The Rookie Awards has always been the best way to help digital artists get discovered without having to compete with professionals for attention, not to mention, win a mountain of prizes!

Over the years our entrants have been setting the standards of student artwork exceptionally high. They have walked away with industry recognition, mentorship, cool prizes and have connected with their peers and other industry leaders, globally.

Tomoe Matsushima tells us how winning the Rookie Awards, Rookie of the Year, Visual Effects category, propelled her career and shares some invaluable advice for other aspiring artists on a similar journey.


Entering The Awards

Why did you decide to enter the Rookie Awards?

When I was an undergraduate, I found that many people of my age had applied for the Rookie Awards. I figured that I should apply with my own graduation work.

I had challenged myself in the past by entering domestic contests within Japan. However the Rookie Awards was an even bigger challenge - so many talented artists around the world enter. I was nervous, but I was also very curious to see how my skills would be evaluated.

Describe some of the projects you included in your entry?

I learned filmmaking at the Musashino Art University in Tokyo and created a full-CG short movie in my graduation project. The demo reel I entered is a breakdown of that work. I wanted to create something more than a simple presentation of CG technologies. Instead, I made a lot of trials-and-errors to surprise the viewers.

If you could enter again, what would you do differently?

I would showcase more variations of my work. In my video work of the city for example, I created many images by gradually shifting the viewing angle. I wanted to increase the volume of my work by the viewpoint changing. However, I was biased in the types of models and techniques I used. To reveal the full range of my skills, I needed to eliminate the bias.

How has the Rookie Awards helped you on your journey?

The Awards allowed me to share my work on a global stage. It also contributed to my career - my success in the contest has validated my skills to future employers and clients.

What advice would you give to people thinking about entering?

It is important to gain appropriate advice from talented artists within the industry, and patiently keep brushing up your work accordingly. In the process of developing yourself, it is difficult to know what is weak in your own work. Do not keep your work within yourself. Actively consider suggestions and improve your skills until you are satisfied. Notice that appropriate advice comes from some people you really trust.


The Journey

What made you want to work in creative industries?

Ever since I was a child, drawing has been my most favourite thing. It was also what I could do best. I used to paint by water colours, but I never supposed that painting art would be my future career. At the same time, I was awestruck by the full CG and short animations from studios like Pixar and the like. In the meantime, I got struck on the Pixar Animation Studio and other full-CG short animations.

I was convinced that the best way to create visuals was with CG. I college I started using 3dsmax and the rest is history!

"Empty City", Personal Work

Describe your education journey that helped you become a professional artist?

While studying computer graphics at university, I worked as a 3d environment modeler in a CG studio in Japan. It was a part-time job during vacations and a great way to acquire skills. I spent two years learning the basic skills of modelling from a great mentor in a one-on-one manner. Before that, I drew CG pictures just by my own feeling. After that, I could analyse and reason why that picture must be as such. I explicitly realised what makes good pictures. It was a great for my career to have met a wonderful mentor when I was a student.

How did you get your first big industry break?

I started working as a 3d environment modeler at SAFEHOUSE right after graduation. The company has a great culture that emphasises education for artists. I feel that I am growing by way of the constructive feedback I receive everyday from my wonderful boss.

At the studio, we are also focusing on advanced video production using UNREALENGINE4, which allows us to explore new tools and creation methods. Pushing boundaries with new tools and working in an environment that allows for constant skill development is a blessing for us artists!

What advice would you give artists to help them break into the creative industry?

Everyday, CG software continues to be updated. It is therefore important that you continue to greedily acquire new skills. However, I think the most important thing is to make it clear what you want to create and keep creating. It is not enough to work on something because it is simply required by somebody else. It is good to always understand what you really want from your career.


On the Job

We know you work at Safehouse - what is your role?

I am a 3d environment modeler. Depending on the project, I do modeling, texturing, and even lookdev based on concept art, or even lighting and layout work. On some occasions, I have done lighting and layout work too, and sometimes I create environments using Unreal Engine.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Work usually starts from understanding the instructions by the client and an explanation from my supervisor. Based on these, I gather necessary information and start thinking about what the  model should roughly be. I prepare a visual document summarising details to be added which is presented to either the client or my supervisor before starting the model-making process. Depending on the job, I also do some design/concept work. When I complete a task, I submit it to the supervisor and receive feedback to brush up and improve the quality my work.

Describe some of the tasks you are given?

I have two types of tasks, prop creation and environment creation. I personally find such a task most rewarding, when I do the entire environment. The wide variety of visual styles, ranging from photo-realistic to toon animation looks, never makes me bored.

Your favourite experience while working is:

Sometimes I start to work without a final visual image in mind. I find it fun to explore and create freely without any constraints. Even when I work freely, I try to find a better visual image in concert with the director's image, to make sure my work is in line with the client's requirements.

An experience you’d prefer to forget about is:

When I started to work, I didn't know how to manage my schedule. Sometimes I worked without rest, and it had a negative impact on my schedule. Work-life balance was also harsh sometimes. Trying to catch up with the schedule by working long hours, negatively affect my work as well as on my mental health. I needed to focus on how to work more efficiently and devise new ways of doing the job, instead of simply working until the job was done, without rest.

What software and tools do you use daily?

I usually use Maya, Zbrush, Adobe Photoshop, Substance Painter for my professional work, and sometimes adobe AfterEffects, Adobe Premiere Pro, and Marvelous Designer, for personal work.

How do you manage to keep upskilling while working?

To improve skills, I work with artists who are better than me. I also call for their feedbacks enthusiastically. It is difficult to know what is missing in myself, but I have to find out what is lacking every day. It is not easy to keep learning after graduation, but it is good working with artists in a company, where I can always learn new knowledges and skills.


What’s Next

How have things changed for you now that you’re working professionally?

Now I can judge my work performance objectively. In early stages, I became overconfident without evidence, or conversely, lost confidence. I could not analyse what I was good at, and what I was bad at and needed to learn. By gaining work experience and knowledge, I can grasp my own capabilities, thereby eliminating unnecessary stress. This allowed me to respond appropriately to tasks and problems.

"A Student Dorm", Personal Work

What is one thing you’ve learned about yourself since starting your career?

When I started to work, I was sometimes too concerned about how people evaluated me. This was my hinderance and limited what I would create. It is important to be aware of evaluation, but it is more important to have a clear vision of what you want to do and be. Think and do practically and specifically, as to how to solve your own problems. Rather than just doing what others want you to do - do what's right by you.

Where will we see you next? Where will the journey take you?

I used to think about “which title I would work towards” and “which company I would belong to next”. But now I think, “with whom to work together” is more important. I want to place myself in environment where I can learn and grow more. I also feel that creating personal works is an effective training for learning art skills. When working personally, I am the client and the creator. I am responsible for everything from the concept to the specific model and the final image. I will continue creating personal works while working at great companies  company in a balanced manner.


You can find more of Tomoe's work on Twitter, ArtStation, LinkedIn and Vimeo.

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