Check out this interview with Omar Awediah!
Omar Awediah is the Character Art Lead at Sucker Punch Productions and a mentor at Vertex school. Before that he was a character art lead at Amazon game studios and Obsidian entertainment and Cloud imperium games.
Omar gives us a glimpse into many aspects of his life as an artist creating characters for a major studio. You get to hear all about Omar’s journey in art from being an intern all the way to a character art lead. He talks about how to be a better artist with critiques, and how to overcome a lot of the vulnerability that comes with the territory. ¬†
Have a listen to our chat taped live at the Yellow Jacket Social Club in Austin, TX and his home in Seattle.
Learn more about Vertex School: https://www.vertexschool.com/
Want to learn skills for creative tech jobs in games, film, XR and the Metaverse?
Apply for your spot in our upcoming Game Arts Program here: https://www.vertexschool.com/game-arts-program
FULL TRANSCRIPTION BELOW:

Bita:

Omar, thank you so much for being here with us on the Creative Metaverse Podcast. And we’re filming here in Austin, Texas at the Yellow Jacket Social Club, which is a super cool place. If you haven’t ever been there, come and check this place out next time you’re in Austin.

Omar:

Yeah, I’ll make sure to do that. I haven’t been in three years.

Bita:

Welcome. Welcome. So Omar, you’re so cool. And I just wanted to-

Omar:

Oh, wow! Thanks.

Bita:

… start off, just tell us a little bit about yourself and how your journey of how you got to be the character art lead at Sucker Punch.

Omar:

Sure. Well also, thanks for having me and thanks for taking the time out of your day to chat with me. So yeah, just to hop in about how I started out a little bit was, I’m from Chicago. And when I was graduating college, I had an illustration major and I was panicking about what I was going to do with that right after college. And I thought maybe graphic design, all these different types of things, but it didn’t really interest me as much as some of the other things that I was seeing. And I think I was at a library and I picked up one of the ballistic publishing books. And I don’t know if Gnomon at the time had a relationship with them. I was seeing all this amazing art in the back of the ballistic publishing book throughout the book, but at the back, I think it mentioned Gnomon.

Omar:

And I was like, “Man, I want to know how to do art this. How was this possible?” Because it looks totally different especially coming from illustration, it’s a little bit more traditional. And I didn’t know any 3D or ZBrush or anything that. And I saw some drawings from very popular concepts artists, like Kaitiaki and stuff like that. And it just inspired me. So I thought to myself I should really try to pursue that, because it just looks so cool. I wanted to know how to make it. So then I applied to Gnomon. They had a two-year program at the time. I don’t know what it is now, but yeah, I applied there, I got accepted, I just dropped everything and I flew to Los Angeles.

Omar:

Never been there before, so I moved there without really even visiting. Like never went on vacation or anything. And I spent two years there just learning 3D. Had amazing time. Met wonderful friends. Worked really hard with everybody and I’m glad that I went at the age that I went, which was after college. So I had a little bit more discipline than maybe I would’ve had if I was 18 and just jumping over there and still in that mode. But yeah, it was just such an amazing experience that afterwards I was able to kind of gather up a portfolio and I don’t know if I felt ready, like professionally ready, but the two years is up, so you got to do something and you got to get a job. So then I started applying at places and slowly moved into the professional world.

Bita:

Very, very cool. And I mean, just doing this kind of like if you will graduate school in a way, it wasn’t a tech technical graduate school or technically it wasn’t a graduate school, but were you worried? Like, “What if I don’t actually working in this medium?” I mean, tell me about that kind of-

Omar:

That’s such a good question. I don’t think I thought too much about it. I don’t know if I thought too in depth about getting worried about what if I don’t it? I think I was just so inspired at the time that I already knew I really liked art and I really liked illustration. So there was almost no question that I would it. I think once I got there, I found out what I like that they had to offer, which was modeling and texturing and that kind of stuff. As opposed to maybe the VFX stuff or maybe some of the more technical aspects, like coding or writing tools or doing any of that kind of stuff. I was not good in my scripting classes. But I picked up the software pretty quickly. And because I had an illustration background, I was able to take some of those principles and apply those traditional art principles to some of the more digital stuff. And it seemed like a really natural transition at the time.

Bita:

So that’s an interesting question too that I’ve had. Is like, how important is it for you to have that traditional art background versus just going into the 3D world for you?

