We sat down with Glenn De Leon, One of the World’s Top-Selling Video Game 3D Artists, to discuss the state of the 3d art industry in gaming and where the industry is headed now with a new generation of consoles and graphic engines hitting the market.
Describe what you do in 256 characters
I’m a 3D Lead artist working for the game industry. My job is to guide and mentor teams of artists. Together, we are responsible for bringing to life the artistic vision and direction of the designs created for games that will be played by millions of users around the world.
How did you get involved in this industry?
Since my early days, I was always fascinated by technology and, more specifically, video games. Growing up in Mexico, I used to spend my time playing games with my brother and my uncle, who would bring us the newest games every now and then.
While growing up, that love and passion for gaming turned more serious when it was time for me to choose a career and it was pretty clear that nothing else would be as fulfilling as working in a creative industry. When I discovered there was a college program that focused on digital art, not very far from my hometown, I knew exactly what I needed to do, packed my things and went to chase my dreams.
Although the industry is still pretty underdeveloped here in my home of Mexico, even today, I got the chance to take my first steps in college, learning the basics and fundamentals of the trade, enough to help me land a job at a local outsourcing company just after graduating! I went from playing games as a kid in my childhood to having the chance to collaborate in games and IPs and games that are loved across the globe like Star Wars: The Old Republic, where I participated as a character artista. I was able to overcome the challenges and use the skills I previously developed, all the design knowledge. All those hours mastering zbrush and 3ds max and even knowing how to work in a team all helped me in the goal of bringing a new design to life in a way that could fit a very specific universe like the one from Star Wars.
What inspires you to create your art?
The biggest inspiration would always be that art and gaming is a very open and affordable way to introduce anyone to it. Just seeing some of the games I contributed with my work, like The Sims: Freeplay, being played and enjoyed by so many people always revitalized my inner fire and my desire to keep pushing the boundaries of what can be done through gaming.
How is this going to benefit people/society?
Games are an incredible way to connect with other people. You just need to look at some of the multiplayer games, how many people have made friends and meaningful connections through them, especially during the pandemic. We may have needed to stay apart from each other, physically, but we could still feel close and connect and be creative in groups, all thanks to having games as an option.
What’s innovative about your industry?
Games have been pushing the boundaries of how we interact with technology and media. Right now, we have virtual reality experiences that provide a different approach to this, putting you inside the game so you can directly affect the world and feel like your actions have an actual impact.
On the other hand, games have been evolving so fast to the point they are not just time killers anymore. You can have a fully developed experience that’s comparable to watching a movie or reading a book, and some of those experiences you can find in games are only able to exist in that particular format. I remember working on this game for the Friday the 13th franchise that would put you in the shoes of the people trying to escape from Jason. Just imagine how different it is to watch a movie as an external audience member, to YOU being the one living that experience.
How, in your opinion, has your industry changed in the past 5 years?
What comes to mind is the technological evolution we’ve seen from the last generation to the current one. With the new ps5 and xbox, we just entered once again a new generation of games, and with it a lot of the processes and workflows we used to follow to create them are getting updated and improved. A lot of things are possible that weren’t before. We are now able to create experiences that are getting closer to reality, which in turn, help the games feel more and more immersive.
It takes as little as going back to what was considered a blockbuster title 5 years ago, and comparing it to now, to see how things have changed drastically and recently with the introduction of unreal engine 5 (one of the main tools to develop these games). The projects and quality that it will allow us to create is beyond anything we have seen. So jump in early while you can! It could definitely be an advantage to have knowledge of a new tool that’s here to stay for this current generation.
What has COVID done to your company/industry? Has it been affected? Does your solution assist with the pandemic?
It has been challenging because games are made through team effort and having to be apart from each other comes with its own issues. Fortunately, we have a lot of tools that have been able to fill the gaps of working on site, that help with organizing and communicating with other team members. The good thing about working in games is that as long as you have your computer with you, you should be able to keep creating. In my particular case, I’m currently working with teams entirely online. I still provide guidance, and I’m able to mentor my team, making sure everybody is on the same page and we are able to maintain the artistic direction of the project.
If someone needs a review, it’s easy to just jump into a call and discuss anything that needs to be solved through there. So, in essence, even if we are apart, I’ve found ways to still have a great working experience with everybody.
Describe the future of your industry. What does the future hold? What is society going to look like?
Games are getting bigger and better every year! But it’s also important to mention that they are being looked at as a platform to have an impact in society—games with meaningful and powerful messages about the struggles in life that everybody can relate to. I think the goal should be to create games that look amazing, are fun to play, but also allow and push forward important things like diversity, as they can have a very important role in helping to break some of the societal and social conventions we currently have. It’s a slow process for sure, and we definitely are far from being there yet, but this could be in the future of video games.
What plans do you have coming up?
I’m currently working on some unannounced projects that I’m very excited about and can’t wait to be able to show everybody. But we will have to wait a little bit more for that. In the meantime, I just want to keep developing my artistic skills and help others grow theirs as a lead artist.
What would your advice be for people trying to get into your industry?
The most important thing is to remember this is a lifelong path and the pursuit of artistic mastery takes time. Don’t expect results overnight, be consistent, practice as much as you can. The learning never stops. Find a mentor, ask for feedback, and learn to take it constructively. Always have your portfolio ready to show. A lot of opportunities can get lost when something pops up and you are not ready to apply for them because you didn’t have your resume and portfolio ready. And don’t forget to enjoy the process and have fun creating art.
Glenn De Leon, 28, is one of the most in-demand lead 3D video game artists in the world, heading up creative teams that have developed bestselling AAA games, including Star Wars: The Old Republic, Borderlands 3, Friday the Thirteenth: The Game and The Sims series. His work acts as a gold standard and blueprint for teams of artists in Los Angeles and other American cities. Leon currently does this work from his home in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico.