is almost a bit of therapy just throwing it out there and I thank you for that.

I maintain an art blog where I have been working on a model a week.  Every week I make a new prop and throw it up there.  A way to keep producing work.  My recent models are contributing to a larger overall project that I am keeping a secret till I get further in.

http://couganwaddell.wix.com/attemptatblog/apps/blog

 

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