Inside the Vault: Clara Struthers

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Today’s Inside the Vault features artist, Clara Struthers. She is married to Inside the Vault veteran, Grant Struthers. Clara is a world artist, who creates cities and other large game spaces. Currently, she’s hard at work building some amazing areas in Fallout 3. Clara created Anvil, my personal favorite city in Oblivion (where my characters liked to vacation when they needed a break from looking AWE–wait for it

-SOME at Cloud Ruler Temple).

What’s your job at Bethesda?

I’m very pleased to be a world artist at Bethesda.

What other games have you worked on?

Oblivion and Shivering Isles are the only published games I’ve worked on. I did do some texture work for Dungeon Gladiator by Complex Games in college, but that game never saw the light of day. Here’s some ancient screens of it: I’ll let you take what you will from that.

In between college and Bethesda I worked for half a year at a non-profit government company called CTC as a 3D artist. We did game-type projects, but to elaborate would probably get you and I killed by the CIA. There were clearances involved.

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

Best and worst: Being creative everyday. Sometimes it comes easy and sometimes it doesn’t.
Another best: Making art others will get to enjoy.

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

If you really want get into the industry, and think there’s no chance, I’m sitting here at Bethesda telling you that you can. When I started at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for CAM (now the Media Arts and Animation program) in 2000, I could barely draw, I had scant, if any, useful knowledge of computers (my family never owned one. In fact, I typed all my reports throughout high school on an electric typewriter that would only store 400 words at a time.), and I really didn’t have a clue what 3DS Max was or that Photoshop even existed. (Central Pa. tends to be a bit sheltered from the civilized world.)

So how did I do it? I’m still not sure. I have vague memories of a serious study of computer lit and meals comprised of Mountain Dew and rainbow Nerds. After college, I was lucky enough to get a job at the aforementioned CTC and keep up my modeling skills. I put together a website.

My friend and roommate from college mentioned that he was going to an interview at Bethesda for a World Art position. After stemming the tide of jealousy, I popped on their website and saw that they were also hiring for a position at their Hunt Valley office. Not wanting to step on toes, I applied for the Hunt Valley position, because applying for the Rockville one seemed fundamentally evil.

To shorten this a bit, I got an interview at the Hunt Valley Office, and spent most of the interview talking to the IHRA Drag Racing team about how awesome Morrowind looked. Probably not a shining moment of interview brilliance, but it got my website forwarded to Todd, and ultimately he asked me down for an interview. I was happy to find out that they were looking for two world artists, so Grant and I ended up getting hired around the same time.

I’d say the real key in all of this, talent or not, is to love what you create, and have fun doing it. That’s because, in the end, if you really love what you do, I think others will recognize that and give you a chance even if you’re not the best of the best.

Okay now on to the actually useful tip: put together a website of your work. Demo tapes are very lame. Seriously, who has a VCR anymore? Does anyone even know what that is?

What art are you most proud from Oblivion?

The city of Anvil, complete with its docks, boats, lighthouse and castle, are definitely one of my favorite things I worked on in Oblivion. In Shivering Isles, I’m proud of Crucible.

What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?

This question is impossible to answer. There are many games I like for different reasons. If I had to pick one game that really solidified my want to pursue game art as a career, I would have to say FF7.

I’m going to have to mention some other games I love. I’m fond of Super Mario World (who am I kidding…any of the original Mario games are great), many of the old Square games (esp. FF5, 6& 7, Chrono Trigger, and Xenogears), Half-Life 2, Yoshi’s Cookie (really bad puzzle game, just make sure you always are player 1), Crash Team Racing (actually most kart games are cool), Tetris, the unbelievably additive Guitar Hero II, Battletoads, Link’s Awakening (for the first GameBoy…still have the original Brick lying about), Mario Paint (anyone remember that?!?!), pretty much any game that can be played co-op (Halo, Secret of Manna, Gears of War), Metal Gear for PS1 (Psycho Mantis is still the best villain in any MG to date), Jewel Quest (don’t laugh too loudly), Silent Hill 2, Oblivion, and soon Fallout 3 ;).

