Scanning the Future with Quixel featuring Teddy Bergsman- Episode 121
Teddy Bergsman is both the Founder and CEO of Quixel, responsible for bringing to the world the Quixel Suite and Mega-scans. Teddy, since a very early age of 10 years old has been on a personal mission to erase discernibly between reality and computer generated graphics.
In our hour podcast with Teddy Bergsman, we touched on where he was inspired to start scanning the world, what its like always trying to develop the tools we’ll need tomorrow and the pains of rolling out new tools to developers already set in their ways. Lastly, we explore his life long journey to scan the world and spend some time getting to hear what’s new over at Quixel and what we can look forward to in using their tools.
Getting a VERY EARLY Start
“You can say I’m a computer graphics nerd, I’ve been doing it since around 10, mostly because my step mom was a graphics artist and worked in the games industry. She showed me a lot of the cool stuff back then, I got pretty much hooked and I’ve been trying to learn all about computer graphics ever since.”
Where most of us may remember parents doing everything in their power to keep us from playing games or worse telling us there’s no future in it, Teddy’s mom was a professional game developer herself! Can you even imagine? It’s clear her influence had an incredible impact on Teddy as he’s now grown a seed of an interest in developing computer graphics at a young age into a full fledged business offering tools and technology for making game development easier and more realistic simultaneously. Thanks Teddy’s mom!
“In my childhood, I did a lot of mods, that’s how I spent all my days creating my own games or modifying existing games, mostly half life / half life two. When I was 19 I joined a swedish studio called Starbreeze. They back then did a game called Riddik, and eventually I got to work on a few other titles. The Darkness, Syndicate, and some “Borne” game. I worked there for about 4.5 years and yea, then I wanted to start my own company.”
The business plan? Tools for Artists
“I was really into creating tools for artists, I did a lot of tools for myself and eventually I got to do a lot of tools for the artists at Starbreeze. I just saw this opportunity to bring some new ideas to the global market and that’s what I’ve been doing since. It’s just a ton of fun and I don’t see myself doing anything different anytime soon.”
Quixel Suite came later down the line, but Teddy’s ability to code up software and tools for artist was far from humble beginnings. His personal tools projects were literally industry level and ahead of their time which was the only reason they weren’t “industry standard” upon release.
Trying to identify how exactly Quixel begin, we asked about when he got started officially.
“This is 2011, just the beginning of 2011. We started officially in 2010, me and a couple of colleagues started taking courses… Learn how to make your own business. It was actually quite helpful and it didn’t cost a thing. You got to learn a lot and meet some pretty good business owners.”
Pushing the Industry Forward with Tools
“When I started at Starbreeze, I was pretty young and naive. It was actually my first job ever. I had not done some freelance on my own, up until then. I was completely isolated, I only had my own pipeline. I always try to be as efficient as possible… So starting at Starbreeze I could kind of see that, the same workflows that have been around for 10 years were still you know basically the workflow. The same things that I saw my stepmother using 10 years back were still what the artists were using there, but creating high resolution things. That was a revelation to me.”
It’s incomprehensible to imagine in this modern era of game development, that artist tools haven’t evolved or updated in a major way in over 10 years. It almost seems like now you wont go 10 hours before finding out about new tools available for making better art, it’s interesting to remember how it was “back in the days” of just a few years ago…
“I started by developing these prototypes in my spare time and introducing them to my colleagues at Starbreeze. This was around 2007 / 2008. People initially I think we're quite shaken by that idea. From their perspective, here comes this 19 year old kid… (Telling them this is how you should do it) I can totally see this kind of point of view. This quite motivated me to show that it’s actually fully possible to reach the same level of quality or even higher by really trying to automate your work, by taking what you put into one single thing, but making it into presets so you can save that time for later, and just keep building on that. That was the foundation for these tools.”
The hard work coming up with and developing these tools may have been met with skepticism at first but it wasn’t long before the CEO of Starbreeze asked him to put on a display of how the tools work for everyone.
The Start of Quixel as a Company
“The hardest part was the mental preparation. Really feeling ready to take the leap. I think that process probably took me around two years. I really loved working at Starbreeze, and I could have seen myself working there another 10 years but at the same time there was this really big urge to try to present some of the ideas now exclusive to Starbreeze to the rest of the world. One key thing was my colleagues, they were super encouraging, I owe so much to my friends at Starbreeze.”
Wind at your back from the place you just left is always a good feeling as you’re heading towards your next career destination. In this case no bridges were burned or feelings hurt. Teddy leaves friends and coworkers in good standing to pursue his dream and he did it with full support of the job he left behind.
“There was this one guy Philip K, he works at Blizzard these days and he was actually the reason that I had the guts to leave Starbreeze and start my own thing. I was developing an early version of NDO back then in my spare time and he was the main contributor to NDO in terms of feedback. Because one day, after work he came by my desk and he saw me using this goofy looking normal mapping thing in Photoshop and said “Hey, what’s that?”
What’s that indeed! All it would take is that one question from Philip to give Teddy an opportunity to show off his latest piece of software and find his first major QA tester. The more Philip used it, the more feedback and ideas he returned to Teddy. Phil continued to push Teddy’s hoping he would release the tool but Teddy refused so Phil forced Teddy’s hand…
“Hey so you’re going to have to release that tool you made on Polycount, because I made a tutorial for it and released it.”
The quest to scan the world - Where it Started
“I started getting into scanning when I was around 16, I had spent 6 years at that point trying to learn about computer graphics and just having a lot of fun creating assets and I started to become super nerdy about photorealism. I really wanted to learn how to translate something from the real world into the computer and make it look like in the real world. So I started experimenting with a lot of different techniques for capturing 3d and textures and all of that jazz. I remember the first scanner that I built, and you can’t really call it a scanner because it was a bucket of water that I put some black water color into so you had some sort of contrasty liquid and then you lower things into it while filming with my crappy 320 x 240 webcam and you take that video feed and I would put it into Photoshop. This was my first experience with “programming” I would do a photoshop macro and take each frame and for each frame, you would get a slice of that thing that you lowered into the bucket. I would make it binary, just black and white and assign just a gray value depending on where in the sequence the frame was so you would get a height map, and from the heightmap you could derive geometry… That was the first revelation for me, that I can actually take something from the real world and put it into the computer, how cool this is super fun.”
What advice would you give to anyone going into the industry feeling out of place?
“I strongly feel the imposter syndrome. I always feel like I’m not enough and I’m not doing good enough stuff. I don’t think I’ve figured out the answer myself but at least what helps for me is… Try not to take everything too seriously, try to enjoy the work and the fact that you’re actually doing something you’re truly passionate about. Try not to worry about what people may think at the end of the day, obviously its important what people think but it shouldn’t be what worries you, it should be what drives you.”
And a quick tip on confidence before we ended the episode.
“In regards to building that confidence, just throwing yourself out there and showing everything you do whether you get the feedback good or not.”
Teddy’s episode was eye opening, especially when you get a hint of how much he achieved by his age. Teddy’s is a fun loving classy CEO that can still get his hands dirty in the code and tool development. With the track record he’s established for himself that now carries over into the legacy of the company Quixel, we are definitely looking forward to seeing whatever else he has up his sleeve.
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