Tuesday, 22 October 2013

New Blog

I've decided to document all my third year work on a separate blog, to keep things more professional. I might keep this one updated with more personal stuff.

New blog here http://danhargreavesyear3.blogspot.co.uk/

Friday, 24 May 2013

End of Year 2 Review

It feels like it was yesterday I was writing my end of year 1 blog. God, these 2 years have gone quickly.

So what’s changed for me over the last year:

Generally throughout my first year I was being semi unproductive and just plain lazy at times regarding work. But now I have completely stopped that. Im glad I have too.

Changing this mindset was my main goal to accomplish this year, as I believe without the correct mindset and work ethic you will not get a job in this industry or anything like it. So making sure I changed it was vital, and it was done with a lot of focus, willpower and determination. It wasn’t a walk in the park mind you though, quite a few times (epically before Christmas) I slipped backed into my old habits of having 2/3 solid days of doing no work at all, I even stupidly had a week off from doing work to binge on the whole 7 series of Dexter (which I do highly recommend on another note).

I certainly felt the extra pressure of catching up on all that undone work though, not good.  But recently with the added bit of added pressure and motivation from the group project, my holiday and the end of the year 2. I was putting in roughly 55-60 hour weeks. I was mentally exhausted in the last few days but in a strange well it felt pretty good – knowing that ive just ploughed through a lot of work. That long stint of just doing nothing but work has just put it into perspective of how much I need to do to get a good grade, but It also how much and hard I can push myself. After that whole ordeal, its shown me how well I can cope with pressure as well, which is a great skillet to have in any intense job.

At the start of the year I felt my digital painting wasn’t up to scratch, especially after seeing the quality of work some other students are pumping out. It was, and still is something I want to improve on. In the second year visual design focuses much more on digital painting than the first year, so I had a lot of opportunities to practice. Improving in painting is just like drawing, the more you do it the better you get at it. Throughout the year I picked up better painting techniques from talking to other students and watching online tutorials and put these into practice. Below you can hopefully see an improvement. The first painting was from the start of the year, the second from the end of the year.

Abbey park Final

Moonshine Character Final

Ive always said in this blog that I have a passion for character art and I want to be a character artist. But with the recent completion of the group project I found working on environments and props to be a lovely experience. So much so that im changing my mind of what I want to specialise in on my FMP and what sort of job role I want to go into. It’s a bit late having this change of mind but with more job opportunities and less competition as a environment artist than a character artist and having this recent passion boost for environment art it might be the right decision. Ill use this summer to firmly decide on what I want to do.

Now that ive finished year 2 and have a long 5 month break ahead until year 3 starts, I have a lot of time on my hands. So apart from catching up on the big games ive missed out in the last 4 months or so, I want to do work. Drawing is still my weakest skill so I plan to do a lot of sketching so I don’t get rusty over the summer months. But im still looking to continue to carry on the group project with a few more members as we really want to win this competition. The exposure we are currently getting is great, so its something worth perusing. Especially so as it will massively help to get into the industry as having that on my portfolio will make me stand out from the rest of the crowd. It is also a chance to work on more environment pieces so I can get a better understanding on what path I want to take for my FMP.

Well I guess that’s it for another year, ill probably keep updating this blog over the summer, but not as much. See you in year 3.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Life Changing or Career Building?

I know what technical skills are, but I didn't have the foggiest what soft skills are until a quick Google search (where would we be without Google?). Its describe as ‘Soft skills is a sociological term relating to a person's "EQ" (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people’. So basically it’s their mind set/personality, cool, let’s begin then.

This sums up soft skills nicely

These soft skills in my eyes are more important than hardskills. Having the drive, motivation and determination to go out there and push yourself time and time again even when you’re making little to no process is what will make you excel. I touched on the subject in a previous blog, basically saying with the right mind set you can pretty much do whatever you want.

