A character designer known for his photo-real fan art, Frank Tzeng tells us how he got where he is and how he continues to keep learning and adapting. Frank shares some interesting tips for those getting into the industry as well as advice on how to survive when you're there.
First, could you tell our readers a little bit about your background in digital art, starting with your very first steps towards creativity?
My very first steps towards 3D creativity were around 7 years ago. At that time I was still a regular college student in Taiwan, majoring in something business related; then I got a chance to go to the Art Center for my sister's graduation portfolio show. There I saw the amazing 3D works from their students, and that was when I decided that it was what I wanted to do in my life.
It's amazing how inspiration strikes and totally changes your direction! Where did you go from that first decision to move into 3D? What kinds of software and techniques did you try out first and did you have anything specific you wanted to try?
After I decided I wanted to learn 3D, I basically gave up my old life and friends in Taiwan and came to America. That was a very big change for me, because I needed to rebuild my life again in America. I went to language school to study English for 1 year and went to an art school (the Art Institute of California) for 3 years after that. I learned all the basic understanding and software like 3ds Max, Maya, ZBrush, UDK and Photoshop at school.
"We have to constantly update ourselves with the newest technology and knowledge so we can keep up with the industry"
In all the software that I learned, ZBrush was the one I wanted to try the most and after the first time I used it, I immediately fell in love with it and it was the software that helped me more than others.
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As 3D artists, however, I think we also need to try out new software. Advancing technologies mean that in the game industry, the software we use is changing very quickly. We have to constantly update ourselves with the newest technology and knowledge so we can keep up with the industry.
"A lot of studios would rather have a mid-level team player then a selfish senior-level artist"
You've recently graduated from the Art Institute of California, having specialized in Game Art and Design and have had some amazing experiences working at Ember Lab. Can you tell us what those experiences taught you about working in the digital art industry?
Ember Lab was basically my first job as a character artist, I was there as a character artist for more than 1 year.
The key lessons I learned were:
School doesn't teach you everything. They will only teach you the basics, but if you really want to improve and be one of the best, you always need to go that extra step. Once I got into the industry, I realized how much I didn't understand, so I worked as hard as I could, and I also commuted to Gnomon school at LA on the weekend to take some classes which also helped me improve.
Respect deadlines; most of the game studios have a schedule on everything they are working on and it is VERY important to follow their schedule so they can deliver on time.
Team work. Believe it or not, the games industry is all about team work. Even if you are the best artist in the world, you can't make a game on your own; you have to learn to work with other people. I have seen people who are so talented but don't know how to work with the team, who - of course - ended up getting fired. A lot of studios would rather have a mid-level team player then a selfish senior-level artist.
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