Sam Yang 3D Artist for Blizzard
by Dell Milton
Tell us about yourself Sam; where are you from and how old were you when you discovered that you wanted to be an Artist?
SY- I was born in Taiwan and grew up in Vancouver. Art had always been a huge part of my life, I enjoy drawing creatures since way back in high school. My grades in Fine Art was my strongest subject every year, so I often thought "Why not just make my hobby and passion into a career?" Knowing that I would be able to wake up each morning and look forward to my job and do I love for a living is a fantastic feeling. After I graduated from College, I became a 3D Modeler and also a generalist for the sake of job hunting. I enjoy learning new things and didn't mind focusing on more than one skill.
Are you a traditional artist that turned to 3D Modeling or did you just jump right into the 3D Software?
SY- I love doing quick sketches on paper when I'm concepting, and also did some chalk and oil paintings back in the day. But I slowly realized my interest were leaning more towards digital 3D art. I love playing games and watching movies as inspiration. I also knew the digital industry will grow quickly and become a bright future for me.
Are you formally trained as an artist or are you self-taught?
-I went to College in Vancouver to get a base knowledge of 3D and gradually this interest became a passion and a committed skill I personally love to improve as a professional artist by learning with fellow classmates and colleagues whenever I can.
Do you think that artists with a formal education in 3D Modeling or Animation have an advantage over self-taught artists?
-Artists with formal education will definitely have an ahead start compared to other artists. But let's say you've graduated now; From my experience.. I believe artists who are self-taught and constantly reaching out to learn and absorb what's new in the industry are the ones who potentially have a higher chance of making it to the top - they need to be passionate in what they do.
What is your software of choice?
-I've used many programs, but I personally enjoy working with 3dsMax with all the shortcuts to speed up my 3D Modeling. I'm constantly finding ways to make my workflow quicker and easier. ZBrush is also fantastic for digital sculpting, it handles heavy workloads extremely well. And of course Photoshop =)
Where do you find inspiration for your artwork?
-I find inspiration sometimes just from the strangest and oddest things around the world. I love to travel to new places and just take photos of different styles of architecture. I also watch featured films and experiencing new games on the shelf as well. I enjoy visiting forums to check out what other amazing artists are up to and just learn from them during my free time. Benefits include picking up what's cool, and also figuring out what mistakes are made so you could avoid it.
Who's work do you admire?
-When I was young, games like Final Fantasy 7,8, and 10 had a huge impact on me, as well as Blizzard's Diablo II and StarCraft. I realized the art quality in the cinematic and as well as fun gameplay was what i wanted to approach for my future. One of the greatest concept artist I really admire right now is by Wei Wang from our company.
When you made the decision to be a 3D Artist what was the first step you took to make that decision a reality?
-I had to choose what art school I wanted to attend, it was definitely the biggest investment decision for me to go to school. Tuition fees are getting ridiculously expensive now, but as long as your committed to keep pushing forward and learn for your own pleasure after you graduate – that's what really matters towards the end.
How did you get your first paying job as a 3D Artist and how old were you?
-The first job after graduation is usually the toughest in my opinion, because you are new. Graduates lack industry experience. My approach was to take on all types of freelance work related to 3D Art to build up a back-bone to support my resume before applying to companies. My first 3D Artist job was when I was 20 i think..
You work for Blizzard, Could you tell us how you got your start in the video game industry? And what your role is at Blizzard?
-Blizzard is actually my first game company I worked for surprisingly! Before stepping into this industry, I knew one of the keys to success was flexibility in your skill, so I became a 3D Generalist . Other skills such as Animating, Rigging, Rendering, Lighting, Tracking, Match Moving, and Particle FX has helped me a lot. The first job I had was at an Aviation company back in the day. Then I switched over to an Animation studio, then a Visual Effects Studio. I wanted to experience a wide variety of places while I'm still young. My friends always mentioned that I should work for Blizzard one day, so I ended up trying out global contests such as Dominance War where I can get more publicity. Blizzard's Art Recruiter, Kenny Carvalho discovered my talent and contacted me right after it was over. I am really grateful to be a part of Blizzard at such a young age, I can never thank him enough. As a 3D Artist at Blizzard, my job is to make our game an epic experience and grab our audience with amazing looking characters and environment art.
