Nick Wolensky, Principal Technical Artist
Nick joined MPG in June 2021, having recently moved from the US to Brazil. He's been in games for 4 years, with 12 years in the CG industry. His superpower is his desire constantly learn, and his kryptonite is Imposter Syndrome - and Pão de Queijo - Brazillian cheese bread.
What attracted you to working in games?
Video games have always been an interest of mine ever since I was a child. It was the one thing that you would be certain of if you had asked the question "Where's Nick?".
Well, it's obvious. I was downstairs lost in a fantasy world exploring dungeons filling my imagination for hours on end.
From a child, though, I wanted to be a cartoonist. I would watch cartoons every day and had a VHS tape of the "Greatest Cartoons of All Time." I quickly scratched that idea when I realised that I couldn't draw. I was still at the point where I didn't know that I had to actually work hard for my dreams.
Over the years I've taken a detour through different industries, but over the past few years in games, it's like I'm returning to my first love. Now what makes me excited for work is enabling artists to produce their best work by building tools and solving problems.
How did you get into the industry?
Through a collective interest in video games, cartoons, 3d animation, and computers, I downloaded a student copy of 3ds Max and Maya and began playing around with them. My love for 3d was really stoked by tutorial videos produced by 3d Buzz. As a young, bright-eyed and naïve student with no idea what I wanted or needed from a university, I started my journey at a school nearby taking a minor in Digital Media with a major in Art. The problem was that the digital media program included a mix of topics such as website design and illustration and wasn't solely focused on 3d animation — maybe a class or two in 3d. On top of that, my 3d professor left the very first year I started going there. I sat around for two years teaching myself while I waited for another professor to come on board to teach me what I needed to know. I applied to a number of internships during this time and got nowhere. A professor never joined, and I had a bit of a crisis. What do I do now? How would I even get a job in the industry? So I took to the internet to find a new school. There were a couple of schools that had really interested me such as Ringling College of Art and Design and Full Sail University located in Florida. I flew down to visit these schools and through an act of providence, I received a call from another school that I had applied to — Savannah College of Art and Design. I was accepted.
My first job was at a marketing company in Utah. I worked there as a 3d generalist with a small 3d team on iOS applications. Things didn’t work out and after about 9 months the 3d team was purchased by one of their clients, a company that focused on providing 3d applications for doctors. At this time, I had very little programming experience. It was during my time at this company where I bought a large book on Python and went through the whole thing. I was quite literally hooked. Our boss was also gracious enough to send us to Siggraph conferences every year for learning and inspiration. After a number of years working there and year after year visiting Siggraph, I had a desire for more. I began applying to studios all over the world. That's when I was approached by a studio called Bardel Entertainment in Vancouver, British Columbia. During my short time in Vancouver, I worked as a rigger on a couple of projects most notably the Dragon Prince created for Netflix and produced by Wonderstorm.
After about a year and a half in Vancouver, unbeknownst to me, my life was about to change. I met my wife, Marianne. She convinced me to move to the East Coast in the States and is the whole reason why I ended up in the games industry. She helped me find a job at Zenimax Online Studios in Maryland. They were in need of a technical artist/rigger. Even though I had worked in the industry for a little while, I still didn't feel like I was qualified for the job, but I applied anyway, and it turned out really well. I worked there for a couple of years before the pandemic happened, and I was forced to make a decision. When travel restrictions were lifted slightly, I took the opportunity to spend three months in Brazil and worked remotely. It was during this time that we got engaged and then it became a mad scramble to get everything together for my next adventure. I'm really grateful to Zenimax for putting me in touch with MPG which enabled me an easier transition into the next chapter of my life.
How is it different now from when you joined?
I’m still fairly new to the games industry. Since I started working I guess the most obvious difference is that I feel like everyone is younger than me now. Where does the time go???
What's your proudest achievement?
Spreading my wings and travelling out of my parents' house for my first job with very little to my name. I owe a lot of my experiences to the (unexpected) confidence and traveller's spirit that I didn't know I had. I'm also quite proud of the work that we did at Bardel Entertainment where I worked as a rigger on the Dragon Prince. We ended up winning a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Animated Series, and I have the certificate hanging up in my office. Finally, moving to Brazil and getting married to my wife during a pandemic. I wasn't willing to postpone, but I'd be lying if I said that we didn't have our share of challenges during that time (and a lot of paperwork).
What led you to join MPG?
I had known that MPG was a contractor with Zenimax at the time working on a new project. I loved my experience at Zenimax and the people that I worked with. When I was making my decision to leave and move to Brazil to be with my wife, an opportunity arose where I was able to interview with MPG. I was really drawn to the idea that I would be able to work remotely, provide for my family while living in a different country, and continue working with an amazing team.
What game do you wish you'd worked on and why?
The upcoming Baldur's Gate 3 by Larian Studios. Baldur's Gate was my absolute favourite game growing up. I brought my computer everywhere with me; even on family vacations. I've always been drawn to adventure RPGs so I guess it's a bit of a nostalgic choice for me. I've been playing the early access game, and I'm very excited for the direction it's going.
Do you have any heroes in the industry, or someone who’s influenced your career to date?
I feel like wherever I go there are individuals and coworkers that inspire and push me to work harder. In school, I had a rigging professor named Bryan Schindler, and he gave me a lot of advice that I took to heart. He suggested that I look for jobs in the marketing/advertising industry because there is generally a high turnaround for various types of projects. If I'm looking for experience doing different things, that's a great place to start. He also told me that there is a great need for automation and building tools. I followed a lot of his advice and that brought me to where I am today.
My boss at Zenimax, Judah, is the best supervisor that I've ever had. I think he's influenced me quite a bit, and I really like the way that he thinks and approaches problems. I try to apply the same level of depth and thought when tackling my own problems in my day-to-day work.
I'm inspired by the work of fellow tech artists. Early on in my career, I found the work of Chad Vernon extremely helpful in understanding Maya's API.
An indie game designer that continues to inspire me is Thomas Brush (Pinstripe/Neversong).
What changes would you like to see in the industry?
I am constantly inspired by the work being produced by independent developers/artists and what they can accomplish by themselves, with a small team, and in such a short amount of time. What I'd like to see is more innovative ideas whether that's in storytelling or game mechanics. I want newer experiences rather than cookie-cutter games. I understand the desire to produce something that "works," but there's a certain level of charm in every indie game I play.
What are you looking forward to?
Where my life and career takes me next — this time with a partner to share in my experiences.
The next game!
Continued experiences that allow me to grow and develop my skills further.
Building something of my own one day!
How has the pandemic changed the way you work?
At first it was such a big change and different. I missed being in the office, the friendships, and the convenience of interacting with coworkers during the day (still do). I had always wondered what it would be like to work from home (I just didn't want to go through a pandemic in order for that to become a reality). A home office situation is what really enabled me to make the biggest decision of my life — getting married and moving to Brazil. Working for a company like MPG allows me to provide for my family, continue to work on amazing games, and experience this beautiful country!
Rock / Paper / Scissors?
Rock! Team rock. Philosophically, I think I need to choose a little bit of all three (but that's not how the game is played, is it?) All three are tools that are used for very specific purposes. As a tech artist, I think that's what we tend to be good at. We use a combination of tools, languages, techniques (all with unique and specific purposes) sometimes with a little bit of glue and paper clips to get the desired result.