Career Advice - Working as a 3D Artist for a Video Game Publisher
Want a successful career working as a 3D Artist for Video Games? Anson Ng Lee Ming, a graduate from 3dsense Media School is a 3D Artist at Bandai Namco Studios (BNSS) in Singapore, and he sits down with us to share his journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like his own.
What's your current role and what does it involve?
Currently, I'm a senior 3D artist in BANDAI NAMCO Studios Singapore (BNSS). I mostly research the latest technology and direct the company demo projects. Apart from the work I do professionally, I enjoy doing personal artwork of characters, and I enjoy cooking and playing musical instruments during my free time.
What type of projects is Bandai Namco involved with?
As the gaming industry is very strict on confidentiality, all I can say is our projects cover various aspects of game development on various platforms.
When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?
The decision came after my personal trip to Japan in 2014. Back then, I spent days looking at the pop culture/ anime influences I grew up with. I was struggling to be either a stage performer or an artist. I decided at that time that my calling was to be an artist. I cannot see myself doing anything else. I enjoy art in many forms, I was on stage for a decade long performing the Japanese drum (Taiko), in Chinese Orchestra and performing the Chinese Lion Dance. However, my dominant strength still resides in creating artworks. I am happy doing what I like, which guided me to where I am today.
How did you get your first big break?
In 2018, I was presented the chance to lead a project. It was our first demo and we were looking into using a game engine to do cinematics. Since then, I have led a total of 3 company demos in BANDAI NAMCO Studios Malaysia (BNSMY). We faced multiple challenges dealing with the ever changing technologies and logistics. I worked with multiple departments across my years of demo production and learned how to string the different disciplines into one product.
Describe the journey you took into your current role?
I started off as a junior character artist on another project back in 2017. Prior to this role, I studied in film school and took film production studies back in 2012 and 2016 respectively. I was assigned to the Demo team when my project ended as I exhibited enthusiasm in new tech development. Since then, I have invested my time into creating the demos we see on the BNSMY website.
Every year we challenge ourselves to learn the new tech available and pipeline advancements. We also spend some time figuring out how to improve workflows and optimize within the different disciplines.
2018 marked my 1st demo project, Mecha Gorilla. Then in 2019, I was promoted to a middle level artist and continued to lead the 2nd project, Tom Majors. That was our first Raytracing project in Unreal Engine. Subsequently, I continued as a lead artist and directed the 3rd demo, Project Yggdrasil.
Day in the life
Describe a typical day for you and your team?
We have daily discussion as required. Often, we will gather to discuss the problems faced by artists and think of solutions to help them. Otherwise, it will be a feedback session to improve the artwork. Then, I will start my own set of work in Unreal Engine. Primarily focused on making the cinematic setup in the engine.
What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?
Which departments and key people do you work closely with?
Leads from the other departments who are involved in the project (Character/ Environment/ Animation/ Sound/ Engine). I try not to get too directly involved with artists so we can establish a clearer communication channel with the respective leads in the loop.
Are there any industry trends that are changing the nature of your role?
The speed of how fast technology advances challenges me to learn new tools fast and pass it on for my team to learn the skill. This process demands me to get down to the basic of things and simplify the process so other people can pick it up easily. It is a challenging job but one I am constantly getting better at.
One thing you’d never change about your job?
The discipline to practice, learn and grow. I would like to say, foundations are very important.
Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?
Education is a good stepping stone for anybody who aspires to be an artist, as school will teach you the basics of using various software. However, the true learning only begins later when you are by yourself and working around others. There is so much to learn and so little time to absorb it all - pick those important ones (core skills) to focus on first then work on the less important ones (secondary skills) when you have the time.
Let’s say you are a character artist, then spend time to learn your cores skills: anatomy and material expression. Once you get good at these then look into how your work will be passed on to the next person in the pipeline through working on the project. For example, how topology affects animation and the rigging process.
What tasks would you typically ask a junior artist to handle?
An asset that allows them to understand how one process leads to the other.
What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?
Basically anybody who displays a good sense of aesthetic, knowledge, and a decent level of technical skills. I believe that technical skills can be trained and is not difficult to learn. Art sense on the other hand, is hard to teach.
What skills seem to be missing all too often?
The understanding of how things work. We often follow references but do not spend enough time to understand how the reference works. When doing a weapon for example, we can see how the user holds the weapon and need to ask how is it being used? Is it being used to slash, as a projectile or a blunt weapon? They all behave differently and creates different story telling elements. Only through understanding how an object functions and how different elements react to each other, can we then make 3D assets feel believable.
Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?
First, choose what interests you; film or game? Then, do something you like that fits within that genre, be it a character, animation or an environment.
Remember to tell a story with your work; what is it about, what you want the viewers to feel and what you want to express?
As a former stage performer, I feel that your personal expression is the key connection with your audience, in other words, your potential employer. When you do something you like, you are more likely to feel satisfied than trying to appease someone else and possibly not getting the response you expected.
What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?
Lack of personal works. I believe portfolios, be it professional or student, are the key to showcasing your ability as a working artist. However, to define who you are as an artist, is to do so through your personal works where you direct yourself to the finish line.
I personally feel that only through personal work that an artist truly expresses themselves for what they like and what they truly are capable of. Professional and school portfolios always have someone to guide you, like an art director or a teacher. When you work on your own, that's when your own unique taste for art shines and unlocks more hidden potentials.
If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?
Don’t expect too much. When you hope for something to happen and it doesn't, that is when you get disappointed.
Regulate yourself, do things you like, do it for nobody but yourself. Work is work, stay professional. But remember to be yourself at the end of the day.
The start of your career will be full of passion, and slowly the fire will dwindle a bit under work pressure. Rekindle this flame, slowly and steadily. Hang onto what you believe in from the start, keep trying and learning. Just ask yourself why did you start this journey in the first place?
If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?
Keep things balanced. Rest and practice as you need. Maybe at the start, work a bit harder to catch up to the rest, then go with your own tempo.
Learning never ends, if you want to do good, practice.
Otherwise opportunities will not arise unless you are working hard for it.
Anson Ng Lee Ming was a finalist the Rookie Awards 2016 VFX category and started working in 2017. He graduated from 3D Sense Media School in Singapore. You can find more of his personal work on ArtStation.