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Naughty Dog Senior Artist Interview: Andrew Maximov

Naughty Dog Senior Artist, Andrew Maximov, has been working professionally in games for the last 6 years. We discover how he went from Minsk in Belarus, Russia, to working on Unchartered 4!

Naughty Dog Senior Artist, Andrew Maximov, has been working professionally in games for the last 6 years. We discover how he went from Minsk in Belarus, Russia, to working on Unchartered 4!

Andrew Maximov's showcase of a real-time next-gen asset rendered in Marmoset 2

3dtotal: Can you introduce us with a little background information about you, and briefly explain your journey so far?

Andrew Maximov: Sure! My names Andrew Maximov. Im a Senior Artist in games and Ive been doing games professionally for the last 6 years.

Originally from Minsk, Belarus, I started as a 3D Artist at Wargaming.net working on Square Enix published RTS Order of War, and then transitioning to probably being the first full-time artist on the massively popular MMO World of Tanks.

After that I did freelance for a while, eventually moving to Montreal to work at Gameloft on Modern Combat 4, and other cutting-edge hand-held titles. After all the baguettes and cheese I could handle, it was time for a change, so I moved down to San Francisco to work at Kixeye spearheading art production and tech art direction for their unannounced next-gen game.

After a while there, I finally moved down to Los Angeles to help Naughty Dog make Uncharted 4 - the best game you will ever play (hopefully!).

Swamp UDK demo by Andrew Maximov

3dt: Do you specialize in any areas in your role? If so, can you tell us why you feel you excel in these?

AM: Thats a tough one. I did pretty much everything at one point or another: modeling, texturing, painting, sculpting, shaders, set-dressing, lighting, post FX, camerawork, editing, and even some crude music and sound work for personal projects. And like that wasnt enough, I also do some graphics and tools programming.

The one thing I think all this allows me to bring to the table is being able to take a step back and look at problems not just in the context of a particular discipline, but the entire production pipeline. Lighting problems can come from bad texturing values, wrong texture values can come from shaders that are set up incorrectly, and modeling can look wrong because its not reinforcing the lighting for this environment and vice versa. This is especially handy with the technical side of things. A lot of the time artists are forced to solve tool or tech problems with art, which is unfortunate. I feel very privileged to be able to solve those problems in tools or with real-time game tech that will allow us to have new and shiny features instead of clunky old workarounds.

"I firmly believe that good art is always more than just sum of its parts"

In our extremely specialized industry it is very easy to lose track of the project and how your specific art fits with all the other awesome things that are being created. So I try to make it a point to always look at the forest before the trees. I firmly believe that good art is always more than just sum of its parts. A collection of fantastic assets might look like nothing particularly interesting, whereas even mediocre assets put together in a coherent manner with a pinch of fairy dust on top can look groundbreaking.

That said, however, you never want be the jack of all trades - and master of none. Being able to do other things can never be an excuse for a poorly done job.

3dt: Tell us about your role as an Senior Game Artist? What's a typical day like in this role?

AM: Since I tend to wear so many hats theres a hardly such a thing as a typical day, for me. Which is part of the fun really. I enjoy solving out-of-the-box problems, or coming up with out-of-the-box solutions, and that just doesnt jive too well with "typical".

One thing that is typical, though, is getting to work with awesome people! Every new problem usually requires some level of cooperation with other artists, programmers, and game designers, and getting to learn from these great people is always a blast.

"I never really set out to be an artist, I just wanted to make games"

3dt: Why videogames over the other entertainment industries?

AM: A quote from Dances with Wolves comes to mind: I want to see the frontier sir! Before its gone...

Games are something I grew up with and they were my main form of art consumption. I never really set out to be an artist, I just wanted to make games. Thats why I dont consider myself an artist making games, but rather a game developer making art. I was intuitively gravitating to it and started doing it without much of a justification really. I just enjoyed it. Looking back, this is probably the best reason to do anything in life, especially for a career.

But as I grew older I started looking for other things to help me justify doing what I do, and I didnt have to look too far really. Games just happened to be an art form with the most unexplored potential. Its kind of like the Wild West of Art! Were pushing the frontier away way faster than other mediums do. And that gets me really excited. And I dont mean just in the technical sense of the word either. Artistically we keep finding better and better ways to express ourselves through games, to tell our stories, and to make our audience feel things they never did before from a videogame. Theres still a long way to go, but I want to be there as it happens.

And thats not to say that I wouldnt like to work on a movie someday, but probably not as a modeler or texture artist.

"If you told me 10 years ago that thats what a career in games could lead to
I wouldnt believe you"

3dt: How does it feel to be a part of the games industry as an artist? Was it all you hoped it would be? How does it compare to your student dreams?

AM: Oh, its so much more than I couldve ever imagined. My art was seen by tens of millions of people all around the globe, I got to travel the world, live in different countries, make a lot of amazing friends, guest-teach at some of the best art schools, meet a ton of amazing students and aspiring artists; I get to live on the forefront of human knowledge where art and technology converge and, sometimes, I get to push it further into the unknown - if just for an inch.

If you told me 10 years ago that thats what a career in games could lead to I wouldnt believe you. In fact, where I come from, making video games for a living was something from the realm of fantasy.

That said, however, games are probably nothing like what youd think at first. Its a very serious business with its own market realities, trends, and power struggles. Companies vary dramatically from very frivolous to extremely corporate and uptight. And youre probably lucky if you get to just do art for more than 50% of your work time, because theres a whole lot of technical setup, maintenance, reworking, and integration involved. Its a package deal, and you cant have just the fun parts. At the end of the day, its a job, and you have a responsibility before your audience to make the best game possible.

"Anything and everything goes - I would make art with a stick if I had to!"