Omar:

For me, it was essential. I needed that study and I needed to be with people and to take classes and do that stuff and be in that environment, because that’s kind of the way that I learn, but I don’t think that any route is there’s just one way to go. I think that there’s tons of people who are really, really talented and might not have a traditional art education, but kind of just it just clicks with them and they’re able to through YouTube videos or stuff like that become really amazing artists and can work at a professional level. But for me personally, I needed a little bit more of that structure. I think just go strictly going 3D without that traditional background and without proper instruction, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to connect some of the dots that I think that were essential.

Bita:

Yeah. And you’ve got an interesting story, because you got kind of lucky right after finishing your training and you got a job pretty quickly. And then from there, the trajectory just fell into place dominoes to a certain extent, but-

Omar:

Yeah, hard work and luck.

Bita:

Yeah, exactly. But you still had to really perfect your soft and hard skills, if you will. Like you didn’t come into it knowing how to do… I mean, you get trained in so many schools, so many technical schools of anything, whether you’re a plumber or you’re an attorney or whatever, but you still don’t know how to do the job. So what happened to you-

Omar:

No.

Bita:

… when you got your first job? How did you figure it out?

Omar:

Probably trial by error or trial by fire. I didn’t work in a professional environment before. Right?

Bita:

Yeah.

Omar:

So aside from just doing the art, which was not the easy part, but you can learn through time. It’s also learning how to deal with individuals and how to conduct yourself and how to check your ego and how to talk to people and how to understand hierarchy. And understanding politics, whether you play into them or you don’t play into them, but also just know that they’re a thing and you kind of have to be aware of that. That was all new to me.

Bita:

Yes.

Omar:

So I think each year I get slightly better.

Bita:

Yeah. I can imagine, like us all, we make so many mistakes along the way. So it’s a pretty intense thing to do as a young person to try and figure out the craft and the office politics of it all as well.

Omar:

Yeah. And you’re young and you kind of like run your mouth and then you’re developing as a person, or I was developing as a person while I was going through this. So kind of like knowing when to voice your artistic opinion and knowing when not to, and how far to push things. And what might be the best way to get someone to accept and implement your ideas might not just be the straightforward, “Hey, this is what we should do.” It might be a little bit of do someone a favor, and then you can start forming relationships with people. And then through those relationships, it allows you to get other ideas done, because maybe some people will jump on board to help you out.

Omar:

So yeah, it was definitely a lot of learning, and at the same time, learning how to do the professional stuff. Because I didn’t even jump in just doing characters. I came in, I had an internship with Blur doing Scene Assembly, which was compositing. And then from there, I went to 3D concept art, and then from there, I begged them to let me do characters. A lot of things going on at one time.

Bita:

Well, I love that story too, that you told me a while ago about how you really wanted to get into characters, but you had to go and kind of prove yourself that you might be able to do this and they finally decided to give you a chance.

Omar:

Yeah. I don’t think I was good enough right out of school to start doing professional characters, because they’re really hard to do and they require a lot of different disciplines. And I’m not saying the other disciplines aren’t extremely difficult, but just for me going into characters, it was tough. I knew that’s what I wanted to do, because that’s what I was most interested in. And I also had the most fun doing concepts that also related to characters, like the Helmets for Star Citizen and stuff like that. And I always thought that was fun and getting to see them modeled and made and put on characters was really exciting to me. So really I just begged the producer. I was like, “If there’s any character work, help me out.” And he said he’ll think about it. And I totally get his reservation. My portfolio wasn’t super banging at the time and stuff like that. But then he started to give me a few characters and things like that and they seemed to be okay at the time.

Bita:

All right. Do you cringe at them now or are you still proud of them?

Omar:

I don’t cringe at them now. I just know that it was part of my learning process. But I have removed a lot of them from my portfolio, if that’s what you’re saying, yeah.

Bita:

No, I mean, I really love your perspective on just evolution as an artist and a human being. I think that’s the absolute right way to look at it. It’s not like it’s good or bad, it’s just an evolution.

Omar:

Totally.

Bita:

I think that’s a really healthy perspective.

