No Woman is an Island
Jody began her career with a first class BA(Hons) in video game design, a move to London, and first job role of junior environment artist at Headstrong Games. At Headstrong she worked on titles including House of the Dead: Overkill, Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest and Dancing with the Stars: We dance. A stint at Double Six Games, working on All Zombies must Die, and then a return to Headstrong to work on the wacky Rabbids Rumble.
Jody then moved to Splash Damage as an environment artist on the free-to-play PC shooter Dirty bomb before landing her role at Rocksteady Studios. At Rocksteady Jody became a senior environment artist with a large role in Batman Arkham Knight, Arkham Knight downloadable content and finally on creating the thrilling batcave for Arkham VR.
We spoke to Jody about her move, her career, and what’s up next:
FAB: Tell us about studying video game design, how did that happen?
JS: "I've been working in the games industry for about almost 10 years and have loved games since I can remember. My first console was a Sega Mega Drive and by the time I was about 10 I got my Playstation and I just knew I wanted to make games!
"I studied art, media and IT always hoping to find my way into the industry and then when I had the opportunity on a video game design course at Southampton Solent University I jumped on it!"
FAB: So video games are a long-standing passion of yours. What elements of game design appeal to you?
JS: "Originally I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to make and although I was quite interested in characters it soon became apparent that environments were what I wanted to create. I love being able to bring someone in to a whole new world that I have designed and to be able to tell little stories about the world around you in clever ways."
"It soon became apparent that environments were what I wanted to create."
"My first industry job was at Headstrong games where I worked on "Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest". I loved it, it was so creative and I got to create Rivendell and the Shire which was a dream."
"At Headstrong and its sister company Double Six I went on to work on "Dancing with the Stars", "House of the Dead: Overkill", "All Zombies Must Die" and "Rabbids Rumble". I was so lucky to have so much variety early on. Many big AAA games now take around 3 years to make so trying my hand at all of these different styles was great and I improved fast."
"After this time I wanted to try a move to a bigger studio and moved to Splash Damage to work on a free to play shooter called "Dirty bomb". I then moved to Rocksteady Studios, a dream job for me and worked on the AAA Arkham Knight."
FAB: Tell us about the day-to-day of video game design here in London.
JS: "One of my favorite things about this job is collaborating with such awesome and inspiring teams and that was definitely the case at Rocksteady. Whilst there I also created the Batcave for Arkham VR. I have to say VR is so exciting and still blows my mind. The first time I made a blockout environment and tried it in VR was a moment I wont forget, just creating this space and then actually being inside it is fantastic and really makes you see your work in a different and even more immersive way!"
"The first time I made a blockout environment and tried it in VR was a moment I wont forget."
"Early this year I decided to take the plunge into freelancing which felt like the natural next step for me at this stage. I am currently working with some fantastic small teams and really enjoying the close relationship working with them and being able to create new worlds!
"Aside from the lifestyle difference I also love the variety that freelancing brings me. I never know what the next job is going to bring and that is the most exciting feeling!”
FAB: There has been a lot of controversy in recent years erupting from Gamergate and the traditional way women have been treated in the games industry. Although we’re a little removed here in the UK, do you feel a gender gap in your industry?
JS: "I have felt the gender gap in that the studios I have worked for have typically had many more male than female staff. However one of the things that I do love about my industry is how diverse it is. I have been able to work with a lot of talented men and women from around the world, many of whom travel to other countries for work and I love that."
"However one of the things that I do love about my industry is how diverse it is."
"It would be great to have more women in games in general and I think it is starting to happen. It is really interesting to see what men and women both bring to the table in terms of ideas and just creating a different vibe in the office and I think that having more women in games will just continue to expand and diversify the industry even more."
FAB: In the move to freelance is there anything specific you look for in the projects you take on? Is there a particular type of work or genre you prefer?
JS: "I really love variety and I love to learn new things so I don't really have a type of work I look for in projects. I think that my personal works tend to be slightly fantasy/stylized but I actually like to take on projects where I might not have tried anything similar before. I like to get out of my comfort zone and keep things fresh! My two main freelance jobs at the moment couldn't be more different so that is working out well! In fact that is one of my favorite things about being a freelancer, I never get bored and I never get too comfortable which is where I like to be."
