From VFX Apprentice to Working on Overwatch 2

interview student showcase unity unreal engine Jul 05, 2022
From VFX Apprentice to Working on Overwatch 2 - Featured

After experimenting with particle systems in Unity and Unreal Engine, Nick Quackenbush found his passion for visual FX. Now he works at Blizzard on Overwatch 2.

Nicholas Quackenbush is an Associate VFX Artist at Blizzard on the Overwatch team and a graduate of every class we offer at VFX Apprentice.

Nick started his career path by a fascination with Unity's particle system, but after taking some of our particle animation courses in Unreal, Nick found his path forward as a VFX artist, landing his dream job with Blizzard.

VFX Apprentice's Jason Keyser sat down with this alumnus to talk about his journey with learning Unreal, the job interview process for VFX artists, and where he sees his career going.

See More from Nicholas Quackenbush


JASON KEYSER: Hello everyone, welcome to the student showcase series where I sit down and talk with some of our apprentices today I am joined with Nick Quackenbush. How's it going Nick?

NICK QUACKENBUSH: It's going great!

JK: Awesome! So this series is designed really for VFX artists as they go on their journey. We're going to talk a little bit about Nick's journey today through discovering, learning, and getting a job in visual effects. Nick has just been accepted to a job on the Overwatch team! Congrats Nick, that's super exciting!

NQ: Thank you so much!

JK: So you start in a few weeks right we're going into the holiday season at the time of recording this so I think by the time it's out on YouTube you might have your starting date already, so that's really exciting! Tell us a little bit about your journey because you are here at this great inflection point in your career. It's getting started, you're going off to this great awesome exciting job for you but where did it start? Why were you interested in effects in the first place?

NQ: So I just came out of school doing a computer science major and I had been working with a friend of mine on some Unity projects. We were trying to make some VR games which led to some success and some not success. But eventually he showed me the particle system on Unity's engine and uh I was hooked very quickly from there. Obviously when you first start out when you're learning the particle system you only know so much just from looking at the engine and I learned that in games they make these fireballs and you don’t know how they did it like how do I translate this particle system from Unreal Engine to a World of Warcraft fireball. So I did some research and actually ended up kind of abandoning my programming side of things. I did a whole lot of research online and ended up going to the real-time VFX forum eventually and kind of going back and forth and learning what I could. There are a lot of really helpful people there.

JK: I love it over there. It's a fantastic site!

NQ: I learned a lot about material editing and shaders and all of that good stuff. From there, when I wanted to transition to Unreal, I found your courses on VFX Apprentice! I obviously took a lot from that course, then talked to people on Discord - then decided to stick with Unreal at this point. I love how streamlined Unreal is. 

JK: Yeah I think Unity has a lot of strengths and weaknesses and Unreal has a lot of its own strengths and weaknesses. I know a lot of people in our community do both that's why we try to teach both. We are an Unreal school first, then port equivalent content to Unity after. Many studios use one or the other so it’s important to cover both. 

NQ: I also just want to mention that if anybody is having trouble deciding whether you want to do one end or another honestly from my own experiences I went from Unity to Unreal and it's pretty seamless so you can go either way it doesn't it really doesn't matter.

JK: That's a really good thing to call out for sure, the transition is surprisingly easy from everyone I thought too and myself like having dived into both. People usually don't have a big issue once you've learned one, learning the other one doesn't take too much time as far as effects are concerned. I don't know about other aspects of it, maybe it's a little different.

NQ: Some aspects there come into play like strength and weaknesses and you kind of have to figure out for yourself what you like better. There's really no wrong answer from what I've learned!

JK: So moving on so you were in our community for about how long until this point where you've got your job offer from Blizzard.

NQ: Oh gosh I want to say about almost a year roughly um yeah although I shall I could say that like honestly i had some opportunities where I could join some studios prior to that I had built a really nice portfolio after i had taken the class and I was really happy I've been really happy with my progress actually um but I had the dream going in where I wanted to go into one of these big studios and really experience what it was like.

JK: That’s right you passed up on some opportunities with smaller studios is what you're saying.

NQ: Yep.

JK: Everyone has a different path. I know from talking with you over the past few months, you’ve been applying a lot. What is this process like? We get questions all the time about this process. 

NQ: It is a learning experience and especially if you want it to be. It is a lot of trial and error. If you're taking these art tests and you're doing these interviews really from my experience really pay attention to what you could be doing wrong or what you're doing right and ask questions. I learned so much from people “what could I have done better on these art tests?”

It's the people, especially in the art industry from the people I've talked to they're super super helpful they love when you ask them questions like Sarah Carmody on the World of Warcraft team she was fantastic that was my first big interview and she was really helpful and she gave me a really nice note after I eventually did get turned down um but I was reinvigorated I should say that uh she helped me out.

JK: Sarah's a fantastic human - I just want to add that in there. All my interactions with her have been super impressive and obviously she's well known in the community as well so that's cool that you got to do an art test with her. I'm sure it was very informative for you and very educational for you

NQ: She's awesome and honestly none of these people I've talked to are scary, they're all really nice people. So again, if you're nervous about going to these interviews, don't be. They're there to see what you can do and it's really good stuff. As for advice, like purely on the effects side, from my experience it is just incredibly helpful that you want to make sure that when you're making these art tests - you are standing out you know it's a lot like portfolios where you know they might be interviewing a lot of people so you want to be the person that stands and goes the extra mile and from what I know for the Overwatch team, from what they told me, is that going the extra mile is what got me the job.

JK: Cool yeah - check it worked, haha!

NQ: Yes, finally!

JK: Oftentimes it's our failures that teach us just as much and it's neat because it wasn't just well the Warcraft team that you applied to you had applied at multiple other positions over the past few months.

NQ: Even RIOT - I actually interviewed with the TFT team and there are really awesome people there too.

JK: I think that's really true, I think having a degree in this is not necessarily a factor it doesn't really even weigh in very heavily I think something they might look to a little more as your experience like have you worked on a game before and you hadn't right and I know that was like something that came up because your portfolio was quite good but then like wait but this isn't from any game experience like you just learned this on your own like where's your production experience so how how did that factor into these different applications

NQ: Early on that question did come up and I wanted to kind of drive home the idea that like even though I didn't have any um experience that I was really really excited and wanted to learn how to get into that area because you can't really get around that fact it's just the reality of the situation so you just have to convince them at that point. Also or just have a really good portfolio. I think if you're willing to show that you're excited to work with the team that they're gonna be like “you know what yeah so what if he doesn't have experience but you know he just seems like a good guy” so they'll take a chance on you and invest into giving you that experience!

JK: I think you nailed it on the head really - your expression of your willingness to learn and grow that even though you don't know what you don't know, you're open to learning. You're excited to figure out what that stuff is and change accordingly. Well, that's great so again just huge congratulations on the job offer that's really exciting and is there any final advice that you want to give before we head out?

NQ: I would say keep you know keep at it a lot of the you know a lot of what the general things that people say is like you know like the don't give up keep going and I'm honestly that is one of the biggest advice like if you're having issues with you know getting these jobs in the VFX world it's like again learn from your mistakes understand where you need to go um take advice like from people in the VFX apprentice world people in the real time VFX world, there's so much information out there if you're just willing to ask so I 100% would ask around and learn from other people and don't be afraid to take risks!

JK: Yep, that's great advice, your work shows that you did all those things wonderfully. We're going to link that work in the description as well. Is it cool if people try to get a hold of you through social media?

NQ: Absolutely, I'm 100% open to that.

JK: Cool, all right well congrats and enjoy your holidays and then your new job after the holidays!

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