Interview with:
Kiel Figgins

Short Background:
Animation has fascinated me for several years. Upon seeing Blizzard's Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness Orcís end game cinematic, I decided that was what I wanted to pursue.

In late summer of 2004, I graduated from Full Sail in Winter Park, FL, Valedictorian of the Computer Animation Class of September of 2004. While there, I received the Advanced Achiever Award and Course Directorís Award for Shaders and Lighting.

Before going to Full Sail, I received more of a background in traditional Art as well as web / graphic design. I attended the University of Maine, Orono. While at the University of Maine, I was working towards a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art, Art History and a minor in New Media. Also during that time, I began working for a multi-media production house in central Maine, ASAP Media Services. I started as an assistant designer and storyboard artist. Two and half years later, I was a project leader as well as the lead designer. However, before finishing my degrees, I transferred to Full Sail, to further pursue my goals in 3D animation.

Current Age/Hometown:
24. Though I live in Austin, Texas, I grew up in Hampden, Maine.

At what age did you realize that Art was your path of life?
I can remember as early as 2nd grade playing Mario on the original Nintendo and trying to draw him and teenage mutant ninja turtles.

What were your first steps in that direction?
The first "real" steps I took were actually figuring out how I was going to use my "talent". Was their a profitable field for someone who liked to draw and play games? So I researched the games I liked to play, found out what companies made them and saw what jobs they had. I was in sixth grade when I started doing this.

What did you find most useful while attending the University of Maine?
While at UMaine, I met some key students and faculty that helped shape my focus and push my art. My advisor and sculpture teacher (Sam Van Aken) never let me slide or settle for anything less then the best I could do. Always pushing the creative and technical envelope in each piece I did. Owen Smith gave me new insights on how art could be applied in new ways, and how different media had their own strengths and weakness. However, Mike Scott from ASAP was probably the most useful element I found at UMaine. He was a slap of reality in the harshest, most blunt way possible. Nothing was ever good enough; everything was flawed, always done too slowly to meet his expectations. Though the majority of people despised him for this, I thrived on it. It was honest, clear cut criticism that wasnít a feel good, rounded edge, kid gloves approach that most students are used to. It really forced you to realize that your work can be better, done faster and more efficiently.

Please, Describe your experience at the ASAP and how you have used the skills that you have delevloped there.
I started as an assistant designer and storyboard artist. Two and half years later, I was a project leader as well as the lead designer. My stay at ASAP exposed me to almost all stages and aspects in developing a project like: client contact, design, layout, production, critique and the value of working as a team instead of a group of individuals. Beyond that, I was often the only designer/artist working on multiple projects. At every opportunity, I tried to do some sort of 3d asset on a project. Though I no longer do web design (professional) I still make use of what I learned by maintaining my own site, freelance graphic design work, and overall having the mind set that everything can be improved. A key phrase I learned from Mike was "Simple but Elegant," a phrase I apply on almost every piece I do.

How did you go about obtaining post-graduate education and where?
My UMaine roommate was interested in Full Sail's Game Design degree program. Though he never went, his interest in it perked mine since they had a 3d animation program. As for actually obtaining my degrees, my parents have always been extremely supportive of my pursuits and interests, so they helped sign for the loans and went above and beyond in making it all happen.

What were the benefits?
While youíre in a standard University program you meet a wide breadth of people from different backgrounds and future goals. Post education usually is a more focused group with a common interest / goal in mind. It was at Full Sail that I was able to meet people that I still keep in contact with that are in the industry. They help land jobs, freelance, critique, support and so on.

How did you go about writing your resume and portfolio/demo reel?
There are a few design ideals that I used when creating my resume, listed below. Also, I read many, many, many other artist resumes to see how they are presented, saw what worked and what didnít, and tried to learn from them and their efforts.
- 2 pages Maximum, header / footer on each page
- Name / Job Title largest on the page
- Bulleted, no fluff, dates (years only)
- No graphics (smaller file size, easy to fax, send, less noise), though an Icon can be a nice flare
- Referrals by request only
- Just because you were a manager at Kmart doesnít mean you can animate, leave off irrelevant jobs
- Order it based off what people want to know:
  • 1. Who are you? What do you do? Where are you? How do I contact you? (Header)
  • 2. What skills / programs to you know?
  • 3. What jobs / projects (relevant) have you worked on?
  • 4. Where did you go to school?
  • 5. What additional info makes you stand out?

  • Demo Reel / portfolio. Thatís a huge process, so I'll try to sum it up. I knew the type of studio I wanted to work for so I created a portfolio in the vein of the work they were currently producing. They did realism, action, combat, violence, so, thatís what I started creating. Beyond that, was just a huge amount of effort, time, and feedback from peers and online. My demo took about 7 months during school to create, working on it each and every day. Also, I attended the schools monthly demo reel showing to see how other students presented their work. Same with the rťsumť, I was learning what they did and see how I could make it better.

