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Breaking In - Kailey Frizzell

When we talk to people at Bungie about what they do, we tend to get intel on some very specialized roles. A lot of our people are responsible for distinct puzzle pieces that fit into our work. There are jobs at Bungie, however, that can be different every day. Take, for instance, this nice lady, a special operator whose team has a very dynamic mission: Make the most awesome moments in our game even more awesome.

Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?

KF:  Hello! My name is Kailey Frizzell, and I’m a technical artist on the Spec Ops team.  I combine art, animation, FX, and scripting to craft impactful moments and complex spectacles throughout the game.

And where (or when) will the players of our game encounter these complex spectacles?

KF:  I have the privilege of working on the huge blockbuster moments in Destiny that will have players on the edge of their seats.

When you’re not punching up the high points of our story with extra touches of awesome, what keep you on the edge of your seat?

KF:  Outside of work I’m the colorist for the web comic Axe Cop and play in a nerd funk brass band called “D20”. 

Your geek credentials are well in order. Has it always been obvious that you would fit right in at a place like Bungie?

KF:  When I was younger, I wanted to be an artist. I just didn’t know what type of artist I wanted to be. For a while, I considered becoming a tattooist. My family wasn’t keen on that plan, so when I expressed interest in video games, they were more than supportive. I’ve been a gamer all my life so it was a natural fit. Along the way, I discovered my love for scripting and programming and became a technical artist.

Indulge us in illustrating some of the stops you hit along the way. How can one learn to become a technical artist?

KF:  I went to school as a Game Art and Design Major and earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts. I was able to get a well-rounded combination of traditional fine arts and design theory while learning about games. I had never owned a computer before going to college and can remember taking “Intro to Computers” and “3D Modeling” in the same term. It was quite the learning curve. 

Was Bungie your first gig out of school? Or did you apply what you learned from that curve elsewhere first?

KF:  I graduated from college in 2009 and moved to Seattle the very next day.  Before I came to Bungie, I worked in the technical art/security/analytics departments at ArenaNet on Guild Wars 2. I was basically a tech art mercenary. I would jump from department to department helping out and troubleshooting technical needs. Before ArenaNet, I worked at Sucker Punch on the User Generated Content tools for Infamous 2. My experience has taught me to be comfortable learning new tools and systems. I’ve been able to learn several programming and scripting languages on the job. The ability to adapt and grow is essential to being a successful technical artist.

What a coincidence: The ability to adapt and grow is also essential to working at Bungie. How did you begin the negotiations that led to your offer to join us on our evolutionary track?

KF:  I have a bizarre set of skills and Bungie happened to be looking for a weirdo like me. I decided to just be myself and apply with a resume that reflected my personality and diverse skills. I didn’t want to pigeonhole my abilities. I was very honest about what I thought I could offer the studio and, lucky for me, they agreed.

It takes more than luck to survive a day in our interrogation chambers as a job applicant. Was there a moment when you thought you might cave under the pressure? Share it with us.

KF:  I interviewed with people from almost every department so I had to keep on my toes. I was thrown everything from Python and C# questions, to testing procedures, to questions about art and animation. I had to focus really hard to not getting ahead of myself or start rambling. I generally spend more time scripting than speaking so my voice was pretty hoarse by the end of the day.   

You spoke your lesson, and said it true. Was the sacrifice worth it? What’s your favorite thing about working for Bungie?

KF:  I’m inspired everyday by the level of craftsmanship that goes into Destiny. It’s motivating to see the awesome art all over the walls and know the studio is determined to exceed the expectations of gamers. I’m fortunate to have amazingly talented coworkers who push me to be my best. Every day I get to work on something new and exciting.

You make it sound like every day for you is different. Are there any ways in which every day is the same?

KF:  My bus gets me in around 8:00am. At that hour, it’s usually just me a few other crazy morning people, so the studio is pretty quiet. After cleaning up my desk, I read and write necessary emails, write a to-do list for the day, and import any maps I may have forgotten about the night before. While I wait for imports, I’ll make myself a bowl of oatmeal, grab a cup of coffee, and wrap myself in my fuzzy blanket (my desk is under an AC vent). Lunch is a quick trip to get salad and soup, sometimes a run, then back to work. Afternoon is scripting, testing changes, building encounters, and getting content ready to be shown and reviewed. Hopefully, if everything is stable I’ll check in my work for the day, send out an email letting everyone know the content is working, and then hop on my bus to head home.  

Aside from the cascade of chilled air that falls all around your desk, we try to do a lot to keep you comfortable and happy. Do you have a favorite perk that you find in our happy little home?

KF:  The gym next door is great! If I get stuck on a problem I’ll go for run to clear out the cob webs. It’s so important to get up and move around once in a while. Also, lots of coffee.  

Where do those cobwebs tend to gather most often?

KF:  There is an uncertainty that is both exciting and scary when you’re trying to do something that has never been done before. The freedom to be creative and push the system comes with the responsibility to not leave broken pieces for other people to clean up. We work in a complex environment that requires a lot patience and teamwork. I don’t want to be the one to block other people from getting their work done.   

You’re quite the team player. Do you have a favorite moment of heroism and victory from the field of play?

KF:  I think my favorite moment was when I saw my work in The Moon trailer. It was exciting to see the ogre rip through his chains during the climax. At that moment, I knew I was working on something really special.

You mentioned that being able to adapt and grow is essential to your work. What’s your trick for building your skills over time?

KF:  I play as many games as I can get my hands on. I take note of the moments that make me go, “Whoa, that was awesome!” I also check out tech art blogs, read various programming and scripting books, and keep up with friends who are also tech artists. Working as a colorist in my spare time helps maintain my artistic skills.  

Somewhere out there is an artist. Just like you, once upon a time, they don’t know what sort of artist they want to be. What would you tell them, based on your own journey?

KF:  Never stop learning. Learn as much as you can about your craft and share your work and knowledge with others. Tools and technology are becoming more advanced every day. You’ll never run out things to discover. 

While you’re learning, don’t be afraid to create bad art and write bad code. We all had to start somewhere. Learn from past mistakes and keep move forward. Don’t let the fear of failure paralyze you. Keep trying!
Always be courteous to the people you meet and the connections you make. The games industry is surprisingly small. Personality goes a long way and a bad reputation can torpedo your chances of finding work. 

When players first step into the world of Destiny, what’s one thing you’ll point to and say “I made that!”

KF:  Since I work on big set pieces and events I don’t wanna give anything away! They’re better left as surprises.

I tell our readers that all the time. It makes them mad. We need to give them something, here, or they’ll destroy us both. Tell them what you like about your favorite destination in our game.

KF:  I love the look and feel of Mars. Since Mars is just starting to be explored in real life, Destiny captures the sense of what could be possible in our future. I see the concept art and feel inspired to learn more about space travel and humanity’s future as we explore other planets. 

It’s nice to see that Kailey’s hope for our future has not been tarnished by so many complex spectacles that feature hostile invaders. If you see a future like hers for yourself, she’s given you a potential course to plot. If you can imagine yourself exploring a different path that leads to a similar destination, check out the Breaking In archive.
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