Thursday, November 3, 2011

Level Up + Force Multiplying

Hello internet,

First, personal news: it's been a good week! I'm excited to say that, after finally receiving my yearly review, I've been officially stripped of my junior status. My title has evolved from "Associate Technical Animator" to simply "Technical Artist," indicating an increased range of responsibilities and influence within Riot Games. Huzzah! I'm very honored and excited to move forward with my team as we continue to improve our tools and pipeline. It's going to be rad.

During my review, one of the points Riot underlined for me was the importance of being a force multiplier. For those unfamiliar with the phrase, essentially it speaks to the value of teaching and enabling those around you to be more effective. Providing better tools, teaching new methods, improving communication, or simply increasing morale are all forms of force multiplication. To me, it is the core principle of tech art.

Last year, I was in a much different place at Riot. At the time, most of my work was related to hooking up new character rigs and skins. I was also responsible for creating dynamic poses for the characters, as we used these for reference when crating splash art. We had about seven character skins coming out per patch, so this represented a large chunk of my work velocity. It was difficult for me to do this work and simultaneously undertake tools initiatives or otherwise improve the pipeline. I was also a bottleneck: splash artists and QA depended on me finishing these characters before their work could begin.

Two important things happened: first, we sought to train others on the animation team to do these tasks. Sharing knowledge and responsibility made us more flexible. Second, we challenged the process. We experimented with outsourcing and creating other ways to generate poses that didn't rely on the animation team. Ultimately, we found that while some concepts might benefit from 3D poses for reference, many worked well (or even better) free-hand. By reducing the number of cross-team dependencies and increasing the number of routes to achieve our goal, the pain point almost entirely disappeared.

This is just one example, but it speaks to a philosophy. Whatever your work may be, continue to ask the question: "What is more difficult than it needs to be?" Where can we reduce dependencies? How can we share knowledge? What happens to your production if you get hit by a bus? As counter-intuitive as it may seem, you actually want to make yourself obsolete. Remember: if you want to be promoted, the best strategy is to train your replacement. Until you do, you are stuck.


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