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Jack Zhang interview
Jack Zhang is a 3D character artist and a 3D modeler. He has worked at both THQ and EA and is now the Lead Artist at Funcom. He has won multiple awards in his industry including: Flower Messenger – CGS choice award (Expose 5 excellence Expose) and Character Modeling 3 (Digital art masters 5). Jack sat down with us at Syn Studio for a short interview to let us know more about what he does, how he has gotten to where he is and what his future plans are.
The first question is: Jack, how did you get into being a 3D artist?
I was studying computer engineering at Concordia University. Chinese people only usually study 4 programs: engineering, law, medicine and commerce. I was young and decided I’d go for computer engineering because I thought computer stuff was cool. I eventually figured out that that was not my cup of tea. I was doing really bad in school. I registered and I didn’t go to class, I didn’t even write the exam. My GPA was below 1, I failed everything and eventually the school kicked me out.
My parents were in the US at the time and I couldn’t tell them that I had just been kicked out. I needed to be in school. My friend had seen me do Photoshop work and suggested that I try a school called Interdec college because they had a 3D program. To be honest I wasn’t interested in 3D I was just interested in making my parents happy. My friend tried to convince me by inviting me to his place to show what 3D work looked like, but I didn’t care, I just needed to be in school. So I went to Interdec college.
What I found cool about art was that it was so different from science. Science is absolute, black and white, on and off, zero and one, right or wrong. If you write a C++ program and it doesn’t compile then it doesn’t work; it doesn’t matter how perfect the other lines [of code] are. Make one mistake, it doesn’t run and there you go, you get a zero on your test. It was then I realized art was so amazing because you have a grey zone. You can be an artist and suck but you still are an artist. That’s how I hooked up with 3D. It was totally an accident. Then I realized that when I put effort into my 3D work, I saw the results right away. Right after I clicked on a button, I saw a box. I didn’t have to wait till the end of the semester for that one shot and potentially fail the exam. After that, I got into 3D right away. 3D just gave me confidence.
How did you get into games? Were you always a gamer?
How I got into games was also an accident. When I graduated, I sent my demo reel to EA and also a local studio. It took the local studio one day to process the whole thing and then they called me the day after. Basically the second day after I graduated, I got a job. It was a film and TV studio and for about 6 months I was working on a bunch of animated TV shows for kids.
When EA called, it was about six months later. It took EA six months to process the same reel. I thought to myself: “I don’t really care, I just want a job and EA is a big company”. I was looking for stability. So I switched. To me there was no difference between film and games, it was all 3D. I thought “I’m doing art, I’m doing characters, its all the same thing whether its game art or film art”. The understanding of the character was the same: you still have to understand the anatomy; you have to understand how to do everything that you want to do.
Before I went to EA I wasn’t a super gamer. What’s interesting is the day I had my interview they asked me the the cliché question “Do you think you’re a gamer?” and I just answered “No, I’m not a gamer”. I just wanted to make art; I wanted to make characters. They liked me at the time, so they were trying to guide my answers by saying “But you’ve played games before right?”. I was like “Yes. I’ve played games.” They were like “Ok! Alright so you are a gamer!”
HR probably needed that to hire you.(laughter)! Of all the companies that you’ve worked at, which is your favourite?
To me, a job is a job, and I’m more concerned about the team I work with than the company I work for. I had an amazing team at E.A. and also at THQ. Right now my team at Funcom is amazing . We have such synergy. It’s a small team and we also outsource to China. I’m the lead artist on “Age of Conan” and I run ten guys in Beijing and another roughly ten in Montreal. We have such good communication at Funcom that we just get shit done. It’s amazing!
So as a lead artist are you spending a lot of time actually doing art or are you managing other people?
I’m managing other people, it’s actually 100 percent management. I was at THQ and I was really happy but then I had a health condition. I was having a headache everyday around 4 o’clock. I had my first migraine last December or the December before that. I was 30 years old and I was like “Oh my god, maybe my career is over!”. I couldn’t stay at THQ, I couldn’t sit in front of a monitor for 8 hours anymore. Then Funcom approached me and offered me a managment position. I thought “oh that’s cool I dont really have to concentrate on the hard assets but I could still work on games”. During the interview I asked them if I still made art and they were like “Um, yeah…You still do make art”. Honestly I was hoping they would just say no because, with my condition, I couldn’t work like that anymore.
I was actually fixing some things at the beginning and human resources pulled me aside and said you need to stop making stuff. (laughter)
Now I’m mostly managing. I’m also helping another team, helping them launch the “Secret World” in June. I’ve been on the team for three months now, I’m just doing character stuff. Nobody bothers me, I have an entire list of characters to work on and it’s a nice vacation from management.
Thanks for joining us Jack for this little interview
It’s my pleasure.
And stay tuned because we’ll be posting our podcast with Jack on the Syn Studio site right here: http://synstudio.ca/episode-1-jack-zhang/.
And you can check out Jack’s portfolio on CG society here:
This interview is part of a series of exclusive Concept Art, Illustration, VFX, 3D and Comics Podcasts created by Syn Studio. If you enjoyed this podcast please share it with your friends. And please sign up below for our newsletter to keep informed about all of our great podcasts, interviews, tutorials, articles, videos and other material created for you: the artist.