Inside the Vault: Obsidian’s Joe Sanabria


Welcome back for another edition of Inside the Vault. This week we meet Fallout New Vegas Senior Artist Joe Sanabria.

What’s your job at Obsidian?

I’m a Senior Artist here at the studio, which is what they call you when you get gray hairs and have been doing this for a few years.

My job in a nutshell is to make Fallout: New Vegas look good. I focus on the visual development of the game and define the artistic direction.

What games have you worked on?

The first game I worked on was called the Neverhood Chronicles, a cool little PC title done entirely in clay. After that I worked on Skullmonkeys, which was a side scrolling platform game on the PS1.  In addition to being one of the level designers, I was also a level boss named Joe Head Joe.

From design and art I moved into a Producer role and worked on Boombots. After that I worked on some more main stream titles, Test Drive Off-Road and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, in which I got to create the some of the in-game characters including the Governator himself.

And now I’m working on this game called Fallout: New Vegas!

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

I guess the best part about being an artist is that I have what is called an artistic license. I can do something because that is what I want to do.

The worst part? The glass is half full my friend; IMHO there are no negatives to being an artist

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

My roommate back in the day had been working at a small start up studio named the Neverhood. Every once in a while I’d visit him and the other artist and bring in some of my pencil tests and drawings to get some feedback and talk shop. Then out of the blue one evening I received a call from one of the owners, asking me if I’d be interested in doing some work. It was a contract gig that was to last only 3 weeks, that was almost 15 years ago.

My tip for any artist wanting to break in this industry is to do some research. Figure out what aspect of art appeals to you the most: levels, characters, animations. Then work on putting together a portfolio that highlights your work. Present your best work and don’t be afraid to remove the weak stuff. Show it around and get constructive criticisms from various respectable sources. Use the feedback to highlight your weaknesses and work on improving that aspects of you work. When you have 10 solid pieces of work, hope for the best and start submitting your work!

If you don’t succeed at first , dust yourself off and keep trying. And if you are fortunate enough to break in, then stay humble and realize being an artist is a lifelong endeavor. Continue to challenge and push yourself and if you’re lucky/blessed you’ll stay ahead of the pack.

Any fun facts you’d like to share about Obsidian?

At around 4pm they unlock the doors and a few Obsidianites will wander around the Irvine Spectrum, which is an outdoor shopping center across the street, for about 20 minutes and then return to their desks.

Thus far, what’s been the highlight of your career?

There have been a few memorable moments I’m fond of… being animated for the character Joe Head Joe … traveling to Hawaii on photo research trip … visiting Cairo and the Pyramids of Giza, again for research.

And not to be a name dropper, but meeting director Robert Rodriquez and brainstorming with him was a really surreal memory.

And being a part of Fallout New Vegas, of course!

Have any favorite artists?

I have a few favorite artists, mostly traditional artist.

Painters include: Lucian Freud, Max Beckman, Amedeo Modiglianni , Egon Schiele,  John Singer-Sargent, Dali, Velazquez, ElGreco, and Picasso.

Photographers include: Richard Avedon, Yousef Karsh, Sebastiao Salgado, and Diane Arbus.

Illustrators include: Joe Sorren, Lane Smith, JOtto, and JC Layendecker.

You were an artist in NYC and now you work in the OC. How do the scenes compare?

Well, technically it’s upstate NY and not the city where I grew up. But I was no stranger to the streets of Manhattan, in particular Washington Heights.

But getting to the question, I don’t think it’s a fair comparison. There are so many museums and galleries in Manhattan, I think that just the work in the Met alone is probably larger than all the museums and galleries of OC combined.

So if you were a housewife, would you be on the Real Housewives of NYC or OC?

I plead the fifth on this one.

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

Metal Gear Solid on PS1.

What games are you looking forward to?

I’m also looking forward to playing Red Dead Redemption, since I have a few friends that worked on that title and also The Last Guardian.

What makes you get out of bed in the morning?

Either my beautiful wife Rachel or my crazy little Boston Terrier Taz. They both help me get out of bed. It also doesn’t hurt that I live in one of the sunniest places in the world and I work at a cool place. So there’s always something to look forward to.

Worst job you’ve ever had?

Ahh, well that would have to be few days I was a dishwasher at TGIF during my freshman year at SUNY Albany.

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

I love playing music and soccer. I usually spend my weekends goofing around on guitar or on the drums. And try to catch a match or two on the tube. And on a rare occasion I kick the ball around.

Reader Comments

  1. If ya read this…MORE CATWALKS PLEASE!!! I loved running around Megaton, I love concept art as well. Did that one concept art book for Fallout 3 ever come out? Or was it just the same one I got with the special edition, I wonder…. Anyway, hope you guy’s come out with a concept book for New Vegas!!!

  2. I love running around dc and I can’t wait for fallout new Vegas,and I would like dirt bike,and I would more quest,in fallout new Vegas.And fallout books would be nice.

  3. The Neverhood Chronicles is, without doubt, the best game that ever has been – and probably ever will be – developed.

  4. something that i wish to see in the futur is realism, maybe if ur shot at u heal, well ur cloths still have the bullet hole or a deathclaw slash, something like the brotherhood of steels armor tells a difrent story on each one. 1 got slashed others got shot by a robo brain it shows up but hey just a thought maybe not in this upcoming game but in futur ones. also maybe iner mixing cloths. Or home made armor just a thought. well i cant wait to see new vegas, hope it gose well for you.

  5. I love fall out I love the time era and story, the feel of the game. you guys are great and know how to make video game.

    I have one concern about new vegas. I saw your picture with my baby in it. The M1 garand. That gun is not only amazing but a hugh pice of american history from Bonny and Clyde to vietnam. I think you vg developers need to go out and shoot more it would improve the experience players have in videos games.

  6. I think it would be nice if you had more of a degree of control over how your character looks maybe you could have scars or maybe a facial hair terraform mode.It would also be nice if you could build a shack out of sheet metal yourself.I would also love to see weapons of a greater variety maybe hunting rifles of different calibers and melee weapons would be everything conceivable even rocks could be a potential tool of survival…or maybe im just annoying you and wasting time, but whatever.

  7. what would be sweet is if you put a higher level cap like 50 or so. and possibly have a DLC that includes an even higher level cap like borderlands. and i agree with FalloutFan you should have a bigger veriety of weapons. and maybe have the option to mod weapons. and possibly drive vehicles. and i can’t wait for the different music. but mostly i just cant’t wait til its release!

  8. More aspects of survival, like the geezer saud before me, having to make huts from shhets of metal, and basic needs like eating, i know youve covered dehydration, and maybe a realistic time mode, but still with the time skip. I think vehicles would ruin the fallout franchise, maybe carriage with a brahmin carrying, or mutated horses would be a good idea seeing as its in the desert n’all.

  9. I think more main stream cities would be cool, since there are only 4 major cities in FO3 (Megaton, Underworld, Tenpenny Tower, and Rivet City). And yes I know there are more cities e.g. canterburry commons, but they aren’t very big.

  10. I’m in love with the idea of weapon customization. But it can make or brake a game. So with that in mind, I would personaly like to see the abiility to customize power, clip size, fire rate, and maybe even appearence. Kind of like “Pimping” a gun on Army of Two. Just not to that extent. Although having a gold .44 would be amazing.

  11. i easily have over 800 hours in Fo 3, (and yes i have a life) and i’m eager to put in just as many into new vegas (or more!)