Which games have you worked on at Blizzard?
-So far I've worked on StarCraft II; We have an amazing team. I have met artists from the original StarCraft, working with them has been an extraordinary experience.
Can you describe a typical day for you at Blizzard?
-Again, waking up knowing you're doing something that you love at work is the greatest feeling. At Blizzard we have Taco Tuesdays and Bagel Thursdays, which is awesome! Sometimes I forget we get to walk by epic life-sized statues of iconic characters in our games every day. We also have team events organized for us to meet each other around the campus. We have Personal Art Galleries shown on display by Artists as well! The work environment at Blizzard is great! I've met some of the most nicest and talented people hired around the world. Working at Blizzard is fun and enjoyable experience, people here are friendly, we laugh and crack jokes all the time yet maintaining professionalism and getting stuff done. It's definitely the place to work.
How hard is it for a self-taught artist to break into the video game business?
-It's difficult without the foundation taught to you from school. But yes, I believe it's still possible to get your foot in the door for self-taught artists. I recommend joining forums and getting professional criticisms for your work, this allows you to learn from others and get recognition as well.
What advice would you give to our readers who want to work for video game companies on what they can expect and What should they not expect?
-Don't be afraid to research and ask around before spending huge payments for education - I can't stress that enough. For those who are graduating, expect competition. I've noticed new graduates these days are picking things up better and quicker, and have much more resources compared to back in the day. Also I learned that, even if you think you're the top student in your class, and I mean this the nicest way possible, this doesn't always mean you have solid guarantee to succeed out there in the industry. You gotta keep pushing your limits and have perfection towards your work to succeed.
What steps should an aspiring Game Artist or Character Modeler take to break into the video game business?
-Digital sculpting is a must if you're going to be a character artist, programs such as ZBrush or Mudbox. When showing employers your portfolio, make sure your lighting is badass! I believe the way your scene is lit is already half of the work =) Make sure your shapes and silhouettes are strong and readable in a distance so they aren't just a big noisy mess. Also stay away from making things everybody else has made already. Be original and unique so you stand out!
I see from your website cg-sammu.net that you've also worked in the television and movie industry on shows like Smallville, Pushing Daisies and movies super hero movie and the spirit. What was it like working on major television and motion picture projects?
-I've actually worked in the television/movie industry only for a short while. Working on Smallville was a great experience though, I definitely learned a lot from my lead. Working with him has pushed me forward in this industry and made me realize what it really takes. I was able to meet some of the casts and check out how they filmed it. During my time there, I noticed I always get tasked to break things. I guess I have a good sense of making destruction look natural in 3d. I've destroyed and exploded many things for Smallville Season 7..LOL! Some of the things include cabs, bridges, private planes, and even dams.
What are the major differences between working in the Video Game industry and working in the Television/Movie industry?
-From my experience, working for a television project can feel rushed at times, because of extremely tight deadlines between each episode and the amount of work. But I've also learned a lot during my time there. Movie industry on the other hand can be amazing too! I would love to do freelance for featured films in the future. And as for the Game industry has more of a casual, relaxed environment. We can be more creative with our work and have a wide range of interesting things to make and not feel so tied down to one generic thing like modeling a boring chair. At Blizzard, we get to make fun heavy machinery with armor plates, battle scars and blast marks to nasty creatures with spikes and shells.
Of all the projects that you've worked on which one are you most proud and why?
-Definitely on Blizzard's StarCraft II. Our company has such a great name, and I still can't believe all the classic games are still on the shelves in stores. I enjoyed working on StarCraft II not only because I was a huge fan, but also because of the work environment. When I come into the office in the morning, I feel like I'm a part of this family. Being able to contribute and make a difference here makes me proud to represent Blizzard.
Your Ms. Marvel model for the 2010 Comicon challenge is INCREDIBLE! Can you take us through your creative process on this piece?
