Whether it’s jumping on shells as a plumber with a mustache to save a princess, hopping around as a blue hedgehog at top speed collecting gold rings or controlling criminals in the Wild West in search of a better life, video games immerse players in characters and worlds that stretch imaginations. .
For Silvia Lawson-Vilches, this iconic digital world was no longer accessible only through controllers and screens – she created it.
The December 2020 graduate of School of Informatics and Computing is an associate lighting artist for Rockstar Games, the prestigious award-winning studio in the video game industry responsible for hit series such as Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption.
“It’s up there statistically with the soccer players being recruited into the NFL,” he said Zeb Wood, deputy director of the Media Arts and Science undergraduate program. “It’s so rare and special. He really deserves this – it’s no coincidence. He puts everything into what he does.”
During his 15 years at IUPUI, said Wood, he could count on one hand the number of students who had asked to meet him before their first semester. Lawson-Vilches revealed in their initial meeting that he focused on being a lighting artist in 3D after finding inspiration from lighting artist Pixar’s TED Talk. Wood has never met a student who wanted to pursue a career in lighting.
Lighting is responsible for the look, feel and presentation on the screen while helping to direct the viewer’s eye to the desired location. In video games, this could mean helping the player escape from a building or giving suggested directions for navigating through dense forest. More specifically, lighting artists manipulate light and color to create drama and ambiance. Darker tones are used in more tense and eerie settings, while warmer colors are used more often in happier, softer settings.
“My responsibility as a lighting artist is to send signals to players so they have an understanding of where to go,” said Lawson-Vilches. “Light is very important, because it helps give shape to the world.”
A casual gamer growing up, Lawson-Vilches played Dragon Age: Inquisition between his freshman and sophomore years in college and found himself becoming more interested in video games. During his first two years at IUPUI, he focused on working in the film industry, but was disconnected.
“It doesn’t really get the tone right for me,” he said. “I really like it, but I don’t know if I want to devote myself completely to it.”
Lawson-Vilches saw the trailer for Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and was blown away by the visuals and its depiction of the Western frontier. He took a PlayStation 4 controller, appeared on the disc – and his life would never be the same.
“The experience was very gradual and organic. I didn’t know you could have this kind of experience with gaming because I felt like I was falling behind in some way,” said Lawson-Vilches, of his response to Red Dead Redemption 2’s lingering emotional impact. “The game affected me at such a deep and deep level. It is a part of who I am now.”
Set in West America at the turn of the 19th century, Red Dead Redemption 2 follows the villain Arthur Morgan and his moral dilemmas and tribulations as a member of the notorious Van der Linde gang. The game has deep interactivity and a beautiful visual presentation that reinforces Lawson-Vilches’ love of rich stories and layered characters. It was a transformative experience for a native of West Lafayette, who now works for the company responsible for his career path.
“The tragic – yet hopeful – theme and overall tone really made me fall in love not only with the game, but with the in-game storytelling,” said Lawson-Vilches. “My goal going forward is to be part of a process that will connect with people around the world and evoke the same feelings. And now, I am very grateful to have the opportunity to work in a studio that sparked my passion in first place.”
Video games are no longer just a fun way to kill time; they are a big and profitable business. The video game industry was responsible for $ 150.2 billion in global sales in 2019, produce both the global film industry ($ 101 billion) and North American sports organizations ($ 73 billion). The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased industry profits as American consumers regularly break record spending on video games during 2020.
With narratives comparable to top cinema and literary stories combined with cutting-edge technology and visuals, video games provide an unmatched immersive experience for players. In video games, the audience is empowered to be an active part of the story and influence what happens.
“There is so much freedom to be able to decide what you want to do as a player, and I think that’s a wonderful thing for everyone to experience,” he said.
Lawson-Vilches was hired by Rockstar Games right after the start of the pandemic and has been working remotely ever since. He moved to San Diego in August and will be based at Rockstar studios there.
When he was hired, Lawson-Vilches still needed a few classes to complete his degree in media arts and science. The hybrid class format, and Wood’s understanding, enabled him to complete his education while working full-time.
Wood’s belief in Lawson-Vilches is based on his experiences watching him. She has established herself as a relentless student who goes the extra mile to expand her skillset and build an impressive portfolio during her formative years. He pushed the technical boundaries and artistic vision of all his duties to continue to improve. All students have assignments, but he or she has the assignment together with the same or greater amount of portfolio work.
“He knows what he wants to do and, unlike many other students, he knows what that means,” said Wood. “He’s doubling down on everything to make sure he gets what he wants as quickly as possible. That’s a special mindset I want to see in more students.”
One more impressive portfolio pieces inspired by The Last of Us: Part II, a post-apocalyptic game where the world has been overrun by “the infected” (zombies). He spent about 100 hours creating an exquisitely detailed, dilapidated city landscape from scratch.
Lawson-Vilches serves as president of IUPUI’s chapter of SIGGRAPH, a global organization for computer graphics professionals, and is also a frequent colleague Jordan Bar Refriger, a fellow graduate of December 2020 from the School of Informatics and Computers. The duo have a passionate project called Halcyon, which they explore using the Unreal Engine to develop a short film – a first at IUPUI. Unreal Engine is an industry-leading game design tool that uses real-time technology for special effects; it has also been used in the Disney + series “The Mandalorian.”
For their work, Lawson-Vilches is more in charge of the visuals, and the Refriger Bar is the mastermind on the technical side. It is a balance that keeps the two collaborators natural.
“Our different areas of expertise have given us the ability to learn from each other and be able to bridge what we want from a project,” said Bar Refriger.
Now that Lawson-Vilches has officially graduated, it’s just a matter of time before his first project is released.
When a player finishes a game, credits to those who produced it appear on the screen, similar to television shows and movies. One day, the name Lawson-Vilches will be one of those digitally engraved in video game lore.
After he finished Red Dead Redemption 2, Lawson-Vilches watched the credits for 30 minutes and read the 3,000 names of the people who worked on them.
Well, those names are colleagues.
He said that his co-workers were very friendly and kind as he started his career and worked to help create more blockbuster content from Rockstar Games.
Lawson-Vilches’ countless time, effort and creativity as well as the support of his friends and family led him to a dream job where he had to pinch himself regularly and express gratitude.
“Knowing that I am part of the engine cogs that brings so much life to this character and world that people find so much comfort is very beneficial to me,” he said. “It’s increasing because of COVID-19, but people are really looking for comfort and space to be alone. That’s what drives me every day.”
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