"I like to get out of my comfort zone and keep things fresh!"
FAB: Do you usually work with the same team on the projects you work on? Is working within a team a requirement, or do you generally work alone and submit your work as an individual?
JS: "I really like to get involved in the teams I am working with. I have actually found working remotely really great as I find that I am more productive whilst I am also able to get involved with Skype and other software to collaborate and talk to everyone."
"As a games artist you really can't be an island, especially I find with environment art as your work is so connected to other disciplines such as design and animation. When you are building a world it is not enough for it to look cool, it has to play well and the art and design need to work together. I also think that one of the best things about my job is the amount of awesome, creating people I get to work with on a daily basis, I learn something from everyone!"
FAB: Where do you cultivate and curate your references or inspiration from in general?
JS: "Everywhere! I have a huge collection of art books, films, games, graphic novels and architecture/photography reference. I also love websites like Artstation that keep me in touch with what other artists are making. As an environment artist I also take a lot of inspiration from the places I visit. I went to Snowdonia to do a big reference collection/photogrammetry trip for one of my projects and a classic car show for another one!”
"I think travelling and just generally being open to everything around you and trying to soak it all in is the best way to go, plus a bit of google image search at the end for the finer details! :P"
"Travelling and just generally being open to everything around you and trying to soak it all in is the best way to go."
FAB: What would you like to be working on in the future; where you’d like to see yourself working?
JS: "At the moment I absolutely love being freelance, it is so exciting being involved with some amazingly creative smaller teams and having that excitement of having new opportunities pop up at any time. I also have more time to invest in my family and in to my own art which is ;giving me some much needed rest time and preventing the dreaded burnout which I think is really important for me. That said there are so many amazing studios out there that make such awe-inspiring work so I can easily see myself going back in to AAA in the future."
FAB: Is now a good time to get into video game design? Are you working with people that allow you the freedom to bring your own aesthetic to your projects?
JS: "Yes I think its a great time to get in to games, the technology is rapidly improving as it has been for a long time. The possibilities of what you can make and achieve are so exciting and things like VR are really finding their feet. I feel so lucky that I have had the opportunity to grow alongside such a young industry and love that I can look back only 10/20 years and say "wow look how far we have come". In terms of being able to bring my own aesthetic, yes I can do that. I like to pick teams to work with that want to collaborate and who are as excited as I am about new ideas and ways to improve."
FAB: Any advice you’d like to impart on your craft to creatives looking to move into the field?
JS: "Yes, this is really a great career and you have to work hard to get to where you want to be. This will probably include a lot of out of hours work, learning and personal projects if you really want to develop your art and succeed and that is what it takes. However I think it is equally important to remember to not be an overtime slave. If you start to creep into burnout, take a breather, remember why you love art, make sure you spend enough time away from it with family and friends and sometimes just make art for fun too!"
"If you start to creep into burnout, take a breather, remember why you love art."
FAB: Anything you’re working on at the moment that you can share, or any sort of personal directions you’re embarking on that serve your career?
JS: "I can't share any professional work at the moment but I am working on a few personal projects. A couple of these are smaller prop-based things just to learn certain techniques. I am having quite a lot of fun with photogrammetry and VR right now so I have been doing quite a lot of that. There will be a lot more to show soon so you will have to watch this space!"
Jody is using Airdura for her site, kicking off with the Featured Blocks homepage layout. Creating a sort of stills showreel project as the primary focus of her portfolio she quickly gives her viewers an idea of what she's worked on, and introduces her contact details for freelance work.
Jody has created personal and professional portfolios to give each of her projects context. She doesn't expressly link to those portfolios in her menu, but by presenting all of her work together viewers can get a quick feel of the scope of her work and style.
Her work is primarily video, but each video is backed up with stills; an important step in making sure the detail and realism of her environments are adequately illustrated. Jody is using Airdura's Strip project layout to present her media in a linear stream, and each project is closed with notes on process and software used.
The site contains an extensive bio page, including a resume of software and theoretical experience in her craft, her preferred skillset and her experience. Backing up the resume she has a page detailing her awards and achievements.