ART STORIES: San Diego to Seattle and Back, the story of Anthony Garcellano. Part I
Every artist has a story. Some stories are simple. A job is applied for and everything works out, you’re set for life. Perhaps you have a friend who has friends who end up getting you that first job that you need to show your worth. And other stories, like my [Daniel Rose] own, are about a mix of flexibility and persistence as you dance between fulfilling personal and professional sides of the same coin.
Anthony’s story is his own. It’s the story about a kid who grew into a man who took a number of risks and toughed out some rough situations in order to make his dreams come true. If you’re into stories about fighting for your professional dreams, read on. It’s a good one.
Written by Anthony Garcellano, edited by Daniel Rose.
I’m here in Downtown Seattle, at a local cafe with a few early morning customers. I’m at a table alone with my laptop, listening to the psychedelic ambiance that fills the café as I sip on my latte while I work.
This routine has been all too familiar to me for several years; working on 3D art constantly and trying to break back in the games industry again and again. At this time of this article, I’m a 3D Environment Artist at Hardsuit Labs in West Seattle. I suppose I really don’t need to do this routine anymore, but it persists. What felt like an easy career path at first became a struggle to maintain.
The Seeds of Inspiration
I grew up south of San Diego, CA. Most of my childhood had been a mix of hanging out with friends at the park, around the neighborhood, and playing video games. I would play games often after school. I had mostly Nintendo systems as a kid and that is where I spent most of my time. I would get lost in the worlds of Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong. The thought of working in games didn’t really come to me until I started looking at the ending credits of games I would play. I would come to idolize Shigeru Miyamoto as a child. I would see his name in the credits all the time since he worked on so many of the aforementioned Nintendo games I played. It made me want to be a game designer.
I was around 12 years old when many of my friends were playing games on Playstation or Dreamcast. I only owned a Nintendo 64 and when compared to the Playstation there weren’t that many games for it. I wanted to know what was next but there wasn’t much news about Nintendo’s next console. Hungry for any news on what was coming next, I scoured the internet looking for any information I could find. That’s when I came across “Project Dolphin”.
This led me to Nintendo’s Japanese website. I didn’t understand any Japanese at the time. There were a few videos and images that I saw that weren’t shown on Nintendo’s American website. I saw clips of Nintendo Space World 2001, where the GameBoy Advance and Gamecube were announced, along with a demo of Super Mario Sunshine. This was my inspiration for wanting to learn Japanese! I attended a school at the time that didn’t offer Japanese classes, so I started learning it on the side.
I had an acquaintance who owned a Japanese import of a Naruto fighting game on the GameCube. It wasn’t released in the US so he used some sort of special disc to get it to play correctly. We only played it when we all hung out and he would bring the game. This had me hooked on trying to own it and to know more about the Naruto series. I forgot how I did it, but I was able to order the same game (or the sequel of it) online. I believe it was through a Japanese site. Playing this game continued to push me, bit by bit, into learning Japanese more and eventually into games.
When I started my sophomore year of High School, I went to JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) during the first semester. I was living in a Navy town at the time and most Filipinos followed a similar path; enlisting in the Army or Navy. This led me to also participate with the JV Drill team, which involves spinning rifles, for a brief time. Within the first few days of school, I switched from Advanced Filipino/Tagalog classes to Japanese. I was thrilled to join it, and a large number of the students in the class were anime and game fans like myself.
Eventually the thought of going to the army drifted away. I decided to opt out of JROTC and attended regular P.E. classes. A friend of mine joined me in opting out as well. We would get shunned and ignored at times by the Varsity Drill Team when both of us passed by them. While that experience was not good, both of us were just glad we left.
As school continued, I hung out with friends more from the Japanese class that were also into martial arts, anime, and video games. We joined a small Japanese club called the Ichi-ban Club (Ichi-ban means Number one in Japanese). The original members of the club were all close friends, and all were into action movies, anime, pro-wrestling, and Power Rangers for some reason. One of the members, Neil, was related to someone who created action-fight choreography movies on the side with his own group called Jabroni Pictures (a reference to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). We watched their videos and eventually were able to meet a few of them at the San Diego Comic Con.
A small handful of us thought it’d be fun to do some of our own stunts, so we did! As I started my Junior Year in 2004, my friends and I started RoundHouse Films. We named it such because we all knew how to do a roundhouse kick. It was originally me, Philip, and Eugene. Philip is Laotian, he was a huge fan of Tony Jaa, and was heavily into Thai-Boxing. Eugene is Filipino like myself, and was a huge fan of Japanese and Chinese martial arts. I only took a few Karate classes as a kid. I also had a few Capoeira classes with Eugene and Adam (another friend) a few years before. We all shared the same interest in martial arts which led us to meeting a few other friends who later joined our small action choreography group.
