The Gnomon Workshop

Interview with Waylon Brinck


by Travis Bourbeau

Waylon Brinck has been designing and creating video games since he was a young child. He began his professional career in 1998 when he co-founded Guild Software, an indie game development house, in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the intervening years he’s racked up game dev experience in multiple disciplines including art, design and engineering. He is currently a CG Supervisor at EA Los Angeles on the Medal of Honor franchise, and he teaches game development classes at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects. Most recently Waylon shipped "Medal of Honor: Airborne," one of the first titles released on the Unreal® Engine 3. Waylon Brinck

GW: What specifically is the role of a CG Supervisor?

WB: This role is very different for every production, and for every artist. On Medal of Honor, right now we're in full production, so my main job is senior technical artist - I create a lot of the surface shaders, work with the engineers on our rendering techniques, drive tools development, and help troubleshoot any memory or performance problems. But previously, when we were in pre-production, my main role was to develop artist workflows and teach them to the team.

GW: How did you end up in this position?

WB: I have a very broad background - I've known since I was 6 years old that I wanted to make video games for a living.  I started a small game development company with some friends in college, so I got exposure to literally every aspect of development - I focused on art and design, while working toward a degree in computer science. Ultimately it was that diverse experience, plus the "do-it-yourself" attitude you need in indie game development, that gave me the perfect background to be a CG Supervisor.

GW: You started out on an independent project called Quarantine, is this a good idea for students to show experience?

WB: When I interview artists right out of school, the main thing I look for (aside from good art, of course) is some real game experience. This can be an internship, a completed game mod, a flash game, or even just a level built in an engine like Unreal.  These days, students are competing against not just each other, but against outsourced work in other countries.  So it's critical to have a much broader view of production than just prop modeling. That said, Quarantine was way too ambitious of a project, so it never made it off the ground.  If you're going to pick a project like this, make sure it's something you can complete!

GW: Can you tell us about your current project?

WB: You can check out our web site here:  I can't say much about the game, or the marketing department will yell at me. But this is something that everyone on my team is extremely proud of, and I'm looking forward to being able to show more!

Waylon Brinck

GW: At work you use the Unreal Engine.... What separates Unreal from other engines like the Havok engine?

WB: An engine is ultimately a collection of the features that make up a game.  Some of the big engine components include Rendering, AI, Physics, Audio, UI, and Networking, though there are lots of smaller components, and of course the core systems that hold it all together. Lots of engines also have an editor component (like Unreal does), though this isn't a requirement - thousands of successful games have been created using software like Max or Maya, or even Notepad as an editor. There are lots of game engines that can compete with Unreal on a feature-by-feature basis, but there are three major things that make it a good fit for many teams: 1) The Unreal Editor tools are easy for content developers to use and learn, which means a new development team can ramp up quickly. 2) The engine has a very strong feature set right out of the box, and works reliably on PC, XBox 360, and PS3 - so engineers can focus on what makes your game great, not just on making it run. 3) Even though it was built around first-person shooters, Unreal can easily be extended to practically any type of game.

GW: The Unreal Development Kit is big news. What do you think its impact will be on the industry?

WB: I think this will be a huge boon for independent game development. With such powerful and accessible tools available to anyone with a little ambition, we should see some really creative games emerge. It's also a really good move for Epic - if more artists, designers and engineers learn Unreal, then inevitably, more game teams will begin to use Unreal.  That said, the UDK isn't a totally unique concept (there are plenty of other freely-accessible engines out there), so Epic will always have some competition to keep them on their toes. Waylon Brinck

GW: How Important is photography to the work you do? What lessons translate to your cg work?

WB: Photography helps me grow as an artist.  It gives me a different medium to experiment in – a lot of areas that I eventually bring to CG. I explore a lot of composition, lighting, and storytelling ideas, as well as postprocessing and compositing in Photoshop. Photography is also a tool I use very literally when researching a subject for CG.  As evey artist knows, the human eye takes a lot for granted.  If I want to recreate a real-world surface or phenomenon in a shader, I can rule out human error by photographing the subject from multiple angles and in different lighting situations.

GW: What is the difference between the Unreal Editor and The Engine?

WB: The Unreal Engine is what runs the game, what you get when you buy the final retail disk.  It's the AI, the renderer, the audio system, and the physics system, all the secondary systems, and the code that ties it all together. The editor, on the other hand, is the tool (or tools) a developer uses to create and assemble the game's content.  Usually the map editing tool is the main component, but there are also tools for editing mesh properties, creating physics objects, creating the UI, connecting animations together, editing particle systems, or modifying any other type of content you can imagine.

GW: What do you feel sells a well made environment or level in a game?

WB: You have to have the fundamentals of course - a strong consistent visual theme, good composition, good model and texture art, good shading, good lighting, and good postprocess.  (Maybe some flashy eye-catching elements as well). That's enough to make a good screenshot, but to really draw the player into the world, you need to make sure all aspects of the game are working together.  Color palette has an obvious impact on mood, so you better make sure that matches the action and the story.  But to me the most important thing (or at least, the most overlooked thing) is that the focal point of the composition is something that the player cares about from a gameplay standpoint.  Don't let the art fight the design - you know the players will focus on the bad guys they're shooting at, or the tricky path they're navigating down, so focus the visuals to support that!

GW: What are some of the qualities or skills you look for in a demo reel and more importantly how important is the interview process?

WB: When I look at a demo reel, I look for good art, pure and simple.  If you're a student don't lose sight of that.  If the art isn't good, it doesn't matter what other skills you have. That said, I have a few other tips for gathering your portfolio: 1) Focus your work on what you love.  You can't please everyone, so rather than having a watered-down portfolio, get really good in one area and focus your portfolio primarily on that (for instance – realistic environments, or cartoony characters, or super-detailed weapons and vehicles). Waylon Brinck 2) Show just a little versatility (maybe 6 solid environments, and a weapon or vehicle to show you can switch it up). 3) Show some in-game work.  It doesn't need to be every image, just enough to show that you know how to do it. 4) You'll be judged by your weakest piece.  It's better to show fewer better pieces, than to bulk up your portfolio with stuff that's not as strong. To me, the interview process tells me two things about a junior artist candidate.  I already know I like their art, so I need to find out: 1) Is this person's personality a good match for my team? 2) Are there any potential problems with the art or production? Does the candidate have a good sense for where they need to grow?  Did that one really awesome piece take 6 months to complete?

Check out Waylon Brinck tutorials