ART STORIES: San Diego to Seattle and Back, the story of Anthony Garcellano. Part II
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.
Wild and Crazy Guy: Hunting for the right Opportunity
In March of 2014, I ended up leaving Legend 3D. I originally gave my two week notice around the end of January. It became a month-notice so I could help wrap up a project. I was tired of the grind of stereo compositing and wanted to fully focus my efforts on breaking back into games. The last movie I worked on was The Amazing Spider-Man 2. My Compositing Manager thought I was leaving for a competitor because so many at Legend 3D had done that in the past. I told him that I wanted to get back in games and to focus more on game art. They kept the door open for me, in case I wanted to come back.
After I left Legend 3D, I spent most of 2014 unemployed, living in an apartment in Vista/Carlsbad with a roommate. I heavily worked on my portfolio almost every day. My roommate was supportive, which was great. I told her ahead of time that I wanted to leave, and saved just enough to cover the rest of our apartment lease. I didn’t get any unemployment benefits after being with the studio for three years because I left voluntarily.
It felt like one of the dumbest, wildest, riskiest moves I could have made. I was 25 turning 26. If I was going to quit my job and go be an artist in games, I needed to do it now. I planned ahead just a bit, by upgrading my computer before I left.
My roommate was out most days. Throughout the week, I would stay in the apartment, work on my portfolio for hours, talk with friends online, and occasionally watch videos. I was working on a side-project a little with Ryan Jackson, a very experienced Character Artist. It was a small side project that I was doing voluntarily, just to try and learn some game art under him. It only lasted for a few weeks because of his schedule, and I only worked on a few small props.
Aside from working on my portfolio, I really didn’t do much during this time. I would visit friends and family a little bit, but since I was in the northern part of San Diego and was on an extremely harsh budget, I mostly stayed in my apartment. I would occasionally go to the gym. To make up for the reduced social life, I would continue to chat on the Polycount Hangouts page with many artists who were either looking to break into games, were freelancers, or were other professionals.
I was still running local game dev meetups usually around Mission Valley/Mira Mesa, but it wasn’t as active. I would often drive early in the mornings to a coffee shop, usually at a Starbucks, to do some 3D work on my laptop. I wasn’t as active hanging out with some of the local artists because the drive to San Diego proper was a bit far for me to do it weekly.
I was learning UE4, Substance Painter and Designer around that time. I was trying to wrap up on a small UE4 scene of an Indoor Courtyard. It took me a while to grasp some of the concepts and changes Unreal Engine 4 brought with it, and that added to the scene’s development time.
I took a few art tests in between and had a few phone interviews, most of which didn’t go anywhere; except for one.
Adayana Government Group and Seattle Pt. 1
Mallory Wikoff was working as a Game Artist/3D Artist at Adayana Government Group at the time, which had a game department in Urbana, IL. Adayana focused on military training simulations. She joined the Polycount Hangouts around the time I was incredibly active on it. I randomly applied to one of their openings in August and heard back a few weeks later. A lot of my work was leaning more towards hard surface at the time and I think that might have been one of the reasons Adayana was interested. I had a phone interview from HR, which then led me to having another with the Lead Artist, who use to work in games in San Diego of all places. This eventually led me to have another phone interview with a Senior Artist and one of the Managers with the company.
Everything seemed to go well and fit from the start, but I was dismayed when I was told that they went with another candidate. HR still wanted to keep in touch with me in case another role opened up.
September was a grueling month for me. My apartment lease was ending at the end of the month. I was sold on the idea of working at Adayana and was crushed when that position was filled. I wasn’t passing any of the art tests for larger West Coast studios that I was applying for. As I packed everything up and prepared to move back down to south San Diego in October, I received a very unexpected call. I was offered a job at Adayana! I would start in the middle of October.
This was one the best feelings I ever had.
