By Brian Hudgins
Matt Tovar’s ’08 BA journey from virtual street fighter to senior cinematic animator carried him from San Antonio to sunny California.
His introduction to video games came through playing various titles on Nintendo and PlayStation systems. “The Street Fighter series – I would play that with friends,” Tovar said. “I never actually knew you could do that for a living.”
Near the end of his senior year of high school, Tovar found out about commercial production and the use of 3-D graphics through one of his brother’s friends. “I looked at it deeper,” Tovar said. “How do you even get into a job like that? What does it take to make it in the industry?”
Tovar, who is now serving as a visiting instructor in the Animation and Game Design Department (ANGD), started his collegiate studies at another university as a computer science major. A transfer to UIW during his sophomore year and subsequent enrollment in the animation program enabled him to earn a bachelor’s degree a few years later. The realization that California serves as a hub of the game industry convinced Tovar that was a place he could move up in his career. What he didn’t have was an immediate route for advancement. “I talked with Sony Games…they needed short-term help. So two weeks later, I was moving. I was only supposed to go for four or five months.”
That was in 2008. Tovar’s opportunity to work as an animator on “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” served as a turning point. “That was my first title game and it won Game of the Year (from multiple sources). It was fortunate to have it work like that.”
Tovar started with Sony Computer Entertainment of America as a cinematic animator. He was able to move up to senior cinematic animator as he had a hand in titles such as “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” and “The Last of Us.” Tovar’s efforts at Sony Pictures Imageworks as an intermediate animator included him working on the films “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Green Lantern.”
The workload Tovar encountered at UIW as a student steeled him for facing short deadlines as a professional. “On some projects, you work on a team of seven or eight people,” Tovar said. “On some, you will be on a team of 40 people. You don’t work directly with everybody, but you have to run things by each other.”
When Tovar arrived in California, he went strictly by the book on work assignments and kept in mind that he didn’t want to run the risk of pushing anybody’s buttons. More experience allowed Tovar to receive more leeway when it came to being creative. “If you get notes from a supervisor, you don’t want to go too far astray from that unless you have a great working relationship,” Tovar said. “You just have to get used to the particular work environment at a studio.”
Becoming familiar with how that atmosphere compared to the particulars of a typical college assignment was one of the learning processes Tovar experienced in California. “At school, students do a lot of their own projects, but then you are on a big team,” he said. “You get those notes and you also have daily review times.”
Having access to Sony’s extensive resources also had an effect on what Tovar and his peers were capable of doing compared to college students. “Those really high-end tools and equipment…students don’t have those luxuries,” Tovar said.
In addition to his work on “Uncharted 2,” Tovar is fond of the opportunity he had to work on the game “The Last of Us” for PlayStation 3 – which details the adventures of Joel and Ellie – who must battle humans and zombies in a post-apocalypse United States. “It was great seeing it go from point A to point B and it was good to see the public’s reactions,” he said.
Tovar has followed his recent industry success with an effort to get students in UIW’s animation program from point A to point B in their preparation for their respective careers. Part of that involves illustrating the degree of difficulty that comes with working in the industry; Tovar stressed it requires a balance of fun and work.
“Some people think it’s more fun than work,” Tovar said. “It’s a lot of work. These are million-dollar projects. So, it’s serious fun.”
To learn more about UIW’s ANGD program, visit www.uiw3d.com