Ognyan Zahariev

What course did you study?

Games Art

What's your favourite game?

Tomb Raider. Looking back I am pretty sure that this game made me realise that this is what I want to do for a living when I was a young teenager. There were many others that had a great influence on me in terms of career choice and later on as an artist.

Ognyan Zahariev

Tell me a little about Ubisoft and what it's like to work there?

Ubisoft is a very big company with studios all over the world. The company develops a wide range IPs which gives employees a chance to work on various projects. As a lighting artist I’ve had a chance to be part of the development of franchises such as Assassin’s Creed and The Division which reach millions of players around the world.

What are you working on at the moment at Ubisoft?

We are currently wrapping up Assassin’s Creed Origins. Before that I worked on The Division, Assassin’s Creed Rogue and Assassin’s Creed Black Flag.

What else have you worked on since leaving Escape Studios?

After finishing the course at Escape Studios I joined Codemasters where I had a chance to work on titles such as Operation Flashpoint, Grid, and, Dirt. I joined Ubisoft four years ago and I was part of the development of the following titles: Assassin’s Creed Black flag, AC Rogue, AC Syndicate, The Division and AC Origins.

What skills do you think Escape Studios gave you that helped to get you into your first role?

The most important thing I learned is going through all the proper steps in a standard industry pipeline. It also taught me to prioritize my tasks which is crucial during the production of a game. Learning to use a 3D package can be done through simple tutorials but being guided by an experienced professional along the way and getting instant feedback is incredibly valuable.

If you had to sum up your time at Escape Studios in word what would it be and why?

Inspiring! The tutor’s attitude inspired us to give our best every single day of the course. The tutors all had successful careers in the Games and VFX industry so we had a chance to learn a lot from their experience. I met many like-minded people and made new friends from all over the world. The course has a very practical approach and sort of simulates an industry environment which prepares the students for the challenges ahead of them.

How did studying at Escape Studios help you into the world of games art?

The course was very intense and covered all the major aspects of working in the industry. We acquired all the necessary skills to build a solid portfolio and the projects we worked on allowed us to develop some good habits like efficiency, productivity and discipline due to the time constraints which are something normal during a production period in the industry.
Escape provided a lot of support in the job hunting process and they gave me very useful feedback on my portfolio.

You've said your dreams are even more ambitious - where do you see yourself going next?

My dream is to create my own games. At the beginning they will need to have a very reasonable scope but I do believe that with the current state of the industry and the immergence of all these amazing affordable tools, indie development has never been more accessible. I love AAA development and I am sure I will keep going back to it but I’d love to create something of my own. I am also interested in giving back to the game-dev community and in the past year I’ve been doing more tutorials and breakdowns.

What lessons have you learnt during your time studying and your time working in games?

I learned the importance of planning and prototyping my tasks. This is key when it comes to the execution of more complex tasks and spending some time on prototyping often saves me weeks of additional work. It’s always better when you encounter certain issues early on in production. I’ve learned to control my ego which can be a challenge for some artists but I never forget to keep an open mind as some of the best ideas are born during discussions with other team members and friends. One should not be afraid to take a step back and change something if it is going lead to better quality and the production deadlines allow it.

I strive to stay ahead of changes in the tools used in the industry. We live in a very exciting time for the game development industry when new amazing tools emerge quite often but it takes longer for studios to start using them on a global scale. I consider myself lucky to work in the industry nowadays when the tools at our disposal allow us to different ideas in a limited amount of time. I learned to make the best of being part of a large team and to use the energy of people around me to fuel my creativity and inspiration. Giving back some of that energy goes a long way when it comes to collaborating with your colleagues.

Perhaps most important of all is that I never let myself lose sight of my goals and the reason I chose this career. Years after I joined the industry I still have that same spark in me that started it all and my dreams are even more ambitious.

What is your advice for those considering entering the industry?

Make sure that you have enough variety in your portfolio. I know that many artists have a favourite art style or genre but the competition is steep so not all of them will get their dream job from the first try. This should not discourage you! Gain enough experience, keep improving your artwork and I guarantee you that your efforts will pay off. Keep your projects at a manageable size. It is very easy to get carried away when you lack experience and you ride the wings of enthusiasm. I am not saying that you should not be ambitious just make sure you can fill your portfolio with high quality and various content within a reasonable timeframe unless you can afford to work on it for ages.

Try to be self-critical and only place your best work in your portfolio. Quality always beats quantity! Don’t lose sight of your dreams and stay driven even during setbacks. Work hard and you’ll get there!

You mention in your success story that it's important to stay ahead of the industry - what advice would you give to be able to do this?

My advice is not to get too comfortable with your current knowledge. New tools are coming out every month and existing ones are being upgraded. This has a significant impact on efficiency of production. This applies to all areas of development but a good example would be texturing where there has been a massive advancement with the immergence of tools such as Substance, Quixel and Mari. If artists get stuck at a single approach to doing their work they risk falling behind the competition and having less time to polish their work and experiment. Strive to be flexible and open minded!

The course was very intense and covered all the major aspects of working in the industry. We acquired all the necessary skills to build a solid portfolio and the projects we worked on allowed us to develop some good habits like efficiency, productivity and discipline due to the time constraints which are something normal during a production period in the industry.

Ognyan Zahariev, Escapee