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12-04-2011, 06:34 PM   #1
mtmckinley
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My career story COMPLETE! 2000-2011
I recently read a blog by a designer who worked at Bioware (a game company) for 10 years. He left that studio and wrote a blog post detailing his time through each of those years he worked there. I found it very interesting and, while I can't claim to be equally as interesting, I thought I might write some posts about my career to accomplish a couple of goals:

1) Just to remember. I haven't really thought about those times much and it'll be nice to have a written "diary" of those times to remind me in the future.

2) In the hopes that others may find my story half as interesting as I found the story I read.

I don't know how frequent I'll be updating my posts, but I'm hoping at least once a week, but maybe I'll get on a tare and it'll be every other day or something. I dunno. I hope you guys find them interesting!

----------

Year -0

I suppose I should start at the beginning and detail my experiences even getting started in the game industry. I know lots of people out there are students and enthusiasts who are still looking to get their foot in the door, so to speak.

I knew I wanted to be an artist at an early age. I remember writing and drawing my own comics and giving them to my friends in grade school. I had a dozen or so different comic book super heroes and another dozen villains I would circulate. Some of my favorites had names like Bullet Clip, Infinite, The Protectorate, and Blaster.

I remember a conversation with my dad when he asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up and I enthusiastically informed him that I would be pursuing a career in comic books as an illustrator! He warned me that that would be pretty difficult, but he was encouraging about it.

Then it happened. When I was 12 or 13 years old, Jurassic Park came out and I, like many others my age, was completely blown away! My mind was completely blown by the sheer amazement of what I was seeing on the screen and the unbelievable realism that these computer graphics were bringing to the table.

Afterward, with my limited means (no computer or internet), I searched for every scrap of info I could on how those dinosaurs came to be! I resolved then and there that I would switch my focus from comic book illustrations to computer graphics!

I knew what I wanted to be, but had no idea how to do it.

-----------

I'll continue in a later post. Feel free to let me know if this just seems really pretentious. That's not my intent.
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12-04-2011, 07:08 PM   #2
tweetytunes
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Its always good to see how people ended up where they are today


Side note: Its nice to see you on here - it seems like forever
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12-04-2011, 07:16 PM   #3
daverave
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I do find you post interesting not at all pretentious, just done the maths you are still a young man i would start to keep a diary as you said as at 50 Im starting to forget things...........dave
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12-04-2011, 07:51 PM   #4
David
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Nice mate I like it

Dave
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12-04-2011, 07:57 PM   #5
jali
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it's intresting to read how artists made it into the industry, if you dont mind me asking how long did it take you to get into the games industry?

and how did you jump from wanting to do comics to making games?,

I remember in an old post you mentioning that you've never had an actual showreel, so how did you get your breack in the industry with out one?
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12-04-2011, 09:20 PM   #6
Chirone
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Haven't seen post from you for a long long time!

wait... 12 or 13... when jurrasic park came out? that makes you super young. i thought you were in your late 30s... or is there an earlier jurrasic park that i dont know about...?
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Objective C, C#, Java, MEL. Python, C++, XML, JavaScript, XSLT, HTML, SQL, CSS, FXScript, Clips, SOAR, ActionScript, OpenGL, DirectX
Maya, XSI, Photoshop, AfterEffects, Motion, Illustrator, Flash, Swift3D
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12-04-2011, 11:03 PM   #7
Jay
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Nice one Mike!!

I recall Jurrasic Park being part of the catalyst for myself to get my arse in gear for CG and stop wasting time. Only I was 24 at the time lol

look forward to the rest

Jay
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12-04-2011, 11:31 PM   #8
mtmckinley
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I'm glad you guys are interested. Yeah, I'm not all that old. Just 30. But I've been in the game industry for over 8 years and I was here on SimplyMaya before THAT even, so I thought I'd post this here as opposed to other places.

Year -0 (continued)

When I was a senior in highschool, and was preparing for college, my heart was still set on somehow learning this computer graphics stuff. I managed to convince my parents that I needed a computer for college and it'd be a big help to get it early so that I could get the hang of it. I got this HUGE CRT 21" screen monitor that must have weighed 100 pounds and my first PC, which might've been something like a Pentium 2 400 mhz or something with a whopping 256 mb of RAM! All for the low low price of around $4k. Yeah, that was nuts.

