From Painter to Videogame Leader: A Look at the Life and Career of Glen Schofield

“My job is to throw out as many ideas as possible, and see which one sticks or if one will lead to another.  If an idea doesn’t work, no problem, just move on and keep on searching.”

While this quote may seem like the philosophy of a business leader driven only by the bottom line, it is one of the many approaches to game design that Glen Schofield has developed as he evolved from being an artist to a co-founder and general manager of Sledgehammer Games. For those unfamiliar with Schofield, he has been in the videogame industry for over twenty years and after starting off as an art student from the Pratt Institute, he went from being an artist on cartoons and games, to a respected business leader in the videogame industry. As such, Schofield’s career provides an insight into how a traditionally trained artist was able to adapt to the creative and business demands of the videogame industry and eventually become a leading figure in it.

Life Before Gaming

[T]he “Pratt Institute was great at reinforcing that the idea was the most important thing. Once you had an idea, then the illustration was easier and usually better. To this day, I use that philosophy in making games”

Schofield always enjoyed art growing up. Remembering that he was drawing at the age four, he benefited from a family that actively supported his passion by taking him to art shows and encouraging him to enter competitions. Schofield was even inspired by some of the popular artists of the 20th century – some of these being Walt Disney, Charles Schulz (creator of Peanuts), Jack Davis (one of the founding cartoonists for Mad Magazine), and Norman Rockwell. As he got older, he became a fan of “Sci-fi artists like Michael Whelan, Ralph McQuarrie, John Berkey and many others,” John Berkey being one of the designers on the original Star Wars trilogy and the original Battlestar Galactica series.

Glen Schofield

Glen Schofield

The young artist’s passion for art would continue to grow and motivate him to attend the Pratt Institute for college. As a school committed to providing a traditional Liberal Arts experience, Schofield received an in depth education of art history – including learning about Rembrandt, Picasso, Turner, Caravaggio, da Vinci, and other great artists. During this time, Pratt not only engrained in him a general knowledge of art history, it also instilled in him an intellectual framework for how to develop a concept. As Schofield put it, the “Pratt Institute was great at reinforcing that the idea was the most important thing. Once you had an idea, then the illustration was easier and usually better. To this day, I use that philosophy in making games.”

Schofield also learned more than art theory from Pratt, he learned how to approach art as an industry. This meant not only learning how to accept rejection and build a strong portfolio, but to realistically value a concept. As he states, “since the creative process is full of rejections, I just let it bounce off me.” It is a skill that not only got him through art school, but it would continue to influence how he develops games. “It’s incredibly important in gaming where you come up with hundreds of ideas a week for so many different aspects of the game,” he says. “It’s a good week if five or six of them make it into a game.”

Though this sounds cynical, Schofield makes it clear that his “job is to throw out as many ideas as possible, and see which one sticks or if one will lead to another.” “If an idea doesn’t work, no problem, just move on and keep on searching,” he says. “It’s also incredibly important to be able to accept others ideas and be able to know when somebody has a gem.”

Early Career – Galaxy Rangers and Learning the Industry of Art Production

“I was also surrounded by some of the best artists in NY at the time. It was like a four year education crammed into one year. I was drawing and designing every day. My work improved so much during this project. I became a much better artist and art director.”

After graduating from Pratt with a B.F.A., Schofield was able to get a job working on the short-lived cartoon series, The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. With only one season consisting of sixty-five episodes that aired during 1986, Galaxy Rangers provided him the opportunity to create nearly a hundred characters and storyboard direct twenty-one episodes. With each episode consisting of over four-hundred boards, this experience taught him how to both produce a large quantity of material and keep a standard appearance for each item. As Schofield said when thinking about this time, “each episode has over 400 boards and it’s your job to design each shot then direct about 10 artists to make it look good. The experience taught me how to direct artists, design and innovate with camera angles. I learned to lay out episodes and scenes and make them flow nicely.”

Galaxy Rangers

“The experience taught me how to direct artists, design and innovate with camera angles. I learned to lay out episodes and scenes and make them flow nicely.”

