George O’Keeffe, principal environment artist at Rare, Xbox Game Studios
How did you break into games?
I entered the weird and wonderful world of game development by a slightly unconventional route. When I was younger I was always a huge fan of video games, but I never really knew a career in games was a possibility – so I studied Architecture at university. Architecture was a logical outlet for my creativity, but there was something missing, so after a few years I packed it all in to try my hand at creating game art. I decided to study a Masters in Environment Art at Escape Studios in London, and I absolutely loved it. I finally felt like I was doing the right thing.
While studying for my Masters, I remember watching a trailer for Sea of Thieves at E3. I remember being completely blown away by the art style and the incredibly immersive environments the game had, and I decided to create a personal project in their style to test my skills. I found some cool concept art for the game online, and decided to create a tavern environment. I really wanted to get as close to their art style as I possibly could. The end result was nowhere near the beauty of Rare’s rendition, but I sent the environment to them to have a look nonetheless. To my surprise, they were impressed and I was offered a position working for them!
What is your proudest achievement so far?
I am so incredibly proud of the work everyone at Rare and Xbox Game Studios has put into Sea of Thieves. The game is such a unique experience, and I am so proud to play a part in its creation. We recently announced that we have over 10 million players, and it’s absolutely crazy to think that 10 million people are using the art that I, and the rest of our team creates. It is genuinely a dream come true!
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
I think my biggest challenge is one that many artists experience at first. I have always found it very difficult to show people my artwork, and be proud of the work that I have created. I am incredibly self critical, and always focus on the flaws and imperfections in my own art, and so I was absolutely terrified of showing my artwork to anyone. That fear was pretty quickly challenged when working in the industry, though, because you need to be able to show and discuss your artwork multiple times a day, to people from every department. I am still scared, but definitely less-so!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love the incredibly positive and friendly community that Sea of Thieves has. One of my favourite parts of my job is creating ways of immortalising these amazing community members in the world of Sea of Thieves. Whenever someone in our community does something cool or different, we try to celebrate that person in the game. Sometimes that is comedic skeletal remains sticking into the sand with the player’s name engraved on a rock beside them, sometimes it’s a painting of amazing real world cosplayers hanging in a tavern in game, or recreations of a young fan’s drawings scattered around the Sea of Thieves world. I love our community, and I love that our team is able to celebrate them in game.
What’s your biggest ambition in games?
My aim is to keep learning. Our industry moves so fast, and evolves so quickly that it is so easy to become complacent. As a result, I really want to keep challenging myself, continue learning as much as I can, and keep producing the best art I possibly can.
What advice would you give to an aspiring environment artist?
It may seem impossible to get a job in our industry, but I promise it is not. However, it does require a lot of hard work and persistence. Use every moment, and every opportunity you have to keep learning, progressing and working towards that goal. If you are truly passionate about it, it won’t even seem like work, and the dream job will be totally achievable in no time. Just don’t stop trying!