Nicolas Collings is a senior character artist who has worked on some of the best-known recent videogames and games cinematics. Beginning his career working for TV animation studios in his native Belgium, he moved to Canada in 2008 to work for Ubisoft Montreal, later moving to Blur Studio and Naughty Dog. AAA titles he has contributed to include Assassin’s Creed 2, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and currently, Uncharted 4. He has also worked on high-profile trailers for Resident Evil, League of Legends, Far Cry 3 and Dishonored. Nicolas told us about the value of self-study and networking in shaping your career, and his advice to other artists.
How did you get into the game industry?
After high school, I did a three-year course in computer graphics, where I learned to use Photoshop and 3ds Max but also web programming and video editing. There was no focus on 3D character modelling at the school, but I quickly realized that it was what I really wanted to do, so I started learning it in my own time by following tutorials on CG websites.
During the last year of the course, we had to get an internship in a studio, so I started looking for one that would accept a 3D character modeler, ending up at Oniria Pictures in Luxembourg. That studio was owned by former Disney animators Thierry Schiel and Sofia Kolokouri. It had a major impact on my career, and I will be forever grateful to them.
Once I graduated, I landed some contract work at an animation studio in Brussels called Blue Spirit – my application caught the attention of the supervisor in charge of recruitment, because he had previously worked at Oniria Pictures. Then, after a few months, I got my foot in door of the videogame industry, working for Larian Studios.
Tell us about your journey from there
During that time, I kept practicing my poly modeling, sculpting and texturing, using software like 3ds Max, BodyPaint and ZBrush. I was also active on CG forums like CGTalk, 3DTotal and ZBrushCentral. I was really enjoying my time at Larian Studios, but I wanted to work on higher-profile games, and that enabled me to make friends in the industry internationally.
Assassin’s Creed got released that year, so I contacted one of my friends, Ubisoft character artist Magdalena Dadela, and asked her if she would recommend me to the studio (thanks again, Magda). A few months later, they called. A couple of phone interviews later, I was hired to work on the Assassin’s Creed franchise. That was a very big step forward, as I relocated to Canada, leaving my friends and family behind.
Having a company like Ubisoft on your resume makes things much easier and attracts a lot of offers from other studios. After two awesome years in Montreal, I decided to try to relocate to Los Angeles, so I sent my application to a company I had wanted to work for for a long time: Blur Studio.
The timing was perfect, and I got offered a staff position there. The visa process takes much longer in the US than for Canada, but after six months, I was able to move to sunny California. I stayed at Blur for three years and had a blast working there. I made many great friends and had the chance to work on a lot of great game cinematic trailers.
Recently, with the new generation of consoles, my interest in games reignited, which is why I made another move earlier this year to join Naughty Dog. I am very excited about this new adventure, and the possibility the technology offers us to push the visual quality of the game we are currently working on.
How do you want to impact the world?
Impacting the world might be a bit far-fetched, but I really enjoy it when people tell me that they had a great time playing a game I worked on. After having worked on multiple Assassin’s Creed games, I received a lot of messages from people saying that they had inspired them to pursue a career in the field themselves.
I think that entertainment has a great value in a society where we are exposed to so much negativity in the news, on TV, and on the web. Entertainment brings happiness and I think it can be just as important as other, more ‘serious’ professions. I’m proud to be in this industry.
What are you passionate about?
Many things, from art to sport. I’m mostly inspired by the golden age of American illustration: Mead Schaeffer, [Howard] Pyle, [N.C.] Wyeth, [Dean] Cornwell, [J.C.] Leyendecker, [Norman] Rockwell, [Saul] Tepper, and so on. There was an exhibition with all their paintings in Pepperdine, CA last year, and it was a blast to see so much great art under one roof.
I am also inspired by today’s 2D artists, like Ryan Meinerding, Charlie Wen, Justin Sweet, Iain McCaig and James Gurney. I’ve always focused on 3D characters and creatures, but nowadays I want to push my art more towards that. Next to my computer, I have an easel with pencils, brushes, watercolour and gouache, and it feels good to get my hands dirty.
What would be your #1 advice to other artists?
Really think about what you love doing, and then practice it. The only thing that separates great artists from mediocre ones is the amount of time and love they dedicate to their craft.