Posted on: Mar 23rd 2014 by Aeon Bollig
Valentin “3Dnj” Levillain – 26 – Mapmaker / Modeler / Texture Artist – Lyon, France
In the east-central French city of Lyon, lives 26 year-old savant, Valentin Levillain. Colloquially known as 3Dnj, Levillain has numerous accomplishments with his personal work, as well as his professional, industry career as a level architect for Arkane Studios.
“I started making maps for Half-Life and Counter-Strike 1.6, maybe 10 years ago,” said Levillain. “Then I discovered the joy of the internet, and all the tutorials, and the community in 2007. It was then that I started to think about game development as a potential career.”
Levillain decided to enter a graphic design school in Belgium, where the video game section of the school helped him to do more serious stuff. “During the three years of school, I spent a lot of time on TF2, and started to make small, unplayable maps to learn the Source engine,” he said.
“I really spent a lot of time on personal projects, as school wasn’t enough to get a job when it was over. I spent my last year internship at Hydravision, a French company that made Obscure, a survival horror game.”
“I had my diploma in 2011, then I joined Ubisoft for a six-month contract to work on Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. I had that job thanks to the two maps I made during my last year of school: Mountain Lab and Lakeside.”
Mountain Lab was developed as an entrant to the Artpass Contest in 2010, where it eventually became one of the two winners of the contest. “I spent the last two years before the contest making small scenes and started several maps that weren’t good enough for me to be finished,” he recalled.
“But when I saw the contest, I decided to work seriously on it, because I was sick of all [my] unfinished projects.”
A month after Mountain Lab’s success, Levillain began work on Lakeside, a map that would only take two months to finish, and was added into the game in early 2011.
“I was surprised,” said Levillain, “Valve [knew about] the map because we were chatting about update to Mountain Lab. I guess it was a matter of luck, good timing, and the fact that the game was lacking in King of the Hill and Egypt-themed maps at the time. Probably a mix of all of that.”
Lakeside would go on to be revamped for use as the Halloween event map in 2012, another surprise to Levillain. “I didn’t play the game a lot for a long time, so at first I thought it was a joke on the TF2Maps forums,” he said. “[When I found out it wasn’t,] I was happy, it’s good to see Valve using your work. And I know a lot of people were enjoying the original with all the competition on it. But I was really surprised, because i’m sure there were a lot of better maps for the Halloween event.”
At the end of Levillain’s contract with Ubisoft in 2012, he was contacted by Eidos Montreal to work with them to develop a map for Team Fortress 2, and after five months, this led to Kong King, a promotional map for the game Sleeping Dogs.
“After that I decided that making stuff only for TF2 was not enough to get a decent job,” said Levillain. “So I started to work on a lot of personal stuff.”
“I had the jobs thanks to the different maps I made on TF2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive after Kong King.”
“In June of 2013, I signed [to work at] Arkane,” he continued. “Just after that I was contacted by New World Interactive, who wanted me to work on Insurgency. As I already signed at Arkane [for November], I only worked for them for four months, but it was a good thing, because between Kong King and New World, I spent 10 months without a job.”
“[In those 10 months,] I worked on personal stuff, but also tried to find a job, because I wasn’t sure I could get a job at Arkane – even if it was my first choice and I really wanted it. I tried Crytek because some people asked me to do it, but they wanted more experienced people.”
“I tried to find an interesting job in France,” added Levillain, “but it’s very difficult, as there are a lot of people on the market, and only a few positions. To be honest I couldn’t have done that without TF2.”
With all of the success of his work, Levillain says he’s still trying to find a way to thank everyone that got him where he is today. “It changed everything,” he said. “I don’t know if I could be at Arkane now without TF2. Maybe, but this helped a lot. People thank me so much for my work, and I want to work harder and harder to thank them, in return.”
To get where he is, “Throw your social life away for a time,” joked Levillain. “Don’t be pretentious if you have some skills, because there is always a lot of people better than you. So work harder to be better than them; it takes years!”
Levillain plans to stay at Arkane for some time, but wants to work harder to keep up with the rest of the team. “I don’t think I will be level builder all my life,” he said. “But I think I’ll stay in game development. Maybe one day I will look to be a narrative designer or scenarist. I always wanted to make some cool, good story, and I hope I will.”
“I really want to make another map for TF2, because I’m sure I’ve made a lot of progress since the last one. This game really changed my life, like Half-Life did before,” concluded Levillain. “A big thanks to the TF2Maps.net staff and all the people there, and all the players.”
Valentin “3Dnj” Levillain’s work can be found on his online Portfolio.
