Career Advice: Working as a Junior Level Artist at Ubisoft Singapore

Career Advice: Working as a Junior Level Artist at Ubisoft Singapore

Joshua Chan, now a Level Artist at Ubisoft Singapore, shares valuable insights for aspiring artists aiming for careers in the gaming industry.

Join us in conversation with 3dsense Media School alum Joshua Chan as he talks about his journey from Game Development studies to thriving as a Level Artist at Ubisoft Singapore. In this article, Joshua shares his insights for budding artists aspiring to work in Games.

The Journey

What's your current role and what does it involve?

I’m currently a Junior Level Artist at Ubisoft Singapore. As a level artist, it’s my responsibility to set dress the environment and breathe life into the game, ensuring that every nook and cranny teems with detail and atmosphere.

My role also includes collaborating with many different teams, from Quest to Level designers. We work hand in hand as part of the world building team to deliver an immersive game world as part of the player's journey, making every corner a storytelling canvas.

Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?

I work at Ubisoft Singapore, Southeast Asia’s largest AAA game development studio. The studio has notably worked on every Assassin’s Creed® game since Assassin’s Creed® II. We’re also leading the development of Skull and Bones, an upcoming title.

When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?

I played video games from a very young age, so it didn’t take long for me to start exploring opportunities to be part of this industry. My journey kickstarted when I researched on video game artists for my ‘O’ Level Art Examination in secondary school. It was then I realised there were actual jobs for video game artists.

I wanted to share the fun and joy I had growing up with video games. The thought of creating these experiences to audiences around the world helped cemented the idea of working in this industry. Initially, I viewed doing art and playing video games as hobbies, so why not combine the two into a career instead?

How did you get your first big break?

Upon graduating from 3dsense Media School, I joined a small indie company in Singapore specialising in VR games. It was the first time I got to the work in the industry and after about a year, I started looking for more opportunities to grow.

When I saw that Ubisoft Singapore had an opening for a Junior Level Artist, I immediately applied and went through the interview process and art test. I’ll never forget the excitement when they offered me a role to work on Assassin’s Creed Mirage. I was a massive fan of the series growing up, and being able to ship the game officially marked the beginning of an exhilarating career in game development for me.

Describe the journey you took into your current role?

Growing up in Singapore, there wasn’t much of a game industry presence during my secondary school days. Teachers didn’t have any advice on getting into the industry, all I knew was my love for art. That secured me a spot for the game design course at Ngee Ann Polytechnic through the Direct Polytechnic Admission program.

It was then that my path crossed with like-minded individuals who shared the same passion, and as we pursued our dreams, we also nurtured lasting friendships. In this supportive environment, I honed my skills, discovered my love for game development and graduated top of my cohort with a Silver Award. From there on, I furthered my studies in 3D Sense and eventually specialised as a Level Artist.

Always tailor your portfolio to the role you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying for a Level Artist role in Ubisoft, ensure you have a portfolio of realistic-looking environment art instead of stylised ones.

Why did you choose to study at 3D Sense Media School?

After graduating from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, I had to serve a two-year mandatory National Service in Singapore while the games industry onboarded new techniques and software. There was a lot of catching up to do and I considered university at first. But upon learning that I could get the same amount of knowledge in a year at 3dsense Media School, it was a no-brainer decision for me.

How does your education complement your work?

Shorter curriculums meant shorter assignments deadlines, and that helped me to be faster with work while maintaining a quality project.

Day in the life

Describe a typical day for you and your team?

A typical morning would start with our project tracking software, Jira, to see what tasks are meant to be completed that day. As Level Artists, our tasks frequently consist of locations to be worked on for the week. It could also be fixing immediate bugs that hinder game progressions.

On some days, we would have a gathering with fellow Level Artists to share our progression, and give comments on what could be improved. We would also have meetings with other world builders like Quest Designers and Level Designers to sync up on each other’s progression in the world.

After work hours, Ubisoft Singapore usually has club activities run by fellow team members, for us to relax and bond over sports or various hobbies.

What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?

Anvil, our proprietary engine; 3DSMax, Photoshop; and my personal favourite, Purerefs.

What does your workflow look like?

There are typically 3 phases in the workflow. Phase 1, where Quest and Level Designers will first lay the foundation for us Level Artists. They’ll establish a general gameplay flow and the theme for that location. After that, I’ll start my blocking-out phase by adding in the big shapes, creating lovely silhouettes, framing to highlight critical landmarks and setting intentions for the location.