Omar:

I think years ago, I would’ve been like, “Oh my gosh, these were so bad.” And sometimes I think that. I’m like… So I guess, yeah, I do, but I try to appreciate where I was at the time that that was made. But I’ll tell you that the game that I was working on at the time redid all those characters. After many years, things get redone and all the time and your execution gets better and then you look back and you’re like, “Man, I could really redo this even through.” You know?

Bita:

Yeah. But that’s also part of the game, right? I mean, it’s like you work on a character up until the last minute and then everything changes sometimes.

Omar:

That’s very, very, very true.

Bita:

Yeah. I can’t imagine how many hours you put into one of these characters and then having it all change.

Omar:

Yeah. I think working again, they’re changing all the time. I actually don’t have too much of experience where I’ve made a character, where the team’s made characters that didn’t experience late game changes. If you’re developing a character later on in the production cycle, those tend to stick more because you spent the first part of the production cycle kind of learning what works and learning what doesn’t work so then you can implement those. So for example, when you’re working on a game, the first character you want to see is generally who’s our star? Who’s our hero? That character is going to be worked on all the way to the very end. It’s going to be hard to say in the first couple months when you make your character and just be like, “That’s it, that’s it forever.” You’re going to be revisiting and revisiting that character because through the process, you’re going to be getting new tech, you’re going to be learning new tricks, learning new things and constantly improving on it.

Bita:

Well, also, I guess you adopted, or you have to adopt this attitude of you have to expect the change and not let it ruffle your feathers too much.

Omar:

Oh, totally. Totally. Yeah. Especially in the beginning, you see change and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I got to do this. I just did it and I have to go back to the high-poly and do all this adjustment. That means I have to do all this work.” That was kind of demoralizing early on, but then you learn that that is the job. Right?

Bita:

Right.

Omar:

That is game development. There’s changes that are going to be made. So it doesn’t really benefit you too much to worry about those kinds of things, because you just learn to accept it. And then whoever you’re working for is also they’re paying for your time and they’re paying for the privilege to own the artwork that you’re creating. So anything that you could do to guide or to help and contribute to the greater vision, that’s the objective right there. So it’s like if the change is being made and it is for the better, and you know it is, and it’s definitely worth it to do. And also after so many… Oh, go ahead.

Bita:

No, no, no. I was going to say, but the hard part is when you may not agree with the change, and how do you overcome your ego in that moment to be like, “You know what? At the end of the day, it’s not my choice.”

Omar:

Right. That’s tough because everybody has their opinions, especially when it comes to an art form that’s subjective. There’s definitely objective things in games. Like, does this look like a toaster? Yes or no. But then there’s the subjective things where it’s like, “I think our main character should be male.” Or, “I think our main character should be female. I think she should have long hair. I think she should have short hair.” And all these kinds of things, “I think that he should have a gun,” or whatever.

Omar:

And the best thing you try to do is really try to listen to what other people are saying and why they might want to go a certain way with something and then also know when to speak up. Because I feel when I work for a company, oftentimes I’m encouraged to share my opinions. Whether they take them or not, I still want to be able to voice my opinion. Now, I also try to not be too annoying about it. If I have an opinion that I disagree with the art director, I will let the art director know. Like, “Hey, I don’t think this is the right decision.” But I will maybe say it once or twice, but I won’t consistently bring it up.

Bita:

How?

Omar:

How. Of course I’m not perfect. Right?

Bita:

Right, right.

Omar:

Sometimes that I’ll do this stuff, I try to check myself, but we’re super imperfect beings. So I consciously make an effort to try and check that ego and also understand what other people are thinking and try to do that. Don’t always succeed, but it’s definitely something that’s actively being worked on.

Bita:

Yes. No, that’s awesome. I think anybody who’s being honest will say the same thing. I mean, not everybody’s actually working on it, but everybody does struggle with it. So I do really appreciate hearing that. And then also makes me think why… For some people it’s really hard to take the opinion of others. They just want to create their own art the way they want to create it and do their thing, and they don’t want to hear too many comments from other people. And somebody with your skillset and your talent, you could clearly go and do your own thing. So why work for a studio? Why not just off and do your own thing? Or do another type of job?

Omar:

You said a couple things in that. One, we were just talking about listening to other people. And I could just hit on that real quick, which is like, I love to get critiques from other people. And I think at sometimes, you can be sensitive about it. Sometimes, you put a lot into it. Right?

Bita:

Right.

