I'd like to start with a thank you. Thanks to everyone who will take the time to read through this article.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Boutra El Hadi, but you can call me ''Sissine'' like my friends do for reasons I still don't know. I'm 25 years old, from Algeria, North Africa, currently living in Russia and working as a freelance 3D artist.
These are my thoughts and struggles, my past and current experiences navigating the sea of life and trying to make it in the games industry as a professional 3D artist.
Now, since the presentations have been set and done, let's start our little story.
Born at the right time but at the wrong place.
As you may already know, I'm from Algeria. It's a beautiful country, especially in summer, as many visitors come from all of Europe to enjoy the coastal beaches, the forests, the Sahara desert, and some Roman historical landmarks.
Unfortunately, and despite its undeniable beauty, Algeria is still a developing country. It lacks any type of digital entertainment industry, which in laymen's terms means no game or VFX studios to work at, making it impossible to kickstart an art career in games or movies there.
Growing up in the city, I had a nice childhood, I'd say. My father bought me a computer when I was 4 years old, and I think it's one of the main deciding factors to where and who I'm at today, so thanks, dad!
Getting a computer exposed video games and arcades to me. I can vividly remember the first time I went to an arcade. All the 8 and 16-bit sounds and the people gathered around a screen... I didn't understand what was going on whatsoever, but it picked my curiosity greatly, so I approached those guys and tried to get in between them to have a look, and I saw it.
Dudes beating thugs and dinosaurs riding a Cadillac. I think I was hooked ever since, and all I could think about was going to the arcade whenever I had some pocket change on me to play "Cadillacs and Dinos," "Metal Slug," "KOF," or "Marvel Vs. Capcom," which were my absolute favorites.
You've got to love those graphics.
Entering the Playstation 2 era, my love and fascination for this medium never stopped growing. It was then when I started to dream about working in this industry more and more each passing year.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago.
Two years ago, I didn't know much about game art. I knew what was mainstream at the time and commonly known but not how the sausage was made, as they say.
In my second year at university, I was clueless and lost studying stuff I had barely any interest in learning. Honestly, it made me depressed knowing that my dreams were out of reach, and getting laughed at by friends and family didn't help.
This never fully discouraged me, and it should never discourage you either, dear reader!
I knew pretty early that I had to go abroad eventually if I wanted to really make a career out of my passion, so it all started thinking about where to go.
I tried to study in France without any success. Then one of my friends recommended Russia to me. I was very hesitant at first, but since I was fluent in both French and English and I was a native Arabic speaker, I thought that learning a new language would be a fun experience and a nice bonus to add to the other ones, so I started looking for any game studios in Russia.
To my great surprise, they were many outsourcing studios in the main cities of Russia, which made me feel optimistic. After that, I started looking for universities and found one I liked.
After 6 months of planning and dealing with the paperwork, I made it to Saint Petersburg and started my first year of learning Russian.
Shortly after that, the Covid-19 situation hit pretty hard. The world was on lockdown, and I couldn't return back to my country after the first year.
Since I wasn't on scholarship, I was stuck in Russia. I had to find a job just to survive. A very benevolent person always supported me unconditionally, so after a while and with that strength behind me, I ended up working at a gaming rig building company, so I was back on track and focused on working towards making my dream come true.
I wanted to start learning game art as soon as possible, and luckily since I had only 3 hours of class per day, I had plenty of time to focus on just that. It wasn't all that easy tho.
In the beginning, I was quite overwhelmed as I didn't know what to learn exactly.
Do I learn level design? Environment art, maybe? Props and assets, or characters? Unreal engine? Isn't Unity more beginner-friendly? Hard surface modeling? Sculpting? What's a pipeline? Retopology, who is that? What software should I learn? Maya? Zbrush? Blender? Substance?...
These questions answered for themselves over time as I learned more about the industry and the place I wanted to occupy inside of it. Some of them depend heavily on our artistic affinities and what we're really passionate about, or after 1 or 2 months of trying different aspects.
I learned from this that I had to figure out what I wanted to do and reach out to different artists on Artstation or Discord that could help me understand what I needed to do to get to where I wanted to be.
