Stuart Maxwell and the art of space explosions

January 1, 0001

 Stuart Maxwell and the art of space explosions

By all accounts, Stuart Maxwell is a pretty cool guy. He lives in beautiful Vancouver, has a fascinating job at Microsoft, dabbles in visual art  on the side and does a lot of travelling. He's upbeat and animated, and talking to him is energizing, not least of all for his frequent use of the word "epic."

As a teenager growing up in the Okanagan, however, Stu says things were slightly different. "High school was rough," he remembers. To escape the anxieties of adolescence, he often turned to computer games, especially a 1990s-era 3D shooter called  Quake . Little did young Stu know, however, that his game of choice would emerge as the forerunner of modern online play and a pioneer of customizable 3D graphics.

"I still kind of do the same thing at work," says Stu of his current job as a visual effects artist at Microsoft's Black Tusk Studios, where he recently made the coveted shift from contracts into permanent employment. The 3D design tool Stu uses today, Unreal Engine, has foundations in the same 1990s technology, and Stu gives a lot of credit to his "Quake days" for making him so confident in his craft.

Of course, creating earth-shattering explosions and "physically believable liquid" for blockbusters like Space Marine and Gears of War requires a bit of skill and talent too. After high school, Stu completed a Fine Arts degree at UBC's Okanagan campus, where he honed his conceptual and drawing abilities. He remembers listing off the career possibilities for a Fine Arts grad: work in a sign shop, do graphic design… but nothing really interested him, until he thought of his old computer games. "And then I was like, hey you know what? I should learn 3D!"

Stu's search for the right animation program then began in earnest. Through a friend working at Vancouver-based computer animation company Mainframe Entertainment (now Rainmaker Entertainment), Stu was able to chat with the head of the studio. His advice: don't spend a fortune, don't invest four years. Just find a small class, learn the tools, then get into the industry. In the end, Cap's one-year Digital Animation certificate (now the 2-year 3D Animation for Film and Games diploma) fit the bill perfectly.

Stu says the program built on the artistic and drawing abilities he learned as an undergrad while training him in all the technical skills necessary for professional animation. As he describes the process, it was "four months to learn the tools and four months to create a reel. Eight months of hardcore focus, then you feel great!" He also clearly remembers his intimate cohort. "We'd just go into this room, hang out with the same 12 dudes-OK some of them were girls-it was just like this little close-knit family of select instructors and students doing epic tasks together."

Read the complete blog post on Your Daily Cap.

Submitted by: – Capilano U’s official blog