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 Luo Jiezhi, an assistant art director at Virtuos Shanghai who started out with us as a junior artist in 2012.
When it comes to creating game art, Luo Jiezhi, our Assistant Art Director in Environment Art at Virtuos Shanghai knows it all. Jiezhi first discovered his dream to become a game artist after he was introduced to the world of AAA games as a child, proceeding to study Game Art and Design in college. Attracted by the variety of AAA game projects at Virtuos, he joined us in 2012 as a junior artist and eventually climbed the ranks to become an assistant art director today.
Luo Jiezhi, Assistant Art Director, Virtuos Shanghai
We spoke to him about his experience at Virtuos Shanghai and heard more about how he helps cultivate young artists into great industry professionals.
Tell me more about your career history at Virtuos and how you came to join us back in 2012.
After graduating from college in 2011, I started working at a different game company. However, at the time, I had already heard about Virtuos and the AAA games that it was working on, which included some of my favorite ones. When I was offered the chance to work at Virtuos as a junior artist, I jumped at the opportunity without hesitation, and the rest is history. I’ve been at Virtuos for 10 years, and I’m delighted to have worked on so many famous titles, including Horizon Zero Dawn, Horizon Forbidden West, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
What sparked your interest in game art and design and motivated you to pursue it as a career?
When I was a young kid back in 1993, my dad bought me my first console as he thought that it was important for children to learn more about new technology. That opened my eyes to the world of games and since then, I’ve been hopelessly hooked on it. As I grew older, I started playing AAA games such as Zelda and God of War, and I was fascinated by their game graphics and visuals. I believe that’s when my dream to become a game artist started.
Could you tell us more about what you do as an assistant art director?
As an assistant art director, I guide our teams’ art direction, project quality, and monitor progress to ensure we can deliver high-quality work on time. Before starting on a new project, I would study and understand the artistic requirements of the project, then translate them for my team members in a way that they can understand well.
Jiezhi and his team in Shanghai
I also organize training for my art teams during the project process to ensure that the tools and methods we use are ahead of the curve. Besides training support, I provide my team members development plans that guide them to their ideal career paths and achieve their goals. Along with other senior art directors, I help to develop teams with unique characteristics that can synergize and work together to make games better, together.
What is the most memorable project that you’ve worked on at Virtuos?
That would have to be Horizon Zero Dawn. Back when I was a senior artist, we were tasked with creating the robots in the game. That was my first opportunity to work on such a big and complex project, and I was deeply impressed by Guerrilla Games’ movie-like design and art quality. While working on this project, I learned several techniques, including how to sculpt hard-surface models well using ZBrush. Besides technical skills, I truly realized the importance of pursuing excellence in whatever I do after seeing how amazing the final product of the game looked.
As a senior member of the art department, you work with junior artists regularly. How do you mentor and cultivate young artists and junior colleagues to become leaders themselves?
I try to loop our junior artists into projects as early as possible. In the early stages, I take the time to explain details, recommend techniques, and share my personal experiences with them. As they improve their skills, I will start assigning more complex tasks to help them to gain experience. While monitoring their progress, I usually provide them with some customized training tailored to their observed areas of improvement.
I also encourage them to improve their communication skills and find solutions to the problems they encounter by discussing with other artists in the team.
Through communicating with other team members, they learn to work better with people and gain the confidence to solve problems with their own ability, rather than to only rely on their seniors for solutions.
My goal when mentoring junior artists is to encourage them to learn skills and accumulate experience independently.
Did you have someone who guided you throughout this decade at Virtuos, from a senior 3D artist to a team leader, and now, an assistant art director? Could you describe your learning process?
I think a lot of people have provided me with help and guidance in my journey, from my direct manager to senior members of the art department and Virtuos’ senior management. They’ve created a conducive environment for me to grow as an artist and leader, allowing me to take on more challenging projects over time. They’ve also been very responsive and accommodating to issues I’ve faced at work at times, communicating with me regularly.
Team dinner with Virtuos Shanghai
At Virtuos, we have structured training support to help improve our technical skills and managerial abilities. Additionally, our Central Technology Group (CTG) often invites industry leaders and R&D experts to conduct lectures, giving us insight into the latest tools in game development to stay relevant.
We are also provided with certified training courses for professional managerial training. Besides such programs, Gilles, our CEO at Virtuos, also personally organizes internal sessions with us to share his management experience with us every year.
As a person and leader, I’ve learned to be more introspective and level-headed over time. When I was first promoted to a team leader, my seniors and mentor often reminded me to stay rational, think about problems from multiple perspectives, and make objective and reasonable decisions.
What are the three most important skills or traits that new artists should possess? What do you emphasize when teaching new artists?
There are three things that I usually advise new artists on – build a solid foundation of technical skills, have a strong and healthy mindset capable of overcoming challenges and hurdles, and possess a continued passion for games.
Basic skillsets are the fundamentals to achieving their dreams, which will carry them a long way as they progress further.
Furthermore, our projects at Virtuos are mostly AAA games that can be complex and challenging at times. An artist with a healthy mindset would be able to analyze problems with a rational mind and actively seek help rather than give up. Last but not least, our passion for games will help drive our careers in the video games industry and keep us motivated.
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?
I enjoy playing basketball and taking walks along the Huangpu River with my wife during weekends and in my free time. Sometimes, I work on my personal game-related projects, and of course, playing games is an essential part of my life too! I’ve tried many games but my favorite is still the Zelda franchise, which has some of the best games that have ever been made, hands down.
Share with us a piece of advice that you’d give to your younger self and other young artists starting out in the video game industry.
Never fear challenges; trust your abilities, and your efforts will definitely pay off.