Anyway, I started doing research... not into colleges or anything like that, but into finding 3D graphics programs! I finally managed to find a free demo version of a program called Bryce3D.

Here's what the interface looked like: http://www.your3dsource.com/bryce-3d-screenshot.jpeg

It was primarily known for being good at generating hieght maps and landscapes. I started fiddling with it and started playing with creating shapes and shaders. Nothing complicated in the slightest. I'm talking about merely plopping down cubes, torri, spheres, etc. and making simple scenes with them. I couldn't save my files and when I rendered an image, it would render the image through a scan line and at the last second add a huge watermark all over the image. I got around this by taking a quick screenshot of the rendered image just before it hit 100% and saving my own jpg images that way.

Long story short, and to kinda get this narrative back on track, after a couple months of dabbling with Bryce3D, I made a few (very) simple scenes that I was proud of and made a rudimentary website where I posted them up.

Don't ask me how, but somehow, someone found them, noticed that I had mentioned that I was going to be moving to Arizona for college, and contacted me about the possibility of a job.

So, right out of the gate, I was getting interest and I was on cloud 9! Turns out that he was a headhunter and there was a small startup software company in Arizona that was looking for cheap talent. It wasn't games, but it was working with 3D, so I was ecstatic!

To be continued.
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13-04-2011, 12:36 AM   #9
Johndoe050
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I want to know how this ends and i am curious how you got there. Because I realy want to be working in the game industry. Maybe there should be a thread dedicated to game modeling here on Simply Maya....
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13-04-2011, 01:37 PM   #10
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I love reading this sort of stuff. Going through uni now it is so interesting the ways in which people get to their goals.

Good too see you around again Mike! How goes Fatherhood?
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14-04-2011, 04:17 PM   #11
mtmckinley
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Year -0 continued

So, while it was exciting to think that I could possibly have my first CG job before I even started college, it was not to be. I did eventually get the job, but not until I was half-way through school.

MY FIRST JOB!!!!11!!

I was 20 years old, had just quit a telemarketing job (after less than a month of working there), and thought I would email that old job possibility to see if they might change their mind and hire me.

Turns out they did! They emailed me back and said to come on in next Monday. I was sooo lucky!

Year 1 begins! February 2000

WALRUS CORP.

My first job was with Walrus Corp. Walrus was a small startup started by two brothers, Walter and Russell (I see what you did there. ). They had a few investors and hired me and one other artist to help them develop their software.

It wasn't a game company, but they were developing software for creating 3D websites. It was interesting. Each website that used their technology would have a navigable 3D environment that could display web pages, have 3D avatars selling things, dance club chat rooms, and so on. Kind of archaic now, looking back. My job was to test the software and create demo "rooms" to show the software at work. I created a 3D theater (where people could buy movies), an office space (for giving online tours and for company PR), and lots of different themed "chat rooms" (I remember doing a Doom inspired room, an Incan cave, a dance club, etc.)

I was still in school at the time, so I worked part-time and came in on Saturdays. It was educational to be sure, but wasn't exactly what I wanted to do eventually. For example, we weren't using Max or Maya or anything. It was the Walrus Editor that we used to create these rooms and they could only create simple shapes. So while I was learning a lot about working on a team and on a real project, I didn't learn much about Maya or creating anything related to games or films (at this point, I was still planning on getting into movies).

When I first started, we worked in an extremely small office. Which was ok, since we only had 5 people all together. However, after about 4 months of steadily learning how to use the Walrus tech and creating demo rooms of increasing complexity, there was a sudden (well, sudden to me anyway) falling out between the two brothers. Suddenly, Walter was kicking Russel out! It was a big to-do with armed escorts and all that jazz.

I was shocked, but still had a job, so we kept going. We eventually got a nice office space in downtown Phoenix. It was a huge office! And we still had just the 5 people... kinda funny. But we eventually hired on a couple more guys and kept going.

This job lasted until the beginning of January 2001. The studio ran out of funding and we eventually all got let go. We never did fill that office space up.

