This is Frosted Side’s First interview with our very own Albert Carranza. Albert is currently the Principal artist at Hidden Variable Studios who is working on the recently announced Skullgirls Mobile Game. Previous projects have included League of Legends, Dungeons & Dragons, Thor, Bag it, a tiny role on Threes, and several illegitimate gameplay prototypes.
Frosted: So what made you choose art?
AC: Art was an escape. I was bullied a lot at school growing up. So I didn’t have many friends. I turned to drawing to pass the time. The bullying and feeling like a freak started to fade as my drawings improved and kids started to take notice. It gave me a sense of value and self esteem that I didn’t quite have before. Then I started reading comics and it hit me, I could make a living doing this. My parents were supportive. I remember them taking me to go see Todd McFarlane talk when I was 12. That sealed the deal and I was in. They even got me a copy of Adobe Photoshop 4 and Illustrator back in 1996 I think.
Frosted: How did you get into the industry?
AC: I went to Art Center College of Design after high school. Art Center is one of the best in the country. It kicked my ass but also made me arrogant which I have corrected over the years. I went in wanting to be a concept artist. There really wasn’t any formal training for that yet back into 1998 so I graduated with a degree in illustration and began my own t shirt line and doing freelance.
Frosted: What were the struggles you faced along the way?
AC: The T-shirt line did not go as well as I had hoped. They say it takes about five years for a freelance artist to get established. They’re not kidding. Let’s just say it was good thing I was still living at home. I would get good jobs now and then like various projects from Hasbro, illustrations for magazines, or art for Motion graphic houses, etc. I even did packaging design for candles. The steady work I would get was not the kind of stuff I want to be doing with the rest my life. So I stopped altogether. I ended up getting a part-time job at a motorcycle dealer just so I can have some income coming in. I knew my drawing skill weren’t strong enough yet, so I thought I would become a 3D artist since I am a somewhat technical guy and still found the experience creative. Luckily I have a friend (Mayan Escalante) that worked at EA. He volunteered his time to help me learn 3D modeling for whom I will be forever grateful. I filled in the knowledge gaps by taking an intro to Maya class at Gnomon.
Frosted: What was your first Big Break? What did you do to help make that happen?
AC: While working out the motorcycle dealership It became very clear what I did and did not want to do with the rest of my life. I loved motorcycles but I love drawing more. I knew that only I can make that change in my life. I became motivated in a way I have never been before in my life. That job lit a fire in my belly. After working at the motorcycle dealership for a year-and-a-half while taking the Maya class at Gnomon, I decided it was time to quit, put my head down, and just build my portfolio. Fast forward 4 months, it’s December of 2006. I’m working on my portfolio at a cafe in Alhambra called Cha. This guy sees me working on my laptop and Wacom tablet. He comes up to me and introduces himself. He is a realtor and tells me that his friend is starting a game studio and that he’s looking for people. I was excited because it was my shot to finally break in. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t want to work for some dingy shop Creating crappy flash games. I wanted to work for a real Studio like EA, Insomniac, or Sony. Anyway, I got his friend’s phone number, some guy named Brandon Beck, and scheduled an interview. I went in for the interview and was ready to take whatever they offered me if they were to offer me anything. The Art Director Hokyo Lim and Creative Director Jeff Buchanan liked me enough and On January 7th 2007, I was hired on as the third member of the art team at Riot Games. I later found out that I was confused with another candidate from Insomniac. A lot of dumb luck. You know what they say “Opportunity= Luck+ Preparation.“
Frosted: How did the realities of the industry differ from your preconceptions?
AC: Working in games can be fun but its serious business and It’s a lot of work. You may have to work harder and later through no fault of your own. I remember at one point during the weekend while working 12+ hour days on League of Legends, our art director decided that the current textures and layout of the 3D art assets weren’t to his liking for the Summoners Rift Map which was our only map at the time. We went rogue and redid the whole map by Monday morning. It looked great! It takes time to take everything in and come to these kind of conclusions. There is just no planning for that.
There’s also a lot of compromise. It’s a delicate balance of delivering on time while making sure your deliverables are at a shippable level. The game also has to make sense to a first time user while also being fun using these complex game play systems. There are several forces at odds with one another. You just need to pick your battles and focus on issues that will have the greatest impact overall.
Frosted: If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self to prepare them for the impending Art-Pocalypse or Art-Topia that will be their career?
AC: Don’t be a generalist. Find what you’re passionate the most about and focus on being excellent. Otherwise you’ll always be playing catch-up with everyone else. Find people who are better than you and learn from them. Also if I could talk to my 6 year old self I would tell him to learn Vis Com sketching so he can be a badass at my age.
Frosted: Do you have any advice to give aspiring Young Artists who want to get into this industry?
AC: If you want to get in and make it in this business you need to be social, humble, confident, and hungry. Maybe talented too, although…. some do slip in through the cracks.
Frosted: Where can we see more of your artwork?
AC: You can find me here:
albertcarranza.com or albertdraws.com
Frosted: Thanks so much for your time.