This article is part of Virtuos Insider, a series of interviews where Virtuosi share about their careers and experiences in the company and video game industry at large. In this installment, we chat with Gu Zhengkai, an assistant art director at Virtuos Chengdu who started out with us as a trainee artist after graduating in 2010. 

Like many of our colleagues at Virtuos, Gu Zhengkai, Assistant Art Director in 3D Environment at Virtuos Chengdu decided to turn his love for video games into a profession while considering career choices in university. A spunky music lover and proud cat dad, many in Virtuos will know Zhengkai as a fun and approachable art veteran.

gu zhengkai, virtuos art director
Gu Zhengkai, Assistant Art Director, Virtuos Chengdu

A huge car enthusiast back in his university days, Zhengkai learned how to create car designs with 3D software programs in his free time. With his self-taught skills, he eventually joined our studio in Chengdu straight after graduation as a trainee in the 3D environment art team in 2010. After 11 years at Virtuos, he eventually rose through the ranks to become an assistant art director, having gained a wealth of experience from several projects and regular training.

We spoke to him to learn more about the life as a game creator at Virtuos Chengdu, and what keeps him going after spending the last decade making games with us.

Video: A Day in the Life of an Assistant Art Director at Virtuos

Hi Zhengkai! Could you tell us more about your career history in Virtuos, and how you came to join us?

Back in my university days, I was obsessed with Need for Speed: Most Wanted and began making car designs using 3D software modeling for fun. I decided to apply for a job at Virtuos as I wanted to keep making games after graduation, and eventually landed a job as a trainee in the environment art team in Virtuos Chengdu!

Could you tell us more about what you do as an assistant art director? What is your philosophy when it comes to leadership?

As Assistant Art Director, I work with our Art Studio Director to manage our art teams in Virtuos Chengdu, offer guidance to artists on their work, give advice and help facilitate projects, and build up our teams’ competencies over time.

As a leader, I believe that my job is to be the tool that helps my team grow together.

I’m more goal-oriented when it comes to working with my team. While I track their progress from time to time, I prefer to let them explore the process of achieving those goals rather than telling them what to do every step of the way. If they encounter issues and roadblocks along the way, I’ll try to guide them towards the right choice and help them come up with the solutions through their own effort.

How would you describe your last 11 years working at Virtuos?

If I could describe my past decade working here in three words, they would be: “Growth, Love, and Living”.

I’ve spent all of my working career so far at Virtuos, and the company and people here have helped me grow tremendously both professionally and personally. In return, I’ve also become a leader capable of helping my fellow artists grow and learn together. I’ve spent the last 11 years making games while enjoying the perfect balance between work and life, and I believe this is what keeps me going as I genuinely love this kind of life.

Zhengkai at a company event with colleagues in Virtuos Chengdu

You’ve been working at Virtuos since you graduated from university – What was the progression from trainee to assistant art director like? How did Virtuos support your growth as a leader in the company?

Virtuos is a global company where veterans in the gaming industry gather from all over the world.

I’m lucky to meet seniors that have guided me at every stage of my career – my mentor back in my trainee days, my team leader when I was a senior artist, and my art director when I became a team leader.

Even now, I’m still receiving guidance and advice from senior art directors at Virtuos Chengdu and other studios. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to grow under the leadership of my mentors here every step of the way.

In the past decade, my experiences from working on projects, listening to client feedback and our internal knowledge sharing network at Virtuos has been the best learning material personally. Furthermore, I’ve also benefited a lot from external leadership and management training programs provided by the company, which has laid a solid foundation for my growth as a leader and manager.

Zhengkai and other Virtuos Chengdu colleagues having a basketball match

What was your most memorable moment working at Virtuos in the last 10 years?

The most memorable time I’ve had working at Virtuos was when I was tasked with a co-development project a few years ago. It was my first time covering level, props, and lighting art simultaneously, and I felt pretty pressured initially. However, I received a lot of support from Chee Kin, our Studio Art Director and Akram, our Technical Art Director, who guided my team and I on overcoming several challenges that I faced in this project. The project was eventually completed successfully and I personally grew a lot working on it.

Tell us a bit more about yourself – what do you normally do on weekends and in your free time? Do you have a favorite game?

Virtuos is a company that advocates work-life balance, allowing me to have time to enjoy my life outside of work and try out many different hobbies. In my free time, I enjoy playing music, sports, travelling, photography, and of course, gaming is my biggest hobby. My favorite game is the Forza: Horizon series. I’ve played every generation of the franchise!

Apart from my hobbies, I devote a lot of my free time to work on my personal projects, and occasionally participate in Computer Graphics (CG) competitions. Here’s one of my creations, which won an award at the Global Game Art Contest (GGAC).

“Porcelain Warrior” by Gu Zhengkai

You can check out my ArtStation profile here as well.

If you could share one piece of advice to your younger self 10 years ago, or fresh graduates planning to join the video game industry, what would you say?

Never forget why you started. As long as you persevere, you can succeed.

For anyone who wants to join Virtuos, if you love to learn and are challenge-driven, it won’t be long before your name shows up in the credits list of various AAA titles. You will go from being a newbie to becoming an expert respected in the industry, I guarantee!