Omar:

And there’s some vulnerability to showing your art. It’s a really vulnerable job because you’re like, “Is this good? Do you this? I need your validation.” And I need the validation from other people. So it’s strange in that way. And you’re valued by essentially the artwork that you can do. So when people critique it, at first, it can kind of be scary and it can kind of be hard, but eventually, it really just starts to click. You’re going to get really good when you start getting opinions on your work. So what I love to do is whatever group that I’m in, if I’m working for a company and we have a team of character artists and stuff like that, critiquing each other’s work is really healthy.

Omar:

And also knowing how to critique is also a skill in of itself. You can’t be like, “This looks shitty.” You have to say something, be like, “Here’s the problem with this, here’s why it looks this. And here might be a potential solution.” And also be comfortable saying you don’t know. Be like, “Something feels off. I don’t know what it is. Somebody in this group may know what I’m feeling and can communicate it to you better.” But everybody is working together to make the best package, to make the larger goal, which is the game to make that better. Right?

Bita:

Yeah.

Omar:

So like, you have to get comfortable with critiques and you have to be honest with critiques. And it goes both ways. Some people are too shy to give critiques and some people are too sensitive to receive them. And those are things that you got to both balance and then push yourselves and stuff like that. If you think something doesn’t look right, try and be comfortable. And then also if you’re in a team and that’s just part of the habit critiquing and giving them advice, it doesn’t feel like anything after a while. It just feels like you look forward to it. You’re like, “I want to get this critique because I just want to push myself.” And then the whole team pushes themselves and then they all rise. So working with the team that gives good critiques and receives good critique is totally essential. And you got to go through everything else by the wayside, your emotion and all that kind of stuff, because you want to get the best character out there. The second part of your question was-

Bita:

Well, I think you kind of answered it. I mean, you’re clearly somebody who loves working with the team and you love that collaborative environment. And like you said, you’re in the right place for you because you’re of not that person who’s like, “I want to be on my own and to hell with everybody else.” You really enjoy that camaraderie. And I think so many people do. And I think that’s why they’re drawn to these industries as well, because I mean, you can create a character all by yourself I guess, but you can’t create the whole game, you can’t do all the pieces on your own.

Omar:

No. There’s the character side of me, but then there’s also the game developer side of me. And they’re both rewarding things that I don’t necessarily feel like giving up. I really like both at aspects of that.

Bita:

Yeah. So just talking about you a little bit as a character artist, what do you think makes you such a great character artist? What is it that you know you kind of uniquely worked on and established to set your work apart? I mean, obviously, you’ve got a super positive attitude, which I think is… No, I’m being serious. I think that’s a really big part of it.

Omar:

So, what sets my work apart?

Bita:

Yeah. What do you think is making your character work different?

Omar:

That’s a really good question. I think it’s just experience. Everybody’s experiences kind of lead into the way that they do things. And I could work for one company and the mentality might be modularity, modularity, modularity. And then that will have an impact on how I approach characters. Someone else might be like, “This is super stylized,” and that might feed into their aesthetic and their approach. I think because I started in pseudo surrealism, that is also what attracted me and what I was also attracted with a lot of things. And also working with different proprietary, well, I don’t want to say just proprietary, but working with game engines, but also offline renders is really interesting to me. So part of developing character tech is also really fun.

Omar:

I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to write code, but I love watching the GDC talks or watching YouTube videos. Is like, “Okay, this is how we approach this character’s hair specifically. This is how we approach this character’s outfit specifically.” All this kind of stuff. So that technical aspect also is really interesting to me. So when I’m working on my own stuff and I’m working on my characters, there’s different things that focus on. Like what do I want to exercise? What I want to exercise at the time. So I definitely have an aesthetic that I like, but then I also have things that I do personally and to try, and, you know?

Bita:

Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And walk me through the concepting. How does it come down to you? Will the art director come to you and say, “Hey, here’s the game, here’s the storyline. I need a character that does X,” and then you run with it? Or do they give you a lot more specifics and then you fill in the nooks and crannies?

Omar:

It’s both. Right?

Bita:

Yeah.

Omar:

Sometimes, you’re going to have a character that’s just not concepted. And they’re like, “Hey, I need a vendor. I need this guy to sell these weapons.” And then you’re like, “Okay, do I have a concept?” They’re like, “No, a concept is booked. Frankenstein something together, we need this guy to sell some weapons.” And then you could work on your concept thing abilities and things that. And you can look at different things and how you want to approach the character. But really, you’ll get concept generally for characters that are important to the project and then they’ll spend less time on characters that are less important to the project.

