To be clear, this is no mere fan art contest. The student art contest was put together by Blizzard's University Relations department, challenging aspiring professionals to come up with 3D artwork that fit into the Warcraft universe while being "wholly new and unlike anything the art team had seen before." The three artists who best met that challenge would earn a three-month mentorship at Blizzard by a member of the WoW art team, a one-year subscription to WoW, and of course, some delicious WoW memorabilia and goodies.
Top dog for the 2012 contest: Laguna College of Art and Design student Jessica Dinh. "Jessica set up her scene and composed it in a way that immediately captured the viewer," says Wendy Vetter, WoW's lead dungeon artist and Jessica's internship mentor. "It was colorful, whimsical, almost like an intro to a fairytale. I was struck by the amount of detail she put into the piece, right down to the cow's head peering at the viewer in the corner."
Jessica tells us what it was like working on World of Warcraft as an artist inside Blizzard, and she rounds up what she learned there with five tips for artists trying to break into the field.
WoW Insider: Congratulations on your recognition, Jessica! What a fantastic opportunity, an internship at Blizzard. Have you always dreamed of becoming a professional artist, or was getting serious about art a more recent development for you?
Jessica Dinh: I've always dreamed of becoming an artist. I first remember wanting to be a children's book illustrator when I was 5 years old. One of my cousins was very supportive of me and got me art supplies every Christmas. The day I discovered he worked as an artist in the game industry, I decided I wanted to as well. Before, I hadn't realized that games needed artists to make them, and I loved playing them ... so of course!
When I began college though, I learned that there were many different disciplines in game art, so it took me awhile to sift through them all. Only about two years ago did I find that 3D environment art was the stuff for me. Creating worlds that people can interact with is so fascinating!
What was it about the Blizzard student art contest that caught your eye? Give us some perspective on what this opportunity represents for a young artist in your position.
When I learned of the Blizzard student art contest, I jumped at the opportunity immediately. It not only represented my chance to impress my dream company, but also the personal challenge to make something beautiful and unique in my recently chosen discipline. What caught my eye about the contest was the flexibility of the theme. Students were asked to create something never before seen in the WoW universe, which told me that Blizzard promotes creativity and individuality, despite being so large a studio. I love that!
Jessica understands the need to create three-dimensionality by making sure she has a foreground, mid-ground and background. This is also enhanced by the feeling of atmosphere. She stylized her building by adding thickness and exaggeration within the shapes and silhouette. She clearly is looking at the WoW style and trying to mimic the design in her textures, but also has infused her own style. Nothing is straight and she varies the shapes out which is a design feature in WoW. The colors are in harmony and don't clash, which also adds to the whimsical element. All of the components of the piece complement each other in style and they make sense in the environment. The scene itself is immersive and leads the eye around. -- Wendy Vetter, WoW lead dungeon artist
I knew that creating a 3D environment would be a pretty involved task consisting of multiple aspects, so I began with a ton of planning. I planned the mood and atmosphere, which I wanted to have a very strong and immediate read. When researching architecture, foliage, landscape, and colors, I remained thoughtful of how each element would complement the other. I also made a strict timeline for myself.
From there, I painted a concept of the scene and sketched breakdowns for everything. I then modeled and textured the assets, importing each into the engine as they were completed, and composing them. The composition process was constant; I was always moving the assets around as new ones were added, changing the lighting, adjusting the textures, and taking the time to respond to critique. It was important not to get stuck on any one part of the process for too long.
Of course, we're talking about art that's very much a technical process as well as a creative one. What sort of tools, software, and hardware do you use?
I use my sketchbook for research and doodles. The pen and paper allows me to be quick and messy when I'm in the early stages of planning and I have a lot of random thoughts flying around. For more finished concepts and paintings, and for texturing, I'll use Photoshop. I use 3D Studio Max for modeling, and the game engine, Unreal Development Kit, for final arrangement of my environments.
Other really useful programs include 3D Coat, for 3D painting, Crazybump, for rendering specific texture maps, and Marmoset, for presentation of smaller props. As far as hardware goes, I'm both a Mac and PC user, but I think I do favor Macs a bit more!
Let's talk about your summer with Blizzard. How much time did you spend there? What sort of tasks did you work on?