In addition to getting Schofield accustomed to the mass production requirements of working in entertainment, working on Galaxy Rangers still provided him with the opportunity to refine and improve his craft. “I was also surrounded by some of the best artists in NY at the time. It was like a four year education crammed into one year. I was drawing and designing every day. My work improved so much during this project. I became a much better artist and art director.” Overall, while Galaxy Rangers became a short-lived series, the professional experience Schofield gained from it would become foundational to his growth in the videogame industry.

Starting in Videogames – Absolute Entertainment, Licensed Games, and Early Struggles

“[T]here was a huge time investment put into studying the characters and backgrounds of the IP to ensure that I could nail a certain style. The changing of styles for me was quite fun. I looked forward to the challenge, plus it kept each game interesting.”

Starting in the early 1990s, Schofield began working on videogames at the now-closed Absolute Entertainment. Some of his first games were Barbie: Barbie GameGirl, The Simpsons: Bartman Meets Radioactive Man, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York – all of which were released between 1991 and 1992. (You can find a list of Schofield’s credits here.) While computer hardware and software becoming quickly outdated is now a standard part of the gaming industry, his entrance into game development was at a time when computers still felt new. Looking back on this time, Schofield recalls that “Computers in the early 90’s were limited, but changing so fast you had to relearn everything every six months. I came to understand those limitations and loved the challenge.” One of the early limitations that he dealt with were the color options. “Back then, the software was pretty limited…but I loved it. I could make copies, change colors, [and] experiment,” he says. Though he found these platforms to be lacking at first, the technology eventually began to catch up with his imagination.

Sign

During this time, Schofield also learned how to deal with situations that truly challenged his artistic abilities.

Overall, Schofield embraced the transition to digital art. Looking back at this time, Schofield states that “I picked it up pretty quickly and within a year of being hired, I was promoted to Art Director.” Another aspect of his early work was just how many games he produced – stating that in the year he got promoted to Art Director, he had a “hand in creating eleven games: I worked on three Game Boy games on my own, and worked on the animation for another eight games.”

During this time, Schofield also learned how to deal with situations that truly challenged his artistic abilities. As he began working on licensed properties, he found it difficult to animate the Walt Disney character Goofy, stating, “Goofy, definitely, was a huge challenge. Breaking down his animation was so difficult because each frame was so strange-looking on its own.” He handled this problem by hiring Milt Neil, an 80-year-old retired ex-Disney animator – who had previously worked on the films Dumbo, Fantasia, and other Disney classics – to pencil Goofy’s animations. He would then outline and color each of Neil’s drawings. In retrospect, Schofield believes that “this was a first in games,” and it lead him to start hiring dedicated animators for the games he worked on.

Another challenge Schofield encountered early on occurred when he was working Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors (1995) – a videogame featuring the comedy-magic duo Penn & Teller. He was struggling to get the animation for Penn and Teller right. So to get the visuals for the game as realistic as possible, he videotaped the duo against a blue sheet, selected key frames, and redrew over the frames in the program he was using. This proved to not only be an ingenious way of getting a game’s visuals right, but according to Schofield, “I think it’s one of the very first roto-scoped animations in the history of the videogame industry.”

A large portion of the games that Schofield worked on during this period were licensed properties. Though these types of games have a reputation of being rushed into production, they provided him the opportunity to change artistic styles quickly and strengthen his versatility. As such, according to Schofield “there was a huge time investment put into studying the characters and backgrounds of the IP to ensure that I could nail a certain style. The changing of styles for me was quite fun. I looked forward to the challenge, plus it kept each game interesting.” This exposure to different styles and genres taught him how to jump from style to style, and prepared him for myriad types of franchises he would work with and develop for the rest of his career.

Crystal Dynamics, MBA, and Transitioning from Artist to Manager

“I knew that I wanted to continue in development and run large teams, or perhaps a studio, but I needed the formal business training and knowledge.”

