Breaking In - Reed Shingledecker

by DeeJ - 12/18/2012

View Image

What’s in a name? An artist by any other name could create environmental effects that are just as sweet. Yet, you have to admit that this guy carries a moniker through life that you’ll not soon forget. We can only hope, for all of our sakes, that his work on our next game will leave an equally indelible impression. Let’s see if he’s up to the challenge…

You there! Identify yourself, and tell us what you’re doing here.

My name is Reed Shingledecker and I’m an FX Artist here at Bungie. I’ll assist in bringing beautiful worlds to life with environmental effects and, occasionally, create a grand explosion that melts faces off.

Thank you for making our game a beautiful place in which to have one’s face melted. Are you an environmentalist in the real world as well? Or just in ours?

Outside of work, I’m usually pretty laid back. I recently picked up playing the violin, which is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But, it’s very rewarding when you can play a song that people recognize and enjoy. Other than that, I enjoy spending time with my fiancé and enjoying life in the Pacific Northwest.

It sounds like you are more of an indoor guy, then. You don’t hear a lot of kids saying that they want to be “Environment Effects Artists” when they grow up. What did your younger self used to dream about doing with his grown up self?

I really wanted to be a professional baseball player when I was younger. I played second base and I wanted to play for the Atlanta Braves. When I got into high school, I realized that probably wasn’t going to happen after not making the team. I shifted my studies to becoming a chef. I was sure to attend a culinary school, until the day I watched Pixar’s Toy Story. That movie altered my life path to where I am today.

Unfortunately for your ambitions, the only education that Disney provides leads to theme park experience. Where, then, did you decide to seek higher learning that would enable you to melt faces with digital entertainment?

I received my Bachelor of Science in Media Arts and Animation from the Art Institute of Portland. There, I learned most of the principal tools in 3DS Max and Maya. I still use principals of animation and scale, form, and perspective. All of that is extremely useful in creating realistic art in games.

Are we the first place that has had you creating art for games? Or was there another stop for you along the path that leads from watching a Pixar movie to working on our Art Team?

Before working at Bungie, I spent three and a half years at a small FX outsourcing studio in Seattle. I was more than blessed to work on eleven different games: including Call of Duty: Black Ops and Black Ops 2, Darksiders, XCOM, and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. I was a level builder on the Call of Duty titles. On all the others, I worked on FX. I was fortunate enough to work under industry vets with fifteen years of experience. They taught me everything I know about creating awesome art.

You’ve got some great games under your professional belt. Was that, along with the dashing name at the top of your resume, enough to convince us that we should take a look at you? How did you get your foot into our heavily-guarded door?

I just kept applying. I must have applied to Bungie twice a year for 6 years. As my portfolio grew, so did my quality of work. I kept removing the older work which wasn’t as good as my current work. I think my work on XCOM is what might have impressed them most.

We’ll never tell. It takes more than a kick ass portfolio to close the deal here, as you know. Do you remember the most challenging moments from your interview loop? Have you repressed those memories like a traumatic episode?

It took me about a year of interviewing at different places to feel confident in my work. I was a little afraid of change but I wanted this job so bad that I wasn’t going to let myself down. The interview was surprisingly easy and their interest in me was apparent so it went really smooth.

You’re shattering our image as a tough sell, but I won’t ask you to fabricate any nightmare stories. Now that you have your dream job, what’s the best thing about coming into work every day?

Getting to work with the most talented people in the industry. I can look over my monitor and see a lot of mind-blowing work that has yet to make it into the game. It makes me work just that much harder to keep up with the quality bar here. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Describe a day in the life in our studio.

I usually show up around nine, turn on my lamp, and smile really big knowing I’m at the greatest place on Earth. The studio is already buzzing with creativity. People are chatting about their night or about what they are going to be working on. I start by doing a quick play through of the level I am working on to see if anything has changed. Then for the next couple of hours I work on my task list until lunch. Being a new hire, I usually go out for lunch, since the company pays if you go with someone new every time. After lunch, it’s more creating FX tasks. During the day someone may or may not drop something and the studio will do a unified clap for that individual. It’s quite amusing. I then head out the door a little after six.

Sounds like you’re a stranger to crunch. Give us time. We’ll challenge you. Of course, we’ll give enough perks to help you survive. Which one do you think will help you go the distance?

My favorite perk is by the Bungie love. Being surprised with an onsite barista or random t-shirts is amazing. Every time an email comes in about a surprise I just sit back and smile thinking that I can’t believe this is happening to me.

Oh, it’s happening to you alright. We might have to do a follow up to this piece to see if you’re still this satisfied next year. We have a lot to build, and that’ll require each of us to elevate our own personal game. How do you plan to evolve your work while you work?

I try to stay ahead of the curve by seeing what others are doing and trying to do better. If I cannot do better, I ask them to show me how to. I’m always asking questions and also answering them when others ask. As I learn a new technique or a solution to a problem, I can take that knowledge forward and that becomes my quality bar. It like a giant never ending staircase and it so funny to look back at stuff you thought was awesome six months ago think that it’s not nearly as good as you could have done today.

You’ve made your job sound just as fun as some people might have imagined. You may have altered a path or two of your own through the course of this conversation – like your very own Toy Story. What would you suggest to the inspired?

To break into this industry I believe you have to really want it. It’s hard, there are long hours, crazy deadlines, and lots of coffee. But the reward is beyond amazing. Seeing people line up at midnight in the freezing cold to buy a game you worked on is an amazing feeling. When trying to break in, I made the classic mistake of having everything I had ever made in my portfolio. I quickly realized that I need to make better quality art and only show the very best. I ran through games and tried to recreate what I was seeing. Once I could make a model with a texture that would ship in a game, I knew I was ready to submit a portfolio that would be taken seriously.

Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Talent, Work Ethic, Experience. Talent will get you in the door. Work ethic will show your willingness to learn and Experience is a combination of the previous two.

We’re as thrilled to have Reed on the team as he is to be here with us. He’s not kidding about this being a nice place to work. If he’s sold you on the idea of making games for a living, but you don’t fancy yourself an artist, there’s no reason to lose hope. You can always browse the Breaking In archive in search of many paths to walk.