Michael “Hawf” Shilliday – 19 – Modeler / Texture Artist / Concept Artist – Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
In the quaint, Canadian coastal almost-city of Halifax lives 19 year-old Michael Shilliday. Known by many as simply Hawf, Shilliday has a hefty repertoire of work, topped off with the Fast Learner – the most popular community-created item second only to the Familiar Fez.
“I’m living solely off Workshop income,” said Shilliday, “I make art and pretty pictures, because one day, while watching the end credits to Halo 2, I decided I wanted to be a video game developer. Being absolutely terrible at math, coding was a bit out of the question for me. Then I played the Orange Box and decided to start off in video game art, since I spent most of my class time drawing, any way.”
Shilliday started drawing at the age of two, and after that dragged on for a bit, he eventually got into 3D modeling: first with Google Sketchup, then with Milkshape 3D at the age of 12. “I very quickly picked up Blender when I was 13,” he said. “Haven’t dropped it since, so thats roughly eight years of working in 3D space.”
“My education really just started with basic fine arts courses in high school, and the college I am currently attending is the Centre for Arts and Technology, at the Halifax campus. The instructors there are fantastic, but I still really hate [using] Maya, I don’t think I’ll ever change my mind on that.”
“I feel if I ever get a job in a studio the one factor between me keeping a job and getting fired is whether or not I can keep myself from complaining about the software.”
With his current successes in tow, Shilliday hopes to one day go down an independent game development route. “Indie seems the way for me to go since I prefer small connected groups,” he said, “although I would prefer working in a studio environment since it feels more professional. I might end up applying for Frontier here in Halifax post-graduation if I don’t end up trying to start a team instead.”
“I would be lying if I didn’t say it has been a small dream of mine to work for Valve. Same could probably be said for a lot of artists, but it’s starting to look like valve isn’t even working on software anymore. Which worries me.”
“I’m actually trying to start prototyping a small 2D local multiplayer brawler with my partner, Paige, right now since that kind of genre is starting to get really popular. We’re really only in planning phases and I’ve only done some drafts of character designs and a few pixel art tests.”
“I have a very bad habit of doing one draft and going ‘Welp that’s good enough, lets make it,’” he added, “although our Neo-Teufort stuff did go through one or two drafts before I settled on the final designs.”
Shilliday started playing video games as a very early age, so his fascination of them has been something in his life for quite some time now. “When I saw that Valve wanted people to make hats for them, I jumped on that bandwagon as soon as I could,” he said. “My first TF2 models were abysmal. But then I got the idea of wearing a dress shirt under one of my short sleeved shirts. My sisters said it looked pretty cool, and I decided to make that for the Scout. Sure enough, it turned into one of the most popular Scout items ever, and has allowed me to live on my own for a while now.”
“The Fast Learner got in around February, the most awkward month of the year,” he continued. “I had to reopen my bank account and get all that paper work done, which, for some reason, took a good seven months.”
“I was very excited to get my first paycheck because it was over $10,000. I had no idea people invested in TF2 that much but it struck me as very surprised. Valve has offered a fantastic opportunity for artists and I’m very glad to be a part of it. I’m not the kind of person who makes six-figures a year with this stuff, but it’s a lot.”
Shilliday has already saved up enough to pay more than half of his student loans off, and he couldn’t be happier. “Coupled with the recent items we got in [recently], I’m making quite a nice living. However stressful and competitive the Workshop may be at times,” he noted.
From the accumulated profits of his work, Shilliday estimates he’s made around $30,000 since he started. “Any future accepted items would go towards paying off my student loans,” he hopes, “anything after that would go into investing my own game developments. A few of the game concepts I’ve had that I’ve actually gone ahead and documented are too big for me alone to make, but if I could ever add the same kind of TF2 or Dota 2 workshop system to them, if only to return the favor and give future artists the same opportunity I had, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
Since he started, Shilliday has experienced much greater enthusiasm for his work, higher confidence, and of course, constantly being bugged about his self-mades in TF2. “It’s definitely been a positive impact on my life,” affirmed Shilliday. “The only negative one is the confusion. I’m a British Citizen, living in Canada, earning money from the United States. Who the hell do I pay my taxes to?”
Jokes aside, Shilliday plans to keep up his Workshop work until he has an actual job, whether it’s working in a studio, or making his own games with other people. “I might still do it in my free time, but it’s really just for a financial cushion,” he concluded.
“I’d rather not go to Kickstarter to gain investment for video game development, because that’s just so old and tired now. But hey, the Canadian government can give me grants for those kinds of things!”
