Career Advice: Working as a 3D Artist at Ubisoft
Want to get into the Games Industry? Learn more about how 3D Artist Claudio Quatela made his way from studying at Rainbow Academy, to working as a 3D & Environment Artist at Ubisoft, Milan.
Claudio Quatela is a 22 year-old 3D Artist specialising in Environment Art. Rainbow Academy alumnus, Claudio, is now working at Ubisoft Milan, on the Mario + Rabbids franchise, and he sits down with us to today give his advice for other aspiring Artists looking to join the Games industry.
What's your current role and what does it involve?
I am Junior 3D Artist. My role is to create assets, props, textures and more, for the environments that make up the levels of our projects.
From modeling to texturing to shading of the asset, I make sure the quality and
optimisation of the product is triple-A compliant.
Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?
I currently work for Ubisoft Milan in the 3D Art team, and I’ve worked here for almost 2 years. The studio is part of one of the most important video game manufacturing companies globally and right now we are in the process of producing the 3 DLCs for the “Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope” game that have been announced in recent weeks.
When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?
I've always had a passion for drawing and art in general since I was a child.
During my adolescence I also approached the world of video games and I began to be interested in the graphic aspect and the artistic direction of the games that marked that period.
The inspiration came when, during the fourth year of high school, I attended a conference about computer graphics in film, and in that moment I understood that I wanted to make my passion for art my job and become a 3D Artist.
How did you get your first big break?
I had my first big break to enter the world of work at a higher level after obtaining my master's degree in video game graphics and having had the experience of teaching a course on 3D graphics in a private school.
In that period my former school Rainbow Academy organised the Career Day event, which represented an opportunity for new graduates to be able to interface directly with the staff of important companies, including Ubisoft.
On the occasion of this Career Day, whoever was in charge of observing the showreels and CVs of the students noticed my profile and I was subsequently contacted to start the recruitment process in the Ubisoft Milan studio - a path which then ended in the best of ways.
Describe the journey you took into your current role.
The journey I took to become an Environment Artist was not too long. In high school I was convinced I wanted to be an architect as I was interested in the design and visual rendering of architectural projects, but later I realised that I wasn't made for that kind of study.
I still remained interested in the harmony of shapes, landscapes, settings, whether they were films, video games or reality itself. However, during my studies to become a 3D Artist, I also showed a strong interest in characters; having fun creating both cartoon and realistic 3D characters.
In the end, my preference for the environment and my interest in places that tell a story rather than characters was too ingrained and prevailed.
Why did you choose to study at Rainbow Academy?
After high school I decided to directly attend a Master's Degree in video game graphics at the Rainbow Academy. My choice wasn't easy, considering the amount of training opportunities that exist in Italy and online, but after attending their open day, I was immediately struck by the warmth of the staff and their
evident love for the world of computer graphics.
It is a place that manages to make you understand how much of what we have always dreamed of is literally a door away - Rainbow Academy is in fact directly connected to the Rainbow CGI studio, so you are always in contact with professionals, approaching the world of work even before entering it. This was
also a determining factor for my choice.
How does your education complement your work?
Training within Rainbow was of fundamental importance to me for my personal growth as a professional in the sector, not only for the educational programs that allow you to learn the basics of creating quality characters and environments, but also for the teachings that they give about the world of work, how
to introduce yourself to a company, how to create a portfolio and a showreel in a professional way; all fundamental lessons needed to move from being a student to a professional.
Day in the Life
Describe a typical day for you and your team?
In our typical day, daily meetings cannot be missed in order to have a better understanding of the progress of the project. Being 100% communicative is essential to work in sync and always be aligned on what we are working on. Once the team is cohesive and in sync, everyone gets on with their tasks, whether they're in the office or working remotely.
What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?
In our 3D pipeline we have various software available that let us create what we need. The software we often use is Maya, 3ds Max, ZBrush and Blender for modeling, and Substance 3D Painter, Designer and Photoshop for texturing.
What does your workflow look like?
The initial phase of my workflow is certainly the study the concepts. From there I start to model a blockout of what is asked of me. Once the modeling is completed, I plan what is the best way to texture the asset, whether for example with an atlas, a tilable material, or an ad hoc texture.
Depending on what I need, I decide which texturing program to work in. Once the asset meets the basic requirements, it should be tested in engine, to make sure everything works as it should. If not, I go back and fix what it takes until the asset is ready for my Lead's validation.
Which departments and key people do you work closely with?
I work every day in close contact with the Concept Art and Level Design departments. The first is the department that prepares the concept tables that are provided to us 3D Artists and to which we must adhere in terms of style and artistic direction, to create the assets that are used to give life to the
Communication with the Concept Art team is essential to be able to balance the art
direction and the subsequent practical application in 3D.
After an asset is ready, I get in touch with the Level Design department, in order to implement it in the game. We then discuss what a certain asset must do and what its function will be in order to be able to set everything you need in the right way and then go and program its behaviour during gameplay.
Are there any industry trends that are changing the nature of your role?
Very often the figure of the Environment Artist has to interface with increasingly advanced methods in the creation of maps and game levels, such as procedural systems that allow you to create a multitude of elements simply by changing parameters.
You can also count on cutting-edge technologies for scanning real elements, allowing us to obtain super realistic props without having to create them from scratch. On the other hand, however, the hand of a modeling and texturing technician is still essential to be able to create an entire environment that has a well-defined identity and that fully respects the guidelines of an artistic direction, especially if you are working on a cartoon-style product like our latest projects.
