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Meet BioWare's Professional Problem Solver

bguarneri

2014-04-23

In our Electronic Artists series, we’ll profile EA professionals who contribute to our games in all kinds of different ways.
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EA is made up of people who love to play games. We’re passionate about our industry and the world around us, and we want to let fans see what it takes to create our titles.

In our Electronic Artists series, we’ll profile EA professionals who contribute to our games in all kinds of different ways.

Take a peek behind the curtain with Electronic Artist Gracie Arenas Strittmatter.

What’s a typical day like for you? Give us all the details.
Truthfully, most days for a Technical Artist are never the same. Over the years, I’ve supported character and environment artists in many different ways. I like to think of myself as a professional problem solver! With my art and programming background, I help design tools and troubleshoot issues with the artist’s best interests in mind. Sometimes this means making some tools for them to help them make their lives easier. Sometimes this means troubleshooting a workflow that someone else wrote and I’ve never used before.

What keeps you up at night?
There are times when finding a solution for a problem—such as an elegant way to fix a bug or process data—isn't as easy as I had hoped. Some days I’ll go home and my brain will continue to think up potential solutions long after the day is over. I have to get my brain to calm down, so I’ll start reading from interesting places to get inspiration, like Reddit or Kickstarter, or even a Facebook or LinkedIn feed (which can get really awesome when you build a network of creative, diverse people and listen to their ideas). A lot of times I’ll actually arrive at a solution while keeping my mind off the problem--even in my sleep!

What’s the toughest lesson you’ve had to learn in your career?
Sometimes you have to think hard about what’s best for you and where you feel that you are valued and can make the most impact with the full range of skills that you have available. There’s never a “perfect job”—but there is one out there that will challenge you and develop you into the person you really want to be. Don’t get so fixated on where you want to be that you lose sight of who you want to be.

How would you suggest someone get started in your field?
Do you often tell people about your next big idea or feature for a video game? Maybe you could be a designer. Do you like math and computers? Maybe you could be a programmer. Do you like art? Maybe you could do character or environment art for games. Do some research to figure what role best suits you, and then determine the best programs to attend to get you ready for that job. For me, I had a passion for math, computers, and art. I found a way to keep doing these three things by pursuing a degree in Computer Science with a mathematics minor and taking art classes on the side.

Another piece of advice is to get involved with a professional group, such as ACM SIGGRAPH or IGDA, and attend or volunteer at conferences such as SIGGRAPH or GDC and start networking as soon as possible. Don’t underestimate your network—it’s one of the most important things that you could ever build for yourself.



What’s your creative outlet outside of the office?
I really enjoy taking art classes, especially in areas that I’m not as familiar with, such as pinhole photography, pastel drawing, or sculpture. This keeps my art skills sharp and often influences creativity in my own day-to-day work. I also like to solve problems, so sometimes you’ll find me watching YouTube videos, trying to figure out how to repair something at home on my own or make something cool. One of my biggest passions is baking, so I always look out for creative ways to combine ingredients to make something tasty and present it well. When I bring the results in to work they always go fast, so I must be doing something right!

What are some of the projects that you’re most proud of?
I think that there’s always something to be said about the first full professional project you ever work on, and for me, that was Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2010. That game represents the very first time I gave a full year of the best of my skills and abilities to create a product that reached hundreds of thousands of people. I had grown up enjoying a ton of games and the feeling of being able to provide that same experience for others was so cool. Each game I’ve worked on has its own special place in my memory. Now that I’ve started a new chapter at BioWare, there will surely be plenty more down the road.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in making entertainment?
I think one of the biggest yet most exciting challenges in the video game industry is keeping up with the technology. With every new console or graphics card that’s released, we’re finding that there are always new sets of problems to tackle. In the end, all we want to do is create fun and enjoyable interactive experiences for people to come back to again and again. That is something that a lot of people would love to do, but not many get the opportunity to do. I feel pretty lucky to be able to say that I have one of the best jobs in the world.

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