In 1996, Schofield joined Crystal Dynamics and became its Vice President. Crystal Dynamics would be purchased by Eidos Interactive in 1998, and he would remain at Crystal Dynamics until 2002. At this studio, he would direct games such as Gex 2, Gex 3, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Disney World Racing, and more. As such, Schofield’s time at Crystal Dynamics was one in which he transitioned from being only in charge of a game’s art to being in charge of a whole project.

Big Tank

Becoming a manager meant that in addition to overseeing a project, Schofield was able to become an active leader by engaging the others who worked with him on a project.

Though this could make for a difficult shift, Schofield relished in his new position, stating, “I loved it. The pressure was on but I thrive on it. At the time, I had already focused heavily on designing games because back then designers were starting to come into their own.” Becoming a manager meant that in addition to overseeing a project, Schofield was able to become an active leader by engaging the others who worked with him on a project. As he said about this subject, “I enjoy the process of getting a team of people to rally behind a project, and the satisfaction I get from creating something great with a team is equivalent, or actually, more gratifying than finishing a painting on my own.”

During his time at Crystal Dynamics, Schofield also made an important decision that would further cement his place in the management side of game development – he decided to return to school and earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Golden Gate University. At the time he went back to earn his MBA in 2000, he observed that “the video game industry was growing and becoming a lot more mature.” As a result, Schofield felt that “in the years leading up to getting my MBA from Golden Gate University, I got a sense that I needed to know a lot more about finance, business, accounting, and scheduling. I knew that I wanted to continue in development and run large teams, or perhaps a studio, but I needed the formal business training and knowledge.”

Though the value of an MBA is currently being questioned more and more, for Schofield, getting an MBA proved to be “one of the most important decisions I ever made.” In addition to providing him a formal understanding of management and business, the MBA, according to Schofield “has opened doors, given me the ability to speak at the same level as execs and taught me how to research deeply into a subject.” An outcome of this is that Schofield now believes that “marrying a creative degree with a business degree is perfect for the game industry.” These are not only skills that would guide him through his tenure at Crystal Dynamics and EA, they would also help when he co-founded Sledgehammer Games.

Electronic Arts – The Lord of the Rings and Dead Space

“[H]eadshots were another controversial decision to do away with. I really liked the idea of dismembering your enemy, but there was always the question of whether or not we could train the player that headshots weren’t the answer.”

After earning his MBA in 2002, Schofield left Crystal Dynamics and joined Electronic Arts as a Vice President and General Manager at EA Redwood (Redwood would be renamed Visceral Games in 2009). One of the first games that he would work on at EA would be part of one of the largest entertainment franchises that he would ever work on – The Lord of the Rings. Building off the success of The Two Towers videogame, the game based on The Return of the King was announced April 2003 and was scheduled for release in November 2003 (a month ahead of the movie’s December premier). This project was one of the more challenging projects Schofield had experienced, stating that it “was an extremely hard project working for countless hours….In addition, there was a lot of pressure on us to deliver something great.”

Luckily, Schofield and those at EA Redwood Studios had significant access to the production of The Return of the King.  However, despite both the game and aspects of the movie being in production at the time, he remembers that there was a lot he and his team had to develop on their own. “We created as much as we could from their concept art but during the development process a lot of their characters and scenes changed,” he recalls. After completing The Return of the King, Schofield would work on the games From Russia with Love, Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, and Whiplash. More importantly, Schofield began working with Michael Condrey and helped developed Dead Space.

Michael Condrey

Michael Condrey

First announced in 2007, Dead Space is a third-person shooter that merges spacefaring science-fiction and survival/horror to create a game in which the player (in control of an engineer named Isaac Clarke) battles against reanimated human corpses aboard an interstellar space ship. According to Schofield, EA “set out to make the scariest video game ever.” Though he acknowledges that this could be “consider[ed] a lofty goal,” he does believe that they came close. Falling back on his philosophy that started at Pratt, the team working on Dead Space “tried every type of horror convention while making the game. Some worked, others didn’t.”