Omar:

Also having a good relationship with concepts. You can always just go if you’re having trouble with something and they just scribbled something that’s rough and you want something more defined, just being able to go up and like, “Hey, I’m kind of confused on some of the shapes in here, could you define it a little bit?” And usually, they’ll absolutely help out, but yeah, it’s all over the place. Sometimes, a character is really defined and has been thought about quite a bit or concepted a bunch. I didn’t work at Naughty Dog, but I’m guessing Joel and Ellie had tons of iteration and tons of time spent making those memorable characters. And then for Bad Guy 03, maybe slightly less time.

Bita:

Yeah. Yeah. What’s your favorite part of that? Do you like getting the blank slate or do you like having some more of the story defined for you?

Omar:

I absolutely love having more of the story defined for me, but at the same time having a rough concept can be fun, but it’s also really challenging. So if you get a concept that’s kind of rough, but you kind of know what you want to execute, you’d be like, “Oh, I’m glad that it’s rough.” Right?

Bita:

Yeah. Yeah. For sure.

Omar:

But then there’s the other side of you where you get it and it’s rough and you don’t know how to [inaudible 00:25:16]. “Why didn’t the concept artist draw this better for me?” Or something like that. Or like, “Why didn’t they…”

Bita:

I love it. Yeah. No, for sure. We can’t be satisfied with anything.

Omar:

Just go flip flop.

Bita:

Yeah. Where do you spend your time looking for inspiration? Is it music? Is it films? Is it other artists? Where do you find that space for yourself?

Omar:

This is going to be such a horrible answer. Pretty much everywhere, but specifically… I’ll just give you an example. Things that I’m inspired by now is high fashion. So I’m thinking about doing characters that have some sort of 1970s or ’80s, like Miami feel mixed with high fashion. That’s just interesting to me right now.

Bita:

Cool.

Omar:

So, I’m looking through books and I’m looking through things. Then on the other side, sometimes I’ll just be like, “Man, I’m really getting into World War II.” And then you’ll just dig a bunch of research. It’s just fun just to immerse yourself into whatever. So you can get inspiration anywhere. I get inspiration for different things. Like when I see movies, I get really inspired for lighting. You know?

Bita:

Yeah.

Omar:

I’m like, “Oh man, I would love to…” Because these shots are done by some of the most amazing lighters and cinematographers and all that kind of stuff. So you see that and you’re like, “Oh, this is so good. I want to recreate that.” And then other times, you hear a song or you’re looking at even just some strange psychedelic artwork behind me, and that might inspire you. “How can I combine hyperrealism with psychedelic?”

Bita:

Right. Right.

Omar:

Oh yeah. And then think that. But also-

Bita:

So, this… Yeah. No, go ahead. Please finish.

Omar:

Looking at other artwork by people. Right?

Bita:

Yeah.

Omar:

Traditional, non-traditional, going on art station, perusing, going to a museum, just pop culture. Like how real you can get to do… And what visual results you can get using real time technologies or even partially real time technologies? Like I see all the time, “Oh, this studio did this commercial or is doing this and unreal,” because iteration time is high and the quality difference is low. All sorts of things. And seeing how car manufacturers with paints work with epic and unreal. The technology is just going bananas so quickly. I mean, now, they have that hybrid of movies and games. They had The Matrix, which is coming out. Then they had this Matrix playable thing that released on the PlayStation5 and the Xbox Series X, and that kind of stuff.

Bita:

Right. But then there’s also the Ghost of Tsushima, I’m like, “How come they haven’t made the film of this yet?” This is such a cool concept, and you’re so into the character. You want to see what happens, right?

Omar:

Yeah. Yeah. I think that we used a lot of inspiration from film. Our creative directors and our team over there was really inspired by the mood of samurai cinema, which also blends with Western cinema. So there’s these things from spaghetti westerns from Italian directors and being influenced by Japanese cinema and then influencing Japanese cinema, but everyone’s taken and borrowing from each other at all points in time. And it’s really interesting. And so, yeah, I mean to say that it would make a movie or something that. I mean, we took a lot of inspiration from film.