To be continued!
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14-04-2011, 10:27 PM   #12
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Please carry on............dave
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15-04-2011, 05:50 PM   #13
mtmckinley
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Year 2 - Back to School; January 2001

The same month that Walrus shut down, I graduated from school with a horrible portfolio. All that work at Walrus wasn't applicable to anything for my career, and my school projects were just that... crappy student work. With little to no portfolio to fall back on, I was on my way to being another failed art student. I decided to work at the school and managed to get a job as a Teacher's Assistant in the Maya curriculum.

As a TA, I would sit in the classes with the students and help students when they raised their hands. This proved to be the BEST job I could have ever taken at that time in my life. As I sat in the classes, I essentially was taught Maya courses along with the rest of the class and if a student asked for help with something I didn't know, I could take the time to go figure it out and get back to them.

I was a TA to two main teachers: Ryan and Jeff. Ryan was a young guy like myself who had gotten a job as a teacher right out of school. He knew his stuff, but didn't have much experience in the actual work force. Great guy though. Jeff was an experienced game artist who left the game industry to take a much less stressful job in teaching. He worked at Acclaim back in their heyday and had been a Lead Artist on the NBA Jam series along with others. He proved to be my mentor during these times. He taught me SO much about Maya and I credit him with motivating me to change my focus to game development rather than film FX.

Also during this time, I began writing Maya tutorials. I posted links to my website (newly improved this time) where I posted them. Slowly but surely I began to make a name for myself at the school. I dedicated all my time to learning more and more about Maya and writing tutorials to not only help others, but help myself learn as well. I started getting a ton of students coming up to me asking for extra help and became a tutor as well as a TA.

I started getting a lot of attention online as well. Emails asking about Maya coming from far off countries. It was pretty neat.

I worked there from January until October 2001. I started running out of money and was tired of my parents having to bail me out for rent every month. I asked for a raise at work and was denied. I had no choice but to quit, pack up my stuff, and move back home to Mississippi. I was officially unemployed, with a horrible portfolio, and with no prospects... Wasn't looking good at all...
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15-04-2011, 06:04 PM   #14
stwert
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Ahhh, cliffhanger!!! Except we know the ending (or the current situation rather)

Very interesting to read!
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17-04-2011, 01:20 AM   #15
mtmckinley
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Year 3 - Time to practice. October 2001 - April 2003

For the next year or so, I lived with my parents and got a normal job at a bank. During this time, I practiced constantly, working on improving my abilities and understanding the tech. It was during this time that I started coming here to SimplyMaya!

I remember that I installed a visitor tracker onto my site because I was curious about where people were linking to my site from. I had several tutorials by this time and saw that I got a large influx of visitors from one of my tutorials being mentioned here on SM. So, I started coming by and became a normal member of the forum like most of you guys. Eventually, the guy who used to run SM (Kevin back in the day) asked me if I was interested in making some videos for this site and during that time, I made several.

I must have cleaned out all of my old work and started fresh on a new portfolio several times. I even scrapped my old show reel that I made in college. It was a really awful reel with really awful work. I never bothered making another show reel again. I might change my mind and try putting one together now that I have several years of professional work behind me, but at the time, I needed to focus my time on the actual work and not a reel.

During the year of 2002, I began shopping around for a job with the new work I had accumulated. I sent out resumes to hundreds of studios all over the US and around the world. I remember that I saved all of my sent emails in a folder so that I could keep track of who I applied to (so I wouldn't accidentally double email someone... not that that still didn't happen sometimes... how embarrassing!).

Eventually, I literally had over 1000 emails in this folder... not kidding, it counted them. I remember doing the math... Out of 1000 emails, I had about 100 replies. Out of 100 replies, about 90 were form letters and auto-replies. Out of the 10 personal replies I got, 9 of them were telling me that they either weren't hiring or they weren't interested in me. Then I got THE ONE.

Around December 2002, I got a response that didn't dismiss my application. The instead gave me an art test! I was thrilled to get the test and worked on it the best I could for about a week. The assignment was to create a character based on a drawing that the studio provided.

After submitting my results, I got a phone call. They wanted to interview me over the phone! I was ECSTATIC! And incredibly nervous! I talked to them for a good hour and ended the interview feeling excited. A day later, I got another call requesting an interview IN PERSON! The studio was going to fly me up to interview me over the course of two days!

I'll have to continue in the next post!
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