I was usually the cameraman, recording most of the fights and helping out on the action choreography. I also did most of the video editing for the movies, and would show it to them in school. We would eventually showed it around to other classmates.
Neil, a senior, would help my friends and I on our choreography. He was also the President of the Ichi-ban Club. He would invite his older friends that were formerly part of the club and had graduated to participate in and check out some of the events. My friends and I were basically groupies that wanted to follow what they did.
All of my interests; video games, Japanese, action choreography, and video editing didn’t really point me into a direction that I wanted my life to follow until later in my senior year. I had thoughts of wanting to be an Action Choreographer or a Video Editor. At the time, it didn’t seem like it was a viable career choice. I didn’t know how it would work out and where I’d go, so I only did it as a hobby.
I originally had thoughts of attending San Diego State University to Major in Japanese, but in late 2005 I took a Graphic Design course as an elective and that would eventually change everything. Sometime during the course of that class, a PR/Marketing representative from Platt College visited the class. He mentioned a few names from the college that ended up joining Sony Computer Entertainment in San Diego. Just knowing that already convinced me to want to join. I could’ve chosen so many different life paths, but I went for that one. It was a risk in itself because during that time, a career in games still felt new. I graduated High School in the summer of 2006, and went to Platt College in the fall.
I went for an Associates Degree in Graphic Design during my first year. It would eventually shift to 3D Animation. In 2007, I met a classmate that worked as an Online Support Tester at Sony Computer Entertainment in the night. He suggested I apply for a game-testing job at Sony Computer Entertainment America, as the thought at the time was that it was a way to “break” in to games. I applied and was interviewed but at the time I was unable to accept the job because it wouldn’t work with my college schedule.
My second year at school I was applying for a number of graphic design jobs. A flyer passed around the college advertising game testing or focus testing for Midway Home Entertainment, a division of Midway Games. Midway Games! I knew them from Mortal Kombat, Cruisin’ USA, Ready to Rumble, and San Francisco Rush! These were all games I played on the N64 years ago! Just weeks before I turned 20, I was brought in to do focus testing at Midway. I couldn’t believe it!
It was my actual first glimpse of working at or with a game studio. It was on an on-call basis, typically on weeknights and occasionally weekends. I would join with a group of other testers and go to a room full of tables, with consoles and monitors set-up. We’d test for a few hours, give feedback, and then get paid at the end of the test sessions. They were ran by Rebecca Dowd, Greg Bass, and Alex Salcedo.
We tested TNA Impact and Blitz: The League II. I thought it was the coolest thing as I was already a big wrestling fan. Blitz was pretty cool to test as well because I played the original Blitz game on the N64. It was fun overall but unfortunately my testing experience lasted only for a few months. I wanted to continue doing the test sessions, but they stopped after the summer and not too long after that, Midway Games shut down.
After 2008, I started taking more courses in 3D and started obsessing over animation. Once I got my hands on Maya and Motion Builder, I started making animations outside of what was assigned in school.
In February of 2009, an internship job opening from E-Factor Media popped up at my college. I signed up for it and was given a small art test from the company. I passed! Because of my schedule, I was able to work from home for the majority of the internship.
In March of 2009, I interned there as a texture artist working alongside other interns remotely. We were working on an educational game called It’s Your Choice. I textured a few simple low-poly buildings. The internship was only a month long, and after that, I was back on working on animations and finishing school.
I graduated in May 2009 with no jobs lined up. I applied for an unpaid internship in June that only lasted for a week or two. I was promised that I’d be doing 3D work but I mostly ended up doing graphic design work. It was also located pretty far from me and it being unpaid meant that the situation was tenuous. I continued job hunting and volunteered on a few indie games.
It was a very odd time for myself. Like many, I graduated with a degree and ended up struggling to find work. To ease the stress of my situation, I would hang out with some of my college friends. We all graduated around the same time with similar degrees, so we all took solace that we were in the same boat.
I was still getting job listings from my college, even after graduation. In June, I saw a job opening for an Art Internship at Sony Computer Entertainment America in San Diego. Having already graduated, I wasn’t sure if I’d qualify as an intern. I sent my resume to the Career Services at Platt College anyway. They sent it to the Recruitment Manager at Sony. In the end, I was offered the internship!
ModNation Station and The difficulties of QA
This internship was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I worked on optimization of ModNation Racers for the PSP. Being in an actual game development studio and working with the dev team had me obsessed. I took the opportunity to speak with many of the developers around me. The best advice I had were from guys like Andrei Booriakin, Greg Newton, Darrell Abney, Steve Paulsen, Bryan Johnson, and Ryan Benjamin.
The internship lasted until October 2009, and I was hoping that I would be brought on full-time, but I wasn’t. I remember my Art Manager, Andrei Booriakin, telling me on my last lunch with the team to focus more on environments and props.