These sorts of soft skills are vital in the games industry, even if you have a job in it. As you always need to be on top of your game and constantly striving to be a better artist. So if that means working on personal projects outside of work while you’re crunching 50+ hours a week in work, then so be it, because if you don’t, someone else will and they'll take your job.

I always thought I had good soft skills (especially self-motivation) before taking this course. But looking back from where I am now, I realise that I really didn't. I used to spend around 2 months (while working part time mind you) to fully create a character which wasn't even rigged, and that was down to having little drive/self-motivation. I’d get home from a 4/5 hour shift at work and be like ‘ummm ill start my character tomorrow/next week, it wont matter if i put it off’, and I used to think I had the drive to get into the industry, how wrong I was. Now after 2 years of solid grafting, especially this last year I have gained the drive/self-motivation I desperately needed and required to get anywhere close to a job in the industry.    

Learning how to learn effectively is more beneficial to the student than learning technical skills. As new bits of software get released or workflow techniques change, so the students are going to have to relearn/change their way of thinking to keep up with the evolution of technology  Without having these soft skills its going to take them a lot longer to grasp new technical skills than someone who has these soft skills.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't teach technical skills at all. Technical skills for an artist are very important, without them how can they produce the things we see in modern games?  It’s a fine balance to teach both skillets. I believe this course does a very good job in balancing these 2 out. Its hammered into you from day one that you need to graft to get anywhere on this course, let alone find a job. What stuck in my head and got put into perspective was being told at the induction that ‘50% of students will drop the first year, and another 50% in the second’. That’s not really down to peoples lack of technical skills, it’s their lack of soft skills – no drive to put in the required effort.  

The reason why most people fail this course....

This course does a great job in harnessing the students creativity. In year one it puts you on a tight rope and won’t let you wonder much from the set path, as this year is all about learning the tools of the trade. Then as you progress into the second year that ‘rope’ gets a lot looser, allowing more creative freedom. Then in the third year you get complete freedom. But we are guided and nudge into sensible directions with our creativity. This is what makes us Skillset accredited and highly valuable to employers. 

Thursday, 25 April 2013


When I was younger and watching TV and there was a scene of a group of people in a meeting  room trying to think of the next ground breaking product, everyone was umming and arring until suddenly one guy stands up and spouts out the most brilliant out the of box idea which everyone cheers at. That is how I used to view creativity - creative people can just come up with brilliant ideas all the time on the spot. I used to penalise myself for not coming up with that creative sparks in a few seconds like they did on the TV. Because of that i used to think to myself, maybe I’m not cut out for being in a ‘creative’. But as I’ve grown older (and hopefully a bit wiser) I’ve come to realise that creativity doesn’t work like that. When solving a solution to a problem it’s usually a series of little ideas which you can bounce of other people and get their view on it, which then as a team you have this creative solution. Very few people throughout history have been able to do this all by themselves, and if I, or anyone else can’t do that then I shouldn’t beat myself up, like I used to.

That lovely light bulb idea which rarely happens in real life

Being able to have these little creative ideas are not something people are born with though, it comes down to a few factors. Such as genetics and personal experience. Admittedly (and annoyingly) some people do have a knack for it just like their parents, but that doesn’t mean if you don’t naturally have you won’t have it at all. Personal experience is a major contributing to creativity. Try new things, even if it’s just a new dish at a restaurant. It allows you to experience different things which open your mind. For instance, if you wanted to cook a traditional English dish with an exotic twist, how would you begin to start if for your whole life you’ve just ate fish and chips, you wouldn’t have a clue what exotic food taste like. Whereas if you’ve tasted a wide range of food and flavours then it’ll be easier to see what works and what doesn’t, you’ll also have more knowledge on the subject, and as we all know, knowledge is power.

Talent has the same traits as above but has one major factor, and that is hard work. Your parents might have passed on their talent gene onto you and you might have a large amount of experience to call upon but if you don’t work then how are you going to be able to get better. I believe everyone has the same maximum potential, but how hard you’re willing to work and what you’re born with corresponds with how quickly you can reach your maximum potential.

