Senior Environment Artist Vic DeLeon has been drawn into our digital realm this week to talk about his organic role at Bungie, his self-imposed drive to over-perform, and why you should never check in changes to the depot with no time to spare. He also layered in some great advice for you if you’ve looking to change your life for the better and get a job in the gaming industry.
Q. Who are you and what do you do for Bungie?
A. Hello my chippies I’m Vic DeLeon and aside from being the consummate wise guy, I’m a Senior Environment Artist. I would like to place an emphasis on the “Senior” part because that is, after all the very best part is it not? I’m just kidding, I’m really very humble about it. It’s an awesome job and a huge responsibility, and the people I am surrounded by everyday are some of the most talented and brightest folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.
My specialties as a Level Artist are relegated to the more organic styles of 3D design and modeling. This means things like landscapes, terrain and mountains, Warthog spaces, et cetera, as opposed to buildings and machinery. The scope of my work also includes modeling things like alien structures and surfaces; things like the sinewy, slippery Flood infestation and exploding pustules of juicy yellow goo. I worked on the “Floodgate” and “Cortana” missions in Halo 3, but the organic realm also includes fun stuff like damage and entropy – like the broken stuff you see on Ghost Town and Warlock.
Another fun aspect is “Finishing” or Visual Polish. There are a bunch of tasks that fall into this category but one I am usually involved with is populating levels with detail objects. Things like signs, plants, rocks, pipes, nuts and bolts, and especially garbage (yes, virtual garbage is my specialty).
Q. That’s quite the detailed account. How long have you been working in the slippery bowels of the gaming industry?
A. Almost twenty years. Yeah I'm old, so what! I love it though - it's like working a Hollywood job without all the pretension and unions (we don't have labor unions). I started making "graphics" for educational games back in the 80's, hence my peculiar wardrobe choice for the photos. The games weren't much more complex than arrow key controls and number matching but the pictures sure were pretty for back then. I had a full palette of 16 colors to work with so I went hog-wild and made some of the most realistic looking stuff you've ever seen. I'm talking photorealism here. /sarcasm
Seriously, making art for games was the most fun I was having at the time, and things just moved forward from there. Anne Truitt’s famous quote makes a lot of sense in my case. It goes something like: “I never decided to be an artist; being an artist seems to have happened to me.” So, I changed my college major from bio to art and computer science, started drawing and taking photos again, and realized it utterly changed my life for the better.
All told, I ended up shipping full commercial titles and joined a small startup company to make some more games, and after a while opened up my very own studio and made even more games - real ones with jumping and crates and stuff. I did some pretty art and one thing led to another, and that is the story of how Vickybaby ended up at Bungie.
Q. Good story. Now that the tale has been told, mind telling us what makes Bungie a bit different from the other gigs you’ve made art for?
A. You might as well have asked me what the answer to everything in the Universe is. PS I’d tell you it’s 42 without having to wait 10 million years (Read a book people).
In all seriousness, when an artist is working on popular games like Halo they have to accept the sometimes panic-inducing fact that literally millions of people will be seeing their work. The pressure is certainly on full-tilt to always over-perform for the good people who buy our games. That’s the biggest describable, semi-tangible, non-ethereal thing that makes Bungie so different.
Q. What’s the biggest describable, semi-tangible, non-ethereal moments that stands as a monument to all your sins at Bungie?
A. The night I broke the code for the Flood “Sea Monkeys” in the Heretic Gas Giant decontamination mission of Halo 2. It was the last bug as far as I know. It was like 5am and I was convinced I could improve the animation path of some decorative little creatures swimming around in a big Forerunner display case. They were swimming sorta sideways and in a stroke of sheer madness I went and opened the tag file and added a -1f curve to the animation path or something stupid I remembered from High School Algebra Class.
Well I broke the code and they just sat there motionless, prompting me to admit defeat and revert back to the older code. Guess what happened next? The source file depot got locked down - it was 7am! Time to lock it out and ship the game that was Halo 2.
I started screaming. Yeah. And not a manly scream, more like a teenage girl at a Fallout Boy Show. The word got around that I had broken the infernal Flood “Sea Monkeys” and luckily for me, I was granted access to the depot by Harold Ryan for exactly five minutes to check in my corrections.
I’ll never overstep my bounds again.
Q. If you could issue one ominous warning to upstarts looking to overstep their own bounds, steal your Senior gig, and apply their mad genius here at the studio, what would it be?
A. Oh I’d say watch yer back greenhorn, I carry a shiv. Oh and get some sleep now, you’re going to miss it later when you steal my job and become a developer, not because of all the long hours you’ll be working (those aren’t so bad anymore) but because I’ll be lurking in the shadows ready to pounce maniacally – the – second – you - close - your - eyes.
Q. Experience, work ethic, or talent? Close your eyes and tell us which quality you would choose in a candidate if you could only have one.
A. No question about it, I would choose talent. Talent knows no bounds, it is limitless. In fact, even IF I had all the talent in the world (whaddaya mean IF?) it still would not be enough. It’s like those potato chips.
Kidding aside, you need a fair amount of curiosity and perseverance to grow your talent. Artists have to constantly keep challenging themselves otherwise they will cease to be artists. Pablo Picasso wisely said,”I am always doing things I can't do, that's how I get to do them.” And that in my opinion is the key to becoming a talented artist and I've “never believed in God, but I believe in Picasso,” so there. That’s another quote for ya! That nugget came from artist Diego Rivera, and he was an authority in my book.
Q. Bonus round! Top three. What should aspiring applicants do or do not do to make sure they’re successful in the gaming industry?
1. You SHOULD do a lot of work in ONE specialty - pick one aspect. If you want to be a 3D artist, decide if you want to do characters, environments, or hard-surface versus organic as your primary goal. It doesn’t have to be forever but for your first portfolio I would be more impressed with someone who was really proficient in one single aspect of production versus being mediocre at three or four.
2. Only EVER show your best work. Don’t stick every single thing you modeled in TrueSpace or show us every map conversion you ever made in the Unreal Engine. Just pick the absolute very bestest of the best, even if it’s just two or three things. You absolutely need to grasp how important it is for your work to be quality versus quantity. Mies van der Rohe said, “Less is more” and it’s true in this particular case. If someone wants to see more of your stuff, you can show them later.
3. Don’t ever mess with the Flood “Sea Monkeys” two minutes before the game ships.
Thanks to Vic for talking a little bit about his artistic specialties, dropping some knowledge for aspiring applicants, and making it interesting every step of the way. If you have all the talent in the world and your portfolio shows off the bestest of the best work you have on offer (and you’re not going to mess with the “Sea Monkeys”) you should already be checking out our Jobs Page
. Don’t worry; you’ll only need to worry about Vic and his shiv if you end up scoring an interview. If you do, keep your eyes wide open and brush up on your quotes.