If we talk about art, the artist's role was and remains fundamental, yet it is increasingly supported by the updating of the various software tools to be able to create anything more easily and precisely.
One thing you’d never change about your job?
The audience of our games. Passionate gamers from all over the world, no matter what age they are, where they come from and what their origins are...I know that even now they are playing our game, marveling and enjoying exploring the environments I have worked on together with my fantastic team. I think this is the most satisfying part of this job.
Needless to explain how nice it can be to see gameplay videos eery day from YouTubers, live streamers or even memes on social networks about what you have created, made by thousands of content creators around the world. It's a unique feeling.
But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?
I don't think there is something I would want to see change: our sector is among the most versatile and it’s constantly changing since it must adapt to the needs and demands of the market. I'm very open to changes and innovations, as long as I don't lose the desire to create something wonderful and new in the eyes of the public.
Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job
I think that in order to become a professional 3D Artist it is not strictly necessary to attend a university or an academy. Nowadays there are numerous courses, tutorials and technical documentation on which to draw in order to be able to cultivate one's artistic vein and transform it into a technical work.
Once you have learned the main technical rules in creating a product that works, only your artistic ability remains and that is an innate gift that must be trained with dedication and commitment.
Why would you recommend your school to others?
As mentioned above, I would recommend the Rainbow Academy to anyone who wants to become a 3D Artist because it offers a variety of programs that include pipelines of CGI and animated films, as well as a Master's course in Game Assets, or again Game Design and Concept Art, held by teachers often already fully involved in the production of high-level projects.
The possibility of being in a place where you can constantly ask for advice and learn from people who already have solid work experience, since the academy is inside the Rainbow production studio, allows you to grow a lot.
But of course, you also have to fully dedicate yourself to studying.
If you could give one piece of advice to artist’s trying to get a job, what would it be?
Many times I am asked for advice by emerging 3D Artists who want to start approaching the world of work and often what I recommend is to make the best effort, for as long as necessary, to create a reel that can be shown as a business card to companies, and to not be afraid of not being good enough,
because most of the times, we may not realise our potential.
Wrapping up the most beautiful works and demonstrating that you have valid technical knowledge is already an excellent starting point for being hired.
What tasks would you be typically asked to do as a junior artist?
Initially as a Junior 3D Artist it is very likely that your artistic and technical skills will be put to the test through the creation of simple props or characters, as a contour to what is the whole project, but which are very important to ensure that every detail be taken care of. It is therefore essential that apparently easy and unimportant tasks are not underestimated.
You have to put the same effort into making any one of a thousand vases or a hero asset, because this is the approach of a professional who is rewarded and step by step, if you prove you have the right qualities, the difficulty level of the tasks will increase along with the satisfaction that comes from making them.
What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?
Personally, I don't hire people, but if I had to, I would like them to have a high propensity for problem solving as well as artistic talent.
What skills seem to be missing all too often?
Paradoxically, one thing that I often notice missing in the artworks of those who want to do this job is precisely the attention to detail, the artistic quality.
Perhaps the technical rules necessary for the functioning of an asset have been respected but it is as if one were impatient to create something, without taking care of every single detail, without carefully observing reality and bringing it back to the screen, without inquiring about the basic rules of the various artistic styles.
Dedicating yourself to drawing before starting to work in 3D can help train your eye and understand when something works visually or not.
Delivery times should not be prioritised over product quality. When you approach 3D for the first time, even just creating a glass can take a month but it is essential to dedicate yourself to artistic quality, to the study of colours and shapes. Then the speed of creating and technical mastery will increase from time to time.
Describe your attitude towards your job.
I love my job. I am proud to be able to give life to stories and landscapes in which hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people will spend part of their days.
Working with people equally in love with this world and with a crazy talent, makes me feel part of something much bigger than me, but at the same time it gives me the feeling of having been fundamental to its realisation.
Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you implement it into your work?
When I find myself having to work on something, I certainly cannot help but take inspiration from the concepts and the artistic direction that is being followed at that moment, but I also take my cue from what I see in reality; doing online research or observing things with my own eyes similar to the ones I have to
recreate in 3D. In this way I can have all the necessary tools to be able to report what I see in my work, finding an adequate synthesis, especially if we are talking about a cartoon style.
Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?
Personally, I don't have any particular advice on what to do for a portfolio, but what really matters is the quality with which the work in question is done. Surely it is very useful to demonstrate that you can range in multiple areas and in multiple artistic styles but being able to do multiple things, perhaps both modeling and texturing, or both realistic and cartoon style is a great way to show that you are flexible in working and that you are not afraid to experiment and learn more things.
What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs
Little attention to the presentation of the showreel. Presenting the final product is the basis, but attention to the presentation makes a lot of difference: the result must be captivating, it must attract attention with a dynamic video editing, beautiful music, well-maintained lighting and without forgetting to also show the
technical part of the work.
If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?
Never be satisfied until you see the result you really want to achieve, before moving from one project to another. Start one, simple or complex, and finish it in the best way.
If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?
I don't think that if I could go back I would give some advice to myself. I rather think that every doubt, mistake and failure is an essential part of one's personal and professional growth path: from how one approaches criticisms and slip-ups to better understanding your own self and how to deal with obstacles.
Getting it wrong the first time, learning the lesson and never getting it wrong again is a huge step towards your own fulfilment.