Happy Friday and welcome to today's AMA with Kate Blackshear, a 3D Environment Artist who found their new role at Studio Drydock through Work With Indies!

A little bit about Kate, in their own words:

"My name is Kate, I'm in my second year in the industry and second studio! I'm 27, have two very cute dogs and a very awesome, supportive fiancé, and an uncontrollable desire to just pump out art all the time.

Like most, I enjoyed games as a kid and bonded with them with my dad, but I never really imagined I'd be working in them.

I come from a traditional painting background. I was always pushed toward concept art and thought that was an option, but I realized I enjoy 3D so much more after attending SMU Guildhall here in Texas (US)."

Hi Kate! I actually applied for the QA Tester position at Studio Drydock recently, so hello potential coworker! :) What has your experience been with the studio so far?

Hi Jennifer! Good luck and hello potential coworker! My experience with the studio has been great. They let me on board knowing that I didn't have the most experience but they saw that I was going out of my way to learn as much as I could outside of work and school. That along with a few environments that I've done and they decided to give me the chance to hop on board! It's a small team but everyone really gets along and gives each other hard times even 😆. It's great.

[.c-insight]💡 Editor's Note: We are 2 for 2 in AMAs suggesting that being curious, demonstrating a willingness to learn, and be coachable, was key to landing their current role.

From Drew's AMA: "Often it's better to take on someone who might not know the specifics but is incredibly enthusiastic and able to learn compared to a genius who would never be willing to adapt."[.c-insight]

Is there anything in particular that you're excited about working on in the future (that you're allowed to talk about)?

I'm really excited about the game we're releasing! I've been handed more than I expected, larger environment work, and that's super exciting for me.

How did you find the interview process? What sort of questions were asked? Did you have to do an art test?

I did not have a formal art test. At my last two indie studios, I've actually not had to do an art test. I think they can tell more from your portfolio what your skills are, and having a smaller team, they didn't have to vet me through lots of people with a test.

The interview process was funny, I actually thought I bombed it! I was really nervous, and I'm a Texan and they're Australians, so I was really nervous that I wouldn't communicate well, and sometimes I didn't answer the questions right immediately, but they led me to what they were looking for in the question and I eventually got to the answer I should've given.

I remember thinking "omg, I bombed SO hard" and being so sad, and then maybe two days later I got an offer. It was crazy!

They asked me what my favorite games were, asked me about old projects I had done (environments), and how much I think environments and narrative tie together, especially in my favorite games.

[.c-insight]💡 Editor's Note: Interviewers expect nerves. They're the norm, not the exception. Understanding this, good interviewers will attempt to guide you towards what they are looking for. You can help by creating space for them to do so, then following their cues/lead.[.c-insight]

Their leading you to the right answer in their questions is a sign of a good interviewer. I am interested in hearing more about how that played out. Can you provide a specific example of a question they asked, how you began to answer it, and where you eventually ended up?

They asked about an environment piece that I get a lot of attention about but my process was terrible when I did it. It's called "Creeping". It's the one with the tentacles in my portfolio. They asked about my process and I had to admit that I couldn't 100% remember because I had done it over a year ago, but I knew it wasn't a solid process.

I spoke about concepting it, then just building, baking, texturing, baking again, texturing again, and the constant back and forth until I got it right. I felt more at ease when my art lead, Ben, said, "oh, I understand baking over and over again." They joked about how you think you'll be done with baking, but then something will mess up and you'll have to bake all over again! It was nice that even a seasoned pro felt the chaos of baking props into environments or unwraps going wrong.

Also, I agree, Amanda and Ben were really kind in the interview and even though I didn't feel good about it (because I had to ask them to repeat questions or felt insecure about my inexperience), they were kind and nice and all the questions felt very purposeful.

How did you find making the jump from being a prop artist into an environment artist?

Jumping from props to environments was interesting. I think they're always intertwined, right? I will probably always be both a prop artist and environment artist. I think they go hand in hand. And honestly working on props is a good break from environments and vice-versa.

At work, I started out on props, then I moved over to environments more when I proved I could handle the style. But I still do props. At my last job, I didn't have many environments to work on because it wasn't environment based. I had to make a lot of props and help with concepting and be a jack-of-all-trades. At Drydock, they helped bring us on board with the style in props, and then started letting us have more domain over areas.

Hey! I quickly checked you out and your art is GORGEOUS. I was wondering -- would you know if Studio Drydock is hiring writers/narrative designers/content writers in the future? Also, how do you think your job experience is impacted by the fact that you are working at a newer studio?