The game art scene is one of the most welcoming and helpful communities I know. Many people out there are really willing to help, so don't be shy and get yourself out there. It will make you improve.
Road to 3D Artist.
After asking around and understanding what I wanted to become, I was again at a point where I needed assistance. Luckily, my best buddy YouTube helped me figure out everything I needed to learn, from modeling to UV unwrapping, texturing, and rendering.
Following video tutorials wasn't enough, as I understood later on.
If you want to become a great artist, you have to learn from a great artist. I was at a point where I felt depressed and wanting to give up, seeing how little my art had progressed after a really long time trying hard.
Fortunately, I stumbled across a course that flipped my whole perception. Simon Fuchs had released a tutorial packed with everything you need to know to make an asset look professional, so I bought the course and sat through the filled with workflow and methodology full 40-hour tutorial. (Link Below)
It took me two months to complete the piece, but after giving it my own touch and personality, I had my first prop, which came with a huge feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Note from the editor: A first prop? Pretty good job for it if you ask me, 10 out of 10 Sissine!
Right after that, I was pumped and excited to find my next prop. I wanted to make a walkman for some reason.
It was time to start gathering references and planning the piece. A really cool walkman tutorial by Dylan Abernethy helped me a lot with a better understanding of the workflows, tips, and tricks for texturing.
This one took me a month to complete as I was getting used to Maya and Zbrush, and the muscle memory gained from the recently completed radio further helped with the process.
This time I was delighted with how agile I was starting to be with the game art workflows.
I started to receive a lot of great feedback for this piece, which encouraged me a lot to start my third model, the Alien Tracker.
This model was the most fun I've had with. I have some great memories playing Alien Isolation, so this was a must-have in my portfolio.
After finishing it, I ran to seek feedback, and guess what! The artist who made the original gave me props for it being the best rendition of his work, which gave me the ultimate motivation boost.
As of today, there are obvious things to improve, but I'm thrilled with the progress I've made so far.
I'm really looking forward to making props for the next two years seeing other amazing artists' pieces.
Game art is a race without a finish line, so getting better and better is the only way to ensure you keep moving forward.
Sometimes Life Blows Hot and Cold.
It's been about 2 years since I started living in Russia. I made many friends here, and I love St. Petersburg, but soon I'll have to leave and go back to my country.
The saddest part is that I got two work offers as a junior in two of the biggest outsourcing studios in the city. Blacksteinn and Sperasoft.
Sadly I can't work in Russia without a work permit. They can't deliver those for foreigners wanting to work as juniors due to very strict labor laws and the minimum wage they need to pay foreign workers, which discourages most studios from hiring juniors outside of Russia.
In short, the dream was so close but sadly still looks unreachable.
This made me depressed for a while, but now I just see it as another challenge I need to overcome, as there's always a mountain waiting for you behind the one you are already climbing.
So What's Next? It's the end of a journey and the beginning of a new one!
An artist's life is a never-ending journey. There will always be new heights to be reached. I feel like I've matured quite a lot in the last two years, so I'm proud of having taken this risk of leaving my country and comfort zone.
I'm looking forward to seeing my family, which I miss a lot since I haven't seen them since I came to Russia, and going to the beach and getting a tan, you know... Summer stuff!
After that, it'll be time to continue working and polishing my portfolio, maybe even try some environment art and photogrammetry. So many new choices on where to take my career a step further!
I'll keep trying to get a job by maybe working online as more and more studios open their minds to remote work, and after that, maybe I'll be ready to get that dream job in a studio.
Everything is possible if you try and work for it hard enough, but the most important thing that I always remind myself is that I'm doing what I love, and I have fun doing it!
Thanks a lot to Javier Benitez for giving me this opportunity to tell my story, and thank you for going through all this. I hope you got something useful or helpful out of it. This was my first article, quite a meaty one, I think, so I hope I didn't bore you with my life.
My last piece of advice would be, don't be a lone wolf, and join the pack! Art is like food. It always tastes better when you share it with other people. If you ever feel lost and need help or just want to game with people, I'll leave some game art-related servers here.
You can even hit me up on discord or Artstation, and I'll do my best to help. This was Sissine, signing out!
See you, space cowboy...