Bita:

Yeah. Is that why you think like that game in particular is so successful? Because it feels like it’s so story driven.

Omar:

I think there’s a lot of things that make that game really successful. I think that’s probably one piece of it. It’s probably a large piece of it. Visually, it’s really good looking and it’s bold, then it’s loud and it’s kind of like fantasy a little bit in some ways, transports you. But the combat is tight. The story is good. Writing is done well and character development. And the team just did a really good job working together and executing on a really cohesive vision. So, everybody did such a killer job on that process.

Bita:

Everything, yeah. It’s just like everything came together beautifully. So I kind of want to talk to you a little bit about this other side of you where you’re a mentor and you’re mentoring at Vertex now and why you decided to do that and what excites you about that side of you?

Omar:

Yeah. That’s really interesting. That’s funny. Because I don’t really hear that I’m a mentor that often, so it kind of feels weird to hear it. Because the way I interpret it is like, “Oh, do you want to talk to people about characters?” And I’m like, “Yes, I would love to.” But really, I mean, I taught at Gnomon for two semesters and then I left. Because I moved to Washington, I wasn’t able to do that. And I really liked teaching because I get to talk to people about the things that I love for a chunk of time. And it’s cool. And I also like problem solving. It’s really fun. So to get with students and to problem solve is really rewarding and fun for me. And it’s also rewarding to maybe help them figure out and improve and see the progress of other people.

Omar:

That’s really rewarding and nice to see. And also, I like to just get a lot of ideas from new people who are excited about this kind of stuff. When your mind is that, and you’re just absorbing, you’re firing on all cylinders and you’re doing all this kind of stuff. They have really great ideas of characters that I’ll try to take and then try to change my perspective on how I approach things. So it’s just a really mutually beneficial experience. And it’s really good for me. I really enjoy it. Because I still love characters and I love talking to students about them, because they’re also really super excited. Right?

Bita:

Yeah. Yeah

Omar:

Because I can talk at work. I have characters around me at work. But there’s also the same five people currently, and that’s really great. But then this also just gets me out there talking to all sorts of people who have no experience with this and tons of experience with this and how can I explain it better and how can I help them? And maybe they come up with a problem that I don’t even know and then I could learn. And now I got a little bit better.

Bita:

That’s so cool.

Omar:

It’s just cool and fun. I hope that the students get something out of it and I know that I do.

Bita:

Yeah. What’s your advice for people coming into this world learning some of this tech, learning some of these pieces and trying to get a job in the industry? What’s your biggest takeaways for somebody at this stage in their life cycle of an artist?

Omar:

This also is going to sound kind of cringe I guess. Try and have fun. And the reason I say try and have fun is because there’s a lot of pressure and there’s a lot of judgment and there’s a lot of self-doubt, a lot of imposter syndrome. I mean, you’re putting your heart out, you’re making artwork, that’s going to be viewed. That’s pretty intimate. And that can take a little bit of a toll on you and that could steer you away in whatever direction that you want to go. And as long as you can approach it with some lightheartedness and still have fun, then it will help you keep going and you’ll get better at your craft over time. But a lot of times, I see students who have talent will come up to me and be like, “Well, I don’t know if this is for me, this person in here is already so much better than me. How could I ever compete?” And that’s disappointing because you’re like, “Well, you haven’t found what makes you unique yet, right?

Bita:

Yeah.

Omar:

Maybe you’re not going to be as amazing at creatures as this person, and maybe something clicks for them, but you have something that they probably don’t have. And the more time you spend, you might discover that, right?

Bita:

Right.

Omar:

And you do all these kind of thing.” So I mean, of course, there’s all sorts of gamut on people’s skill and talent and their work ethic. It’s a huge pot. But yeah, I think that when you first start getting in an industry, you start to hear things and you can get mixed messages like you need to be working 14-hour days. You need to be working 15-hour days, like is this. And yeah, there’s some validity to that because it allows you to get good quickly. But then there’s the side that’s becoming more popular now, which is like, “Take some time for your mental health.” Right?

Bita:

Right.

Omar:

Like, “Eat right. Stay hydrated.” Simple things that people forget, “Be easy on yourself. Try to keep things simple.” Like, “Break problems down into small things. And then try to go down a checklist.” There’s certain things that you got to do just to kind of, or at least I had to do just to stay with it.