Thank you so much! We just had some hiring of writers when I was hired, I'm not too sure what the future looks like on that, but definitely follow their Twitter if you want to have your eyes peeled for that! Currently, we have two writers.

I don't think my job experience is impacted much by a new studio. I worked at one before that was working on the same project for years and were also new. I think it's more about the drive that the studio has. You can tell if a studio has passion, and Drydock is passionate enough to stick to deadlines and know exactly what they want. They have a lot of people who worked at EA in Australia, so they're incredibly knowledgeable about the game dev process, even if they're a newer indie studio.

I'm learning 3d and a bit of game dev. I'm really interested in character art. I was wondering, do you know Unity or Unreal? Do you think they are important tools to get into as a 3d artist for games and if so, do you feel smaller studios tend to lean more towards one or the other?

I learned Unreal in school and not much Unity, maybe one game dev project in it but that was my first semester and I didn't know much at all. I think indie studios definitely tend to lean towards Unity, but Unreal isn't unheard of either. It's good to know some differences between the two, at the very least. Or try rendering in them. Some things you just won't learn unless you do game jams or work in a studio, because it ventures off into other areas like art and programming meshed together, if that makes sense.

That's pretty much it, smaller budgets work well with Unity, and also Unity seems to be more programmer-friendly. Programmers get a lot of bend with the tools they can create in Unity, which makes them good for game dev projects. Not to say Unreal doesn't do the same, but it's not as easy to adjust the parameters of Unreal, from what I understand.

I think, practice your own art craft, practice having a good eye for art, rendering, texturing, unwrapping, being efficient with UV space and draw calls, and the rest will come when you find your home in the industry :)

I ask as I came to understand that big studios aren't looking for generalists so I chose to focus on character art. Was a coin toss between character art, environment art, vfx, or tech art/rigging. So far it has only resulted in freelance gigs :/

Good point! Indie studios do tend to look for more generalists! I think we're finding that we want help in specific areas at Drydock, but, like at my last studio, it would've been helpful if I had known animation, VFX, rigging, etc! But others took that off of my plate and left me to do more concepting work 🙂. There are definitely studios out there that want that.

Are you working remote and if so how are you finding it?

I am working remote! I've worked remote with both studios I've worked at since graduating, which has been interesting because remote studios can be vastly different in culture. I think Drydock has a great remote culture. Plus, everyone is remote, not just a few. It's nice because there aren't tons of meetings I have to sit in, and I get a lot of work done on my own time/schedule. They're super flexible with schedules since we're across the globe (minus EU 🙁).

What is your day to day like? Are you building block out environments, making trim sheets etc? Also any advice for someone that wants to get into environment art?

Hmm! That's a good one. I actually am so afraid of trim sheets, I don't know why! Inexperience, I think. Right now I'm in the midst of working on a large environment and making buildings or smaller props for it. Some days, I work on tweaking the environment to make it feel better to walk around in, and when I need a break, I work on smaller things like buildings or props that fit in the environment. I'm actually more overseeing one of our environments, so it's a lot of trying to figure out what we need, if I can take care of it or it needs to be passed off, and what actually works with the game style/setting/feel. Recently I got to redesign an area which was SO cool to do, and I'm just trying to fit things back into it that was in the original concept.

My advice would be at least make an environment or two in your downtime if you can. I've noticed it's easier for us to consider environment artists with environment art instead of just prop pieces. It seems studios want to see your process and how you'd approach making a large environment (doesn't have to be AAA huge, cus mine in my portfolio arent). Also, just think about design elements a lot. Having a good eye for what looks good is SO important. Sometimes a portfolio is about skill and having an eye for good. But they can always level up your skill in the studio.

Hey Kate, I saw your companies posting on the Work With Indies website. Are you perhaps able to share a sneak peek of the project? 🙂

Haha, I wish! Let's just say, it's like an expansion of what's on our site 😀 lots of fun people, environments, and story to explore. Next year, I'm sure we'll start showing more bits and pieces on Twitter!

How long had you been looking before you landed with Studio Drydock? How many jobs did you apply for?

Oh gosh. Yeah, so I was laid off at the beginning of COVID. Let me try to find my google doc of job applications... I applied for 30 jobs in the three months I was laid off.

[.c-insight]💡 Editor's Note: 30+ applications is a common occurrence. Victoria Tran (now Community Director at Innersloth) said she sent 40-50 applications before getting her role at Kitfox, and she's the best in the business!