    Where do you work? Please describe what your responsibilities are and the work conditions.
    Currently I work at NCsoft Austin on Tabula Rasa and its expansion. I also do freelance work for television and broadcast.
    At NCsoft I work to get a mesh of a creature all the way through the pipeline and into the game. This involves building the skeletal rig, animating, exporting and publishing the data, communicating with Effects Artists, Audio Engineers, Programmers and Game Designers all in how the creature is polished and implemented. When I'm not animating, I'm scripting Animation tools, documenting process, and generally looking for ways to improve our animation quality and speed. Conditions are really nice, Mon - Fri, 9 - 6, hour for lunch. Also I receive paid time off, full benefits, holidays. I work in a two person office that I share with the Animation Lead, and the office next to us is where the other two animators sit.

    Freelance: When I do contract work, I'm typically the Animation Supervisor. In this I do animation, setup, and client contact, supervise/schedule the other artists and animators, and generally act as a go between for my team and the client to make sure all ends are met. All contract work is done remote, relying heavily on email, internet / ftp access, phone conferences and daily reports. Work conditions are hectic, time lines are short, revisions are often, all coupled with high levels of stress and expectations. I've found it very important when taking on contract work to be up front with the client and team, be honest, and know your limitations and abilities. Donít over promise, and do whateverís in your power to deliver on time. To do this, I've found that having a strict schedule and designated hours to work while maintaining an open communication with your team and client is a must.

    What are your short-term goals? Long-term?
    Short Term: I really havenít broken out a list of goals in quite some time. All and all, I just try to focus on becoming a better artist, adding more tutorials and content on my site and working a few personal / group projects.

    Long Term: I'd like to get into more Pre Rendered animation (cinematic / film) and more interactive / combat base game animation. The final product of Pre Rendered is simply stunning, especially with so many other people adding their elements to the mix to make the final composite as good as it gets. As for combat animations, itís just something about having characters and creatures flipping, fighting, punching and clawing at each other that isnít just fun to watch but also fun to animate.

    What sort of advice would you give a young artist in the field?
    Advice I'd offer to those entering the Animation field. Simply put, animate, as much as you can as often as you can. And animate what you like. If you like the characters talking and telling jokes, do it, want creatures fighting, have at it, it doesnít matter as long as youíre making it move. Personally Iíve found it incredibly useful to animate (or least something related to animation) on a daily basis. Literally, every day I work on improving some element. And this is typically after I've come home from a full day at NCsoft doing the same thing. Personal and side projects go a long way with employers and other industry people. Showing that youíre committed outside of a pay check, passionate about your craft and truly enjoy what you do enough to do it on your own time says a lot about your character. Not to mention, personal projects allow you to take more risks with less penalties. If you want to try a new rigging setup or animation process, and it tanks, well at least you didn't fall behind a deadline and you know that that system wonít work for next time. If you start feeling crispy on a project or field, tinker around with another one. If you donít want to animate, try rigging and vice versa, doodle some characters, poses, facial expressions, anything, just keep going and trying to move forward.

    About Your Workplace:

    What kind of equipment do you use? (Hardware, software, Computer Accessories, Traditional Tools)
    A brief note on computer Hardware from my side, a computer is a magical black box. I donít open that box, customize or know anything more about it. If I push the button and it doesnít turn on, tag out, I'm done. Software I'm a bit better at (especially once its installed and working) but still, Iím not a tech person in the slightest.

    Again, these numbers and figures mean nothing to me, other then the fact I want 30" flat screen monitors instead of the huge box CRTs I currently have.

    Home Hardware Specs:
    -Gateway 710XL
    -3.9 GHz P4 processor
    -Dual 21" monitors (CRT)
    -1024 RDRAM
    -480 gig HD
    -NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra

    Home Software Specs:
    -Autodesk Maya
    -Adobe Photoshop

    Office Hardware Specs:
    -No Idea, I know itís a Dell
    -Dual 21" Flat monitors

    Office Software Specs:
    -Autodesk Max
    -Adobe Photoshop

    Traditional Tools:
    -Mechanical pencil
    -Clipboard stocked with plain white office paper

    Are these provided by your workplace or are they personal?
    All the tools I use at work are provided by NCsoft, along with any additional office supplies I need to get my job done, although if you wish to bring in your own materials / parts itís allowed.

    In your experience, what is the average pay rate of an employee with a 4 year degree and some post graduate work, right out of school?
    Too be honest, the schooling, degrees, awards, and the rest don't determine your pay grade or even if you'll get a job. Itís almost entirely based on your portfolio and skill set. You could have learned your craft in your basement as a hobbyist, through an online school or through the traditional college path. In the end, the only thing that matters is if you can create the work the studio needs. The second part of that equation is location. You could get a lot of money at a job in California, but the cost of living is much higher out there, compared to other parts of the country. So, excluding major cities and most of CA, here are some rough figures for a full time gig.

    Entry Level Artist: 21k - 31k
    Artist: 32k - 55k
    Senior: 60k - 88k
    Lead: 70k +

    Now many other factors can go into changing those numbers, but that should give you an idea.