Accepting the Challenge of a Character Artist with Eric Valdes- Episode 143
Cuban born, Eric Valdes is a Sr. Character Artist working at Sony Santa Monica studio on the God of War team as of this recording. A former break dance turned artist has been making true to life character models professionally for over 11 years while also teaching students at the Gnomon school.
Hear how a love interest’s challenge to become a better man, and pursue his dream lead to an amazing career in character art in the game industry. Find out just how good of a break dancer he was, and how amazing of a character artist he is and the life he lived transitioning from the former to the latter. Get some great tips on discipline and personal development and orient yourself with achieving success after hearing the tips in this episode.
Character artist or bust
Not everyone finds their calling in life, but some people are lucky enough that their calling finds them, which was the case for this week’s guest Eric Valdes “with an s”. Halfway to his goal of becoming a professional break dancer, he realizes that his girlfriend was not interested in being married to a break dancer and impressed upon him the “need” to go to Art School and get his degree. At the time there wasn’t plan to become a character artist as Eric ventured into art school but after a series of introduction classes and trying out concept art and animation first, he finally realized a love for creating characters. After hearing this Larry asked “Well can we interview your wife”. Credit to the now Mrs. Valdes for her tough love and motivation.
Students wasting their time in school
Eric pulled no punches in his response when asked about kids working out in art school programs. Taking a moment to reflect on his own experience in art school he called out students trading their study time for game time. “It is expensive man, do not waste your time. It happened when I was at the Art Institute, there was a gaming room and a lab room right next to the game room. There would probably be six of us in the lab, and there would be 30 people playing games or whatever right? At some point you have to make a decision, at least for me it’s a lifestyle right? It’s a career choice. It’s not just a hobby or something I do on the side. Every person that was in the lab took it as a lifestyle, some of them worked in the industry and then they got out of it, some of them are still working in the industry. Personally, I don’t know any if any of the students in the gamer room are working in the industry. It’s sad bro. It’s an expensive school and you come here to play games? Come on”. Strong words but definitely hitting a sore spot in regards to the student work life balance at a lot of the AI campuses.
Working at Whole Foods to free up time to work on his portfolio
“My first character was this character Zed for the first Borderlands.” Eric explains he learned a lot working on characters professionally early in his career but due to a relationship breakdown he decided to go full time at Whole Foods instead of keep working at his first studio job. After listening to Bobby Chiu (of Schoolism fame) explain his need to leave a studio that was starving him of his creative energies, and how it was affecting his life so negatively, Eric realized it was time to make a similar move himself. Keeping a job at Whole Foods allowed him more time and creative freedom to explore his art and improve his techniques while preparing to make a triumphant return to game development soon, with the help of a friend.
Get by with a little help from my friend
Eric found his way into contact with Manny (of CGMA fame) who he thanks for looking at his portfolio early on and saying it had “potential”. This moment also lead to a few new contacts and a friendship that helped Eric get started. “He was so **** honest with me and like the work that I needed and everything that I had to do and what I needed to fix, **** incredible guy early on in my career, he hooked me up with so much knowledge and people I could meet and would create master classes with so much knowledge I came out of there like… I KNOW KUNG FU”.
The strength of networking really shows here on this segment of the podcast. Not only was he introduced to a new mentor and new colleagues but he found another new mentor that helped him push his art further by asking Eric to focus more on Color as well as sculpting. And this continued on and on as he went studio to studio as explained in the podcast. This attitude of being a sponge and learning everything he could from those around him became way of life.
What to do when Adobe steals your art
Finding out your name and signature gets cropped out of your personal art and makes its way onto the front page of Adobe is both a compliment and heartbreaking simultaneously. For your work is now on display in front of millions of fellow artists and people coming to Adobe to look at the power of their latest software, and there’s your Deadpool fanart render welcoming all the new visitors. Turns out, the work was so good they thought it was movie production art and publicly available, Adobe had “no idea” it was actually fan concept art that was used without permission and resized to fit the page just small enough that the signature was not needed anymore… But seriously they were good sports about the whole thing, it ended up being a small mix up but through the proper channels, Eric was able to get restitution for his work. “I wasn’t bitter or anything like that, all I asked for was credit”.
When students come for your job!
While teaching at Gnomon one of Eric’s female students had a significant head start compared to the class in regards to knowing a new software and workflow that she showed to Eric. So impressed by what he saw, he turned over the class for the day to allow her to go over her process and workflow and explain what she had learned so that everyone in the room could see and learn. Then he mentioned “That day I went home and worked till like 5 am” as a reference to mean he was NOT about to let the students surpass him. That day was great for the student, but also great for Eric as it served as a reminder that he needed to stay sharp to keep outpacing the generation of artists on the way up and keep his own skills up to date.
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