3dt: What software do you use on a daily basis for your work? Can you briefly tell us why these are your tools of choice?

AM: I have no reservations about any piece of software, really. Anything and everything goes - I would make art with a stick if I had to! That said, there is some effort involved in forcing yourself to maintain an open attitude to evaluating and potentially learning every tool that comes your way. But its something that I personally think pays off.

At work, I usually circulate between Maya, Photoshop, ZBrush, Substance and Notepad++ for writing code.

For personal or past professional projects, I also used to work with 3ds Max, Mudbox, KeyShot, V-Ray, Unreal Engine, After Effects, Premiere.

I also dont shy away from writing my own tools when I need some. For example, before any of the current material painting tools were even announced, I wrote a material-painting plug-in for Photoshop called Materialing that I still use a bunch in some of my work, which you can download for free!

"Were still pushing the realism further but were close to a point where additional improvements are going to be almost unnoticeable"

3dt: How do you feel technology is changing the way videogames are produced on the artist side of things? Have there been any notable changes since you joined the games industry?

AM: Normal Maps of course were the big thing. Now, real-time Physically Based Rendering has slowly made its way to becoming a standard. But what stands out to me is the amount of diminishing returns were starting to get per every year spent.

Were still pushing the realism further but were close to a point where additional improvements are going to be almost unnoticeable to the final audience. And that is really exciting, because at that point all of the energy is going to go towards aesthetics or production optimization. If you look at what The Astronauts (Polish game studio) are already doing with photogrammetry for The Vanishing of Ethan Carter - its scary! Now, this tech is not readily usable for physically-based current gen, but it will be. And it could be really awesome!

Imagine partly shooting games on location, scanning real people and capturing performances in real-time. Think of all the stories well be able to tell!

"Realism will just get us to where movies started 100 years ago. Its the artistic choices that go into it that matter"

And the other side is the whole aesthetics versus realism debate, that I can talk about for a very long time. But lets just say Im looking forward to realism giving out so that game studios are forced to do what good movies do every day: be creative, deliberate, and artistic, rather than just plain realistic. Realism will just get us to where movies started 100 years ago. Its the artistic choices that go into it that matter.


3dt: What has been the most rewarding project that you have worked on so far, and can you tell us why you feel this way about it?

AM: Oh, every single one was great. Even when it was bitter sometimes - it was a great learning experience, and that is priceless.

Order of War - the first game I worked on - has a special place in my heart, and I honestly think that we did a decent job. It feels like it still holds up for an RTS. I remember how, back then, our art team got a $150 bonus each because the game looked so much better than the studio's previous project.

Right now, however, Im really excited for Uncharted 4 coming together. So far its quite fulfilling artistically and even though its still not finished Im having a lot of fun playing it already!

"We dont have any managers or producers, so everyone is left to their own devices and expected to make the best game possible"

3dt: Speaking of Uncharted, what is working at Naughty Dog like?

AM: Oh its pretty fantastic actually. We have some of the most creative and hardworking people in the business here, and it definitely shows. At first glance it seems like total craziness and chaos, but at the end of the day we get to see the game get more and more awesome, bit by bit (programming pun intended!), and that is really rewarding.

We dont hae any managers or producers, so everyone is left to their own devices and expected to make the best game possible. And I was honestly surprised to see how true to that the company was. If you can think of something to make the game better - just go ahead and do it yourself, or convince others thats an idea worth helping with.

The people here are really amazing. The studio is very diverse too, so you get hear a lot of great stories and points of view from people from very different backgrounds.

3dt: You do a lot of education work, how did you get involved with that?

AM: Education is just something I happened to fall into. I was in Belarus when I gave my first talk. I realized that I was going away to work abroad soon, and I wanted to leave something behind for people that might want to follow.

The biggest impediment to me committing to CG art earlier in life was the fact that I just didnt know a single person who did it there, or that it even was possible. So I just put a talk together and got myself invited to the biggest art expo in the country. And then it kinda just snowballed from there. The invitations kept rolling in, and I can talk about art and games for hours anyway - so I just kept doing it!

I just really enjoy meeting the students and professors that are passionate about art and games, and I try to do my best to share whatever I have that I think might be of use to them. I give away every single secret or trick I have - which is a passive-aggressive way of keeping me on my toes! When I get old and lazy I want to feel the pressure of the next-generation of artists breathing down my neck, motivating me to never be complacent.

"I dont believe in talent - I believe in people, and I believe in perseverance. So my one advice would to keep pushing, no matter how desperate it seems"

3dt: If you could give one education advice to aspiring artists, what would it be?

AM: CG is a really tough industry, and learning just takes time no matter how hard you try. You can read all the tutorials and books but unfortunately, at the end of the day, theyll do nothing for you if dont put in your 10,000 hours. And as far as education goes, sometimes people dont need your knowledge. Sometimes they just need a bit of encouragement to last them through another day or week of work.

I dont believe in talent - I believe in people, and I believe in perseverance. So my one advice would to keep pushing, no matter how desperate it seems. Because if you push long enough and you not only work hard, but also work smart - you will inevitably come through on the other side. The only difference between you and the person you want to be is that the latter wont give up when he has the chance!

3dt: Where do you see your future in CGI? Do you want to stay in games? Can you share some of your goals and hopes for the future?

AM: Oh, Im not going anywhere! So many exciting things have not yet been done in games - theres so much work to do, so many frontiers to explore!

My plans for the future are to constantly push myself out of my comfort zone and do things that scare me. I guess I cant tell you many more specifics at this time, but if you guys want to get back to me on that in a year or two - I promise its going to be really exciting!

A trailer of the first game Andrew Maximov ever worked on!

Related links

Visit Andrew Maximov's personal website
Discover the latest vacancies at Naughty Dog
Check out 3dtotal's book written for the UDK

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