Liz Beetem is our subject today on Inside the Vault. She joined us last year as an art intern and performed so well that we’ve offered her a full time position as a character artist. When you are trying out all the interesting outfits available in Fallout 3, think of Liz.
What’s your job at Bethesda?
Character Artist, recently upgraded from Character Art Intern. When I was interviewed for the internship, they asked why I hated skinning and rigging so much as I had jokingly mentioned this on my website. They must have been secretly laughing at me because that is mostly what my job ended up being. That is, until some new meat comes in to take that over. Just think, gentle internet reader, it could be you! I also work a lot with the gore and even though some of the processes for implementing the gore are incredibly tedious, I like having a job where I can say ‘viable dismemberment line.’ When I am lucky, I get to do texture edits and make fun stuff like robot gibs and radscorpion venom glands. Awww yeah.
What other games have you worked on?
None! Which makes me feel ridiculously lucky because I thought I was going to have to pay my dues working at fly-by-night studios where the employees would all have to draw straws to see who’s going to give potential investors their foot massages, and if we ever managed to get a game close to done the publishers would yank it out of our hands, and throw it onto the market prematurely where we could watch our baby gasp and sputter and die, choking on a pool of its own game-breaking bugs. The fact that the first game I’m working on is the first real Fallout game in like ten years would make me go insane from pressure if I thought about it too hard.
What is the best part about working as a artist? The worst part?
When my job is at its best it is basically a fusion of fine art and playing with action figures. I can’t think of another medium where you can lovingly adjust the highlights on the sleeve of an outfit and then go in game to see how it looks as a bloody dismembered limb. You know Michelangelo wished he could do that with David. Well, maybe not Michelangelo, but Caravaggio would definitely dig it.
The worst part is finite time resources. It shanks me in the gut a little every time I think of some art asset which would make the game better and there’s just no way, no time, no how. And 3D art is a very reworkable medium, so every asset you have, you know you could get it just a little bit better. This is why I’m glad time management is left to people above me because if I was in charge you would be getting Fallout Forever.
How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
Before I went to college I’d never particularly wanted to be a visual artist, I was planning on living a rather uneventful life teaching little children how to punch each other in a local Tae Kwon Do studio. Cue traumatic elbow injury. Well, I liked drawing silly little gothy anime comics, so I decided to go to art school. While I was there I fell hardcore in love with art and got a new stable of influences (Phil Hale, Marko Djurdevic, Wesley Burt), and I realized that the stuff I was drawing was absolute garbage. So there I was two years into school and I realized there was no way I’d be able to improve my drawing skills to a level I’d want to be employed at in the time I had left at college. I was brimming with self-loathing and cursing myself for not spending my high school years getting my draftmanship on.
While I was floundering around deciding what to do with my life my best droogie was a game design major, and I started looking over his shoulder and saying, “Hey, maybe i could do that.” (Previously, I’d been looking over his shoulder and saying, “Ha ha, you have to UV unwrap things, sucker!” Ironic!) I’d always really loved videogames more than comic books, but my desire to actually make them faded out when they went from 2D to 3D. Too boxy, too many jagged lines. Fortunately, just then Half-Life 2 was coming out. Videogames suddenly looked a whole lot better and I swapped majors. Turns out even if you have no experience, 3D is a good place for an artist with some decent foundation skills, a good eye, and a dog-like tenacity. My best droogie became my boyfriend and got out of school slightly before me and got hired at Bethesda as a character artist thanks to his awesome skills at modeling monsters with bizarre pelvises. I followed him up to Maryland and submitted my portfolio to Bethesda, which got me completely ignored. So I was unemployed a bit and continued working on 3D stuff at home. I also wanted to throttle my boyfriend because he was very good about his NDA. We were both Fallout fans, and he wouldn’t tell me anything except obvious lies about how you could recruit an idiot man-child and ride him around like Master-Blaster, and maybe also you could get a talking radscorpion buddy named Citizen Snips.