I left a job to take a risk that felt further out of reach as the months rolled on. But my gamble paid off. It was a game related job that was for the military of all things! This might sound trivial to some, but recall that I was from a military town and even considered joining the military at one point. You can imagine how cool I thought this was. Plus, it was remote! This was my first remote full-time job. They gave me a work laptop to work on and access to their VPN. I was freely able to swap between my personal desktop and that laptop as needed. I was the only co-worker in the art team that was working in Pacific Standard Time as the rest were in the Mid-West or on the East Coast.
After a bit, I formulated plans to move out of San Diego. I wanted to move to either Seattle, WA or Austin, TX. In January 2015, I flew to Seattle for a week to find a spot to live. I met up with Jami Moravetz, another Environment Artist that I first met through the Polycount Hangouts, who gave me quick tour around the city. I also had the chance to briefly go to a game dev meetup in Bellevue to see how different it was from San Diego’s meetups.
I was able to land a place to live in Bothell, WA. The move to the Seattle area was worth it. I went to many game dev events and meetups. I met some new friends around the city. I also stayed in to work on some portfolio pieces while working with Adayana. I started focusing on hand-painted work in my portfolio, since my work at Adayana was mostly on hard-surface modeling.
While I was in the Seattle area working with Adayana, I finally met Rogelio Delgado in person. He had broke into the game industry a few years before and had moved to Seattle to work at Bungie at the time. We shared the similar experience of working at Legend 3D. I also hung out with a few other artists like Anthony Pitts and Chris Patterson. During the DOTA 2 International event in Downtown Seattle, there was a small Polycount Meetup. I attended the meetup and came across Ryan Hawkins again, who was at Valkeryie Entertainment at the time, and Rogue13, who co-founded the Polycount forums. I was even able to visit Vancouver, BC for a game dev event hosted by Capcom. It was a short brief visit, with a small tour around the city from Alex Kolakowski and Nat Coupar.
Things felt like they were going pretty well.
After the New Year, during the first week to start off 2016, some of the projects at Adayana were wrapping up and I heard rumors of things changing. The company had a conference call about the shifting focus. There would be cuts and a change in the company structure. I didn’t think much after that call, but just a few minutes after that first call, I had another one from my Manager and Supervisor.
I got laid-off. My department was being hit by the budget cuts.
I had plans to visit Portland, Oregon to see what it was like, and was laid-off the day before I went. I was on a personal budget cut and thus didn’t do much there. When I came back, it started kicking in that I didn’t have a job. It didn’t hit me hard until a week after.
It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had. The job was the reason why I moved up to Seattle. I didn’t want to move back to San Diego. It felt too soon. My portfolio was okay, but at the time, it didn’t read well for an environment art portfolio.
After the layoff, I stressed out as I applied for jobs, got unemployment benefits sorted out, and updated my portfolio. At the time, I was slowly diving into tileable materials that were procedurally done in Substance Designer. I tried to work on a few other hard surface props but they were put to the side. I was able to do some art tests, but none of them moved forward.
Before the layoff happened, I bought a pass to go to GDC again, thinking that I would have the same experience as the previous year. I did not. It was upsetting. I didn’t find any job leads which was one of my main goals. At least it was nice meeting artists that helped me out when I was working on procedural materials in Substance Designer, like Karen Stanley, Josh Lynch, and Rogelio Olguin. Those guys all rock!
I came back from GDC and packed my stuff up for a move back to San Diego. One of the last things I did was visit the Space Needle. I avoided it throughout the whole time I was in Seattle. I briefly came across Jobye-Kyle Karmaker, who had joined Monolith at the time, while I was in line.
A few days after that I drove from Seattle back down to San Diego, CA.
I felt like I was going backwards in my career. I was 27, turning 28, but it felt like I was 25 turning 26 again. I was right back where I started just a few years ago. I was unemployed, worrying about work, and working on personal art to land a job. When I was back in San Diego, I didn’t go out much again. I was with friends and family and they were very supportive. They made this time easier than it would have been otherwise.
