Lighting Artist, Activision
Omar Gatica is an LA native and first generation American with a thirst to excel in a career he discovered and loves. His motivation was not the standard "Star Wars" or "Lord of the Rings". He did not initially set out to pursue a dream of working is digital FX. His motivation was the dreariness of a blue collar job. He wanted to do something more stimulating.
"I used to work in a warehouse running forklifts. That was one of the motivating forces, not to dread every day I went to work!" He would spend his days thinking about his latest video games and what he was going to do when he got home. When someone told him of some local computer animation classes, he realized that he could take his daydream and turn it into a dream job.
- What made you decide to pursue your education?
I always had a passion for movies and games, but it wasn't until about 1998 or Ď99 that I made the decision to pursue a career in the field of entertainment. Until then I never really made the connection that I could do this for a career.
Initially I enrolled in a two year computer animation program at a local community college. After graduation I looked for work, but soon realized that I needed more advanced training to attain the job opportunities that I wanted. That's when I enrolled myself at Gnomon.
- Why did you choose Gnomon, and why the Certificate Program?
I wanted to know everything I could about 3D. ďLet me get it all!Ē I was hungry, and very driven.
Gnomon offered the strongest curriculum anywhere. I considered several other schools, but Gnomonsí curriculum seemed far more advanced. What other schools were teaching in their last semesters, Gnomon was teaching in their second and third term.
- How long were you at Gnomon?
I enrolled from 2001 to 2003, in the 1Ĺ year certificate program. My Goal was to work in the industry at the highest caliber. I wanted to be involved with high end projects, in high end shops. Gnomon provided a lot of information, and I basked in that. It wasnít till I got to Gnomon that I realized how much potential there was in this field.
- What did you like best about attending Gnomon?
The most important aspect was being taught by working professionals. Other schools often approach their curriculum from theory, sourcing from something they read in a tutorial or manual. At Gnomon you are taught by people actually working in production. I wanted to be in a learning environment that most closely resembled the work place.
Gnomon gives you a big slice of everything. I was interested in all aspects of CG. At first I focused on modeling. There is an immediate gratification to modeling. Originally, my goal was to be a digital sets artist. I loved the idea of escaping into a virtual environment. You could be in another world, one that I created. In addition, I found myself enjoying Alex Alvarezís Particles 2 class. It provided a more technical insight into another aspect of the industry. When I took the lighting class with Jeremy Engleman, I discovered a certain calm about lighting; itís very soothing. I really liked that as well.
- Have your opportunities expanded since Gnomon?
Yes very much so, Iíve been working consistently since the end of 2003. After graduating Gnomon, I worked freelance as a Generalist on several commercial projects. I worked at Technicolor for a bit, as well as a few other smaller houses. I was then employed at NCsoft in Santa Monica, CA, where I worked on the ďGuild WarsĒ cinematics as a Lighter/ Compositor, and as a 3D Generalist. Following that I did some visual FX work for a horror film at Velocity Ape FX.
Last October, I was recruited by Activision in Santa Monica as a Lighter on the Central Technology team. Though my official title is Senior Lighting Artist, I am now more involved with the development of Next-Gen pipelines and tools. As of late I have been working with digital 3D scanning and data acquisition as it applies to Next-Gen pipelines.
- Was the Lighting something you selected, or did it select you?
It was an ambiguous path over the last three years. I am really a Generalist and repeatedly find myself in that role. I came out of Gnomon as a Generalist. To this day I donít have a specific preference, and like the variety. Itís like listening to music. While I love the guitar I also have an appreciation for the entire piece, bass, drums, vocals ect. Not just an isolated instrument.
I thought cinematics would be a good opportunity. I applied to NCsoft as a generalist in MMOG games. NCsoft started me in camera moves, but wound up moving me into Lighting, and I had the opportunity to work under a really good Lighter. When I left there, I continued to play that strength. Larger production houses tend to look for people that excel at a specific skill set, and not so much for generalists. The lighting experience that at NCsoft offered me was a great vehicle for me to develop a more specific skill set. I was hired at Activision to do lighting based on my experience, and now have taken on more responsibility.
- Has your pay level increased?
Yes. I started out at a couple commercial places, at an entry level position. I did a good job, and was more focused about building a good reputation than a big salary. At that point itís all about ďgetting your foot in the doorĒ. I worked for a few months at an entry level pay. After finishing those projects I started freelancing at other places around town, and gradually increased my rate by roughly 25%. Through out the course of the following two years I have roughly doubled my income.
- What is it you enjoy about it your profession the most?
I am a big kid, and to me, its just fun! When I go to work, itís like playing a game. I enjoy working in 3D and seeing the end result come together. Itís like watching magic. When you get past the interface and you are just creating, itís just art again. That, to me, is a lot of fun. When you are existing in that creative moment, itís very Zen-like and soothing.
- What do you do when youíre not doing this?
I hang out with friends, play Halo, go out with my girlfriend, sometimes travel. But I am a workaholic, and I find many people in this field are. I think this field draws the introverts that tend to be very focused on what they love.
- Where would you like to take your career next?
I would like to expand into high-end FX for film. I am at an interesting crossroads now, working in gaming R&D. By working R&D, Iím learning how to fix problems that no one has a manual for. Part of me would like to work for a small FX house, where, from an artistic point of view, you have a bit more freedom. At some point I would like to have a VFX Shop of my own.
- What would you tell someone who is considering a career in 3D?
This field is great, but donít come into it with the idea of working bankersí hours. No one is going to pay you without you paying your dues first. If the 9:00-5:00 job is what you want, this is not it. You gotta love what you do. I would say for me, it was 10% fate and luck, and 90% determination and working towards a goal.
- What advice do you have for students who are at Gnomon now?
A big part of this business is social interaction and working with people, understanding what your market is, and what your art director or client is going to want. To be good at your craft you have to understand what those needs are going to be so that you can easily adapt and change to fill the needs of the project. Remember that to a client or director, time really is money. I learned to deal with situations by thinking ahead. For example, setting up your work to be as flexible as possible knowing changes will be inevitable, and making the work quick and easy to revise.
Also, remember that itís an incredibly small micro chasm of an industry, and your reputation will precede you. Past co-workers and acquaintances are always re-emerging. This can be a blessing or a curse depending on your reputation. Itís always surprising how small the industry is.
- What aspect of the Certificate Program prepared you the most for working in the real production world?
I think the Certificate Program is very thorough, and speaks for its self. Having said that, one of the most valuable things you can learn at Gnomon is how to work within a community. Itís very rare you are going to work on something by yourself, and you do need to learn a good work ethic. Gnomon does not directly teach you the interaction, but its one of the things you learn while there because you are working with people in the industry as well as other students that are also passionate about what they do.
- What surprised you the most about your time at Gnomon?
I was surprised by the relationships that I established with other students and faculty. Some of my best friends are guys that I went to school with, and continue to work with now. Itís a community of people that share similar passions and goal. Most people that go to Gnomon really want to be there. I went for the classes and didnít expect that level of social interaction, but itís been a huge bonus.
- Would you consider returning for additional classes?
Absolutely. I think itís the best education in town.