A couple of days ago, I published this story for the first time to delete it shortly after I hit the post button. Why? I was scared to be writing something too personal for someone else to read. I didn’t think about the truth tho. This is a story that can help many people that are lost and didn’t find their way yet. I really hope it reaches someone that finds themselves in the same situation and serves as guidance!
Step 1 - Be lost so that you can find your way.
It was a hot summer, the one of 2010. I remember sitting down to take a break from a long day of skateboarding. Somehow, I couldn’t understand why I was so tired when my legs were feeling strong. It might have been the first time I experienced demotivation.
It wasn’t the last time by far that I was going to feel this way. Growing up in Spain is a beautiful experience until you reach the time to decide what you want to do with your life. I had two choices. Studying an arts-based degree, just because I was lazy and I absolutely knew I didn’t want to deal with any type of science or jump into one of these incomplete government-backed studies for people that didn’t want to go to uni.
At the time, I was dealing with something huge. I had spent the last 10 years of my life surrounded by skateboarding. It was my whole world. I went to sleep thinking about it, woke up with videos of it… It absolutely never left my mind. Not even when some beautiful girl accompanied me… But then it happened. Ten years was enough. I was strong in my body but weak in my mind. I had spent too much time focused on one thing that took me nowhere, and I wasn’t becoming good at anything else while I was at it.
It was about time to decide what I wanted to do with my professional life. I still had one year left of high school, so the pressure wasn’t huge yet, or at least the external pressure, but inside of my never resting brain, pressure had been building up for god knows how much time.
I have always been an unquiet person. When I was a kid, I couldn’t stop thinking about my next project, whether that was a website to showcase some funny animations (Funny for a 10-year-old) or recording skate videos to learn how to edit them and upload them to youtube. This has been favorous for me in the long run, but when you are lost, and your brain keeps asking for something to think about, something to look forward to, and there’s nothing that you can find to calm the thirst for new knowledge and the chase of a dream, anxiety starts to kick in, and it’s easy to lose the north.
And so I did. I lost my way. I didn’t know where I wanted to go anymore.
Step 2 - Take action, even if you don’t know what action you are taking.
I remember that moment as if I had a thin curtain covering my eyes. Nothing from that memory is clear. I was so scared, so hopeless… But I was still a boy that had nothing to lose, so I grabbed my mom and dad, sat them down, and told them what I was about to do, eyes full of tears.
— Mom, Dad, I want to drop out of school to study some sort of visual arts that can be done on a computer. I don’t know what it is, but I will pursue it with all my strength. All I need from you is to trust me because I am going to do this by myself. —
At the time, I didn’t even know what I really wanted, but I knew I had to do something that I chose to do. I didn’t want to be dragged on to something that didn’t satiate my hunger to learn. Even if you don’t know what it will do for you, taking action will teach you more than doing nothing.
Luckily my parents were very supportive. I don’t know if they had given up on trying to make a good student out of me, or if they really wanted to support me, I mean, I found out years later that my mom had to retake her anxiety medication because of this, so I’m quite sure she would have preferred this to go a different way. Still, at least she wasn’t an obstacle (As ugly as that sounds). Now she’s even proud, for those of you that worry about other people’s moms. I do, I mean, everyone is someone’s child, and no one in the world will suffer more for you than your mom, but that’s a whole different story.
After our talk, my parents asked me to put something together quickly. Search for schools, online courses, and all that could help me achieve my goal, which, let’s remember, not even myself knew what it was. I went the easy route. I found a school, they taught everything in the audio-visual industry, so I scheduled a meeting with the principal to discuss openings in the video editing courses.
Step 3 - Find what you want, and hold on to it tight.
It was late summer 2012, somewhere around September. My mom and I went to this meeting. I was 17 years old. You can imagine the advice a principal can give a mother about a dropout teenager. I remember his words very often:
— M’am, I’m not going to lie to you. Less than 1% of the people that decide to study this get to make a living out of it. —
And so I said:
— Then I’ll be in that 1% —
At that time, I knew I was holding on to something so thin… I had to give it my best, look extremely convinced that this is what I wanted.
— We currently don’t have any openings for video editing —
My heart dropped at this point. This was my chance. If we walked out of there hands empty, my mom would think about the principal's advice to her.
— However, there’s an opening on the 3D Visual Effects course. Your son will learn how to use 3D Software to use it on movie post-production or videogame development —
What? 3D? But isn’t that the funny glasses they give you at the movies with the cyan and red lenses? My mind was blown away. I didn’t even know why but that sounded so crazy I suddenly wanted to know all about it.