How to manage talent

As technology has evolved over the years, development studios are being less limited by technology with what they are able to create.  Creativity and what people envision from these studios has really been the same since the beginning of games, but the way they can implement them into games has changed.
Creativity can be displayed in many ways with games. It can be a new graphical effect which was produced in an unconventional way. http://simonschreibt.blogspot.de/ This blog goes into detail on how certain effects in games new and old are produced. No matter what how advance game engines can go, developers will always want to create something unique so they will find a way to do it.
Gameplay can be another way a developer shows off their creativity, and is generally the way most people will recognise it as everyone can appreciate it. 

How 'gibbing' works in L4D2

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The final push for year 2.

So I've just got back from my 3 week Easter break, but it’s hardly been a break. Most people would use this time of to chill out, catch up with friends and maybe play a few games or so. Not me, nope. I've used those 3 weeks to catch up on any outstanding visual design work, which I wanted to have fully caught up but that doesn't seem like that’s the case. Damn me over estimating me how quickly I can do work! I have been getting my work done though, I got some nice digital painting finals done. I've also been making large headway with the project work.

So for the group project over Easter I and another member was tasked to help out another member who was struggling to produce all his work to the deadline, as it was a lot. It was decided just before the Easter break that we would take on some of his prop work so as a team we could move onto the next stage of this project as quickly as possible. I did plan to use the Easter break to catch up on mostly VD work so having this to do as well did put more strain on my workload. But I didn't mind too much as I love creating props – they’re just small fun assets you can produce in a day.

 My workloads not going to get any lighter over the coming weeks. I have a few bits of work to catch up on, the group project to finish off and any other work which is going to be given to us. Having all this work to do is going to be tough. But what makes it a lot worse is that last year I (stupidly) booked a holiday from the 12th of May, which is about 2 weeks before our final hand in. So now i have roughly 2 weeks’ worth of work time I can’t use. Some all-nighters are going to be needed. But I don’t mind so much, as I know if I put a lot of solid work in for these last few weeks then I can have the whole summer knowing I put in everything I could. I don’t want to go through what happen last year with me spending half of the summer worrying if I was going to make it into the second year. And that happened because I got complacent towards the end of the year and stopped putting as much effort in as I should have. I’m not going to let it happen this year.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Generalist Or Specialist?

Coming to the end of my second year has raised  few question for myself. Such as what job area I want to go into in the games industry. But also how do I become more employable.

So should I become a specialist in the field I want to get into, such as being a character artist. Where I just spend all day every day creating awesome characters. Or do I broaden my skill set so that one week I animate characters, then the next week i'm creating foliage for the level. By the end of this post ill hopefully have an answer, or at least a better idea.

Since I first started working with 3D software I've always had a passion for characters, so that’s all I really did. But as I've gone through this course I've started different projects that before I’d never attempt (such as buildings, vehicles and foliage). It’s made me reconsider what field I’d like to get into. I love seeing a massive project through to the very end, seeing the end results of weeks and weeks of hard work. But lately with working on the Crytek ‘Off The Map’ project, I have been really enjoying spending each week working with something completely different. With working on something new every week you never get into a rut where you start to get sick of what you’re working on.

I should focus on being one of these types depending what type of studio (indie or major) I want to work for. If I go down the generalist route I’m going to be more valuable to an indie developer, as they do not have the resources to employ many people. So being able to pick up any task and complete it effectively is vital. Whereas working for a major studio it would be better for them to have a specialised people on board. This is down to them having enough resources so they can employ people who are the best in their field, allowing them to create the best quality assets for the game.