Bita:

What are you doing like now just to keep that same spirit alive within you where you don’t fall into working too much and burning out and keeping your inspiration alive and all of those things? Like keeping it light and having fun with it. Right? Because everybody can take life so seriously at times.

Omar:

Totally. Totally. I fluctuate. Sometimes, I’m like, “Man, I’m really terrible at this.” I’ve been doing it for a while, so I should already know that I’m not terrible at this. And sometimes I think that way, but I think about that less now than I did before. So I’m like the stock market, it’s slowly going, or hopefully stock market, slowly going up, but there’s some volatility there. But what I do is I just have some things that I’ve done that help me in my mental space. Right now, I don’t do them as much, because I just had a baby and that takes up all of your time. But aside from that, I will paint model cars. That’s fun for me. It’s not what I do for a living, but it’s still somewhat of a creative outlet that’s not exactly what I do.

Omar:

Or make even incorporating from traditional sculpting that I didn’t do before. That is just like, “Ah, I’m just learning how to do clay.” And you can also get your little rewards that way because you’ll get a spike in skill quickly before you plateau. As of now, it’s so much more gradual because I’m so much deeper into it. But with putting a new skill, you kind of get your little jumps faster. So that’s really rewarding. Also, I to do things that, I remember, I think I spoke to you about this. I had a friend who told me he has this sketchbook that he part of his rule is not to show anybody. And the reason he does that is because it allows him to experiment and fail and essentially have a sketchbook that’s more free of the mind. Not free of the mind, just a free mind.

Omar:

And I noticed that in our school, people had their sketchbook and they would show people their sketchbook. So they’re always making something to show somebody that they’re going to be judged on it. So everything kind of has that. So I love that idea. And then I do things that I know or sometimes I know unless I turn into something I really that I’ll show people, but I’ll do something just understanding that I’ll never show anybody. And it’s okay because I could experiment and be totally off, but I don’t badger myself that it looks crap. I just save that file, put a little date on it and then I’ll be like, “That was a failure, but it was fun to do.” So there’s little things. But personally for me, that’s a pressure that I can relieve for myself and I can just be weird and then experiment and allow myself to fail pretty comfortably.

Bita:

Yeah. No, that’s a huge thing. And I imagine it can be hard to allow yourself to do that the more experienced and established you get, because you’re not used to failing as much at this stage in your career as you were earlier on. So that’s where the learning happens in many times in many situations.

Omar:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bita:

So I wanted to close out some of our conversation with just your thoughts on the metaverse and what it-

Omar:

Oh, I’m like a good person.

Bita:

Really?

Omar:

I’ll give it my best shot. If it’s talking about NFPs or Bitcoin or what, my brain just doesn’t even process in that world. But yeah, I do find it pretty interesting and I’ve definitely had some conversations about it, but yeah, what would you?

Bita:

Well, just like as a character artist and the more, like I said earlier, how this line is being blurred between the physical and digital and how everybody may be wanting to create these super realistic characters and what that’s going to be like. And also just trying on all these different identities that you can in this digital world. Right? And so, I don’t know, I guess, what is your take on it as somebody who creates characters for a living? What do you see that evolution, how is that going to happen? Or what do you think about it?

Omar:

Sure. Well, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around because games have been creating these little worlds for a while.

Bita:

Right.

Omar:

Right? So you can think about like, “I don’t know if anybody remembers PlayStation Home.” That was like you had your little avatar and you could go and you could play games and do sort of things and customize your character, have an apartment, do all sorts of stuff. Then there was Second Life. I know that was a thing that people were selling by and land and having nightclub. So I’ve seen metaverses, if you can call those metaverses that way. But I guess what confuses me is, so you have all these companies making all these different technologies and how do they talk to each other and work together? Because to me that would be the metaverse.

Omar:

Like you can go to Facebook’s metaverse, you can go to Epic’s metaverse, you can go to all these metaverses and you should be able to go seamlessly in between all of them. So finding a way for them to talk to each other, I don’t know how that works. And I see this race and I see this word “metaverse”, and I’m wondering like, “What does it truly mean? What is it at its core? Is it just a virtual world that you go in and that you shop and play video games? Is that the commercial interest of it? Or you take media or you live your virtual life like ready player one style?” But that being said too, when you talk about character art, what does that do? That gives you, like people are spending a ton of time in the multiverse. Let’s just say we’re talking 30 years from now.