Remember, you want to be applying for jobs where there are a lot of good candidates. That is more likely to be a high quality, sought after job. Just because you didn't get an offer doesn't mean you weren't highly regarded. They may have had to make a tough decision between a bunch of great candidates. Try not to get discouraged. Keep going![.c-insight]

I was super depressed about it all, thankfully I had a CGMA class that started up in the midst of the intro to being jobless, which helped me pump out a lot of work that landed on my portfolio.

Wait... you have a google doc of applications? Is that a spreadsheet? I am curious how you use that, how it is helpful (and if you could share or provide a screenshot)?

Yeah. It helps me remember which I've applied to, and their response (or lack thereof), or any special notes I want to remember. I don't have the best memory so I find writing it down helps a lot. I did the same when I was graduating and job hunting, but I applied to maybe 50-60 places (but was way less focused on what kind of art I wanted to do).

Fullbright responded to me with a nice letter about how they loved my art and knew I would land something soon, even though they decided to go with someone else. I think I was in the top picks, but just not what they were looking for.

That is great to hear about Fullbright. I wish there were more of those notes in your spreadsheet.

It was so kind. And it ended up in my spam, as well as the interview request from Drydock! Always check your spam folders!!

[.c-insight]❗ Yes. Check your spam folders for job interviews and Work With Indies newsletters! 😆[.c-insight]

Any thoughts as to what made this application successful when the others weren't?

I think they were actually interested in me? I had an interview with a studio who...had their recruiter leave mid-art test for me... and thankfully their email redirected to their other HR person but no one told them about my interview or art test, so it kinda blew up into this big thing, and I got another interview after the art test, but it felt more like....a pity interview. And that felt bad looking back. But at the time I felt good about my answers and such.

Our concept artist apparently really liked my art! And she must've talked a bit about it because in my interview they mentioned she liked my art, and I was thinking, "that's crazy! she's so skilled, I like her art so much and she likes MINE?!" hehe. So I think she helped.

Remote work is new to most people and companies. How has remote work affected your day to day compared to the general office environment?

Good question! I used to work in customer service before games. I do miss having people around and getting MUCH more exercise than sitting around all day working on art. It's hard that my workspace is also my "fun" space, so I make art for work in the same area I do my personal art. It'd be nice to have two spaces lol.

I think we all miss the interactions and bonding you can get at work. At Drydock, there are people I can still bond with via messaging but it's less organic. I'd love to end up in a real games studio environment at some point. It feels like it may be easier to learn from others and approach others for help, as someone like me who is kinda shy.

Do you have any suggestions on how we can better utilize Twitter to both increase our network and learn/refine our craft and how we present ourselves?

Twitter helped me a ton with navigating art in the game dev world, I met a lot of cool people and shared a lot of work.

Everyone has a lot of opinions about Twitter, but I think it's been super helpful for me, more so than Instagram or anything else. Showing my art, showing my process a tad bit - the game dev/art community is pretty wholesome and encouraging and will boost you up when you're feeling low about a piece or just share it no matter how you feel. And it's great for finding other artists you aspire to be like and know that they're a real person!

I think presenting yourself as being laid back is pretty helpful. Jobs will look at it though, so, keep that in mind! Sharing art, boosting others, that's how I've found success in Twitter networking and relationships.

OH! And always have pinned art at the top of your Twitter. ALWAYS. That's how I figure out who I want to follow if I don't know someone. If it takes more than 10-15 seconds to find your art (like your portfolio), then I'll generally give up.

We are almost out of time and I have asked a lot of questions already, but... how did you know this was the right role and company for you?

That's a good question. I honestly had no idea. I had no idea what to expect, I think when you're new to game dev, you're a lot more open to opportunities and experiences. I knew I could fulfill the requests on their job application page, but outside of that, I had no idea what to expect. I was just very excited to have an opportunity to grow, even if it meant having to learn a whole new 3D program! I'm more than pleasantly surprised at how fun it's been to be at Drydock, and I can only thank the team for having a great culture, spearheaded by Amanda Schofield and Alex Holkner, always trying to keep a great attitude and environment for all of us to work in.

Sounds like a great team. And if you're a 3D Artist, QA Tester, or VFX Artist, you can work with Kate too! I mean, just look at this team!

Yes, come work with us!! Looking at you, VFX people, I don't know where you're hiding, but we need you to make pretty magical things!!

Thank you so much Kate! We had a blast!

Follow Kate on Twitter and check out her portfolio at https://kblackshear.com