Find out what it's like working as a 3D Artist for Minecraft developer, Mojang in the first part of this three-part series from AIE Alumni Brendan Sullivan.
From budding game artist to hotshot games developer on the other side of the continent, Brendan Sullivan has had an amazing journey in his career. Since graduating from AIE in 2016 with an Advanced Diploma of Professional Games Development, specialising in Game Art and Animation, Brendan has worked in multiple well-known studios such as S1T2 and Google, before landing his dream job working as a 3D Artist in Mojang Studios. We had the chance to speak with Brendan, who answered some questions we’d be itching to ask all the way on the other side of the globe in Stockholm, Sweden!
What do you do at Mojang? What has the team been up to?
There’s always a whole bunch of projects being worked on across Mojang! Minecraft Dungeons is the obvious big one right now, especially with all the new DLC packs releasing lately. My role isn’t specifically on Vanilla Minecraft or Dungeons, but more that of a mixed responsibility across multiple projects. Being an artist with coding/developer experience lets me be useful across a wide range of tasks – so I’m generally just thrown about where I’m needed most, whether it’s doing up some models and textures, developing shaders in UE4, or coding up new projects! I’m also one of the main people on an internal team responsible for helping to prototype new ideas and ways to expand the Minecraft franchise, but that’s all I can say about that!
You’re living the dream of many game artists around the globe! What was the application and interview process like?
I was mutual followers with the Studio art director on Twitter for a while before I even thought about working at Mojang! I was working a freelance contract with Google at this point, so when I saw him tweet about an open position for a Lead Artist role, I pinged him and asked about it. He encouraged me to apply and after doing a simple art test we had an interview. In the interview I learned the role was a bit more ‘managerial’ and less ‘actually producing art content’ so I felt it was probably best for me to pass on the position – which does sound like a pretty mental thing to just dip out on. To be honest though, I wasn’t really qualified for that kind of role and it wasn’t going to be something I’d enjoy doing, so it was the right decision.
During the interview they mentioned there would be a more typical 3D artist role opening later in the year and they’d let me know as soon as it came up – and it did indeed! I was given another art test to do: to model a character that would fit in Minecraft and create a simple animation for it. The second part of the test was to envision a potential new Minecraft game and pitch it in some way. This part of the test was somewhat confusing to me, I didn’t want to write down some paragraphs of text with a game idea cos that’s boring. I also suck at 2D concept drawing so that was out of the question too. So, being a completely insane person, I decided to fully program a working prototype of a hypothetical Minecraft RTS game in Unity, using the aforementioned model and animations (of which I made 2 of with 3 animations each), and a bunch of cobbled together code.
When it came to the follow-up interview, they were really impressed and surprised at what I had decided to do, so much so that the job role they were initially offering was disregarded and I was positioned towards a more general ‘developer’ artist role instead, which was pretty cool! I wasn’t that experienced with game programming at the time so it was exciting to be able to get into a position where I’d be able to further explore that side of things.
What was your first day at work like?
Mojang flew me over to visit for a couple days about a month before I did the big move, which was super cool. They showed me around the office and introduced me to some of the awesome team members (some of which I was already online-friends with). Getting to wander around Stockholm was an awesome experience. As far as how my first actual workday went once things got going for real – it was super relaxed. I could just get comfortable and get myself set up properly before anything crazy got going. A lot of the early work I was given wasn’t time-gated or relied on anyone else, so I was able to stretch my legs and slowly ease into things, all the while learning more about the company culture and ongoing projects. Everyone was super friendly and supportive and helped make me feel comfortable very quickly, always offering to lend a hand with both work and non-work-related stuff (e.g., getting my apartment settled, setting up stuff like a Swedish phone number etc.). Overall, a great experience!
What made you get into the games industry? Is 3D Art always something that you had wanted to do?
I was always into creating new worlds and stories from a young age. I did a lot of creative fantasy writing during high school and dabbled a lot in Photoshop concepting fantasy maps and the like. In-game level editors like Halo’s Forge mode and even Age of Empires’ scenario editor really captured my imagination, and I had a lot of fun bringing my ideas to life in video games I already loved playing. I suppose taking that passion and transitioning it into a real-world career was an obvious choice for me. Initially I wanted to be a level designer (or at least something in the 3D space), since I wasn’t that talented or interested in 2D drawing / illustration work. What I didn’t account for was the fact I wouldn’t really end up being just a 3D artist, but a jack of all trades in a lot of different roles. I’ve got a habit of wanting to single-handedly create every aspect of a project, so it was kind of inevitable that I would dip my toes in coding, audio creation, animation etc. Learning all these new skills has been a great journey of discovery for me though; like I despised programming to start with, but now I love it almost more than doing modelling or animation!
What was your AIE experience like?
I think I first discovered AIE through a career expo my high school took us to? We were wandering around booths and I was pretty instantly captured by the flashy ‘VIDEO GAME ART’ posters (or words to that effect!). Got the brochures and other info and was pretty much sold instantly to be honest. From what I was able to gather with some research AIE was basically the best bet when it came to breaking into the game industry in Australia and nailing down the core skills I’d need.
I had a bunch of great teachers over my 2-year course (shout out to Oliver Cook and Levi Rice!), that really helped break down honestly a really broad swathe of topics and content that would’ve been impossible to digest by myself. Solid introductions to modelling, UVing, rigging, animation, a wide variety of software suites and game engines... the list goes on. The syllabus was pretty well-thought out and involved plenty of opportunities to work in teams and also test our skills solo. I learned a lot just from those experiences alone and I think it had definitely prepared me for working in more of a collaborative studio environment.
What had been your biggest moment in your career so far?
Honestly just getting to chance to work overseas at such a huge studio on such a beloved franchise is the biggest “hell-yeah” moment for me! Personally though, the fact I was able to transition from my freelance, share-house-living life to a proper full-time studio position on an entirely different continent purely based of the merit of my own hard work and years of portfolio grinding is the biggest thing I’m proud of. I’m still a long way from being a veteran though, and there’s still a lot of stuff to come that I hope will surpass anything I’ve done up to this point!
Tune into Part Two next week
Want to hear more about Brendan’s experience working at Mojang and living in Sweden? Keep an eye next week for the second part of this interview!