The Videogame Artist

Krakatoa Interviews William Cho:

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William Cho is a video game artist in one of the best studios in the world, Respawn. After working in the Call of Duty franchise, he went to work on the Titanfall series, to strong critical acclaim.

While his work can be seen in the games, the workday of a video game developer is a bit of a mystery. What do they do all day? Play video games? Far from the truth. 

Sometimes the long hours can last for months and intricate, multi-person tasks of incredible complexity make up most of their work life, as video games are some of the most demanding pieces of software today.

William’s talents allow him to work in virtual worlds where millions play every day. We asked him how he keeps up with the intense schedule of a Triple-A video game artist. 

 

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Krakatoa:  Most people have seen or played a video game before, but few know how much talent, effort, and personal sacrifice this industry requires. What made you get into making video games?

William:  These days it's not unheard of for large AAA studios to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a big release.  As a result, you've got a large scale operation with professionals that have become very specialized.  So, I don't blame people for not knowing what goes on 'under the hood.'  I just sort of fell into the industry.  I discovered CG art just by browsing the internet one day and stumbling on CGtalk.com.  I saw all these cool renders and animation tests people were doing.  After about a week of ogling all the amazing artwork, I decided that it was what I wanted to do.  The rest was mostly luck for me!

Krakatoa:  What type of knowledge and talent you had to bring to the table to be part of some of the most famous video games in the world? Does it require any formal education?

William:  Honestly, I don't think I'm that knowledgeable or even that talented.  I'm just malleable, a relatively quick learner and easy to work with (most of the time).  It helps to be a bit technical and have an aesthetic eye though.  Formal education isn't necessary.  I went to an 'art school' and learned some stuff but overall it was a monumental waste of money.  These days there are great schools with relevant working professionals, Gnomon, Concept Design Academy, Animation Mentor, that are worth taking a look at.  But I've seen tons of insanely talented artists that haven't received any training.  Long story short, it's not necessary but it can help!

 

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Krakatoa:  Tell us more what does it take to bring a video game to life, how many people you have to interact with regularly to get your work done? How many people touch a single video game asset from idea to implementation, like a weapon or a character? 

William:  With my role, I'm really left alone for most of the process of creation, which I really like.  But overall, a single asset could potentially go through 4-5 people from start to finish; level designer - concept artist - me - rigger - animator(s).  It's not just a one-and-done type of deal either, there can be snags at any point in the process that creates the need for someone to revisit the asset or worse, decide that the asset is no longer needed.  

 Krakatoa:  After working in hard-surface 3D models, like game weapons and vehicles, you are transitioning to character work, some of the most complex tasks in video game art. How different is to create a 3D character model from creating a vehicle, for example?

 William:  Most of the same principles apply, you've got to have an eye for proportion, scale, and forms.  The main difference with character art is that you've got to be able to sculpt organic forms and shapes whereas hard surface modeling you can get away with mostly using sub-d and Booleans for more complex shapes.   The modern tools of the trade make things much easier but the fundamentals have to be there

 

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Krakatoa:  As with most video game development, it takes a lot of long hours to get it done. How important is your gear, like your monitor, desk, machine and touch interfaces to your work?

William:  Gear is extremely important.  You can't work efficiently without proper gear.  It's like a drill versus a screwdriver.  Sure, they both serve the same purpose but one is faster and more efficient than the other.  You could get the same work done while using a single monitor and a tablet, but using a Cintiq and additional monitors makes life much easier.  Can't forget the chairs too, we have these comfy Aeron chairs that keep our butts from getting sore.

Krakatoa:  What do you like to do for fun? Do you have any hobbies or passions? What makes you tick?

William:  I don't know if traveling is a hobby, but I love traveling.  It gives me a new perspective on things and life at home.  For more local hobbies, I love motorcycles.  I've been an avid rider for the last 10 years or so.  I've also recently gotten into BBQ'ing.  I picked up a smoker and throw in slabs of meat when I can.  I also cultivate gourmet mushrooms.  My most recent harvest was a batch of shiitake mushrooms that I grew by cloning a shiitake that I bought from a grocery store into a petri dish.  Camping, snowboarding, booze with friends, are some other fun hobbies of mine.

 

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Krakatoa:  We heard you are a Krakatoa fan (thanks!), but what makes it your underwear of choice? What makes it different from what you used before and why it matters to you?

William:  I love Krakatoa underwear.  Honestly, I bought my first few pairs from you guys just to support Alex.  I didn't realize how high quality they were going to be.  I'm not just saying this to advertise your product but they're the best fitting and highest quality underwear I've ever owned, hands down.  My girlfriend also loves how they fit me.  And let me be frank, I've worn different underwear beneath a suit, if it isn't Krakatoa it just doesn't feel right.

Krakatoa:  Thanks William, this was fascinating, and your support means a lot to us. Congrats on your work and thanks for keeping us on our toes when we hold a controller!

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