One horror convention that was re-imagined for the game was how the player viewed the action. Given that the camera in video games isn’t static like it is in the movies, Schofield mentioned how the EA staff strived to innovate how players visually observed the moments of horror in the game by trying to create a nearly completely immersive experience. “There was a lot of trial and error,” he says. “In the end, I think the atmosphere and pacing were the main reasons why the game was successful in being quite tense.” To add to the immersive quality wanted in Dead Space, the game developers sought to “innovate on the HUD/UI to aid with player immersion – hence the health bar on his back and the ammo counter on the gun,” Shofield says. “I’m also proud of the video logs that you were able to play in your helmet because they added a new layer of objective and story delivery.”  Another convention common in horror and third person shooters that Schofield wanted to move away from were headshots in favor of dismembering enemies. As he stated, “headshots were another controversial decision to do away with. I really liked the idea of dismembering your enemy, but there was always the question of whether or not we could train the player that headshots weren’t the answer.”

In addition to these user interface goals Schofield, Condrey, and the other developers had for the game, Dead Space also provided Schofield with the opportunity to work with comic book creators and turn Dead Space into a franchise with licensed properties. The comic book creators he worked with were the critically acclaimed writers Warren Ellis, Rick Remender, and Antony Johnston. Echoing his experience of hiring Milt Neil for his expertise, one reason why these three were hired was for “their Sci-fi knowledge and ideas.” And though Schofield had never published a comic book, he has observed that comic books were closer than other mediums to the narrative structure found in video games. This was a key reason why the studio sought out comic book writers in general, stating, “comic books have a very limited amount of writing; they have to get their ideas and thoughts across very quickly without lots of dialogue. A video game is the same way. It was also another way I thought that Dead Space could differentiate itself from other games.”

The use of comic book writers not only helped Dead Space become a successful game, it also created an opportunity build of the game’s narrative by creating spinoff stories for multiple mediums to expanded on the game’s story.  For the Dead Space comic books, EA turned to Antony Johnston to expand on the back story created by Schofield and Bret Robbins – Robbins being the Creative Director for the game. To preserve the franchise’s continuity, all artwork, covers, and stories would be approved by Schofield.

Dead Space was released in October 2008. Its success meant that 2009 would professionally be a great year for those involved in its production. After all, the game was not only a commercial success, it would also be nominated for and won dozens of awards, and Schofield himself was named #58 in Edge’s “The Hot 100 Game Developers of 2009.”  This is also the year he decided to leave EA and cofound the studio Sledgehammer Games.

Sledgehammer Games – A Different Type of Studio

“[W]orking in games is a tremendous opportunity and a privilege. If someone isn’t passionate about it, there’s no reason I’d give him or her a job.”

With the MBA providing him formal business credentials, years of experience of in the business, and the desire to strike out on his own, Schofield co-founded Sledgehammer Games with Michael Condrey in 2009. Sledgehammer Games would soon face an uphill battle to complete its first game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Originally, Sledgehammer was going to create a unique third-person shooter. However, a falling-out between Activision, Infinity Ward – the studio that created the Modern Warfare franchise – and the original co-founders of the studio resulted in Activision requesting that Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward develop the Modern Warfare 3 together.

By this point, Sledgehammer had become an independent studio within Activision, but had not produced a single game. At the time, Sledgehammer had spent months working on its own Call of Duty installment, and working with Infinity Ward would mean abandoning their own project and having to work on a shortened timeline. This new direction would luckily payoff as MW3 would have the most successful game launch in history with over 6.5 million copies sold and grossing over $400 million in a twenty-four hour period, and would hold this record until Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

Slegde Hammer Games

Overall, Sledgehammer was founded on the desire that Schofield and Condrey wanted to create games that were innovative and had superior craftsmanship. Though this desire isn’t entirely unique among game studios, they did create a culture at Sledgehammer that would cultivate an enthusiasm in its employees. Specifically, Sledgehammer not only prides itself on transparency, it only accepted the deal to work on Modern Warfare after its team had the chance to vote on accepting the project – making Sledgehammer the type of studio that will only develop a game if the majority of the people working on it are truly interested in the project. Whether this was by design or accident, the decision to form Sledgehammer in this manner creates a passion-driven atmosphere that one would encounter among traditional artists.

