People@Speed: Rogi Calalec, meticulous builder

Rogi Calalec
Rogi Calalec
3D Art Director, The Studio of Secret6, Inc.

Carlos Gregor Calalec, or “Rogi,” has always enjoyed playing with Legos since he was a kid. Now he finds himself living his dream—building finer and more advanced versions of Legos, as 3D Art Director of The Studio of Secret 6, Inc., a game development studio based in San Francisco and the Philippines.

After finishing his Computer Science degree at De La Salle University, Rogi took a short course on 3D Arts and continued the journey that led him to his current job. This 31-year-old artist works side by side with AAA game developers while juggling roles as a husband, father, and son.

What made you decide to enter the world of 3D creation?

I get to be creative and it’s just fun to do. Since I was a kid, I’ve been playing with Legos, so we build stuff; and here with 3D, limitless ‘yung possibilities. I was like, “Oh, wow, you can do anything with this!” And you don’t even need specific blocks for it. You can create anything you want. It just gives you that satisfaction seeing it in real-time 3D where you can move it around, zoom in and zoom out. It brings out more of my creativity, unlike in programming, which is more of logical thinking. So I kind of felt more at home with it.

What is it like to work in the field of AAA game developers?

It’s very intimidating at first, but when you get the hang of it, it becomes like second nature to you. It’s both intimidating and satisfying when you’re able to do world-class assets, because when you start working on something, it doesn’t really look as good as what you see in the games. But when you learn how to do it, and you’re really executing it, there’s that sense of satisfaction that, ‘Wow, I can actually make stuff that people will see, that millions of people will play and will know that you did that kind of work.’

What’s the 3D art you produced that you are proudest of?

I’m most proud of the asset that I made for Uncharted: Lost Legacy Ferry, which is the ferry. It’s in the start screen of the game and also used cinematics, which makes it a really high-quality set piece. I art directed it for Secret 6 together with the team of Erick Pangilinan at Naughty Dog. Almost everything, including the props, was done in Secret 6.

Ferry in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

What’s your computer setup like in Secret 6? How powerful are your machines?

We have i7s, 16GB RAM. The i7, I believe, is the 6700, and the video card is 1060GTX with 6GB RAM. We have 24-inch dual monitor setups and a pen tablet.

What 3D software do you use?

We have Autodesk Maya, ZBrush, Substance Designer, and Substance Painter.

What would you say are the three most important factors to consider when creating 3D assets?

Well, the first thing I tell the newbies at work is to get the proportions right. The second is attention to detail, and the third one is more on the final look—like the texturing—so when you finish the model you can better apply the materials. Basically, the overall look has to sell.

How do you handle criticism or negative feedback in your work?

Actually, negative feedbacks drive me to do better, because when we get that kind of feedback we get challenged. I’m thankful for those because we also get educated in a sense, plus it’s very rare that we get feedbacks that aren’t constructive criticism. That’s what I like about working with AAA studios; they tell you what they don’t like, but they also tell you how to do it, so we learn from that.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced in your work so far?

Biggest challenges are usually the art tests. That’s when we do tests for clients where they give us work and just bahala na. It takes up too much time and they usually give you the hardest assets to work on, plus they don’t always provide feedback so you don’t know if your work is good or not.

That’s tough. What do you do when you experience artist’s block or when you’re not in the mood to work?

I just go to to look for inspirations. I use the internet as a resource because sometimes hindi mo maisip pero naisip na ng ibang tao. It’s not copying but more of applying good ideas.

What’s your favorite game?

What really inspired me the most is not really a state-of-the-art game, but an old one—Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I played it back when I was in 6th grade. I like it because it was ahead of its time when it was released. It’s hack-and-slash but with RPG elements, and at that time games were really simple. Nobody really made such complicated games like that before and it was unforgettable for me.

“You should always try to improve your craft. Always look at other people’s work and how they do stuff, and strive to be ahead of the game.”

How do you manage your time being a 3D artist, father, husband, and son?

Well, I would say that our company is generous with our time. So basically we just have to work smart and efficiently. I spend my weekends with my family. On Saturdays, I would play games with my dad and step-brother. On Sundays, we go to our grandparents’ house. And weekdays after work, I get to play online games with my friends, which is kind of convenient now.

What life motto do you live by?

Life is short so do what you want to do.

YOLO! And what about taking risks?

I guess it should be controlled. I’m not too much of a risk-taker because I want things to be sure. Sigurista ako, and [I want to minimize the risks]. I’m not against trying out other stuff, but I want things proper and in order before trying out something new.

What advice would you give those who want to pursue a career path like yours

First, you have to enjoy it and be passionate about it that you’re not always looking at your watch thinking, “Hey, I wanna go home.” If you’re not happy about it then don’t do it. Second is to not let failure bring you down but instead make it your learning experience. And third, even though you get the hang of it, you shouldn’t be complacent. You should always try to improve your craft. Always look at other people’s work and how they do stuff, and strive to be ahead of the game.

Interview by Justine Bernice Basco
First published in Speed December 2017
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