Creative Mentorship with Rebecca Harrison

New Media Manitoba is thrilled to share insights and inspiration from this local 3D artist.

Read how Rebecca ended up working on one of 2020’s most anticipated mobile games and how she led her students through an 8-week Creative Mentorship program to create, sculpt and animate 3D characters using Blendr and Unity. Her students have nothing but love for her program.

Rebecca Harrison_Gallium Studios
Rebecca Harrison
Gallium Studios, Art Director – Proxi

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TOP 5 LISTS

Favorite sources of inspiration

  1. Daydreaming while exercising
  2. Trashy Fanficiton
  3. Listening to people’s life stories
  4. Observing nature
  5. Historical events and figures

Favorite digital tools to get creative

  1. My pen tablet (or alternatively, a pencil and a scanner)
  2. Google images and Pinterest 
  3. Photoshop
  4. Blender 3D
  5. Unity Engine

Things I do every time I get stuck

  1. Walk away from the computer. Very far away.
  2. Don’t think about the problem
  3. See friends
  4. Exercise
  5. Hug your loved ones. <–Repeat these until you become unstuck

What students need to succeed in Creative Mentorship

  1. Self-motivation
  2. Perseverance
  3. Humility
  4. Pride in Accomplishments (not mutually exclusive)
  5. Hunger for further learning


Interview with Rebecca Harrison, Gallium Studios, Art Director- Proxi

I actually ended up working at Gallium because of an online contest in early 2018. At the time, I was still working part-time at Tangent Animation and part time as a dental hygienist. I didn’t expect to get a job out of itm but the premise of making dioramas to represent memories seemed like an interesting challenge. I ended up being one of a few grand prize winners who got flown down to San Francisco to meet the team, and I suppose they liked me the best! The rest is history, I suppose.

Will Wright is a very cool guy. He works on his own wavelength, which is probably why his ideas are so original. He takes a surprisingly hands-off approach to everyday work, checking in often to make sure it’s following his design. Working with him has allowed me to grow as a game designer, because interpreting his designs artistically, hand-in-hand with the lead designers has often involved a lot of problem solving on my part.

As Art Director, I lead a team of artists who are also remote, as well as work closely with the in-house programmers, designers and assorted data wizards. Because I’m 2 hours ahead of them, I usually start the day by exploring new visual ideas and then sharing them with the rest of the team midday, getting approval and then delegating work to our art team as well as contractors. Often in the afternoon I will work with designers to figure out how best to achieve their vision for the game’s utility and aesthetic. Afterwards, I’ll often join the team down in the trenches to work on 3D models, Shaders and Animations.

That’s a good question haha! Pretty much all of it, haha! I’m a woman who loves a challenge, and doesn’t like to get pidgeon-holed into a specific role. I love working with a smaller studio because I get to be included in all aspects of development, and to learn from everyone involved. My absolute favourite part is helping to fix a design problem through clever use of art to help the player understand something they struggled with before.

I’d say the closest thing I’ve had to a mentor is a co-worker at Gallium named Chuck. He’s a veteran Art Director who’s worked at Atari, LucasFilms and EA so he’s full of stories and wisdom from dealing with all the challenges a larger production involves. I didn’t seek him out, but instead was glad to have him join my team as a contract artist. He helps me most when I’m not sure how to approach a situation politically in the office, by advocating patience and to always be prepared.

To me being self-taught isn’t really something I had to be motivated to do. It just sort of… happened? I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil, and my love of 3D art grew out of an initial desire to improve my 2D art. I think it stems from a desire to tell my own stories in a way that people will enjoy and get excited about. The better it looks, the more innovative and unexpected, the more people will get excited about my characters and worlds. Balancing the need to create freely and the need to pay the bills has often been difficult and demotivating, and when that happens I find it’s best not to force it. I’ll just let the stories live in my head for a while until they build up strength and need to be let out again.

When NMM approached me about the 8-week program I was really excited because it meant sharing my love of creation with kids who still aren’t aware of the outlets and possibilities for them in a world that is beginning more and more to appreciate creative innovation. I wish there had been a program like this for me when I was 16. I was ravenous for this sort of instruction, and I’m more than happy to supply it to the new generation.

