Inside the Vault: Megan Sawyer

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Today’s Inside the Vault is with Megan Sawyer. She spends much of her time on creating the “living” spaces of the world – cities, towns, and landscapes. If our team were to have super powers, one of them would be the ability to create large, beautiful environments for exploration. Megan helps make that happen. For those who might recognize Megan, she had a feature in the documentary included with the Collector’s Edition of Oblivion.

What’s your job at Bethesda?

I’m an environment artist. I work on everything from houses tolandscape textures. In Oblivion, I made the houses of Cheydinhal, sculpted the landscape around the whole city, created the bridges and cattails, and made the Dark Brotherhood entry door. I also created the landscape textures and overall feel of the Blackwood swamp region. Currently on Fallout I’ve worked on a few buildings, an area for the main quest, a lot of clutter, and am now working on landscape.

At night I fight crime!

What other games have you worked on?

TES IV:Oblivion, as well as the Knights of the Nine downloadable content pack and The Shivering Isles expansion. I’m fairly new to game dev, as I’ve only been working in it for about 4 years. Before that I was an artist up in NYC, and before that I was a college student.

What is the best part about being an artist? The worst part?

I should probably say the best part is that I’m a working artist and wound up getting a job related to my college major, but instead I’m going to be a big nerd and say that the best part is seeing your stuff in magazines. Nothing beats pointing out a house you made to your best friend while in EB Games. :)

The worst part is probably that art is very subjective, so I wind up reworking a lot of things that I thought were finished. Given that’s the worst thing I can think of, I feel pretty lucky.

How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?

I got in through a combination of very hard work, and complete dumb luck. I majored in 3D/Time based art at Carnegie Mellon and had an excellent education. In August 2001 I moved to NYC, intending on working for MTV and living my fabulous city life. Then a month later everything changed. I toughed it out for two years, until finally moving back to Maryland and wound up working retail for a bit. One day I got a random email from a Bethsoft employee who liked my website and invited me to apply. Since there weren’t any art openings at the time, I applied to QA and got my first industry job. From there I worked 18 hour days – 8 hours on QA, followed by 4 hours at my retail job, and then 6 hours on my portfolio until I was awesome enough to be accepted into the art team.

Here are some things I think are handy in terms of “breaking in”:

  • Swallow your pride. One thing I’ve seen get in the way of a lot of industry hopefuls is a misplaced sense of entitlement/huge ego.
  • It’s 2% luck, 98% hard work. Make sure when you do get a lucky break, that you’re prepared for it. Have your portfolio constantly updated and ready to show potential employers.

What is it like working there?

Awesome times a million. Seriously though, it’s really cool. My coworkers are all very approachable and friendly. They’re always doing fun things together
like organizing game nights or going to see movies together. I have unlimited club soda thanks to our soda fountain, free hot chocolate in the winter, and best of all, random healthy snacks like apples and bananas. Having worked places where the healthiest thing came from a vending machine, I appreciate that greatly. I also love my cubicle.
It’s near the soundbooth so I’m always hearing gunshots or loud explosions, or Fallout music, or all three. I’m the type that’s driven crazy when it’s quiet and find construction noises soothing, so it suits me very well.

See? Awesome times a million.

Ever play the Fallout games?

Oddly, I never played them before we got the Fallout 3 license. I did acquire the games as soon as we got the license, and man, I love all the stuff they came with. That little booklet and everything is awesome. I’m such a sucker for games that come with cool stuff. I’ve never finished either one though — not for lack of interest, I’m
just very very bad at finishing games and very rarely do so. I’ve watched all of the speed runs, read everything I can on Fallout, studied screenshots, and watched every YouTube Fallout game play video I can.

What is your favorite type of game to play?

I like adventure games, and survival horror. The games I’ve played the most are King’s Quest 3 and 4, Quest for Glory 1 & 2. and the Silent Hill series.

What is your favorite game from the past year?

Rayman: Raving Rabbids. BAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!! Also, Pokemon Diamond, and Animal Crossing. I just got my second birthday cake in Animal Crossing last month. That’s either awesome or really scary, I’m still trying to decide which.

What games are you looking forward to?

Rock Band is definitely on my list. I love singing despite my complete inability to be any good at it. Spore sounds like it will be awesome, and I’m really looking forward to Fable 2, having thoroughly enjoyed the first one. I don’t really play first person shooters, so the typical list of “Halo3, etc.” doesn’t have me jumping up and down (no offense to the Halo 3 devs, as I’m sure others will enjoy it!). I’m also excited about Autumn Moon’s A Vampyre Story. I’m also looking forward to eventually seeing Soul Calibur 4, and Silent Hill 5.

What are you hobbies and interests?

My favorite hobby is going to concerts and club nights. I like older goth and industrial music, so it tends to be difficult to find concerts to attend but in the last few years I’ve manged to catch Dead Can Dance, Bauhaus (twice), Sisters of Mercy, Morrissey (twice) and a few other awesome bands. I’m really hoping KMFDM tours with their new album — I’m lame and missed them on the Hau Ruck tour. When there aren’t any good concerts, I will occasionally venture out to a goth club. My less social activities include reading, being spooky, collecting Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy memorabilia, looking for turtles in my backyard, and watching random stuff from my DVD collection, including the Stargate SG-1 series, The Crow, and Nightmare Before Christmas for the 487th time.

Reader Comments

  1. This is really great. I’m being educated in graphics design too, and I want a future as a game dev, and Bethesda is one of my favourites. So this is really great!

  2. Hah!! Hero’s Quest 1 + 2…. Awesome ;) Barely anyone remembers those any more.

    When you’re designing “stuff”, cherish the fact that you’ve got true-color instead of 16-color 320×200 HiRez =) However, in a way, it was easier back then (’86+) ’cause PCX’s could be cleaned up pixel-by-pixel… hehe

  3. Finally! I always wanted to know about the girl with the Bauhaus t-shirt who appears in the Oblivion making of dvd. Thanks Bethesda!! Nice to meet you Megan, Bela Lugosi’s Dead!

  4. Hi Megan.
    Much better picture then that group one i must say. And a fan of Sisters too and you ahve seen them live… which i have not… well nevermind that now… Ill simply refuse to think about it. I just wanted to say that when i was playing through Oblivion i liked those Blackwood swamps very much. I use to get of the horse and just walk around ocassionaly diving into small ponds and burowing through the grass and thinking…whaaa, munch, munch… this is so cool…i wish the whole game was like this. very nice interview. I think i will steal parts of it for our an Meet the Devs list on wiki.

  5. hi,
    I like they way bethesda Softworks makes its games, I think you are one of my Hero’s when it does come 2 graphics design. Is it true that your not making another Elder Scrolls? If u wernt that would be a pitty because all of the Elder Srolls are relly good and they keep on getting better and better. I am currently trying for my graphics masters and more and i would hope all my hard year might earn me a chance to be able to apply and even if im lucky get a job here, but any way ur really good and i wish to be like you in a few years.

    Keep the amazing work up!