The type of studio culture that Sledgehammer has is also rooted in the type of person Schofield wants as an employee. When asked about what he looks for in a candidate, he is clear that beyond specific job skills he is always looking for “passion, first and foremost.” On this topic, he goes on to say that “working in games is a tremendous opportunity and a privilege. If someone isn’t passionate about it, there’s no reason I’d give him or her a job.” He also says that he additionally looks “for intelligence and the ability to work with others” and that “the perfect candidate requires the ability to not only come up with great ideas, but to know when they have a great one. Leave your ego at the door; it’s a team effort. I like people who can throw out lots of ideas and when something is rejected, move on and keep trying.” It’s an approach to hiring that has not only allowed Schofield to build Sledgehammer’s staff, it has also allowed him to hire and groom employees that have gone, in his words, “on to great success, like my friends at Naughty Dog and Toys for Bob.”

The Gaming Industry – Looking Back and Looking Forward

“[T]he social aspect has changed video games from somebody playing alone in their room for hours to playing co-op in the living room or joining huge groups online.”

After being in the gaming industry for over two decades, Schofield has seen videogames go through massive transitions. As he told us about these changes, “I’ve witnessed most of them – from the industry being small to growing to the largest entertainment business, the move from 8-bit to unlimited colors and 2D to 3D, they’ve all been huge transitions.” And when the arcade portion of the videogame industry began to decline in the 90s and caused sense of uncertainty throughout the industry, Schofield was unfazed.

Moreover, not only was he unaffected by the industry’s shift in the early 90s, he’s never believed the reoccurring cries that the death of the videogame industry was nigh – saying, “I never felt that the industry was dying, and still don’t. It changes and your job is to adapt. Every console transition, I hear about the death of the console game. I don’t agree and I am quite positive about the future. There will always be a need for entertainment and it’s my job to adapt and learn the newest medium.”

As for the future of the industry, Schofield believes that “we’ll see more of a convergence towards integrating all the platforms in our games.” For example, with more and more people taking their games with on mobile devices and more children playing games on tablets that engage multiple players across social networks, he believes that “the social aspect has changed video games from somebody playing alone in their room for hours to playing co-op in the living room or joining huge groups online.”  Schofield notes that this is not only just a new market transformation that studios will follow; social gaming is allowing developers to “keep in touch with our fans and hearing what they like and what they don’t like” and that “games are better for it.”

In addition to these technological changes, Schofield sees the industry further embracing diversity. Not only does Sledgehammer Games have several lead positions filled by women, Schofield sees more women in the industry overall. When asked about this topic, he says, “I think more and more women are playing games these days, and we see more female candidates. The differing opinions, viewpoints and perspectives only make the games better. Diversity in every form is great for every industry.”

A Manager with the Heart of an Artist

The Fishing Pier

“To have all these outlets keeps me sharp. I get to hone my skills in so many ways every day.”

Schofield still enjoys painting and drawing in his free time; stating that his “styles in painting and cartooning are quite different than my video game directions,” but that, as an artist, he likes the difference. “To have all these outlets keeps me sharp,” he says. “I get to hone my skills in so many ways every day.” And just like any professional artist – regardless of the medium – he strives for quality. As a game developer, Schofield feels that for high quality, “the bottom line is either get the right budget for the game you want to make or don’t do it. Quality is everything, and I found it important to find a company like Activision that believes in that philosophy as well. I haven’t had to compromise art for budget on my last few games. Yes, we have tight deadlines, but companies now realize that quality is king.”

Possessing a passion for art at a young age, Schofield was ambitious and fortunate enough to be able to develop his love of art into a career. Transitioning from painting and drawing to digital mediums to now overseeing the complete production of bestselling videogames, Schofield’s career has taken him far from the classes of the Pratt Institute. Yet, his ceaseless appreciation and practice of traditional arts continue to guides his approach to the videogames he develops.

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