Interview with Ken Toney
By 3dtotal staff
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Date Added: 22nd October 2013
Ken Toney is a fantastic character artist working at EA games in California. We interviewed him to get to insights into his career path and future aspirations.
Hi Ken, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by 3DCreative. I have taken a look at some of your work and you have been involved with some really cool projects. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you managed to find your way into the CG industry?
I went to San Jose State University to study Illustration. In fact I have a Bachelors Degree in Illustration, which I kind of use I guess. My goal was to become a commercial illustrator and paint for a living.
After college I applied to every game company in the bay area and was rejected by all of them. It wasn't surprising considering I didn't have a CG portfolio or demo reel. Somehow I did manage to get hired by a tiny company working on software for kids. They were probably pretty desperate and I was pretty much willing to work for free as long as I could do CG work. At the time they were developing a program that teaches kids how to do magic tricks by using a CG bunny character.
At the time it was great just to get some computer graphics experience, but it also gave me access to 3D software. So by day I would diligently work and at night I would stay up until midnight working on my video game reel. Eventually, a few years later, I got my first gig in the video game industry working for Capcom and I would consider that to be my first true CG job.
(Laughs) It's amazing how your entire future changed in just those few moments! You mentioned
demo reels. Do you have any advice for anyone trying to set up their own demo reel?
From a character artist I like to see at least 3-5 characters depending on the experience level. During the turntable I would expect to see the wireframes at some point and a few close-ups.
As for content, I think it's important to show a variety of styles and techniques. It's good to demonstrate organic modeling, anatomy, treatment of cloth, hard surface modeling, etc.
You have worked for some really huge companies on some big titles – can you tell us a little about how you managed to get noticed by these companies? Also if you have any advice for anyone trying to do the same, what would it be?
I never set out to work for big companies, but it just somehow worked out that way. The one game studio that I did pursue heavily was Capcom, mainly because I was a Street Fighter 2 fan and a huge fan of their concept art. I think I applied roughly six or seven times before I eventually managed to land an interview, and even then I still didn't get the job. I applied again six months later and landed a second interview, which finally led to full-time employment at Capcom. From that experience I learned about persistence and to never take rejection personally. Also it's important to note that each time I re-applied I made sure I improved my portfolio.
For someone trying to get noticed by companies these days there are plenty of CG art forums (3DTotal, ZBrush Central, CGHub etc.,) out there. I know plenty of art professionals, including myself, that visit these sites quite often so it is a great way to get recognized.
There's also the Quality Assurance (game testers) route that some people do take in order to break into the CG industry. Although that method doesn't always guarantee you'll get a job as a CG artist, it is a great way to make connections with professionals. I've met quite a few aspiring artists/animators working as game testers over the years.
Do you have any future goals? Are there any games you would like to work on, or would you like to try something new like creating assets for movies?
When it comes to looking into my future I'm definitely torn. As a character artist you naturally want to work on the best projects out there. Games such as Gears of War, Uncharted, and God of War (just to name a few) are hugely inspirational to me as a character artist. Also it's important to note that these games are fun to play. I would jump at the chance to work on those projects.