My interest in computers and computer graphics started when I was around 13 year old, when we started to learn programming in school. It was Quick Basic on old DOS computers. Almost immeadiately I became super interested in how to make computer games – I have been wondering about it before, but never actually had anyone around who could explain to me what programming is.
Almost immediately it became clear to me, that Qbasic will not cut it – it was too slow and limited. I jumped to learning Pascal. Also It was immeadiately clear that you can’t do much with manually drawing lines, circles and rectangles. So I started exploring sprite graphics. One of my friends made a little graphics editor in which you could paint small sprite graphics. It was enough for me to create very basic SimCity and Civilization mashup game. Obviously I was not satisfied with graphics performance and quality, so I pushed forward. I started learning C/C++ while also discovering early version of Photoshop. I was told that that is the app pros use – so I was convinced that Photoshop is the key for creating cool graphics assets. This was also the time when Starcraft 1 came out and it blew my mind. It had everything – amazing cutscenes, amazing ingame graphics which looked 3D and very realistic. For a while I was convinced that there must exist some kind of plugin for Photoshop that would allow to create such graphic assets. It was a time before Internet was available for me, so there was no way to research anything – also my englisgh at that time was probably not good enough to do extensive reasearch.
Somehow I got my hands on some piratic CDs with some 3D software – that’s how I discovered 3D Studio Max R2. From some included demo animations and content it was clear that 3D software is the key – and it blew my mind. Unfortunately this pirated version had no documentation included and no tutorials were available for me at that time (I didn’t even knew the concept of tutorial at that point yet). I discovered another 3D application called True Space which was much more user friendly and hade some sort of built in tutorial/help system. So I learned that – basic 3d modelling, texturing, some animation. But obviously I had opened a Pandoras box and was never sattisfied until I could create somethig on the level of StarCraft. So I began this chaotic and unguided way of learning every 3D software I could get my hands on – 3D Max, Maya 2.0 (first version for PCs). I probably spent ridiculous amount of time by doing it in the wrong order as there was no one to guide me or teach fundamentals.
I was still learning programming and learning graphics software was just a means to create good looking assets for games I wanted to make.
Obviously as soon as I went deeper in 3D graphics, It became clear that programming 3D graphics is a very complicated subject – especially for a 15 years old teenager without fundamental understanding of underlaying math. So I became interested in 3D engines.
3D Engines at that time were these ultra expensive, mysterious and fascinating beasts I could only dream of getting my hands on by experimenting with level editors of Quake, Unreal 1 and finally HalfLife when it came out and blew everyones mind.
I became obsessed with 3D engines – I somehow managed to get some trial/educations versions of couple commercial engines by pretending to be a real developer – so they would send CDs to me. At the same time Internet became more available and I discovered some free/open source projects. One I got the most serious with was called Genesis 3D. This was the point my 3D art creating knowledge and my C++ programming knowledge was getting good enough that I even managed to create single level demo FPS game that I thing quite successfuly replicated some real time 3d graphics things seen in games at that time – It had several weapons with different FX, enemies with some basic AI etc.
At that time, there was this leaked Doom 3 alpha version. First time I saw real time normal mapping and fully real time lighting in action – I was like what the hell is this?! How is this even possible – it looked amazingly realistic compared to any other computer game at that time. So I started again – I had to learn 3D sculpting, making high poly models, baking textures. Other 3D engines obviously did not have normal mapping support at that time, so I started experimenting with shader programming which was a completely new thing at the time – shaders were being written in special assembly language (no HLSL at the time) so it was obviously too complicated for me to understand and I did not get very far initially.
So I continued learning 3D art production side because it felt that it is more important as good quality 3D assets make all the difference.
It was the time of fist major 3D heavy movies – Matrix, StarWars prequels, The Mummy and Lord of the Rings first part. Because of these movies and some amazing cinematics in games, I became obsesses with 3D graphics in general – I became torn between games and movies as my potential career.
At that point I definately spent more time learning to be a 3d artist that being a programmer. Because of that I also got my first job as a 3D artist in a small game studio. I was doing 3d modeling, UV mapping, rigging and animation for characters and game levels.
It didn’t last long though as the company moved away to another country and I still had to finish high school. But during my time at the studio, I was constantly admiring the programmers there – because they were creating their inhouse 3d engine and before that I didn’t know that it was actually possible by regular humans to create a 3D engine. Also the room where they were sitting seemed misterious and cool to me and I was afraid to go in there and talk to them.
So after I left the studio, I stsrted to focus more on programming side. I went to University to a Computer Science department. At that time I was becoming good enough at programming that I stared to create parts of my own rudimentary 3D engine. Soon enough I got my first job in another game studio as a programmer. Initially I was working on simpler 3D games, but as time passed I started doing 3D programming. At the same time I was writing my backelors thesis on 3D game engine design and implementing my knowledge at work – creating my first commercial “engine” for simple games. Learning from my mistakes I continued on next iteration – while continuing my Masters degree studies and writing my masters thesis on the same subject. At the pinnacle of all this, I had created quite advanced engine with some artist tools for content creation (plugin for Maya for exporting levels and some proprietary tools for converting models and creating levels). Obviously my experience with 3D software was very helpful and I could speak with the art team as being one of them. We actually created and published full 3D game for Xbox 360 that I was quite proud at the time from technical and visual standpoint. Also I started to became quite jealous at 3D artists who spent whole days creating all the content – as I still loved to do that too, but could do it only as a hobby at home.
So began the grat struggle – I wanted to do both things, but I couldn’t see a way to combine them both. Unfortunately this was also the time when gaming industry started to change – facebook games became hugely popular and everybody jumped to creating social farming games with primitive 2D graphics in super slow Flash.
Our company also stared doing that and after couple years of doing this crap (trying to do 3D graphics in Flash), I was so fed up with that and so frustraded, I decided to change careers and become graphics designer.
I got into the best art school in my country where I learned the fundamentals – drawing, painting, composition etc. and started working at a digital AD agency. I was doing illustration work, web design. Started doing some basic motion graphics and at the time it seemed so cool, that I decided that this is what I wanted to do. I even went to study 3D animation abroad for a while and at the end got my bachelors degree in Visual Communication. But at the end I was not very interested in art itself – I was always drawn to more techical and challenging side of things.
So I was doing a lot of completely different things at the time and I was very confused with what I really wanted to do and where It all leads. I stared to learn Blender, work with Unity. That lead to another job as a Unity developer that slowly transitioned to also doing concept art, illustration, motion graphics, 3D VFX work, setting up render farm and pipeline and Unity programming and content creation – I was a super generalist while still quite unsatisfied with everything. I became quite bored with doing the same thing over an over so I was always happy to jump to something completely different .
Thats basically how I spend several years. During that time I slowly started to understand that what I actually enjoy is learning how things work and solving technical challenges – either by programming or doing complex setups in 3D software for other artists to use. As soon as the task becomes mindless and repeating – I’m not interested in it. I also learned that this is a thing and it is called being Technical Artist and it is supposedly quite rare skillset.
I went to work in an animation studio that created TV series using real time rendering – I was very happy there. I created the pipeline for doing everything in Unity. I was writing shaders, making tools and solving problems, while spending also significant amount of time on content creation itself. It was a very rewarding experience.
Unfortunately after a while I had to leave, because my wife got a promotion and we had to move to another country. For couple years I worked remotely in a well known tech company doing generic 3D design work, but after couple months of Covid, I became so sick of working remotely and sitting at home, that I decided to quit and rest and regroup for a while. Soon after that I was hired by The Mill as a freelance Unreal Engine technical artist – and that sort of started my second freelance period.