Outside the Box:
By Paul "Villam" Steed
Anything I say comes from me and represents my personal opinions, views and subtle plans for influencing society. Read, ruminate over and remember at your own risk. If I teach you something and it helps, teach someone else.
eing an artist at id I get a couple e-mails everyday and I admit I don't always answer them. However I do read everything I get (unless it's marketing SPAM of course), and I appreciate the fact I actually get mail. Since many of the questions I get in said e-mails are similar I want to take a minute and answer a couple of my more common inbox inhabitants.
About Steed. I was born Paul Howard Steed, Jr. in a small town called Alliance in Ohio. After bouncing around a half dozen states and attending over 20 public schools I spent 6 years in the Air Force. After serving my Uncle honorably I kicked around Europe for several years and moved to Austin where I got my start in computer gaming at Origin Systems (now EA Texas). Eventually I left Origin and meandered briefly, parking at Iguana Entertainment (home of Turok) and Virgin Interactive's former in-house development effort which at one point was brilliantly and with much prescience named 'Burst'. I came on board id Software as the third artist (the other two are owners) where I model, animate and occasionally texture objects and characters for the best gaming company on the planet. While at id I've often taken advantage of my id-credible visibility to daringly (gasp!) and loudly express my opinion.
What I used and use to texture, model and animate. The tools I use to make art for games are:
3DS Max Plugins - of course the whole point of Max is to provide a robust shell to 'plug in' other programs that should have been incorporated in the first place but happily cost you even more money. But alas the stratagem of the marketing departments of the modeling and animation package creators is an unctuous thing. My current Max Plugins are:
However, the bottom line when it comes to tools for the computer game artist is this: use whatever works. I'm in the fortunate position to be the modeling and animation department at id Software so I have an unusually liberal supply of resources from which to equip myself and the trust of my bosses to use what I feel is appropriate. I know from experience that most people aren't in the enviable position I am when it comes to picking art tools. By no means do I know everything and I'm still pretty new to Max, but I'm a fast learner. Use whatever you want or are forced to use and be the best at it. But…flip it, smack it, beat it and know your tools well, Grasshopper. Don't ever settle for what it gives you. Make it do exactly what it is you want it to do. Otherwise you become its b-i-t-c-h instead of the other way around.
System Set-up. I have two systems I use for making computer game art. My workhorse and latest upgrade is a dual Pentium 300, Intergraph TDZ2000 with about 10 gigs of hard drive space and 256 Megs of RAM. It's strictly NT, dedicated to Max, E-mail and any other NT-only art programs. My other system is primarily for playing deathmatch or a competitor's game but I also like to texture with it in Photoshop. Texturing on one machine and modeling on another is a pretty sweet and convenient arrangement but of course depends on having a proper network established. I do have Photoshop on the NT system and occasionally just alt-tab between it and Max. Oh and the set-up wouldn't be complete without twin 21" monitors and a combination TV/VCR off to the side to watch training tapes, demo reels or inspirational Anime like Angel of Darkness or Cutey Honey.
What kind of educational background do I have, and what educational direction do I recommend to get into the computer game industry? This is a big one I get very frequently. I find it extremely flattering too because it says people want to be just like me. Cool. But while we're on the subject I want to expound on that for a minute. I appreciate the notion I'm a potential role model for you youngsters in the audience but please remember that role models don't raise children who don't live with them, those children's parents are responsible for that. Got it? Besides I'm not too sure I am a good role model. I drink, I swear, I drive too fast and I'm way too full of hormones to be a very good adult, even at the age of 34.
Be that as it may I do want to give you some advice when it comes to education. First you have to remember that I didn't even pick up a mouse until I was 27. I developed socially and had about 60 semester hours towards a B.A. in Management before I even found out you could make money making computer games. I held a 4.0 GPA because I didn't even take my first college course until I was 24. The self-discipline and self-study I imposed upon myself before wallowing in the formal educational system was far more grueling than most colleges have to offer. I found college easy because most of the course material simply covered stuff you should have remembered from Junior High and High School. I have a nearly eidetic memory. Be that as it may I found college useful because it presented paths to take. Every time I took a class the first year of night or lunch-time classes I wanted to be that particular study professionally. Anthropology, English, Astronomy, Biology, whatever. I was the paragon of learning and the perfect student. Unfortunately the apathy and immaturity of most of my classmates wore on me and I lost interest (well, that and I moved back to the states).
An important fact though, is that I did attend some college. When it comes to computer art I'm completely self-taught with small amounts of erudition coming from lectures and seminars held at various conventions throughout the year. Hell, I've never even had an art course past 6th grade because I always had my drawing. I'm no Da Vinci but genetically I inherited a substantial amount of artistic ability from my mother. Art as a career never interested me since I wanted more cerebral challenges and knew that art would be easy for me. I like the hard road because it's rewarding. Easy come, easy go.
I know that in the past I've advocated skipping college completely, but I take that back. Even if it's only to discover how much you don't need it, go to school. This week I'm going to be giving a heavy hand in determining and assisting the layout of a 2-year and 4-year program for computer game artists at the Art Institutes around the country (particularly the one here in Dallas). More and more schools are starting to pop up which target our industry. Search them out if a traditional school doesn't give you wood (or make you wet to be gender-conscious).
Regardless, I encourage you kids coming out of high school to attend a Junior college and at least get an Associates degree. More than anything this will appease your parental units and prove to thinkers-within-the-box that you have the requisite chutzpa to complete a structured program. Then if indeed you are still driven to work in an industry that demands at least more than half of your every waking day just to become proficient, then have your parents spend as much as another two years would cost at a regular college and plunk the cash down on a bad-ass system, a copy of 3DS Max, Photoshop and whatever else you need and proceed to learn yerself good! Occasionally send me something to critique and I can and will endeavor to guide you, thus furthering my insidious plan to make people into my clever little drones (flashlight-under-chin, "MWUUUAHHHHAAHAHA!!!").
Regardless what you decide to pursue, do me a colossal favor and r-e-a-d. Reading and if you can bare (yes I meant that) it, w-r-i-t-i-n-g are mandatory if you aspire to be an evolved human. Now that isn't to say become an intellectual. Intellectuals by definition are elitist assholes who condescend to the sheep around them. I prefer to teach the sheep and maybe eat a few while dodging the shepherds. Oh, and the reason why you've probably had to reach for the dictionary a few times in the course of reading through this ruminative diatribe (c'mon…'prescience'? 'unctuous'? 'assuage'? 'plethora'? 'delineating'? 'ruminative'?) is because nobody uses those words unless they're a: trying to impress you with their elocutionary acumen, or b: trying to compel you to get off your lazy ass and read enough books that contain those kinds of words enough times in the proper context so you in turn can use them or at least understand them at some future date.
At a very basic level I find the lack of communicative skills in the United States appalling. In Europe we here in America are considered to be the proud owners of a third world public educational system.
I want you to follow your heart and don't wait too long before you make a living doing your hobby like I basically do. But educate and enlighten yourself along the way. Options equal choice. Knowledge gives you options and allows you to make fewer and fewer bad choices.
Keep an open mind, believe in honor and fairness, work hard and play hard. Choose that path and your successes are inevitable. Trust me.ps
- Paul Steed is an incredibly opinionated 3D artist at id Software
Credits: Thinking Outside the Box logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Thinking Outside the Box is © 1998 Paul Steed. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't even try it. We've got really big guns, and we're ripped, baby.