Jayson “Ronin” de Castro – 33 – Modeler / Texture Artist / Concept Artist – Oranjestad, Aruba
Along the southwestern coast of Aruba, in the capital city of Oranjestad, lives 33 year-old father-of-two, Jayson de Castro. Working online as Ronin, and working by day as an operations manager of the largest grocery store on the caribbean island, de Castro has plenty of successful work under his belt for both Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2, alike.
At the age of 21, de Castro, then an undergraduate without a degree, caught the attention of his boss, and got put on to making advertisements with Excel. “A friend gave me Photoshop and there’s where I really progressed,” said de Castro. “I got married when I was 23 and by that time, I was a full-fledged graphics artist.”
De Castro started to take in some freelance work during that time, in addition to his full-time job, but when he and his wife had their first kid, he started to slow down. It was around then that de Castro got involved with TF2, and soon, item contribution.
With his first item made in April, 2011, it wasn’t long until that became his first accepted item, the Copper’s Hard Top, in July of that same year.
“I was really happy that got in,” said de Castro. “Reading how many tried long and hard before they even got [one item] in, I was pretty pleased I got one in the game a few months after making them.”
“I remember it took about two months to get [paid],” recalled de Castro. “Valve said the processing was easier for me (since I did not fall under the US tax treaty), so they’re obligated to take 30 percent of my earnings. Huge cut, but to me it didn’t matter as much. It’s better than nothing.”
“At first, I got about $2,000,” recalled de Castro, “and for the next few months I got less than before. I was really, really happy with what I got the first time. My wife and I were able to buy a refrigerator, and pay the debts we had.”
“I got less the next month, but it was expected,” continued de Castro, “so we just kept paying the rest of the bills and bought more stuff we needed, since we just moved into the new house. As I got more items [in-game], we got more and more money that was good enough to actually buy the house we moved into.”
“We also bought a new car, and pretty much the rest of my earnings went to the mortgage. All in all, I may have earned more than $150,000,” affirmed de Castro. “We can go and eat out without worrying what the steak on plate costs.”
For de Castro, time spent in front of a canvas was set aside for time spent in front of a screen. “To many, it has become their career and life,” said de Castro. “But to me, it’s still just a hobby and a way to keep in touch with my artist friends. My main priority still remains my personal beliefs and family.”
Among his family are his two sons, ages six and eight, who someday might follow in their father’s artistic footsteps. “My youngest likes to draw a lot,” said de Castro. “I really didn’t want to expose them to violent games like TF2, but I do show them the cosmetics that I work on.”
“That also explains why, however ironic it may sound, that I don’t really play TF2 as much, and yet I keep making items for it,” added de Castro. “My friends are always there to update me anyway.”
For people interested in getting into the booming content contribution business, “Keep making the stuff that you want to make,” says de Castro. “That’s a good way to develop your skill, then aim to make items that you think have a good chance at getting in.”
“Never ignore disappointments or setbacks, they will always be there no matter what. Learn to live with them, and keep in mind that this industry is very, very unpredictable. Don’t pour your whole heart on one item or project. Plan, design, make, finish and then move on.”
“I tend to forget that I made an item, and I always have the mindset that when I call it done, it’s done. Live with it, there are other things in life worth losing sleep about.”
“Everything else is just a bonus,” concluded de Castro. “The money? The reputation? It’s all just icing on the cake.”
Andreas “Hideous” Jörgensen – 22 – Modeler / Texture Artist – Falköping, Sweden
In the Swedish locality of Falköping lives 22 year-old Andreas Jörgensen. Known online as Hideous, Jörgensen is a part-time item contributor and a member of the creative team behind The Stanley Parable.
“My [artistic] experience started with Team Fortress 2,” said Jörgensen. “Back near the end of 2010, I was watching people create these amazing hats and weapons for my favorite game, and I decided I wanted to be a part of that; so I started trying to learn Blender. Education-wise, I actually studied to be a programmer.”
Less than half a year after Jörgensen began learning how to use Blender, he had around 10 items already on the Workshop, and his first item had already been accepted by Valve for use in TF2. And that item would be the Western Wear, added in May of 2011.
With international contributors, a lot of paperwork has to be filled out before they can start getting paid for their work, and Jörgensen was no exception.
“I was actually kind of disappointed,” laughed Jörgensen. “I waited a few months, because it took me a while before I decided to go ahead and receive payment without filling in a W8-BEN. I didn’t think it would make enough difference, and I was right: My first payment amounted to maybe $100. But, keep in mind this was before the game went free to play.”
Now with 11 items accepted into the game, Jörgensen has made a little under $20,000 off of his work in the past nearly three years.