-I made sure my entry for this year's Comicon Challenge wasn't just another Wolverine or the 6th Batman entry.. I realized nobody picked Ms. Marvel and I thought it would be a great choice for the sake of originality. While creating Ms. Marvel, I wanted it keep the same design, but with a slight change in the costume process so it's got a new unique twist. Some of the things I prioritize when it comes to female characters are her face, skin, pose and lighting. I used 3dsMax for modeling, ZBrush for the high resolution detailing, Photoshop for the textures, and Marmoset engine for the final render for this competition. In the end, I received 10th place out of like 300 entries i think - which is fantastic! :D I'm very happy about it.
From concept to finished model, how long did it take you to complete Ms. Marvel?
-During this competition, I only had spare time during the weekends to work on this piece since I work fulltime at the office as well. The modeling process didn't take too long, most of my time was spent on tweaking the rendering and the presentation of the final product.
What were some of the challenges you faced during the making of Ms. Marvel?
-Some of the major challenges I faced were some sorting errors from the alpha planes in her hair using Marmoset Engine, but other than that – it's a pretty mighty previewer. Perfecting a beautiful female face had always been one of the toughest things to achieve in 3d and also trying to avoid the creepy "uncanny valley" look many artists fall into.
Of all your completed Character Models which is your favorite and why?
-I don't really have a favorite actually, they are all great in their own unique ways. The types of models I enjoy creating the most are creatures, girls, and mechs for sure. Sin from Final Fantasy X might be my favorite piece if I had to choose I guess? It was difficult to find good reference for this guy, and plus nobody has recreated him before! I enjoyed doodling creatures when I was young, so this was more natural for me to work on. I enjoyed sculpting the different types of wrinkles on the skin and the fur.
Could you tell us about your Female Portrait piece, what was your inspiration for this character and how long did it take to complete?
-This piece was actually an experiment - a practice of recreating female faces. This was a challenge, because this was one of the things I needed to improve on. Things like skin shaders, hair, and the perfection of the human face. I don't really have an exact duration of this piece. But again, this was done whenever I had free time during weekends. I ended up submitting this to the 2009 Gnomon Cognosco Gallery in downtown LA.
Your 2009 Dominance War IV competition piece "Lord Thanatos" is another awesome piece, what was your inspiration for this piece and how long did it take you to complete?
-I think we had 2 months to complete this. This character was created during the first couple months when I got first hired at Blizzard for the StarCraft II team. I was totally inspired from the designs of the Zerg race - such as the Queen, Hydralisk, and the Infestor. So I finally decided to make something disgusting with crab shells, tentacles, spikes and more spikes - And that's how Lord Thanatos was created =)
Are there any more 3D art contests that you plan to enter in the future?
-For sure! I've joined Comicon Challenge and Dominance War so far. If there are other interesting ones I come across, I would definitely give it a go to challenge myself or compete with my buddy in Vancouver, David Kuo is another amazing artist by the way. We do this almost every year to push and improve our skills.
Does participating in art contest like Dominance War help you develop as an artist?
-Yes it definitely does. Joining competitions on forums was a huge influence for me. Being able to receive critiques from other professionals is a great learning process.
Would you encourage 3D artist looking to break into the business to enter competitions like Dominance War?
-Totally! I definitely recommend everybody to join these contests not only for what the prizes are, but instead, to receive these important hidden things: Knowledge, Networking, Recognition, and Job Opportunities.
Is there anything that you would like to do as a 3d Artist that you haven't done yet?
-Looking back into my portfolio, I've done mostly realism. I noticed I haven't worked with fur as much as I wanted to yet.. Perhaps I could also try creating more stylized models. Maybe something from Ice Age, Finding Nemo, Tangled, and Ratatouille? I loved watching these by the way!
Any final words of wisdom for all the aspiring 3D Modelers and VFX artists out there?
-Being comfortable and rooted too long isn't always a great thing. Remember to practice and challenge yourself to learn new techniques for faster workflow along with skill and flexibility =) Always keep yourself updated with what's new in the industry and not fall behind, that would be my greatest advice! Good luck everyone! Feel free to give me a shout anytime if you have any questions! :D
Special thanks to Sam Yang for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk about his experience as a 3D Artist.
See more of Sam's art at cg-sammu.net