Brian Hall, Contract Artist at Avalanche Studios

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Brian Hall, Contract Artist at Avalanche Studios

Postby toops » Fri Apr 04, 2014 10:10 pm

There were a lot of different parts needed to put together Disney Infinity. Brian Hall was a contract artist employed as a World Builder throughout the development.

Brian's role was varied and involved working with the Marketing Team to setup up marketing shots, creating and lighting environments for posed characters for final shots used for promotion. Working with the development team to create props, environment development modeling and texturing of assets. Brian also worked with the marketing team to create some of the still images for the Starter Pack Box and single figure packs. Some examples of the work he was involved in setting up are included below.

On behalf of all of the interested Disney Infinity Fans we asked Brian some questions.

While studying art in college did you know specifically what you wanted to do afterwards or did you just know you wanted to be in the creative field?

I grew up next to a friend who had been going through the Animation program at ASU. He was about 4 years older than me so really at the time I hung out with his younger brother mostly, when I went over to hang, we'd all play video games and such and when he was busy with school I'd check out the stuff he was working on, that's what got me inspired to pursue the field and pick the animation program. I had always wanted to paint but a painting major was out of the question so being more commercial and doing 3d art and animation was the answer to my need to be in the creative field.

Did you do any internships? If so, how helpful were they during and after?

Unfortunately at the time the only internships available in Phoenix were in graphic design, so they weren't really geared to what I was doing specifically, however they were a benefit to explore the production environment. I worked with Channel 5 in Phoenix doing some news graphics, got a chance to learn After Effects there.

Was it difficult to land your first job after graduating? Any tips for those just entering or thinking about joining the field?

It was incredibly difficult to get my first industry job after graduating because ASU's program didn't prepare you to get a job, they focused more on the fine art of it - making "Art for art's sake". So there was never the focus of improving technical knowledge to get into a job. Which is a must in our industry. Although the part that ASU did prepare me for was a very solid fine art background and that has been invaluable through my career. While I had to learn the technical stuff on my own - Maya, Photoshop, etc. - having a really good solid art foundation was well worth the pain of going through that program.

After graduating I didn't have a great portfolio, so I looked for a lot of freelance work in graphic design, indy games, etc. Finally, to get my foot in the door while I continued to work on my portfolio after school, I got a job as a tester at Sony in San Diego. My background helped me as a tester and eventually after a few months of that I got my first full time gig overseas (Canada) as a Junior 3D artist. So it took me about two years doing freelance and indy work to get a full time gig, because my portfolio was not that great.

At the end of the day always be working on improving your portfolio and working to improve your craft. There are always kids coming out of the trade schools or other schools who have learned the latest technologies and have just amazing raw talent. So you will be competing with alot of people. For the game industry, learn game engines like unity, try finding a tutorial and get your stuff into a game, even if you are just reskinning something. The more you know the better. Never stop learning and keep at it. This industry is incredibly competitive.

Do you prefer freelance or for hire work? They both seem to have pros and cons that fit different lifestyles.

I prefer having a full time job, although our industry is tumultuous, so layoffs and closures happen a lot. Also a lot of game studios won't allow you to moonlight on side games. Some let you do art in other mediums, film, etc as long as there's no conflict with making games. Fortunately my job currently lets me do my own side games while working for them. Freelance when you can get it is great, but makes sure you set aside money for taxes! Always building up freelance clients is always great to have through your career so you can bring in some side jobs for extra cash, that never hurts.

Do you have any horrible job stories from freelance or for hire that you can share? Any important life lessons gained from them?

See above. Additionally with any client, try to keep iterations and changes to 3. A client will always milk the changes till the cows come home if you don't put rules up for them. Then you end up spending 80 hours on what should have taken 15 and now that nice paycheck doesn't seem worth it.

When I was first out of school, I had a client take advantage of me because I was a noob, he was a savvy business guy and he knew I was eager to get work so he really tried to take advantage of how much he got from the work.

Another client said he had work and wanted me to start on a batch of Logo concepts, turns out there was never any work, I spent I don't know how many hours, he had the logos and I had nothing in my pocket. So make sure you send proofs and have good contracts or agreements where you get paid half up front or something that minimizes risks to you. Also if you have a big job, see what works for the client, either an hourly rate or a lump sum. I made the mistake of doing an hourly rate with someone and they thought it was too much, but because we didn't really have terms up front, I stuck to my guns because of the hours I put in, but in the end lost a client because I was inflexible. A young mistake. So make sure to find that balance.

Any recommendations or do's/don't's for a portfolio or reel?

Keep your portfolio to your LATEST 10 best images. Employers get bored very quickly and have to look at hundreds of portfolios. You probably have their attention for about 2 minutes before they move on to the next guy. But if you have your best stuff right there on the front page and can keep the engaged, you will probably end up moving to the next phase of the job hunt!

Also always be updating it, don't get lax and also don't rely on your current job to provide you with good work for your portfolio. Sometimes you end up leaving a job and having nothing to show for it, because lets face it not every company you work for does work you want to show. Some of it will be low quality because of the project or how the company is run.