When a character art internship came up I jumped at it. Once I had that internship, I worked my ass off, not with any thoughts about winning permanent employment, but just because it was Fallout, and I was going to do the best I could on any task no matter how small or obnoxious it was. I guess someone noticed how much I cared, which can’t have been very difficult because I was really more vocal than an intern should be . Eventually, I got hired as a more permanent addition to the team. Then I did a little dance.
As for getting into the industry, consider dating someone already in the industry! I’ll give you all a moment to post an ad on Craigslist. Seriously though, it’s really hard to get a job in the industry fresh out of school with zero experience. The company has no idea what kind of person you are and unless your portfolio is absolutely stunning, it doesn’t say a hell of a lot about what work you’ll be putting out on a regular basis. Having someone vouch for you being a hard worker makes a big difference, too. I highly recommend getting an internship if you don’t have much experience in the industry, and if you’re having a hard time getting noticed, I’d recommend making a presence for yourself on some of the 3D forums out there and maybe making some friends that way.
What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?
Silent Hill 2, with Shadow of the Colossus as a runner up. That’s approaching the subject with a games-as-art sort of take rather than a purely what games are fun standpoint. Silent Hill 2 doesn’t have the best combat, but it has such an amazing concept. I’m a big fan of 19th Century Symbolism, which was an art movement that wanted to make the intangible tangible and convey the inexpressable depths of the subconscious. That’s essentially what the town of Silent Hill does, which is why I think it’s so brilliant.
Symbolism was also very concerned with the duality of Eros and Thanatos which is what Silent Hill’s art style is all about, only it took it a step further. There’s a print by Felicien Rops called Sentimental Initiation which has a female figure whose top half is a skeleton, that’s a very obvious Eros/Thanatos example, possibly a bit too on the nose. But the creature designs in Silent Hill 2 are much more seamless, you have these disturbing creatures with fantastic asses and their feet twisted into a shape reminiscent of high heels. All of the creature designs are so subliminal, so subconscious, which I love because I think the conscious mind isn’t capable of conceiving horror like the subconscious can. The Abstract Daddy creature in the game is the perfect example of this, it’s this creature on a bed-like frame with a strange skin-like wrapping around two humanoid figures that are doing something horrible, and it’s even worse because it forces you to imagine it instead of just throwing it out there in front of you.
Also, Silent Hill 2 gives major love to art history fans. The first time I played it, I noticed how some of the creatures were suspended in these boxlike frames and I said, “Hey, I wonder if that’s a Francis Bacon nod?” It turned out that was the creature designer’s favorite artist. In the Ki-No-Ko video that came on the Art of Silent Hill DVD, there’s a segment where there’s three squares in the sky, which I’m pretty sure are the three squares in Marcel Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors — that represent the holy trinity, which is in itself a nod to Malevich’s black square. It just shows how deep they are searching into the art world for inspiration, and I think it is reflected in how powerful and beautiful the atmosphere in the game is.
What games are you looking forward to?
Mad World, Bayonetta, Left 4 Dead, Fable 2, and hoping Resident Evil 5 manages to live up to 4. I’m especially looking forward to Fable 2′s co-op; I’m sick of games that think I don’t want to play with the guy on the couch next to me.
What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
Well, I am fond of the smell of napalm. Or coffee, either one. I take it black as Malevich’s square. Really though it’s worth coming in just to talk to our concept artist, Adam — that cat is far-out.
Worst job you’ve ever had?
I haven’t really had any bad jobs. Ha ha! Wow the view is great from up here on my ivory tower.
Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I try to spend as much time as possible improving my art foundations, drawing, sculpting painting, then I subtract from that more time than I should drinking beer and playing Team Fortress 2. I like dancing, fashion design, working out, and I’ve started rock climbing and soon I’d like to get back into punching things. I love trashy horror and martial arts films and industrial/neofolk and deathrock music. Someday I’d like to start a terrible band with my boyfriend where I play the chainsaw and do something that could be liberally described as singing and he plays the theramin. I haven’t even cracked open the UT3 construction tools and I was planning on making some stuff with those… so much to do, so little time!