Behind-the-Scenes Look at A Day in the Life of the Blizzard Cinematics Modeling Team
ArtStation Magazine article by Amelia Savery
of Blizzard's Global Communications, we got to take a glimpse at a day in the life of Blizzard's cinematics modeling team, who can always be relied upon to bring us incredible work, such
Beyond the Veil, the Shadowlands Launch Cinematic
Full ArtStation Magazine Article
Character vs Environment Modelers
The first thing we learned is the modeling team is divided into two parts - character modelers and environment modelers - and that the workflows for these groups are different.
Character modelers seem, quite naturally, focused on the character.
For character modelers, there are two general starting points. “One is we get a pretty robust concept art that we can try and translate into 3D,” said senior character modelling artist Kenny Huang, “and the other would be slightly more exploratory—where we aren’t given something as defined—and we try to work with either the director or the art director to try and find something they like.”
In either case, it starts with a digital sculpt, which is then iterated upon in partnership with the director of the cinematic and the art director of the IP.
Environment modelers have a more camera-centric workflow.
“On the character side, a lot of times they build ‘for the round’—ensuring the asset looks good from all angles,” said senior environment modelling artist Aaron Hamman. “On the environment side, we can focus on refining what is specifically visible through the camera. We call this building to the shot.” Similar to the traditional film pipeline, SFD has a storyboard group and a pre-vis group, and the environment modellers get involved with them pretty early.
Passion and Quality
We learned a few ways in which the creativity of the team is nurtured, and how growth is encouraged.
Each short Blizzard creates will have leads for both character and environment modelling, and a supervisor and producer to support them to help assign people to certain tasks, manage workload, prioritization, and to catch any delays or issues as early as possible. Shannon tries to cast his team to their strengths but is also mindful of areas in which modellers want to grow. “If a character artist wants to do a specific character, I will make sure they get the opportunity to do that, or if an environment artist wants to try to do a character,” he said.
Blizzard seems to take care to make sure there's no untapped creative energy going wasted at any given time.
One of Blizzard’s core values is “embrace your inner geek,” and for the modelling team, this manifests in a few ways. One is their periodic free-sculpt jam sessions, which they take part in together. Here, they work their creativity muscles around a set topic—for example, Halloween or cyberpunk—and share their work with each other afterward.
The result does seem to be an exceptionally creative and passionate team that loves their work, and this shows in the level of quality we've come to expect from Blizzard.
For anyone aspiring to work at Blizzard one day, Kenny says flexibility in style is important. “Flexibility does trump specialization in our case. Even the artists we have, they do have their specialties, but everyone is still competent in doing everything,” he said. “Some people are faster at modelling hard surfaces, mechanical things, some people are better at more organic, but everyone has a baseline. So it gives us flexibility to play around with the chess pieces, I guess you could say, in that way.” The whole modelling team also agrees that the balance between technical skill and creativity is key. “I would look around ArtStation and find the best stuff,” said Kenson. “If you can do the equivalent of what some of the awesome artists on ArtStation can do, then you’re in a good spot. You want to be unique too, have something that stands out from the crowd. If you have good ideas, don’t try to follow the mainstream—put out your own unique ideas.”
“We’re always looking for new talent, creative ideas and personalities, to join the team,” Shannon said.
Incredible Team, We Hope They're Valued
All this said, it's hard not to contrast the below quote with the
Bloomberg Report that Blizzard Employees are Underpaid
For Aaron, working at Blizzard was a dream of his since he was 8 years old. “I spent over a decade in the VFX and game industry, shuffling around before the stars aligned. What I enjoy is, the content I work on is the kind of stuff I would do as a hobby in my free time. Getting a paycheck to create this cool stuff is insane to me,” he said, pausing for a second. “Don’t tell my boss I said that!”
While it is good to hear about how Blizzard fosters creativity and growth, we still worry about passion being rewarded with exploitation. Blizzard's cinematics modeling team does incredible work. They should be rewarded accordingly.
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