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Alumni Success Stories: Game Art & Design

The Worlds Around Him

Animation Art & Design graduate and Texture Artist Travis Adkin looks to his surroundings for inspiration

Crumpled paper, tree bark, dog fur, and even the dimpled skin of an orange are all potential sources of inspiration for the accomplished Texture Artist. Whether it is creating life-like skin for a humanoid character or making an ancient ship look weathered and old, the Texture Artist is responsible for making a 3D world believable.

Currently employed with Montreal-based game producer Ubisoft, Animation Art & Design graduate Travis Adkin has joined the creative team behind the creation of hits like Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, Silent Hunter, Prince of Persia, Myst IV and the online game Shadowbane. His experience has taught him that generating realistic environments and objects requires more than just superb technical skill. It demands precision.

“Attention to detail is huge,” stresses Adkin. “Take a look around your house and imagine that everything had to be reproduced. That’s what I do. I get to recreate objects, worlds and environments… everything from the extraordinary to the mundane.”

Texture in a CG game or other animated work involves designing surfaces for objects, characters and architecture. Once a Texture Artist has generated the appropriate texture, it must then be “mapped” onto the objects and characters in the game environment or world. Texture Artists often have to meticulously comb through and then photograph literally thousands of everyday items to find exactly the texture they are looking for. These are then frequently added to texture “libraries” that artists can search through when working on subsequent projects. The quest for textures can sometimes have humorous results, claims Adkin.

“People in Montreal look at me strangely when I walk around taking pictures of street garbage,” he says laughing. “But you’re always looking for things that make the world real – and garbage makes the world very real. You become very introspective of the worlds you are engaged in.”

Sometimes there is even the opportunity to create and improvise textures for fantastical creatures. For instance, a Texture Artist working on a medieval fantasy game may have to ask: “What would a dragon’s skin feel like? Would it be slimy? Would it be scaly and dry, or smooth like snake?”

The ability to master this kind of creative thinking is exactly what helped Adkin’s portfolio to stand-out against some very stiff competition. He was one of only 100 people hired after being culled from over 6,000 demo reels submitted to Ubisoft.

One of the perks of his position, claims Adkin, is being able to contribute to projects that are varied in scope and in the type of game-play they involve. He enjoys the artistic side of his job and the opportunity to work on different game worlds. It is the kind of on-the-job training he believes is invaluable.

“At Ubisoft, the process of applying for jobs never stops. You are always applying for new projects, doing texture tests and presenting your portfolio work. It’s a positive thing. There is always work, it’s just a matter of which project you are going to work on.”

Being an avid gamer and having a solid work ethic have also helped Adkin advance in his career. His artistic talent, however, got him in the door. Prior to enrolling at The Art Institute of Vancouver, Adkin focused primarily on the fine arts. His intricate sculptures and pencil drawings helped secure him a place in a program that emphasizes creativity and dedication.

“My schooling gave me the ability to really get past the software and begin to use it artistically. I think a lot of people get hung up on the technical and forget that the software is just a tool.”

It was the teacher-student relationship, above all, that stood out for Adkin. He built solid relationships with his instructors during his time as a student at The Art Institute of Vancouver and attributes much of his success to their mentoring. “I had great teachers who helped me shape my ability in 3D work,” explains Adkin. “They knew what they were teaching inside and out, which meant I could ask questions and learn quickly.”

His diligence has paid off. Not only is he working in a creative field, Adkins may well benefit from one of the more attractive perks of working for a company like Ubisoft – international travel. “Ubisoft has offices around the world. Opportunities come up all the time to work in international offices. You can apply for a project and end up working somewhere like France or Morocco even.”

Adkin wouldn’t be where he is if he hadn’t possessed the necessary talent, education and drive. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t learned a few lessons along the way, however, and Adkin offers some sage advice to students and soon-to-be graduates.

“Save examples of all your work along the way. Just because something is earlier work, it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. I wish I had saved a lot of my older work for my portfolio.”

And don’t be afraid to blow your own horn, says Adkin. Self-promotion and career-planning can go a long way in landing you the job you want. “Start looking at where you would like to work when you are done school, and start shaping your portfolio to meet their requirements and needs.”

Expect to learn some new things a long the way, he adds, and don’t be blind to the realities of the workforce. Get ready to work hard for the rewards of a game development or animation career. “I’ve learned a lot about working with Art Directors and Technical Director and about timelines and how games actually get produced. How games evolve is determined as much by when they are due, as by what they are trying to accomplish.”

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