In the world of video game design, there's no bigger franchise than Call of Duty. For the last decade, Activision's Call of Duty series has been one of the most consistently popular and successful yearly releases in the industry, with several of the most recent titles in the franchise generating over $1 billion in sales each. The challenge, of course, is finding a way to keep the experience fresh while ensuring it stays familiar for dedicated fans.
We talked to Gnomon Alumni and Infinity Ward character artist Oscar Lopez about gaming blockbusters, multiplayer testing, and next-gen game development. Here's what he had to say:
How did you first get involved in the world of game design?
When I was attending Gnomon, the goal was always to do games. I ended up doing film work for about a year before I submitted my work to Infinity Ward. I originally applied for an environment position, because I didn't think my character work was strong enough. However, on my first day, I was given a test to do a head. I did ok on it and ever since then, I have been assigned to the character team.
Tell us a bit about your games background.
I've been extremely fortunate with my career in games. I've had the opportunity to work with the most talented group of individuals. I've been a part of the team that has helped develop Call of Duty: Modern Warfare since its early stages. I started at Infinity Ward with Call of Duty 2 and have worked with them all the way up to Call of Duty: Ghosts. I've been able to do character design, environment design, UI design as well as numerous other tasks. I've been very fortunate and have learned from some of the best people around.
What is your primary role at Infinity Ward?
The past 10 years have mostly revolved around character work for Call of Duty. That means I've had the opportunity to design, model, and texture characters. There's also been some concept for environments and vehicles along the way.
What are your responsibilities?
My primary responsibilities for the last 10 years have been to conceptualize, model and texture characters. This always spills over into modeling and texturing vehicles and props. I've been fortunate that I've had the opportunity to do other stuff besides characters.
What is your average day like?
Typical day usually starts around 10 am. Come in check over emails to make sure nothing major is happening with something you created for the game. Check for any issues that need to be addressed with one of my models. If I reported (bugged) any issues with the game– I'll follow up on it. You do this periodically throughout the day since the game is always changing. Requests from design will come in through email, so it's a good idea to keep an eye on your email. At Infinity Ward is very important that we all play the game. At around 5:30 pm we have multiplayer playtest. We encourage everyone to participate. Any suggestions or issues that come up can be brought up to the MP design team. It's a great way to keep an eye on the game. Other than that, it's pretty straightforward– you have a model to complete, and that's what occupies most of the work day. As we're nearing deadlines, I tend to play the game more often. If there are any issues I find that can be improved, I'll usually speak with the person responsible for that asset/level/feature.
What would you say has been your most challenging project so far?
My experience has been that all projects bring unique challenges for the team and individual. As an artist, you're always trying to get better, and that is a challenge in itself. However, as a team, I think Call of Duty: Ghosts was a challenging project for all of us. The transition of developing for current gen and next gen consoles was a challenge. As a team you ask, “How do you maintain quality across all platforms?" A game like Call of Duty needs to hit certain bar. Hitting that bar across all platforms was interesting. The team was able to pull through and hit our shipping date. I'm pretty proud of that fact. The game came out on time and has done extremely well.
What would you consider a dream project?
I thought about this question for the last few days… I enjoy what I do a great deal. I don't know if there's a higher or bigger game to be involved in. Within the studio, I've grown in so many different areas. I don't think I could go somewhere else and be allowed to do as much as I've done. Art, concept, UI, vehicles, props, and now design… I can look at this and say that this is probably my dream project. If I was somewhere else, I would likely be trying to reach the level of success that Infinity Ward has had with Call of Duty.
How did your education impact your ability to work in the field?
If you're debating going to Gnomon (or any school for the matter) and you're reading this… pay close attention… this is for you. Deciding to invest in myself by choosing to go to Gnomon was the best investment I have made in my entire life. When I went to Gnomon I didn't know how to use Photoshop or 3D software. Yes, was a lot of work, however, sometimes opportunities are hard work. The education I received at Gnomon prepared and gave me the tools to land a job 3 days after I graduated. By the time I got out of Gnomon, I had all the tools that I needed to start walking in the right direction. More importantly… it gave me options. I look back 12 years later and going to school was really the single best financial decision I have ever made.
How did you approach landing your current position?
One of the best things about attending a school like Gnomon is that your teachers are working professionals. One of my teachers, Kevin Chen had done concept for Call of Duty 1. I asked if he knew anyone at Infinity Ward and he knew the art director. He contacted him on my behalf and I was able to send my portfolio directly to him. Use your resources that are around you. Work your butt off and your teachers will stick their necks out for you. I'm very thankful to Kevin for sending that email in my behalf.
What advice would you give to aspiring games artists?
Be passionate about what you do. Don't just go into it because you need a job. Love what you're working on. Make it better. Immerse yourself in what your project is and you'll never feel like you're at work. Call of Duty is what it is because the people behind it love what they do. Any project that is successful has people behind it that are passionate about it. If you want to be an artist that works on games, play a lot of them. Play the bad and the good games. They all teach you something. Learn that you're not just an artist. You're a creative individual. Learn to understand game design as best as you can. Game creation is a very organic process, and things are always changing. Be open to your ideas evolving throughout time. It is so incredibly rare that any one idea will stay the same in development. Someone can always make it better. Be open to that. Best of luck.
Thanks for your time!
Founded in 1997, Gnomon has trained thousands of students and professionals for careers in the entertainment industry. Find out more