“Once I got my first big payment, right after Robotic Boogaloo, I took a two-week vacation to New York, which was kind of amazing to me,” recounted Jörgensen. “I grew up with our family not having a lot of money, so that was my first proper long vacation. Plus, at the time I was working for a telemarketing company, so it was nice to get away from that for a bit.”
“After that, however, things improved massively for me, because my earlier work with TF2 items actually got me a gig working as a 3D artist on The Stanley Parable– which released in October– and thanks to a combination of that, and my TF2 items, I was actually able to quit my job, which I’m massively happy about.”
Jörgensen landed The Stanley Parable gig by answering an unrelated job listing posted by Davey Wreden, one of the main developers of the game. Months went by until Wreden got in touch with Jörgensen asking for some help with some models for The Stanley Parable. “And that was it, really,” said Jörgensen.
“Right now, I’m working on my portfolio to see if I can’t get into a school here in Sweden, for 3D game artists,” continued Jörgensen. “I’m also going to the Game Developers Conference in March since The Stanley Parable is a finalist in the Independent Games Festival there. I’m printing up a few business cards to see what I can pick up.”
“I was hoping for a little bit of success, but didn’t expect this much, that’s for sure. Especially not for the two years after the Western Wear when Valve didn’t accept any of my items,” laughed Jörgensen.
“I’ve seen some people get really mad because their items didn’t get in, time after time, but a lot of them also weren’t getting any better.”
“It’s easy to assume that what you’ve made is good enough, and that others opinions are completely wrong because ‘this is how it’s meant to be’– trust me, I’ve been there too– but listen to what people are saying, look at your stuff and try to see what could be better. Because it can always be better,” concluded Jörgensen.
“Don’t give up, and always strive to improve. And be sure to drink your Ovaltine, kids.”
Andreas “Hideous” Jörgensen’s work can be found on his Steam Workshop.
William “AyesDyef” Ayes – 24 – Modeler / Texture Artist – Canberra, Australia
In the heart of the land down under is 24 year-old William Ayes. Known by many as AyesDyef, Ayes develops numerous TF2 item contributions by day, and works the graveyard shift at the local post office by night.
“I moved out of home when I was 17 to study 3D animation for games and film, and have been living independently since,” said Ayes. “As a kid, I was always drawing, mum would buy me exercise books to draw in so I would stop drawing on the walls. Then we got our first computer, and I would spend hours in MSPaint.”
“One day, she got me those magazines that come with trials of all sorts of programs, and that’s where I discovered Flash, where I started making little animated shorts, and then interactive games, point and click shooters, that sorta thing.”
Ayes got into video games at this point, with Counter-Strike being one of his favorites for quite some time. Once he realized he could, Ayes got into mapmaking, and continued on with it into Counter-Strike: Source.
“My younger brother, whom also loves to draw and animate got me into 3DS Max,” he said, “we’d make cool stuff like tanks and dinosaurs, but I’d use the models for my games, and he’d use them for his movies. I think it was at that point, I wanted to make games forever. So I moved out of home to study 3D Animation for Games and Film in Canberra. I grew up in Sydney, so this was quite the move.”
For two years, Ayes studied in Canberra, and got an Advanced Diploma in Game Development from the Academy of Interactive Entertainment. Being an early contributor for TF2, his work with that goes way back.
“I mapped for TF2 here and there,” said Ayes. “I wasn’t that great though, not as good as I was back when I did it for CS:S. At the time though, machinima was on the rise and the first TF2-ish thing I made, was actually a parody video of Smash Bros and TF2 together. That video even got featured on the TF2 blog at the time, I was so pumped!”
While developing maps and models for use on his portfolio, the ease of making models for TF2 caught Ayes’s attention. This led to multiple character mods, such as the female class mods, and Ayes’s first accepted item, the Killer’s Kabuto.
“I was completely ecstatic,” he recalled, “you could punch me in the gut, and I’d still be smiling, that’s how happy I was, and this was before the idea of being able to make money from making hats.”
“I didn’t get paid until over a year later being able to get paid, there were a lot of forms I had to fill out because I wasn’t a US citizen and it was starting to give me a headache, but when I finally got it sorted out, I got my paycheck which had been saved up in one go. And that smile from when the Kabuto originally got accepted? That smile came back, except for the whole week.”
Ayes’s first payments reached around $6,000, and were the first of many to come. “I was always pretty good at saving money,” said Ayes, “so I saved up most of the money from the Workshop. But, I am hoping to save up enough to buy my own house.”
“I plan on working on more TF2 items, and eventually Dota 2 as well,” concluded Ayes. “As for getting out there in the gaming industry, I’d really like to join a small indie company or even start my own.”