In phase 2, I’ll start adding more details to the scene, like smaller props and a basic lighting pass. This process helps to build the environmental storytelling, making the location feel more grounded and realistic. Take a travelling vegetable trader for example, I’ll first put a ton of vegetable-related props at the storefront and a cart full of goods at the back, followed by some tools to show the trader travels and sets up temporary shops for the people living there.

Phase 3 is what we usually call the polishing phase. With most intentions and general storytelling established, we’ll add micro details to the scene, like sand or dirt build-up in the corners of pavements or even decals like a cart track or footprints showing movements around the world. It’s this phase that we’ll usually fix bugs like floating or clipping props that break gameplay flow.

In between those phases, we typically have check-ins with the leads and various different teams to sync on the changes made by everyone working on the location.

Which departments and key people do you work closely with?

Project Managers, Quest Designers, Level Designers, Cinematic Design, Narrative Writers, Technical Artists and our unsung heroes, the QA/development tester team.

I’m pretty sure we’ll have some self-learning technology in the near future that’ll help populate scenes quickly. While the tool is interesting, it lacks that human touch that we artists put in our work, and that’s something AI can’t replace. It will, however, act as a great companion tool to increase my task efficiency.

One thing you’d never change about your job?

The collaborative nature of my job. I enjoy working with different job groups as it gives a great understanding of the various components in making a game. Everyone is working towards creating something incredible; there’s a lot to be learned.

Career Advice

Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?

It’s a yes and no for me. Having specialised education can help to give a head start in knowing if this a career you want to pursue. Attending an art school allowed me to meet new people and form new connections.

However, it’s a huge plus point if you have the discipline to practise daily and look for the resources on your own too.

What tasks would you be typically asked to do as a junior artist?

Around the start of the project, we would usually gather research on locations and build a mood board to be shared with fellow artists for opinions. From there, we would start building our locations to completion while supporting each other in the team.

What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?

Being a great problem solver. While it is important to be good at art, one needs to be able to use the art skills and adapt to all sorts of challenges. This makes all the difference between a great and a normal artist. Sometimes, things don't always go your way and you’ll have to work within those constraints to get through it.

What skills seem to be missing all too often?

It’s not exactly a skill, but if you’re applying for a job to be part of the creative team in the game industry, you’ve got to have player knowledge. Being able to understand video games from a player's perspective is a huge plus point. It’s a highly competitive industry, so you’ll also want to stand out by showing your passion and keeping your portfolio updated.

Describe your attitude towards your job?

I love it, to be honest. Being part of the creative team behind one of my favourite series growing up is a dream come true. I had a lot of fun creating the world in Assassin’s Creed Mirage, and seeing the fans’ positive reaction to our world brings me joy, knowing that our hard work has paid off.

Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you implement it into your work?

Most of my inspiration comes from games, movies, and anime. I mostly took reference from games on how they would set up their scenes via framing iconic landmarks from particular views, and by observing how players would interact with the environment. When making an Assassin’s Creed game, other games and movies aid me as visual guides for historical settings.

Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?

If you’re applying for a Level Artist role, choose a concept art of your liking from the internet, preferably something of a smaller scale like a small settlement and complete it within a deadline of one to two months.

Focus on creating a solid narrative and a nice grouping of props. Frequently, I see artists  adding unnecessary clutter to the scene, which creates a ton of noise. Learn how to balance between that, create lovely visual silhouettes and highlight critical areas you would want to showcase in your set-up.

What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?

Relevance of portfolios to roles applied is very important. Always tailor your portfolio to the role you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying for a Level Artist role in Ubisoft, ensure you have a portfolio of realistic-looking environment art instead of stylised ones.

If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?

To keep an open mind. There is no single foolproof method to do art. Dabble and experiment with new tools, as this industry is ever-changing. The favourite tool that you’ve been using for years could go obsolete.

If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?

Have confidence, trust the process, and take it easy. Always be kind to yourself.

Joshua Chan is a Level Artist from Ubisoft Singapore, he joined the team in 2022 and has worked on projects like Assassin’s Creed Mirage. Joshua’s passion for the video games industry is undeniable, and he wants to be able to keep creating immersive worlds and experiences for the generations to come. Reach out to him at the links below and check out his student work via his Rookies profile here.