Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sabbatical Postmortem!

It's Christmas Eve and  today is the last day of my sabbatical!  It's been about a year now, and this path to improvement has certainly had its ups and downs.  I'd like to take this opportunity to go over the last year and provide a recap of my experiences.

According to my Introduction Post I wanted to do hand painting and sculpting on a daily basis for the entire year.  Needless to say this didn't happen, but how could I have predicted the crazy winding path I was on for the whole year?

I'm not in the mood to order these events in particular, so I will split them up into a few major categories.

The Good
  • I replaced my entire portfolio with new content.  Before I started my break, I had four pieces which were at that point starting to become rather outdated; and, even at the time, were far below my personal standards.  Here are a few shots of the old crap that has been washed out: 

  • I kept up and learned some more MEL script.  This was a pretty minor aspect of my break, maybe one day out of each month was relating to MEL script just to tweak my work flow in Maya and expand upon ideas.
  • I got a pretty solid grasp on the booming PBR work flow.  I tried my hand at both spec/gloss and metal/rough work flows and I personally prefer the metalness work flow more.  My first project last December was actually an attempt at PBR and while I thought it came out okay at the time, looking back it was pretty bad:

Later on I did another project which explored the metalness/roughness approach to PBR which came out much nicer compared to the caster.  A small shot of that below:

  • It wasn't long after this project that I started getting heavy into Substance Painter which is now my #1 texturing application for PBR textures.  I used it exclusively for my basement project save for a few labels which I needed to pre-position using Photoshop.
  • I did some of the hard surface challenges on Polycount and improved my hard surface modeling a bit.  I was already pretty proficient but focusing on complex shapes helped me understand edge flow and mesh preparation more.
  • I learned some basics of Unreal Editor 4 from the basement project.  I got some help from my friend Blake Bjerke who is a UE4 wizard!
  • I learned a new retopologizing technique involving Transfer Maps in Maya from one of the members who frequents the Polycount Google+ Hangouts.  I don't remember who, so I can't give any props. :/
  • Developed a much faster PBR art pipeline involving Substance Painter.
  • My buddy Christian Gallego showed me how to more quickly bake out color ID maps from Zbrush.  I had been using GUV tiles which is incredibly slow...
  • Through the various projects I had to make the hard decision of scrapping, I learned quite a bit about project management, scope, and how to manage my expectations when it comes to working as part of a team; and how to cut my losses when working with people who aren't pulling their own weight.
  • I spent a majority of time in a small art-related Google+ Hangout with various artists working to improve.  Much like the Polycount Hangouts, I was always working right in front of people who could provide constructive feedback to help me grow.  This was especially evident with my basement project, where I was given quite a bit of feedback at a point where I was satisfied and ready to call it done.

Before Critique

After Critique

  • I'm actually moving to Austin in a month, and my time in the G+ Hangouts benefited me twofold: on top of the feedback and motivational environment, I had bridged a gap between artists here in Phoenix and those in Austin.  It had been a nice networking experience and I'll already have some friends and hopefully a small reputation by the time I get there.
  • I ditched Facebook for Twitter.  Trading one social media for another hardly seems like a good thing, but Twitter is so much more specific to my interests compared to the Facebook feed that is almost entirely nonsense and, from what I've seen in retrospect, is overall just a huge distraction and waste of time.

The Bad
  • Netflix.  It was nice for some background noise but depending on what I was watching, I found myself stopping work completely to look over and watch the show.  I ended up switching to Let's Play videos on YouTube which are much less engaging (at least for me).
  • I fell out of hand painting shortly after my tavern project which was back in March.  Some of my work seemed to take longer than I expected, and I began to feel perpetually behind and felt that if I didn't focus entirely on the project at hand, I wouldn't finish by my deadline; so, I dropped the smaller studies that would take up a few hours of my day and focused them on completing my active projects.

    This ended up coming back around to bite me at the end of my break, where after the basement project in November I wanted to finish out with a hand-painted asset, like an exterior building or something.  Unfortunately, having not practiced hand painting for over six months, I quickly realized that anything I'd do would probably not be up to my standards or compete with the other stuff already in my portfolio.  Maybe after a few months of practice, but certainly not now.
  • A few projects I was on were team projects.  Unfortunately my partners were not able to follow through with their promises, nor did they come forward and tell me this.  This led to some projects dragging on for weeks or even months with little progress on their end while I was preoccupied with knocking out everything on my end.  Originally I had a Skyrim mod planned, and after spending a little under two months working on all the art assets, my partner apparently hadn't been working on anything at all.

    I probably could have checked in more, but generally I expected him to be responsible as he usually is and be self-sufficient.  I couldn't afford the time to learn the Creation Kit so I had to scrap the entire project.  As for using my assets anyway for my portfolio, I decided against it because by the end of my break I expected my quality bar to be much higher and would get cut from my portfolio anyway.

The Ugly

The only ugly part of this break I can think of is the time that was wasted inadvertently being distracted by Netflix, but mostly the Skyrim mod.  That project lasted a whopping 1/6 of my break was wasted because my teammate at the time failed me.

Final Thoughts

With all this retrospect, I am much more aware of how my time is spent and exactly what distracts me from work.

I probably could have done more, but there's no sense pining over it now.

I finished out strong with a nice environment and entirely new portfolio pieces.

This was a much needed break for me to improve my skills.  I got hired into a small startup when I was still in college that was pretty much a mobile outsourcing studio so my time there wasn't challenging my skills at all.  I decided it wasn't a good place for me to be right out of school so I left and started this sabbatical.  Overall I'm super confident in my abilities now and am really looking forward to the opportunities that I will find in Austin!

Merry Christmas!

View my previous completed projects here

1 comment:

  1. Great recap man! I'm glad to know somebody who could take a full year fr self improvement and have tangible results. Good luck in Austin, I'm sure things will be great for you there because you will make it happen!