Shaylyn “ChemicalAlia” Hamm – 31 – Modeler / Texture Artist / Concept Artist – Dallas, Texas, USA
Currently residing in Dallas, Texas is industry savant Shaylyn Hamm, known online by her pseudonym of ChemicalAlia. At 31 years-old, Hamm has plenty of professional experience in several artistic fields, and has struck gold with the Steam Workshop.
“I came down to the Dallas, Texas area from Pennsylvania in late 2008 to attend grad school,” said Hamm, “which is where I first began modeling. I started out in the industry as an art intern at id Software, working on the game RAGE. Following that, I spent the past three years at Gearbox Software as a 3D Environment Artist, and I’ve worked mostly on Borderlands 2 and its DLCs.”
In October of 2013, Hamm left Gearbox, along with her character artist friend, Wes “DrySocket” Parker, to develop art for Valve games via the Steam Workshop full-time. In Hamm’s case, her work was primarily for Dota 2.
Before the Steam Workshop, Hamm got involved in the modding and Source communities through an ongoing project of creating female versions of the playable classes in TF2. In 2010, she hopped into cosmetic creation with the Polycount Contest, which eventually placed her among the winners with her Saharan Spy set, which was added to the game with the release of the Mann Co. Store.
“After that, I focused mainly on my studio job,” she said, “along with making the occasional new female TF2 character. The money from the Saharan Spy set helped me greatly in paying off my student loans, but I saw it as more or less a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
“It wasn’t until early 2012, when I was contacted by some guys at Valve about making some stuff for the then-upcoming workshop for Dota 2, that I really got started with the Workshop stuff more seriously.”
It wasn’t until a year into making Dota 2 items that Hamm briefly went back to TF2 to develop the Savannah Sniper set with Parker, her regular collaborator, whose work can be found here on their Steam Workshop.
“A big part of me really wishes I had continued creating content for TF2 all along,” said Hamm, “as I feel that I missed some big opportunities along the way, but ultimately it was more important for me to focus on building my career in the industry, as I was fairly new to it at the time.”
“On one hand, I really want to [revisit TF2],” she continued, “ I love the TF2 aesthetic, and it’s a nice break from the style of Dota. On the other hand, I prefer to spend my time on projects that I feel have a reasonably good chance of being accepted for the game, as this is my main source of income now.”
“Full sets don’t seem to be the way TF2 is going these days, and I haven’t seen much in the way of community-made weapons being added, either. I’ve noticed a shift more towards promotional items and holiday-themed cosmetics, and the seasonal stuff doesn’t really hold my interest.”
“Still, TF2 is always in the back of my mind, and I think if I had a good enough idea for something new, it’d be hard to resist making it. And if a great opportunity presented itself, I’d be there!”
Being among the first item contributors to get paid for their work with the release of the in-game Mann. Co Store, Hamm has made quite a killing off of her work from the Steam Workshop.
“In every year since 2010, I’ve made significantly more money through my TF2 and Dota items than I did at my job,” noted Hamm, “and that’s counting the year I received royalties for Borderlands 2.”
“It’s allowed me to pay off my student loans in just a few short years– saving me a lot due to the high interest rates– which was something I expected to take my whole life to do.”
“I would go as far as to say it’s the easily best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“I’ve made a ton of wonderful friends along the way,” continued Hamm, “and have had the opportunity to work with people from different organizations, teams, and pro-players. Valve invited me and a dozen or so artists out to The International 3 this past summer to demonstrate the art creation process for the Dota Workshop in person, and I was able to meet a lot of great people and even a few of those friends I mentioned.”
“Becoming an artist in the game industry isn’t the most straightforward thing to do, so anytime I’m able to help other artists get started or find the right path, it’s always pretty awesome.”
“Basically, it’s sweet,” she added. “I’m pretty content to do this for a while. I have a bit more time to catch up on things in my life that I’ve had to put to the side for the past few years, like playing video games, going outside, and having a guilt-free social life. I also have more time to focus on my portfolio and can pursue some personal artwork.”
“Still, I love the studio environment, and would love to return to that eventually,” she continued, “I enjoy being surrounded by awesome artists every day and being able to challenge myself and learn from them, and working closely with people from different disciplines to make games that I’m proud of.”
With extensive experience in a professional industry environment, and incredible success in the Workshop, Hamm concluded with some helpful advice to those looking to get into either of those fields.
“Always have an end goal that will make you happy, but set reasonable smaller ones for yourself to help stay focused,” concluded Hamm, “Your portfolio is key. Don’t be afraid to show off your work and talk to other people, and learning how to reflect on your own work will help you become a better artist.”