While I was applying for work again, I started working on a new scene inspired by Rainbow Six Siege. Rainbow Six Siege was the game I kept playing during late nights when I was laid off in Seattle to blow off some steam. I was working on that on the side while I focused on finding some work.
Everything slowly started picking up for me. I posted updates on the Rainbow Six Siege scene, showing updates of my props on almost every social media site I had.
August 2016 came around and by happenstance Ryan Hawkins randomly messaged if I was looking for work. He recently moved to Boss Key around that time and reached out to several members on Polycount. I started out on a low-poly vehicle, which was later scraped to a hard-surface model that ended up being placed around a lot in one of their maps. It was a quick gig but I really enjoyed it.
I freaked out when I had the chance to work with them because of the caliber of people working on the game. Some of the team went to Seattle during PAX West in 2015 to showcase LawBreakers. I briefly met Cliffy B when they were there. Tramell Ray Isaac joined Boss Key prior to this as their Art Director, so it was all kind of crazy how many familiar names I’ve met or seen who all worked on that one game.
Following my Boss Key gig, I worked with Dinosaur Games remotely on a month-long VR project. I was working in a team with Jesse Sosa, Chris Holden, Tracey Hunt, Jon Jones, and a few others. They were some of the earliest members of the Polycount forums. Chris Holden formerly ran the podcast called CrunchCast, where those same people, along with a few others like Lee Amarakoon, would show up in the podcast. Working with people who created some of my favorite gaming podcasts from a few years ago was another highlight of my career!
After that, I did freelance 3D work with Namazu Studios, a local independent studio in San Diego. I met one of the developers of the team through one of the game dev meetups that I ran years back. I thought that might’ve helped me get the gig. The work was pretty steady and ran until January 2017.
It was around this time when I started getting a few phone interviews and art tests for potential jobs.
In February, I wrapped up my Rainbow Six: Siege fan art scene, finally calling it done.
I wrapped up a military training simulation contract with Threat Tec, which I got through a friend of a fellow Polycounter, in March. I started work on a number of art tests at this time, including one for Hardsuit Labs in Seattle. I felt good about the test as things were slowly coming together!
I had a phone interview with Hardsuit Labs in early April after my art test. The process continued and they flew me up for an onsite interview. I expected to hear from them not long after that interview was completed.
While I was waiting, I reached out to a few previous freelance clients. Dinosaur Games had an opening for a quick freelance job. It was for the Desert Bus VR game, which was being made for Gearbox Software! I was assigned to texture the interior of the bus by the passenger seats, and create some props around that area. I ended up working with them near the end of the month, around April 25. Literally, the day after I started working with them, I got the job offer with Hardsuit Labs!
My start date for Hardsuit Labs was on May 15. My contract with Dinosaur Games ended on May 22, the week after. I didn’t want to end the contract that I just started. So, I crunched for two weeks before I packed everything to move back to Seattle!
What a roller coaster ride!
Since I joined Hardsuit Labs, I’ve been just as active going to several game dev events around here. I’ve been supporting the Seattle Indies group for the indie game developers, helping them out on with the Seattle Indies Expo and PAX West.
LawBreakers was released in early August! I kept an eye on the game since it was announced, even before I worked on it. I’ve been supporting the community and the game since it launched.
Not long before I wrote this, I did some freelance work with Terra Reality, a small group of developers in Bellevue. Augmented reality for games has been growing, and I wanted to be a part of an AR game, which they were working on. I was able to get it approved through my work at Hardsuit Labs early on as some studios don’t allow their employees to work on games outside of work. Hardsuit Labs was more than accommodating!
Desert Bus VR also shipped late in November! People can play it without using a VR headset as well. This is the only VR game I had the chance to work on.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the AR game to come out soon, which will be on mobile!
It’s been quite the journey to December 2017. I’m happy to say I’m an Environment Artist in games! It’s a damn good feeling knowing that taking the risks I have was worth the reward.