Okay, so I just like video games. Let me tell you a story to give you an idea of the extent. I grew up with an older brother. At Christmas, he would get the latest and greatest game or console. I would get something along the lines of an Easy Bake Oven. After about an hour of baking things with a light bulb, I would go into the living room to watch my brother play his games. One year I watched him play through FF4 (FF2 at the time for SNES) and then I started asking if I could play it too. This would drive him insane (because it was his game) and eventually a fight would break out. My mom, thank the heavens, decided the best way to stop these ongoing battles and restore peace to her abode was to teach the wonderful art of sharing. This is how my bother decided to “share” FF2 with me. I would promise to play an hour of Mario Kart for a half hour of FF2 time. My brother was very precise; contracts were written, oaths were sworn, times were recorded. Now all of you remember how long it takes to play FF2 the first time through? Let’s just say I became a master at Mario Kart. ;)

Who or what inspires you most as an artist?

I get a lot of inspiration/torture from other games. When a game comes out that I wished I worked on because it looks so good, I spend the week eating chocolate bars, and lamenting on paths not taken. Then I remember that I actually work in the industry and can make my stuff look better then theirs if I try hard enough, and thus equilibrium is achieved.

Coffee helps too.

Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

List o’ stuff: Reading, skiing, hiking, most things involving sun and air, drawing, painting, ping-pong, videogames, travel, bathing the creatures when they are bad, spending lots of time with my husband (!), and visiting family/ friends. Also I love movies, hate tv, and enjoy preparing, cooking and eating brownies. Lastly, mission work: Grant and I went on a trip with our church to help out in Gulfport, Miss. Probably the most rewarding/ best thing I did all year, though I did spend half the trip vomiting in my hotel room. Buffet food is highly suspected.

Do you own any pets?

I have two creatures: Tsunami (Nami) and Vader. They are currently in a state of not getting along. I didn’t know cats could make demon noises.

Tsunami was aptly named because my husband and I brought her home from a cat show in NJ during one of the worst thunderstorms I’ve ever driven in.

Her nicknames are as follows:
Creature
Cat
Little Sausage
Big Oaf

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Big Oaf is in honor of the fact that, though she isn’t a large cat by any stretch of the imagination, next to the kitten, Vader, she does look a little bit like a big oaf.

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The little kitten, Vader, was pawned unapologetically on us by our producer, the Claff [Be sure to come back next week when we feature the Claff on the next Inside the Vault]. I hold no grudge. In fact, my best friend and I are going to hold a competition to see who can be the best Cat Lady in our Golden years; I’m currently two cats ahead.

Vader is part squirrel/part I-love-anything-and-everyone-indiscriminately. His nose drips when he purrs too much, which is often, because he is unnaturally happy all the time. In his spare time, he enjoys dismantling mountain crickets in our basement.

Reader Comments

  1. This lady did Anvil? My commendations. Benirus Manor is usually the first House I buy, all because of that Gold Coast architecture.

  2. This was a great read, and very inspiring to me, yet another person trying to break in to the industry. I recently attended the Zenimax Online job fair to try to get in on the concept artist deal, but I’ve yet to hear anything. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying though, I know I’ll make it eventually as long as I keep working at it :)

    I’ve been thinking about it lately, and I think I really want to persue World Art, which is actually something Gary (Noonan) had talked to me about trying out, saying that it sounded like I would probably enjoy doing it. I think it would just be amazing to create whole worlds and environments. So I’ve now downloaded the trial version of 3DS Max and am prepared to dive in.

    Thanks for this awesome interview, and the inspiration :D

  3. Great interview.
    Like Chris, I’m also trying to break in, though I should proberly finish my education to begin with.

    By the way, is it possible to join the Bethesda Team (or any video game developers) when oneself has to travelled all the way from Europe only settle down in the USA, hoping that Bethesda would accept him?
    I know it’s possible, I’m just interested in your point of view, just to be prepared for anything.

    And good luck to you, Chris.

  4. Catlover! Thats like 500 pluspoint right there. ;)
    Good work on Avil, let’s see what your vision produces for Fallout 3. Is this a good time to prod for a screenshot? I think it is! Screenshot plz.

  5. Cuuuuute cats!!!

    Anvil is one of my favorite places at Cyrodill, really did a great job there! Now, if you say you did Bravil too, you would definately have a fan :D

    And… great taste for games! FF7, Chrone Cross and Xenogears are still in my desk, and I still play them with fascination!

  6. Nami reminds me of my cat. I agree Crubicle and Anvil both seem as if they could actually exist or have existed some where on Earth, minus the non-humans of course.

  7. Great to see the lady behind the amazing city of Anvil. Amazing artwork, and brilliant design. You should be very proud.