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Fair Game: Checking in with G.I.R.L. Scholarship Winner, Esther Wu

Interviews By Lisa Jonte on November 01, 2013

For six years, SOE has held its Gamers In Real Life (G.I.R.L) scholarship competition to encourage women to pursue careers in the video game industry in the areas of development and design. Luckily, I got a chance to ask some questions of 2013’s winner, the delightful: Esther Wu

First, let me say, congratulations on winning! Okay, let’s start with a few basic questions, then we can move on to follow-ups after that.  I know college is probably eating your brain right now, so nothing too stressful or time-consuming.

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LJ: After you won, whom did you tell first?

EW: I remember going up to the 5th floor balcony of my dorm and calling my parents and screaming “I WON!” really loudly.

LJ: How did your family react to your win? (Please tell me you got a party.)

EW: If I recall the phone call correctly, my mom misheard me the first time, and then didn’t believe me when she heard me the second time. No party, but I know they were extremely happy for me.

LJ: I know the scholarship money will come in handy, but what about the SOE internship? How was your experience working on PlanetSide 2? Was working on an actual game different than you imagined?

EW: The SOE internship helped a lot because it placed me in a professional working environment. It wasn’t the same as freelancing and sending off pictures to an undisclosed destination. I like that there was a great community of artists there and that any help or advice you wanted was a doorstep away. Working on Planetside 2 was also really interesting and a little different from what I imagined. I learned more technical skills especially involving Maya and the use of 3D.

LJ: I'm really impressed that you've got Maya skills. (I tried learning just the basics once. It took about five minutes to realize that I would never be a 3D artist.) How steep did you find the 3D rendering learning curve? Was it an uphill struggle, or did you get an "a-ha" moment and take off from there?

EW: I knew how to use Maya before my internship started – just barely, but I knew how to model something basic and half of the UI – so I did have somewhat of a head start. During the internship, I had a wonderful mentor who helped me along the way. I stumbled for about a week the first time using Maya for a concept, but by the second week, I had gotten the hang of it.

LJ: As a kid, I changed my career goals a lot. What about you? Has the game industry always been your preferred destination, or did you have other ideas when you were younger?

EW: I’ve always focused on concept art, though I didn’t even know it was called ‘concept art’ when I was young. I’ve always had a lot of Japanese art books (film and game) and I played a lot of video games in my youth. My PlayStation 1 and 2 collections were way over 60 games, and I loved finding all of the art that went into them. Things like hunting down the Devil May Cry 3 art book or any of Yoshitaka Amano’s drawings were what I loved to find. And that habit hasn’t really died—I still try to find the art books of the games I play, like the art of Uncharted 2 or Infamous 2. Since I primarily owned PlayStations, I think it’s interesting that I was able to work for a division of Sony.

LJ: Your artwork is gorgeous. How do you begin? Are you the straight into the Cintiq sort, or do you draw with anything, on anything that isn’t nailed down? (Sketchbooks, restaurant placements, unsuspecting friends…)

EW: I always drew a lot on paper, but I’m not particularly a terrific draftsman. Being in Brooklyn, I always took weekend trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by myself and studied the Greco-Roman and French sculptures. To this day, it’s always been my favorite place to draw. The beginnings of my digital paintings however, started in 2005 when I convinced my dad to buy me an Intuos3 and a copy of Photoshop CS2. Although I have upgraded my Photoshop, I still work on that Intuos.

LJ: Considering the rapid changes in graphics over just a few short decades, how do you see art changing the industry over the next several years?

EW: I think we’ll see more 3D use in concept art, even if it’s not meant for in-game use, because it’s faster and easier to learn. I believe as AAA titles are becoming more and more expensive for something less expansive (i.e. a single-player mode), MMOs and indie games will be on the rise. However, as many console games aren’t breaking the AAA line, I think the realistic and high sci-fi style will also transfer itself into indie games because of artists that need work. Good examples are Warframe and Hawken. Warframe is visually built on its predecessor, the somewhat obscure console shooter, Dark Sector (2007). Warframe looks like a next-gen game, even though it’s considered indie. Hawken is another prime example as well. It features fantastic mech concepts done by Khang Le and is modeled beautifully, and yet, it is also considered indie. Veteran artists can also make the transition to indie. Another example is Strike Vector, which is visually stunning, looks like a console game, and yet is indie. I think we’ll see a lot of high-end art normally found in the top chain of entertainment design to be in the other, more independent side as well.

LJ: Look further into the future, but your own this time. What does that crystal ball reveal? Create your own game? Start your own company? World domination?

EW: I want to work on a AAA game, but who knows what the future will throw at me.

Good luck in your career, Esther, I’ve no doubt you’ll go far!

Lisa Jonte / Mother, writer, artist, editor. One time (print and web) comics creator, and former editor of the fem-centric GirlAMatic.com; now a secretive and hermit-like prose writer, (and not so secretive nor hermit-like blogger.) A gamer since way back, (no, seriously, waaaay back) her collection of gaming paraphernalia is older than most game store clerks.

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