Bita:

Right.

Omar:

Right? Then there’ll be more assets to be made just like consumer goods are now. I’m wearing this hat. I bought this hat from a place or whatever, and not too many people have the same hat because blah, blah, blah, I bought it from a shop that don’t longer exist or whatever. So I think that there’s going to be more people making tons of different assets. And then selling those assets that you could wear, I guess, on your digital avatar or use to populate. If you’re going to put on a play in the metaverse, someone’s got to make those characters, someone’s got to make those costumes. So you’re going to have those real world jobs just kind of become more digital.

Omar:

And then maybe a character artist would be maybe more impactful in that space, but then maybe character art as a profession kind of splinter. Maybe because the quality bar is so high and very specific aspects, you might have a character artist who just does hats for Gucci, or whatever. To do hats at that level, you got to just only be thinking about hats. But you can execute. So you’re just doing that. Or maybe there’s someone who just specializes in fabrics like NFTs. Like, “Hey, this is all limited edition.” And then you could exchange this good for this. It’s all pretty interesting, it’s all mildly scary, and it’s all somewhat misunderstood by me.

Bita:

Right?

Omar:

Yeah. But I assume it’s going to happen. It’s like going into The Matrix, isn’t that the next step that we take naturally?

Bita:

Well, what I think that’s interesting about it to students is there are going to be a lot more jobs for people and a lot of variety in jobs. At Vertex, we always talk about how there’s no shortage of labor and talent. It’s more about the talent, finding the right people for those jobs. And so as people will learn more and more of these skills, there’ll be more places for them to use them, which I think is really exciting. But yeah, I mean, I think it’s also kind of how you talk about a game studio and how we’re learning as we go. And that’s part of why things change. Nobody knows exactly how this game is going to evolve. And there’s no script of exactly everything is going to fall into place. We’re developing as it goes. So that’s part of why you also adopt this great attitude towards change, because you get that we’re making it up as we go to a certain extent, and learning as we go.

Omar:

Yeah. We’re all people and we’re not all super smart, but we work together and then something really cool happens often. And you look at these people who are working in game studios and they’re just people. Just human beings, and then they’re able to do something so remarkable that’s beyond any one individual.

Bita:

Right. And they didn’t know that they were going to be able to do that from the outset as well.

Omar:

No. And I think you can even take the most technical person and the highest skilled or whatever you want to call it out of game studio who knows the most. And when the game is shipped, they’re still thinking to themselves like, “Shit, we did that. That’s great. How the hell did we pull this off?” You could take a CEO, who’s probably shipped a ton of games and then put them in that spot. And they’re like, “Damn! Holy crap! Good job everybody.”

Bita:

Yeah. We actually pulled this off.

Omar:

We pulled this off. You think about it like doing any mass engineering project. They were probably like, “This is crazy. This might not work, but let’s give it a shot.” You know?

Bita:

Yeah.

Omar:

Like digging the Panama Canal, it seemed impossible and they just kept doing it.

Bita:

Well, I think there’s something too that naivete that helps. If you knew how hard it was sometimes, or you knew what you were up against, you wouldn’t even try it. So the fact that maybe that’s what’s happening with the metaverse too. It’s like, it’s all an evolution as we go deeper and deeper into it. But Omar, you’ve been super, super generous with your time and just giving us a glimpse into your world. And Vertex is so lucky to have you as one of their mentors. I know students are really excited and learning a lot from you right now.

Omar:

I appreciate you saying that. I appreciate the opportunity. I appreciate the time that you spent and I’m sure any teacher and any mentor, or whatever, would fell learns a lot from students and new people coming on, so that’s really beneficial.

Bita:

No, no, it’s true. It’s totally true. Yeah. No. So we really appreciate you, and it was super fun talking to you and getting to know you better. So thank you.

Omar:

Yeah. I could definitely talk for a while about all this kind of stuff. We get in deep, but it’s a very good-

Bita:

Oh, good. Well, we’ll have to do a part too, for sure.

Omar:

Sure. Sure. Thanks so much.

Bita:

Okay. Awesome. Thank you, Omar. Take care. Have a great rest of your day. And congratulations on the baby.

Omar:

Thank you. Bye

Bita:

Bye.

 

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