Giant sci-fi guns, skull-faced toilets and talking axes with hipster beards are all in a day’s work for Jeff Parrott. Since second grade, Jeff knew he wanted to be a video game artist, and now he’s working his dream job at Telltale Games. In our featured Pinner Portrait, he talks about how he got started, his design process and where he looks for inspiration.
When did you know you wanted to be a video game artist?
I decided I wanted to draw and become a video game tester when I was in second grade. Growing up, I was always sketching and had a fascination with computers, so my parents eventually bought Pixar’s RenderMan for our Mac. I used it to render images of spheres and simple shapes.
How did you turn your passion for art and technology into full-time work?
After college, I was job hunting for a graphic design position, but there wasn’t much opportunity in the field. I took my father’s advice and went back to school for video game design. With the fundamentals of art already down and a strong work ethic, I was able to focus on the technicalities of 3D art. I freelanced for awhile after graduation, then a video game production company took a chance on me and I got my first full-time position.
Walk us through your design process.
I do loads of research—I take photos and search for images online and on Pinterest. Then I sketch or paint concepts, model and sculpt in 3D space and add texture. I finalize the presentation in Marmoset Toolbag or Unreal Engine. I keep a process blog on my website.
How do you use Pinterest?
Pinterest is a great place to find inspiration when I’m developing a project. There are tons of talented artists out there, but they’re hard to find, especially with places like CGHUB.com disappearing. When I started doing this over a decade ago, an online community barely existed. Now with Polycount.com, Twitter and Pinterest, it’s easier to find a community—worldwide.
You’ve worked on multiple titles, across various platforms like Xbox, Playstation, iOS and PC. What is the biggest challenge?
I like to include some degree of storytelling in my props or the environment. Some platforms have limitations you need to work around, but that makes me a more efficient artist and forces me to be technically creative. That’s actually one of my favorite things about working in such a technical field.
What are you working on now?
I’m part of the team at Telltale Games. It’s always been a dream of mine to work there—I grew up playing their games. Now I design and help develop new games with these talented people every day. It’s surreal.
Any advice for someone following in your 3D footsteps?
I’m a firm believer in improvement though iteration and practice. Your work quality, artistic eye and workflow will get faster and better over time. Look for new ways to learn. There are great tutorials online. Once you learn the basics, make characters, props, weapons and environments in a variety of different styles. This will help you figure out what you enjoy making. Then make that. A lot.
Also, find and become an active member of a game art community. Polycount.com is a good place to start. On Twitter, search #gameart and on Pinterest, search for low poly, sculpting and game art, and follow boards and people that inspire you.