Rob Madden graduated from an undergraduate degree in Computer Arts and a Postgraduate in Games Development from Abertay in 2014. Self-employed, he works as a 3D artist and the co-founder at Hyper Luminal Games, a small independent games company based in Dundee. Our interview with him is below:
Hi Rob! Whats your main source of inspiration when approaching a new project?
I think that changes project to project as the amount of control and creative freedom we get varies so greatly. On the more artistic projects I try to look as broad as possible, including films, print, books, historical drawings, photographs and of course games. I try my best not to look at games too often, to avoid falling into the trap of just being derivative, although it can be useful to try to determine what is currently popular and how we can use that to our advantage.
Do you do a lot of research before a final design?
Yes absolutely. We are always really limited by time, as we try to schedule our work as aggressively as we can, but we research and iterate on our work as much as possible. I’m a big believer in identifying a correct workflow and doing research up front can really save you a lot of time and headaches later down the line.
Who is your favourite artist/designer, who inspires you, and why?
Some of my favourite 3D artists include Tor Frick and Michael Vicente. Michael in particular makes some of the highest quality and most visually stunning work in the games industry and Tors understanding and utilisation of correct and efficient workflow is always an inspiration.
How quickly after uni did you manage to find work?
I feel I was very lucky in this regard as we started the company almost immediately after graduating. In fact our first ‘office’ was literally the desk next to where I sat during my degree. We managed to pick up some work straight away, making small strategy games for an established publisher, primarily through contacts one of the other founders had developed during Uni.
How much creative freedom do you feel you get in your current job/internships/projects?
That changes a lot project to project but I would say that I get a lot of creative freedom in my work. Some of our contract work comes with a very specific brief provided and so in these cases there may be far less creativity in regard to visual style or function. However these sorts of projects present their own set of problems to solve and in this regard I can often come up with my own solutions allowing for a lot of experimentation and learning. Currently I am working on an internal IP and subsequently have significantly more creative freedom and free rein to build what I feel we need.
Do you actively seek work (how?), and what is most important CV, portfolio, social media, blogs?
We do actively seek work on a work-for-hire basis and it is mainly achieved through word-of-mouth. Our portfolio is obviously important in illustrating our experience and we have acquired a handful of projects through more traditional public contracting channels but most of our work comes from just meeting people. Our Managing Director spends most days sending out emails to people or attending events in order to build relationships and acquire work. Making and maintaining these relationships is probably the most important thing we can do as a company.
What resources and infrastructure do you miss now that you are away from uni? Do you feel connected to the people or networks that were available in uni? How do you manage to make new contacts?
We are quite lucky at the moment as our current offices are still within the University building and this has actually proven to very useful. We have obtained a number of projects through staff at the university and have built new relationships with businesses outside of the University through collaborative projects started from within the institute. I think keeping up these relationships is absolutely invaluable to any professional as Universities provide such a huge network of students, staff and graduates that can be used to great benefit.
What one thing do you know now that you wish you had known when you were leaving uni?
Try to know everyone. I can’t stress how important that has become since moving into the professional workplace. It’s always amazing how much work you can get just from knowing people and leaving a positive impression on them. You might attend an event and casually chat to a few people and before you know it you’ve received an email from someone who’s recommended you via someone else for a project they need completed. Most of our work is acquired through building these social networks and the sooner you start the better. Oh and always carry business cards. Everywhere.
How do you overcome difficulties during projects such as lack of ideas, motivation etc?
I work with another artist, a 2D painter and concept artist, and I think this really helps when I am stuck or feeling uninspired. Having another person there who can give you some honest feedback and support is really invaluable and not only makes your work better but makes you a better artist. Again I think this comes back to just talking to people. Although it can be scary, opening yourself and your art up to others is a great way to grow and get better.
How do you manage your time and adjust to going from having the uni schedule to not having a set schedule as such? Do you plan projects up front?
We are still trying to figure out how best to approach scheduling as it is really difficult to get right and takes a lot of practice and experience. We try our best to break down projects as much as we can up front as this helps us cost them up for ourselves and our client. We try to attribute time-frames to all the necessary tasks and use task tracking software to manage them. Breaking tasks down and setting tight but achievable deadlines is a good way to keep on top of your work and not get overwhelmed.
How do you deal with clients and putting value in to your projects, cost per hour of your work, do you generally get a lot of negotiation in regards to hourly rate/selling rate?
We are very up front about costs as this helps us and the client properly scope a project. Often our clients have a set budget and a rough idea of what it is they would like made. We like to work as closely with our client as we can, to shape the project into something achievable that fulfils their specification and remains within their budget. We charge a competitive rate, as you should never under-value yourself, but we are always open to negotiation and will often do a little extra work to accommodate the client. Building a great relationship with the client is much more valuable in the long-term than not doing something they have asked for the sake of a little bit of cash. It could be the difference between a follow-up project or never hearing from them again. But on the same note, don’t be taken advantage of; competitive and fair is the way to go.
Have you experienced any form of internship, and if so, is it something you would recommend? How did you go about getting one? Are there any websites?
I’ve never taken part in a formal internship but I worked on some part-time freelance jobs while at Uni. I made sure to apply for every one of these opportunities when they came up as any experience is valuable.
Would you consider going back to education, do you have any plans for the future?
I don’t currently plan on going back into education as I have spent quite a lot of time there already and am thoroughly enjoying being self-employed. I get to learn new things every day at work so there is no shortage of education and I’m always looking for new things to try that will hopefully make me a better artist.
See more of Rob’s company’s work below!