Nick Shepperd, originally from Iowa, was one of the first batch of Think Tank Online students, and is now living a new life in Albany NY, putting his newly acquired skills to good use as a character artist with Activision. He opened up about his experiences in college, his artistic development, and how his life changed since enrolling at Think Tank Online.
My path to becoming a character designer was most definitely indirect. I was born in a small town in Iowa which, for those who don’t know, is in Nowheresville, USA. I wasn’t particularly interested in my education as a young man growing up in a place like that. Yet, I always told myself I was going to become a doctor. This fantasy of entering medicine continued throughout highschool and into early college, but it slowly wore me down. In my second year at the University of Iowa, I became disillusioned with my education. I often found myself wandering around different buildings on campus, almost always ending up in the Fine Arts department. While strolling around one evening, a grad student who was studying sculpture reached out to me and we talked about my experience thus far at the school. This talk directly led to a dramatic change in direction at the university, and I decided to study art and sculpture.
While studying at university I also led a video game development group that focused on small titles. This, as well as my studies in sculpture, led to a job after graduation at a local studio, creating casino games for iOS, Android, and Facebook. However, my time at the studio was not what I had hoped for. The work was uncreative and not at all fulfilling, and my nights were often spent searching for new options to further my education. Eventually, I reached out to the founders of Think Tank and, once again, I found my course corrected, soon becoming one of the first wave of students to take up their online program.
My education at Think Tank was directly responsible for me growing into the character artist that I am today. Their program helped me to not only understand the necessary tools, workflow, and practices sought after by today’s studios, but also taught me the psychological aspects of what makes a successful artist.
THE POWER OF MENTORSHIPS
The course content, delivered both through live classes and pre-recorded videos, were pivotal in giving me a solid foundation of knowledge, and was augmented by the amazing sessions and critiques delivered by my mentors. This combination of course content and guidance from working professionals was a career-building experience, spread over a two year period. This, I think, is what separates Think Tank from the other schools I considered applying to. Most do not offer this degree of one-on-one time with high-level professionals, as well as delivering such a well-rounded curriculum.
My first mentor was Adar Bronstein, Think Tank Online’s Foundation term director, who taught me the importance of grasping the fundamentals, and how essential it is not to skip any aspects of your development as an artist. He taught me the difference between “rushing to become better” and “working to improve”: an artist must be able to understand what areas require improvement, and should invest time developing those talents. You should never confuse skipping steps with hard work and perseverance.
Daniel Rodrigues, who mentored me throughout the intermediate phase of my development at Think Tank, encouraged me to make daily sketches and showed me that working beyond the assignments was essential to my improvement. Under his guidance I learned that what you put into your art is what you get out of it, and that hard work really does pay off. I felt as though my natural sculpting skills improved the most during my time spent with Daniel.
My final mentor, Christopher Cao, taught me an incredible amount about character creation and workflows. I owe a great deal to Chris. The many hours I spent talking with him helped me develop a solid grasp of character creation and quality design. He helped me to see character creation in a completely different light, one that led to a portfolio that got me a job at Activision.
My time at Think Tank is wholly responsible for my being selected as a finalist at The Rookies 2019. This moment was pivotal to me as an artist as it coincided with me finishing my mentorship project. It truly became apparent that my time spent with Think Tank had pushed me to become a professional artist, winning recognition from a group of professionals at the top of their craft.
After The Rookies results were announced, I began looking for work as a character artist. I applied and interviewed at several studios. During those interviews and art tests I struggled with a choice: should I take a job that would lead to a solid salary, or hold out for an offer to work at a studio that might lead to a dream job? This struggle ultimately resulted in me turning down an offer. After turning down that first offer, I subsequently received several rejection letters from other applications and began to worry that I had made the wrong decision, as my financial woes began to weigh heavily on my mind. Luckily, and not too long after, I was offered a job from one of the top studios I applied for, and I now find myself working at an Activision studio based in Albany, New York.”