— Yes! Count me in! Visual effects sounds like it can be a good start for video editing! —
Do I have to say that I never got to study editing after that? Well yeah, I fell in love with 3D so much that I couldn’t think about anything else for years. It was similar to what happened to me with skateboarding. I had found my passion.
Step 4 - Work hard and be ready to make sacrifices.
The principal and my mother agreed that he would call her every week to report my progress. He stopped after a month.
I remember starting the class with people that had already played around with 3D. I felt extremely underqualified when compared with my classmates.
This will sound cocky, but it wasn’t long until people started to ask me how I managed to do certain things. I was so into it I spent 3 hours in class, ate a bit, and sat down 8 more to practice what I had learned that day. I was completely dedicated to making it work.
I think my mother had never seen me so much into something. She even asked me to stop for the day sometimes. Let’s bear in mind I had never opened a book to study in my entire life before that.
I remember my mom telling me that she was happy that I had found something I really liked, but she wasn’t convinced that it had a future.
— Remember, only less than 1% get to make it. It’s like wanting to be a famous singer or a football player. Everyone wants to be one. —
I understood this as a lack of confidence on my path, so I decided to sit down with them again after some time.
— It’s been about 6 months now that I have been studying 3D. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate the opportunity you gave me like a gift from heaven. I have bad news tho. If I want to be something in this field, I will have to move out really soon. This is a dream for me now, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it happen —
I was only 18 at the time. People in Spain move out in their late 20s… but I wasn’t wrong. Every Spanish person I have worked with has had to leave their home to find an opportunity. There will always be exceptions, extremely lucky people, but you need to move around if you want to be big.
My mom began to worry about this. Moving out so young wasn’t normal. Even my grandma began to worry. She always told me that people who move out young do many drugs and party too much. I have to thank her for that as it created a fear of losing focus on what I wanted if I moved out and, as she said, do drugs and work very little.
Step 5 - Never get comfortable even if it looks like you made it.
After a year of working hard and making a good portfolio, I managed to land a job. I was responsible for creating game-ready buildings for a flight simulator developed by these big simulation companies. I was 18 years old and already making twice as much as the minimum wage in Spain. Finally, my parents were at rest. But was I?
After 3 weeks, I realized that was going nowhere. I was back where I started but with a salary and many food tickets to spend on restaurants. I was doing something that didn’t fulfill my hunger to learn, and the scopes didn’t look too good either. People there had spent 14 years doing the same job — low poly houses for flight simulation.
Every day I arrived home tired, with little to no energy to continue learning, making things worse. Yes, I had a salary, and yes, technically, I was working as a 3D artist, but that’s not why I left everything and made my parents suffer. That was like making 50% of the job and calling it good!
On the first day of my fourth week, I resigned from that job. I wanted to spend my time learning, not making money, that would come later. I’ve let many people down during my career for this very reason, and I know this very well. I’ve burned bridges. I’ve made promises I haven’t been able to fulfill. But I have been happy, and I have been able to take care of my biggest tool, my mental health.
After leaving my first job after four weeks of intense self-disappointment, I decided it was time to push the most important resource I could develop at that point—my portfolio.
Step 6 - Chase the dream and chase it hard.
To the people that surrounded me at the time, it looked like I was back where I started. To me, it looked like I had a very bright future ahead of me.
I started getting in touch with companies. At that time, Artstation was starting, and I was able to join the beta. I also constantly contributed to the Polycount forums, so I decided to ask around there.
After a lot of research and getting tons of feedback from these resources I mentioned before, I was ready to put something that looked somewhat professional out there—my first portfolio.
After this big achievement, I decided to take a break. Likes were coming, and people were enjoying what I had done with my work. Now it was time for a break.
I was sitting down on the floor, watching my old friends skate for the last time. The phone rang. I had a solid offer to become an environment artist at an outsource company. I was going to work on a AAA game, and what’s more important, I was ready to leave everything behind to chase this new challenge that had come before me.
I made it into the games industry. I had made it being 85% self-taught. I was 6 years younger than the average entry-level professional. If it weren’t for my parent’s support and ability to leave matters in my hands, I would have made it in an environment where I was backed by myself only.
Now that I made it in, it was time to show the world that I could be a professional and not just an average one. I packed my bags and moved on to the beginning of my adventure.