I spent three months at Blizzard on WoW's Dungeon Team working on a wide variety of tasks. I did everything from updating props, to making variants of existing buildings and large assets, creating collision, fixing bugs, and developing concepts. I got to work with others from different teams as well, so not only the dungeon artists, but the prop artists and the designers too! The collaboration at Blizzard is great.
Is there something in Mists of Pandaria you could point to and say "I did that"?
Jessica has a good sense of design and color. Her work has a clear style to it that feels light hearted and fun. She goes out of her way to add those finishing touches that make her work feel complete and polished. -- Wendy Vetter, WoW lead dungeon artist
Many things! I updated about 20 different props and prop variants that can be found in dungeons and above-ground around the world. Chairs, benches, tables, doors, candelabras, statuettes, and more! I get really excited when I play now and run into all of the little things I worked on -- it's almost unreal.
My work standard has been skyrocketed by my experience at Blizzard. Just being in the presence of so many artists with such massive talent and incredible work ethics has pushed me to expect much more from my art. Now my internship is over, but I have taken that inspiration with me.
Take us inside Blizzard with you, Jessica, as a fly on the wall. Can you share a squee moment -- something that left you breathless with excitement to see, do, meet, try...?
I guess one of those squee moments happened on the first day I set foot into the dungeon pit! I was showing my team some of my personal work, and one of the projects was a building I had modeled off of a Mists of Pandaria concept. Both the concept artist of that building, and the artist who modeled the actual in-game building were on my team -- these were the people I would get to spend the next three months working with and learning from. It was an awesome realization!
You're still finishing up your college degree, isn't that right? What are your plans from there?
Jessica has an eagerness to learn and develop her skillset. She already has an ability to create good art and wiliness to explore a variety of solutions. She takes on every task with the same amount of energy which in turn results in quality assets. -- Wendy Vetter, WoW lead dungeon artist
Yes, I actually just signed up for my last semester yesterday. When I graduate, I hope to land right back on the team that hosted me over the summer! They are such a wonderful group of people, working on an awesome game.
Tell us about your little cache of art blogs.
Jessica Dinh is my portfolio site, the place for my best 3D environment work. Joshiemoo! is my personal art blog. I put all manner of random art things here, including little environment paintings, prop sketches, studies, and figure drawings -- I love figure drawing!
Lighting and Texture 1 is for a class I took on hand-painted textures. My progress is posted here, as well as the work of my classmates, many of them quite talented! Shut Up and Sketch and Shut up and Model are some group blogs my friends and I started up one summer where we'd have a fun new topic every week to keep us creating.
Finer Things and Bonus Camel are my Blizzard blogs! Bonus Camel is the sketch blog for all Blizzard employees, and Finer Things is my dungeon team's sketch group ... yes, they fancy themselves sophisticated.
I started playing WoW just about a year and a half ago. My playstyle is pretty slow, as I frequently stop to admire things, but I will get to the Mists zones eventually! Currently I'm questing through Cataclysm with my level 80 blood elf paladin, Joshiemoo.
Let's wrap up by sharing a little of the love here: What are your top five tips for aspiring 3D environment artists?
- Be meticulous about every step of your process. Never get sloppy, and it will show in the final product!
- Reach out to others for critique. Don't discriminate amongst your critics; ask other 3D environment artists, character artists, and concept artists. Each group and person will have his own point of view based upon experience. One of my best critics ever is my dad, and he is not even an artist!
- Network naturally. Don't force your presence or your business cards on anybody. I find the best way to network is just to do your work and put it out there for others to see. The game art forum Polycount is an awesome place for that. When people see you taking and giving feedback, and improving from it, friendships are created!
- Find your favorite part of the 3D environment process, whether it be modeling, texturing, level-designing, or lighting. I think it's good to have a few special strengths among all the things you know. My favorite part is texturing because I love painting and the challenge that comes with material definition.
- Don't be afraid to just jump into something new. If you don't know what a decal is, look it up! If you don't know how to use 3D Coat, download it. I used to be pretty scared to learn new software and techniques, but have recently realized that working in the game industry will require you to adapt all the time. I'm the better off for it now.
"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.