What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Heber Alvarado and I am working proffesionally as a Senior Artist with Microsoft Game Studios. I also freelance on film projects and teach character modeling at local schools from time to time.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I had a couple jobs in high school but the craziest one was working in a warehouse driving a pallet jack (like a mini forklift of sorts) you were basically lifting heavy boxes all day and had to make a “daily quota” or you would be fired. Needless to say I was there about 5 days into it when I crashed my pallet jack into a large beam that had lots of boxes full of eggs stacked on top. It was a disaster , a domino effect if you will. After getting chewed out by the supervisor over it and having to clean it up I decided I was never going to work that type of job ever again, lucky to say I never did.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Recently wrapped up a couple of cinematic trailers for a client (Saints Row 3 and Rift) that is pretty recent work and It proved very rewarding, got to work with close friends on them and learn a lot from them as well. Before that it would have to be when I worked on Turok for Disney Interactive, the game did not review well but people seem to love the dinosaurs and that was something I had a large part in making happen.
How did you become interested in animation?
Even from a young age I was always artistic , at the time it did not seem obvious to me but from early on in high school I was designing web sites , creating graphics for local newspapers and trying to paint on my computer using just my mouse (terrible way to paint). I guess the turning point for me was in one of my drafting/architecture classes in high school when we started to use Autocad to model real life objects it was very rigid and precise but it could not handle organic forms in the same way a modeling program could. I stumbled upon “lightwave” on one of the computers in the lab and after loading up all the sample projects and watching the tutorials on animation I knew that is what i wanted to be doing someday after that it just became an obession I would spent day and night trying to learn lightwave at home using tutorials on the internet. Once I graduate from high school I immediately enrolled into an animation school and the rest is history.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
My family migrated to Canada in 1990 from El Salvador (small country in Central America) we ended up in Vancouver B.C and being the wonderful city that it is I have never had any inclination to leave. I got into the Animation Industry after graduating from Vancouver Film School in their “3D Animation and Visual Effects” program, I had a bit of classical training but I felt like there were more options if you went digital. So after creating my Demo Reel and sending it to everyone I could think of I drummed up a few job offers and basically took the best one that allowed me to stay close to home, it got easier after that to move around and work at
different studios on different projects seeing as the industry is smaller than most people think and very tightly knit.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Id say there are very few typical days in this type of work, sometimes you are sculpting, sometimes you are painting , drawing, discussing problems and solutions in meetings, bonding with your team and sometimes just taking a break and playing some pool or games.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
My favourite part of the job is working on something that I feel passionate about , if you love your job then it starts to feel less and less like work.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Overtime, I have been very lucky to experience such a small amount of late nights but I really think a work and life balance is important and I commend any company that makes that part of their mission statement.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Being able to cope with the loss or cancellation of a project, pouring years over a project just to see the investor pull out at the last minute is heart breaking specially if you know there is some potential there for something special. Understanding that sometimes there is some creative control you must give up when you are creating art for someone else and not yourself. Sometimes your vision and the vision of the Director are not the same but you must understand that it is their call and not your own. As you gain experience you get better at gauging what it is people want out of you so there is less guesswork and more just you polishing your work to a mirror finish.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Mostly Zbrush to sculpt, photoshop to paint and 3dsmax and Maya to model and export into our game engine.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Meeting the late great Stan Winston and also comic book legend Stan Lee and all sorts of other creatives but those 2 definately stand out to me.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Working in a studio you do not like that mistreats you and your co workers and simply staying because you have grown complacent, never rest on your laurels.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
Yes! I have grown very fond of music in the last few years I have started to collect many guitars (still trying to play them!) and also Photography , I have done photo shoots with models , friends , family and really enjoying that aspect of it.
For many years I have been a snowboard fanatic as well in the winter I always try to get up there as often as possible this would be my 10th year on a snowboard, never look back (or you will bail!..)
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Trying hard to remember…I guess in that sense I am extremely average..that or I need to start trying to learn how to tie a cherry stem. If it counts Id say I am a competent carpenter I built tables, cabinets and other pieces of furniture in the past for my parents but I dont know if they kept them because they felt they had to or because they were actually well made pieces of furniture hah.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Asides from the obvious advice of working hard until your eyes start to bleed dont overlook how important networking can be to your career. Get out there meet people! honestly the industry is very competitive the more you get out there and be in people’s sights the more chances you have to land that dream job. Dont be shy , people approach me all the time about looking at their work and I have never turned anyone away, what have you got to lose?