People of ACM - Gracie Arenas Strittmatter

July 18, 2019

How do you use your background in computer science as a Technical Art Director at BioWare?

Technical art is a discipline in game development that covers multiple areas where art and tech converge, providing solutions for artists in the areas of runtime performance, tools and workflows, shaders, and animation. No one on the team I lead is proficient in all of these areas, although each one requires creative technical expertise. As a manager, my computer science background serves as a technical foundation from which I can better understand the nuances of these areas and helps me deconstruct large problems into logical components. When I was an individual contributor, I spent my time crafting tools for artists using various languages (such as Python), software development kits, and application programming interfaces (including Maya, Photoshop, and Perforce), which also required me to communicate with artists to methodically break down painstaking processes into automated workflows.

What is the most important way in which the video game industry is changing?

Graphics processing units (GPUs) and central processing units (CPUs) continue to exponentially grow in their capabilities, which in turn motivates game developers to think about how they can best maximize this technology in the games they create. This can manifest in things like pushing to make better-quality (realistic) content in larger quantities. (I’ve often thought about how this can adversely affect the public’s perception about how much content is sufficient for a game to have when it is released; the games industry doesn’t have a standard for that right now.) This is compounded by living in a society that is adapting to being “always connected” and players looking for novel ways to play and interact with their games even when they aren’t at home. (When I was growing up in the Atari-Nintendo-Super NES eras, we didn’t have that expectation, but our connectedness has revolutionized how we think about this now.) So how do we meet these multifactorial needs – more proceduralism in our workflows? Mobile apps? Live services? There are many angles from which to approach this, multiple ways to tackle aspects of this, and no solution that will cover it all. It is certainly a lofty challenge for the games industry to balance priorities while continuing to create meaningful experiences for our players.

What were some of your priorities as Chair of this year’s edition of Real-Time Live?

Since the inaugural event in 2009, Real-Time Live! has quickly gained the interest of attendees, making it one of the single-most anticipated events at SIGGRAPH this year. That’s a tall order to fill as a Program Chair. There’s a bit of a novelty to seeing multiple innovative pieces of real-time technology demoed live before an audience of over 2,000 people: anything can happen! This year, I wanted to have a special focus on the past, present, and future of real-time technology with a look back at highlights from the last 10 years of the program and how our world has thrived (and continues to thrive) on this technology (thus, our “Thrive on Live!” theme). This will be celebrated with a special interactive pre-show and retrospective, which I hope attendees will enjoy. I also wanted to grant contributors a generous window of time to submit their work to the program as compared to previous years, which I think has lent itself well to securing an incredible lineup of work to showcase this year.

What advice would you offer a college student who wants to be a video game developer?

Don’t just stick to the coursework. Get out there—get involved in student organizations to work on your leadership and collaborative skills. Games are cooperative endeavors that require the expertise of many people. (The most recent game I worked on had over 400 people on the team, including artists, programmers, designers, and producers.) Volunteer as a SIGGRAPH Student Volunteer or Game Developers Conference Associate. Get involved in a local SIGGRAPH or IGDA chapter, grab some friends and participate in a game jam, or create an organization where people can come together to create games. I’m in awe of the resources available now to students that weren’t there when I was in college: grab a freely-available game engine online such as Unity or Unreal and take advantage of the tutorials to begin creating your own game immediately.

For bonus points, research your favorite company, see what engine they use (and if you can access a copy of it), and look at their job postings to see what they require of applicants. If you’re a programmer, get familiar with the coding environments in an engine, take a computer graphics course, and familiarize yourself with common game development languages like C++ and C#. If you’re an artist, download Blender or a student version of Maya and try creating art in the style of games you’d like to work on professionally. Play games and think about what makes them fun and engaging. Above all, work with others and make your own games; this will help you get off to a competitive start!

Gracie Arenas Strittmatter is a Technical Art Director at BioWare, a division of the video game company Electronic Arts. She has worked on games including Anthem, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Madden NFL, NBA Live, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour. She holds a BS in Computer Science (Mathematics minor) and an MS in Visualization Sciences from Texas A&M University.

Arenas Strittmatter began attending SIGGRAPH conferences in 2002 and has, since then, taken on many volunteer roles, including serving as the Student Volunteer Chair in 2013. For SIGGRAPH 2019, she is serving as the Chair of Real-Time Live! The event showcases the latest in interactive computer graphics in applications including games, movies, simulations, and virtual and augmented reality.