Breaking Into The Industry is a weekly interview series that speaks with video game professionals from all across EA. We hope that by sharing how some of the industry's biggest (and smallest) players got their start, you can learn how to do the same.
Let’s start with your name and job title.
My name is Charles Graf and I’m a Game Capture Artist on The Sims Video Team.
The Sims Video Team? What does that team do?
We make all of the gameplay footage used in The Sims game trailers and television ads. We also produce all of the images used for PR screenshots that get sent out to magazines, news sites, gaming sites, and blogs.
As a Game Capture Artist, how do you fit into The Sims group?
Our director, Todd, splits the scenes and Sims needed for an entire video across the team of Capture Artists. I then gather references or use the references provided to me as a guideline for the overall feel of an environment, whether it be a certain style of room in a house or a boardwalk arcade.
After we have a style established, I use The Sims Build/Buy mode to create that environment, choose a color palette, and populate that environment with Sims we create in Create a Sim. We choose certain activities to showcase those Sims and then pick out camera angles to record video footage. All the footage captured by me and the other Capture Artists on my team is then edited together to make our trailers.
It's an exciting mix of Designer and in-game Director of Photography.
I can't imagine how gratifying it must be to see your work on TV and sites all over the world. Do you ever feel a sense of pressure because of that?
Oh, definitely. There's always pressure to make things the best you can, but also to show what is really possible with The Sims. I am my own worst critic. At the same time, it is a great experience seeing your work on television, or knowing that something you made is going to be shown at gamescom in Cologne, Germany. That's the payoff for that pressure.
Is there much back and forth in the process? Do you ever capture something, edit it all together, and then end up having to go back and make tweaks?
Yes. During the editing process, if something doesn't mesh, there’s always the possibility that we'll have to go back and re-capture something to get just the right camera movement, or to get a different angle entirely. Sometimes it's a wardrobe change, or the tweaking of a color somewhere. If a scene can be better, we take the time to revisit that shot and give it the attention it needs. Sometimes shots we create don't make it into the final edit at all.
How do you get your job at EA? Were there any other jobs that helped you prepare for being a Game Capture Artist?
I am currently a BFA student studying 3D modeling and texturing. I was working freelance for a friend at CT-SF in San Francisco, modeling, texturing, and lighting product shots for television ads in my free time, away from school and my other job. He was doing business with Draft FCB and Beast, who was working on the Mass Effect 2 ad campaign. They needed someone with an art background who was also familiar with using debug commands to run the build of the game and do the capture work. He referred me. From there, I worked on ad campaigns for Dead Space 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and The Sims Medieval. I came to work at EA shortly after.
What school are you going to for your BFA?
I attend the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
Would you recommend it to others aiming for a role like yours?
My experience there, but more importantly in The Bay Area in general, has been great. I'm from the Midwest, and there aren’t quite the same opportunities to work in the gaming industry back in Ohio. Moving here has given me the opportunity to learn, but more importantly to work and gain experience in an industry I am interested in. I get to learn while I work as well as in class. I couldn't say that I would be doing the same thing for “work” if I were still back home.
So you moved from Ohio to the Bay Area with the specific goal of working in the game industry? Was that a difficult decision?
After I really thought about what I wanted to do and how to achieve that, it wasn't too difficult. Coming to the honest realization that a place that fostered that industry might be a better place to get a start just took a little time. I just didn't see myself landing a game industry job in Ohio. After I had a few years done in school, I transferred here.
What advice do you have for a high school graduate that wants to work a job like yours someday?
Wow, that's a tough one. Follow your dreams, even if that might mean doing work and school for 17 hours a day. Open yourself up to opportunities related to where you want to be instead of where you are. Surround yourself with likeminded, talented people that share similar interests. Foster an environment of creativity. Never stop learning about what you love. ...and remember that the 17 hour days don't last forever. That's been my experience.
Do you have longer term goals within the game industry?
I want to eventually become a Character Modeler or Environment Artist. I found that that’s what I like to do as far as production goes. I also have an interest in gaming theory and design. Designing my own game is a future goal of mine.
What kind of games would you like to design? And what kind do you play?
I really enjoy action and RPG games, as well as some FPS. Right now I am 60 hours into Dark Souls. The game is really well designed and there is a sense of constant danger and accomplishment when you overcome a certain objective or boss fight. I have had a lot of fun playing Battlefield 3 as well. It’s a beautiful game in terms of graphics and design. I’m also really looking forward to Mass Effect 3 and seeing how the story plays out. Games with great design and story are usually the types of games I enjoy playing. I hope to makes games like those one day.
It seems like you're in the perfect role to move into character modeling.
I'm definitely working at the right company. Working at EA has given me the opportunity to meet and network with others, not only in my studio, but in other studios. I couldn't ask for a better place to work. I do use a lot of art fundamentals in my day to day duties, so that’s good practice for becoming a Character Modeler as well.
One last question for you: What's a typical day like?
I get to work around 9:30 and check my email for any pressing job information, and then we have a 10:00 a.m. meeting where we review our progress on our current project. We discuss and critique the current edit and get feedback from our Director. We make a game plan for approaching the work needed and address any issues or concerns we have. As I make progress on building environments or Sims, I check in with my Assistant Director or Director to get creative criticism and move forward on my work.
After my Sims and environments are built and approved, I then move on to capturing footage. When that’s done, I review the clips with my Director/Assistant Director to make sure everything is as it should be, and then make any requested revisions. From there, I move on to my next video clip or screenshot. Mix a lunch break in there and you’ve got a typical day.
Thanks for talking with me, Charles. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you! I really enjoyed it.
Is there a specific video game job you’d like to know more about? Let us know in the comments! Plus, check out last week’s interview with Robert Kissinger, the Creative Director of EA’s Online Group, for more insight into the industry.