I took that to heart, and slowly drifted from working on animations to working on environments and props. Part of me wanted to also try out game testing at Sony. Darrell Abney, one of the Character Artists there who use to work in QA at EA, warned me about the overtime and difficulty in finding time to work on portfolio art. He was still supportive. I think he understood where I was coming from. I ended up getting and taking the job. There weren’t any 3D Artist jobs available in the city that I would’ve been qualified for with the portfolio that I had at the time.
I started working in QA/Game testing at Sony in late November of 2010. I didn’t really see what Darrell Abney meant until I experienced heavy overtime myself. Once that happened, getting back to working in a studio, and even trying to keep up to date with the game development scene in general was grueling. I ended up testing a multitude of games for Sony. I also worked on the Online Moderation for several online-multiplayer games. I would attempt to do freelance art on the side, but often times the schedule at Sony would cause me to either drop out of projects or get very behind. It was a grind.
In August of 2010, I ended up quitting my job in QA at SCEA. I didn’t know where my career was heading. I felt burnout juggling time with freelance and working at Sony. I wanted to focus more on my portfolio and freelance. I had been working and would continue to work freelance with Armistice Games, a client I managed to hold on to while working at Sony. The work was slowly picking up after their first title, SPA 124th, was released.
It took almost no time for me to start work at Legend 3D as a Stereo Compositor after I left Sony. I converted feature films to stereoscopic 3D. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing, but at the time it was one of the few art-related jobs out there and the studio was hiring a bunch of artists. Many of them were recent graduates from several art schools in the area.
Similar to QA, the overtime starting kicking in at Legend 3D after a few months on the job. I wasn’t aware of it being a common thing in the film/vfx industry at first. I didn’t have the time I wanted to focus on portfolio and freelance work. I still managed to continue working with Armistice Games on the side for another year while I was enduring this crunch.
During this time, I was still trying to apply at game studios around the city. It was exceedingly difficult as there were not many 3D artist positions in San Diego. I would get rejections or no response often. Looking back, I think part of that was because my portfolio was full of student quality generalist type of work.
Bryan Johnson, a Senior Environment Artist who was on contract at Sony San Diego when I was interning there, mentioned an Art Gallery event in downtown. It was held by one of his former co-workers, Veronica Lynn Harper. She was a Character and Traditional Artist. The event had a mix of local traditional artists, digital artists, and game developers. He recommended that I check it out and meet other developers.
The first time I went to this event was when I had just left QA for Legend3D. I didn’t know anyone there except Bryan. I met some of his friends including Veronica, who was very extroverted. She would try and hold these events several times each year, reaching out to developers, artists, and friends that she knew or met around the city.
This was also a time when I listened to podcasts on breaking in to games. Game Industry Mentor, Animation Bootcamp, and the Crunchcast were the big three. There were many names that were imprinted in my head after devouring them, like Jon Jones, Aaron Canaday, David Jaffe, Tim Schaffer, Brenda Romero (Braithwaite), Adam Bromell, Chris Holden, Lee Amarakoon, and Jesse Sosa to name a few. It’s crazy to think, but I eventually would work with and meet some of these guys in the future.
In early 2011, Veronica Lynn Harper held another Art Gallery event in Downtown San Diego. She was heading to Salt Lake City to work as a Character Artist at EA. She wanted to hold another event before she left. I caught up with a few familiar faces. I ran into Adam Ghering, who was my Supervisor at Legend 3D. I didn’t know he knew Veronica until I saw him there and chatted with him and his friend. Throughout the course of our chat, I made him aware that I was interested in working in games as an artist. Adam formerly worked in games, but switched to teaching and then to film/vfx at Legend 3D.
Of all the odd things I did early in my career, one of them was going to Adam and asking him to review my game art portfolio. I walked in his office while he was reviewing some compositing shots and asked him if he could review my work. This was during the day, while everyone was working. He closed the door to his office and actually took the time to review it, during a work day! While many coworkers were glad to just have a job in film, I would mention that I couldn’t wait to get back into games.
From there, I kept slowly working on my portfolio on the side, and continued my work with Armistice Games, which was getting lighter as the months went by.
The studio had been working overtime for months on stereoscopic 3D versions of Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon and The Smurfs. Then the layoffs came.
Three layoffs hit Legend 3D, first in May, then July, and October. I survived all three! While I expected them to come, I wasn’t sure I wanted to survive them. I eventually wanted to get back to the games industry and a layoff would have been a solid launching pad for that. The second round hit the compositing department really hard. I was seeing a lot of friends come and go. That one hit me very hard.
