Animators get to work on some of the coolest projects around, and we’re not just talking about blockbuster films. Just ask David J. Saiz. The 3D Animation+ Visual Effects grad was recently part of a small team of artists responsible for bringing the assets of Mass Effect: New World – a 4D holographic experience based on the popular game series -- to life. Not only was this an exciting challenge for David, but Mass Effect just happens to be one of his favourite games. Imagine getting to play around in a universe that you love, adding to its mythology and building it out into a new form. It’s currently a main attraction at California’s Great America, combining cutting edge technology with live performances.
We had a chance to ask David some questions about his time at VFS, what it was like working on Mass Effect, and what’s coming up next. Read on!
Where are you from originally? What made you decide to come to VFS?
David: Originally, I am from Mexico. I grew up there. I have always wanted to work in video games but Mexico doesn't have a video game industry. I still wanted to do something creative, so I studied graphic design in college. I worked for a couple of years doing websites and such until I heard about Vancouver Film School from a co-worker. After visiting the VFS website and looking at the work the students did my mind was set. I sold all that I could, used up all of my savings, and asked my parents for help and applied. I joined class 3D69.
What was your time like in the 3D Animation + Visual Effects program? What was the best thing about it? What was the most challenging part?
David: It was great. It was challenging at first because English is my second language and this was the first time that I had to use it all the time. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to it and to build confidence using it. The best part about VFS was that I met my wife there. We were in the same class and we fell in love and we have been happy together ever since.
The most challenging part was constantly motivating myself to work hard. I was lucky that I was in a class with a lot of people that were highly motivated, so we all helped and inspired each other.
What was your journey like after graduating? Did you find a job right away?
David: It was tricky. I wanted to stay in Vancouver. I interviewed a couple of times and all went well but, due to visa problems, nothing happened. Eventually, I moved to California and after I had no visa issues I got a job at Electronic Arts in Redwood City.
If you put in a lot of hard work during your stay at VFS you will end up with a really strong reel that will very likely land you a job. For me, it all came down to visa issues.
You recently worked on Mass Effect: New Earth — a 4D ride experience at Great America in California. Can you tell us about this project? What was your role?
David: Mass Effect has been my favorite game series of all time, so being able to work on a project set in that universe was very special for me.
This project is a one-of-a-kind 4D ride set in the Mass Effect universe. They built a state-of-the-art massive screen for this and the technology they used for 3D and sound is also new. The whole five minute animation runs at 60 FPS with a 4K resolution, so you can imagine how much detail and effort you need to put in to have it running smoothly with those specifications.
Halon Entertainment was in charge of the animation, and I was part of a very small team of artists in charge of creating the assets for the ride. I was fortunate that the team was small. I was able to pick a lot of the assets I wanted to work on. Initially, they gave us some of the game assets but they just didn't have enough resolution for the project. We started most of them from scratch or we increased the quality of the materials we had. I did modeling, texturing, and shading for the Normandy, the Reaper, the Mass Relay, etc. It was pretty fun to see the end result and to know that I contributed a tiny piece to the Mass Effect universe.
You had the opportunity to work on this project with your spouse. What was that like?
David: It was great. We almost worked together before at another studio, but we missed each other by a couple of days. It was meant to happen I think. When we finally got to work together it was fun being able to carpool, take breaks, and have lunch together. It was a little bit unusual at first for her to come up to me and ask me for something work related, but after a couple of days everything was back to normal.
Who are some of your influences in the world of animation and why?
David: My main influences when it comes to animation are Studio Ghibli's movies. Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro are a couple of my favorite movies. I love their style and unique way of storytelling.
I also grew up watching a lot of anime, so Dragonball, Saint Seiya, and Ghost in the Shell were huge influences. I'm lucky that anime is more common in Mexico so it's more widely accepted as another medium to tell stories. I know anime can be cheesy sometimes, but sometimes it can really deal with subjects in such a way that no other medium can.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received and how do you apply it to your work?
David: I think one of the best pieces of advice I have been given was, "It will be done when it's done.” In our line of work, there’s a crazy amount of pressure to meet deadlines and people tend to freak out. Because of that, it’s easy to end up working in a very unhealthy manner where you constantly obsess about work and where people sacrifice too much of themselves needlessly.
Things will always get done, so there is no point in worrying about it or pressuring people to work faster, just calmly get to work. It’s the best way to deal it.
What’s next for you?
David: My wife and I have moved to Spain and we are starting to work on a game VR project. It is very exciting to work on something of our own and at the same time living in a new country experiencing new things.