But I do think there is a middle ground which benefits everyone - being flexible within a specialised job role. So a person specialising in being a character artist should be able to rig and animate as well as create the character. A environment artist should be able to use a game engine/script as well as being able to create the assets which go in them. It’s also good to show you can adopt to any type of art style, as some studios only work to one art style (Crytek go for photo realistic whereas Blizzard are known for their hand painted style)

Being ‘T shape’  is also another good middle ground. It describes a person to have some knowledge in all areas, which related to the vertical line on the T. But this person is highly skilled in one particular area, this is represented by the horizontal line in the T.

Vavles model employee

Having knowledge/experience in a broad range of skills is a bonus to any employer. As this allows you to effectively communicate with other people within the team who could have an impact on your work. So for an example if you are a character artist, it’s an advantage to at least know the basics of rigging and animating. As this will allow you to talk to the animation team to solve any technical issues with your model without being lost in translation when talking to them.

I believe this is why technical artist are highly valuable. As they have skills in programming and art creation they can work with programmers but also work with the art team effectively because they can understand the workflow/pipeline for both teams . They almost become the middle man of the two departments.

The way this course is laid out it makes everyone ‘T shaped’, as it makes you work with every type of art in a game (environment/characters/props/vehicles etc. Then you specialise in whatever area you want for your final project. ). This is why graduates from this course have a high employment rate. So from what I've researched I think to become more employable as a character artists I think the best thing I can do is become proficient in rigging and animating along with character creation.

Out sourcing is becoming more and more used by the industry. Especially with the bigger studios, in fact according to the article here http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/outsourcing-is-fundamental 83% of studios outsource. The reason why this is happening is because the economical sate of the country and the industry along the increase of man hours required to make a AAA game. Even with budgets of 10s of millions £s, outsourcing is still a major factor for development studios.

An interesting article on ‘T Shaped’ roles:

An interesting forum debate about being a generalist or specialist:

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Work Update – Off The Map and Visual Design.

So the Off The Map group project is going really well. Everyone seems to be pulling their weight  and we’re starting to see the level come together from all the hard work we’re putting in. Seeing the quality of the work we are producing (our group and the other 2) I have no doubt that as long as we keep it up we can win this competition. Crytek seem to be taking an interest too, with posting a blog about us here (which is featured on their main page) :

It’s really nice working within a team too. As I find any sort of demotivation is thrown out the window, seeing everyone else posting their work updates spurs me on to work (even if they’re just small updates).

So since my last update I've built all the houses which are going to be used within the level. I made a floor modular system to work with, which made the process of creating unique houses pretty efficient. I basically used all my unique assets (walls, wood beams, windows etc) to make several different versions of each floor. Then with all the floors I created I could mix and match between the ground and middle floor, roof and roof objects. Using this method allowed me to create 9 different houses in a very short amount of time. Below shows the process.

All the unique assets 

All the floors which i can mix and match

The final 9 houses

I was also tasked to create the cobbled streets. This was something I've never done before - create a highly detailed but tillable texture. This new workflow taught me a lot of different tools and approaches which I can apply to other tasks. It was a difficult task to make the texture interesting , but not so interesting that the player can see that the texture is tiling. I think I got a pretty good result, the texture has a lot a small things going on, such as little puddles caught between the stones, moss growing, and some dirt/rubble as well. But not so much that the tiling is obvious. Take a look:

That’s the 3D side of things, now the 2D side. 2 weeks ago I posted my (long) random short story. Since then I have completed the storyboard for it. I’m also pretty happy with the result with it too. The piece lacks the polish of a final piece, as the idea of a storyboard is just to get an idea down. But I really like some of the compositional approaches I took. I saw this as an opportunity to push my perspective skills, which I do lack and need to improve. I wanted scenes to have a range of wide shots, looking up at the main focal point and down. I think i succeeded  I enjoyed this project a lot more than expected, and love the character ‘Oakbeard’ I got from it. So much so that when I get some free time I’m going to make a 3d model of him.    

That’s me done, ill be back soon with another work update.