At this time the IGDA in San Diego was pretty dead, so I would attend a few other meetup groups for game developers. One was by a Starbucks and a small handful of developers attended. Many were indie developers looking to break in, and some of the attendees were hobbyists. I remember meeting Wilson Saunders, Thomas Le, and Caryn Cook on that meetup. Caryn use to work at Legend 3D, and was hit by one of the layoff rounds. Thomas was a programmer that was also working for the Army. Wilson was also a programmer, for a company that was working on educational software. After that meetup, I wanted to attend more, but there weren’t any planned up after that.
There was a different meetup I went to where I met Jared, a traditional artist. He mentioned a sketch night at a local café. I believe I went the next week after I met him. It was at a Korean cafe/restaurant, and they would often meet every week there to just draw and hang out. Instead of drawing, I would bring my laptop and work on some 3D there. There were a few developers and artists there that worked in games, and I would try and learn a lot from them. One that came to mind was Paul Davies who is currently an Animation Supervisor at Sony San Diego.
I met a bunch of other artists there that were part of a small art circle that all knew each other, like Eddie Holly, Graham Smith (whose friends with Andrei Booriakin), Fred Sais, Kevin De Bolt, and a few others. Most of them also knew Veronica Lynn Harper. It seemed like almost every artist I met in the area knew her, along with other artists like Sean Galloway and Ryan Benjamin.
At that point, I wished the IGDA San Diego was doing something similar. There weren’t any active events like this for game developers. The previous game development meetup group wasn’t active, and the one I went to was held by Wilson Saunders. The actual organizer didn’t set up any future meetups at the time. As a response to this need, in September of 2011 I formed the San Diego Game Art & Design meetup group. I would try to do at least 2 meetups a month. It was usually at a bar/restaurant, or at a coffee shop. The bar/restaurant idea was inspired by Veronica Lynne Harper and the coffee shop idea was inspired by the local artists.
It was fun starting the group. I added in Wilson, Caryn, and Thomas as Organizers, because we kept in touch and and would hang out from time to time.
October 2011 came around and a third layoff at Legend 3D hit, which was fairly light. Most were already tired of the layoffs, and I was already jaded with film at that point. I stopped doing freelance work and focused on either work at Legend 3D or on my portfolio so I could transition more to environment art.
IGDA San Diego was slowly picking up to the point of setting up lectures at the UCSD Extension. I would try and rush out of work so I could catch up on some of the lectures. The most notable one I attended was one from Tramell Ray Isaac where he talked about PlanetSide 2.
In March 2012, I attended GDC in San Francisco for the first time. It was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had, as far as networking was concerned. I had my portfolio reviewed and destroyed badly. I passed around my business card everywhere, and met as many developers as I could. I also hung out with Caryn Cook a bit, who flew to San Francisco for the event. We would meet up for a bit and then go to different sessions around the convention center. I had the chance to briefly meet Brenda Romero, along with several other developers who had been around games for years. I remember passing by several other developers like Daniel Rose (editor’s note: I didn’t tell him to include me but I pretty vividly remember chatting with Anthony on the steps of one of the conference centers. We met through Twitter I’m pretty sure!) After I attended, my mind was already set in wanting to break back in games.
Legend 3D also got more projects to work on around this time. As production ramped up, the studio was hiring up more artists. They started bringing in graduates from schools like Full Sail and UCF. Rogelio Delgado was one of the artists who joined around that time that I didn’t get a chance to talk to. He was the only other artist I could think of that was active in the Polycount forums and wanted to break in games (We would meet a few years later).
I was becoming a bit more active in the Polycount forums. I wasn’t doing any freelance on the side, but contributed with a small team that was looking for artists through the forums, called XtremeTech, working on a Sci-Fi shooter game. I made some props and assets for the main map that we were building. I later switched from helping them out to working on my own sci-fi scene.
I became more active in the Polycount forums and started joining the new (at the time) Polycount Hangouts, where artists were able to chat online while doing artwork through Google’s Hangouts. I did artwork alongside a long lists of artists, and working with them helped grow my skills. My portfolio was finally leaning more towards environment art. I had one scene that I felt comfortable enough to show. It was a generic sci-fi corridor, done in UDK. It wasn’t the greatest, but it was my first scene that I was actually proud of showing. I eventually finished the sci-fi scene for my portfolio and I was aiming to get it reviewed at next year’s GDC.
I attended GDC again in March 2013, and had my portfolio reviewed by several Art Leads and Art Directors. One of the reviews that stood out to me was done by Ryan Hawkins, who was at Massive/Ubisoft at the time. I also had a chance to meet some Polycounters and go to the Polycount Meetup. While there, I met a number of the artists I knew from the Hangouts group.
After I came back from GDC, my mind was set on getting back into the games industry. Physically Based Rendering was starting to become an industry standard at this time and I felt I had to cater my portfolio more towards this new standard, even if it meant I had to discard everything I had previously made.
It was time to start the process over again.