Not everyone can work for a Disney, Lucas, Blizzard and expect to have some great stuff to show at the end of their tenure.

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Do you have one portfolio that you use for everything or do you try to build concise ones depending on the position you're applying for?

Currently since my focus is as a 3D artist, and I've been an environment artist for the majority of my career. At my new position I'm a generalist so it's exciting to branch out to other things. Because I know that my strength is as an Environment artist, if I were looking for work I would focus on that, my strengths.

Don't try to add stuff that you aren't good at, employers will sniff that out in a heart beat, focus on what you are good at. Are you an Animator? Show great animations. Character artist? Show some really fun characters. etc etc. Apply for positions that cater to your strengths. Don't apply for a UI position if say you are a character modeler.

At this point in your career are you mainly doing digital art or do you still go traditional with a pencil or brush?

I mainly do digital, for the simple fact that it can go onto my portfolio quicker or what have you. I just got a Wacom Cintiq Companion Hybrid and that's my sketch pad of choice, where I can sketch, paint etc and stay sharp on my drawing skills. Ipads and other tablets have other software that you can use to do the same. I haven't painted in oils in forever and that was my passion for a long time. Need to get back to it! But it's so expensive!

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the 2 images above were created for personal use and not as part of Disney Infinity development

Do you have a favorite medium? How about a least favorite?

See above. Used to be oils. Charcoal too. Wish I was good at watercolors, I've always been impressed with people who have a mastery for it. Hmmm don't really have a least favorite.

Are there any computer programs that you would say are a MUST to be skilled in to get anywhere in the business? For concept, animation, or modeling.

Well there's 3D studio max and Maya, learn both. If you are a modeler, animator, etc. these are the 3D packages to use. Also Zbrush is a big one for modelers. Photoshop for sure for textures.

Are you a big gamer? Do you play any of the games you work on?

Yes! I am. I try to stay up on all sorts of games even if I'm not playing them to see what the other people in the industry are doing, to get inspired, to strive to push myself. Also just to spark ideas for projects.

I used to be a big PC gamer, MMOS, RPGS, FPS, but because of family life and what not I've really shifted more towards casual/mobile games. There's a lot of great stuff coming out on mobile!

I still play Disney Infinity and can't wait for the next one!

Some of the games I've worked on I've played a bit, some not. Sometimes you don't get to work on a project that caters to your own personal gaming habits.

What project that you've worked on are you most proud of?

I would say Deadliest Warrior 1 and 2, as I was the Lead on the second and the environment lead on the first. But even more so than those, was being on contract for Disney Infinity.

I was primarily a World builder for the marketing team, but during my down time I was able to help with props, some optimization and some textures. Disney Infinity will always be the one project that I can say I was proudest to be a part of. I loved my time there and hope to get back there one day.

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What was the experience like working at Avalanche Software?

I was only at Avalanche for about 5 months. It was a contract position and at the time and I had hoped to be brought on full time at some point. However the timing didn't line up because I have a family I had to take another opportunity that came up that was going to provide a permanent position for me.

Working for Disney as an artist is a truly humbling experience. It makes you hungry to be better at your craft and you get to be surrounded by passionate, hungry and VERY humble and talented people every day. I loved the opportunity there, while short, I made some great friends and contacts. They are probably the most talented people I've ever worked with.

Are you a big Disney fan? Favorite Infinity character?

Huge fan! The opportunity to work there was something that spoke to my inner child. Love the old Disney movies and to see a lot of my favorite Disney characters put on a game was great. I would say my favorite Infinity character, it's a split between Ralph and Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey. Vanellope and Rapunzel round out that list!

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Is there a Disney character you really hope gets included someday?

From the Disney Vault I'd love to see the headless horseman, or Robin Hood, Aladdin, Tarzan, Roger Rabbit would make a good one. Well and now that Disney owns Marvel, yeah ANYTHING from that universe would make this nerd happy.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us that hasn't already been asked?

Starting out, as an artist, if you can take a contract job and pick up and move, do so. Jobs in our industry are spread across the map, so be willing to move. But contract work when you are young and don't have to put down roots is a good way to bounce around and get exposure and build up your experience quickly. It's definitely much harder to take contract work when you have a family to move around since a lot of contracts are onsite.

If you would like to see some of Brian's other work, visit
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Re: Brian Hall, Contract Artist at Avalanche Studios

Postby Modeltrainman » Sat Apr 05, 2014 6:08 am

Thanks Mr. Hall! Fun interview!
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Re: Brian Hall, Contract Artist at Avalanche Studios

Postby thedisneyfanatic22 » Mon Apr 07, 2014 11:17 pm

Thanks for the awesome interview Mr. Hall!! Those concept drawings are great!
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Re: Brian Hall, Contract Artist at Avalanche Studios

Postby itstimechicken » Mon Apr 07, 2014 11:48 pm

Agreed. I love the concept drawings :D
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