Before this course, my only real experience with students was in Middle School as a counsellor for a summer program called iCamp. The camp was structured around giving kids the tools to make their own robots and games, and I enjoyed helping them solve problems and have fun in the process.

I think students will be surprised at how chill I am as a teacher, haha. I treat them like I would an adult. I don’t micromanage, or count hours or grade work. The point of the course is to embrace an internal passion for creation that I think can only blossom if you respect the students as individuals who actually want to learn. The course work is not easy, and there are plenty of new concepts. However, those who make it through without being forced to (like they’re used to in school) tell me how much they appreciate what they’ve learned, and feel empowered to seek out more knowledge on their own.

I feel like ‘expect’ might not be the word I would use here. I hope that they take an interest in the subject matter and that they feel motivated to learn and work on their characters as they bring them to life from 2D drawings to moving 3D beings.  I don’t have expectations of them because if they don’t want to complete the work, that’s fine. It just means they aren’t at a point in their life where it would be useful. I’m glad to give them the knowledge I have, but I don’t expect them to take it. I hope that for those who enjoyed the course and got the most out of it, that they’ll continue on this path and that one day I’ll see them in industry as equals 🙂

I would recommend someone who applies for this course to be very self motivated. Don’t sign up because your parents or teachers want you to, or because it would look good on a resume, or because you need an extracurricular on Tuesdays. Do it for yourself as an individual who wants to learn more about creating art and about the wider world of creative industry. Do it because you want to be a part of the media you love whether it’s games, movies, TV, comics or anything else.

Students will leave with a rudimentary knowledge of how to create an exciting character design, how to critique work thoughtfully and kindly, how to Model, Rig, Animate and Texture that character. How to design a level in a video game, and how to take the time to polish your creations before presenting them. They will also learn more about the realities of working in the creative industry.

Much more than I expected! It is always fascinating to me to see the difference in the way people only a few years younger than me approach technology, pop culture and even sometimes morality. I had a very interesting discussion with one student about harassment in the workplace, and how to deal with it, and it made me realize that my views might be considered outdated by today’s standards. The world changes so quickly, and young people have a lot to teach us. They’re definitely smarter than adults give them credit for, they’re just not used to being listened to.

The shift to online was challenging for myself and the students, not logistically (since we work digitally anyways), but more because we couldn’t talk face-to-face. I feel like I wasn’t able to get to know the students as well this year as I have in the past, and I’m sad about that. Hopefully next year we can have these students join the next batch for the course finale presentation, so we can all meet together again.

The biggest challenge this year was definitely giving critique without being able to interact directly with the student. I ended up taking a page out of my old boss’ handbook and took screenshots of their work, did draw-overs and left notes on the screenshot itself. Sometimes I would even make animated GIFs to illustrate a process I was trying to explain.

The biggest misconception in my opinion is that it’s really hard to get into. People are used to a world where you have to get a degree to do anything, but here is an industry where merit is king. Most studios (including mine when I was hiring) look first and foremost at a person’s work and only later at their educational background. The best part is that there are whole communities online where people who do art, programming, music, design, etc. for games congregate. The software is free and the only person who can dictate your program is yourself.

I’ve always loved video games with interesting worlds, characters and lore, and being able to interact with those magical places in a way you just can’t through movies or books. You get to drive your own adventure, which is really exciting to me. Ultimately, I think that’s why I love making games so much: It’s like the ultimate videogame!

Same thing as I would tell young men: Believe in yourself and work hard. No one can stop you from learning little by little. Look at your craft objectively, and think hard about where and how you can improve it if you’re serious. If anything, I think it’s easier to get a job as a woman in game development than a male counterpart because of our push for team diversification. If your work is good enough, then the industry will welcome you with open arms. If you’re not there yet, keep going. You’ll get there.

Those are two of my favourite words. 😛 They let me know if I’m on the right path. The reason I joined the internet contest that won my my job is because I wanted to pit my skills in a measurable way against others. I’ve entered many such contests and lost (Failed), and others where I’ve placed very highly (Succeeded). That empirical feedback was essential to knowing what I did wrong and how I could improve in the future. I’m one of those hardasses that thinks it’s a great thing to be told you failed, because otherwise how would you know?

I’d tell myself to stay focussed on one project!! Also to eat healthy 😛

Student Feedback

Stephen – 17, Miles Macdonell Collegiate
I decided to apply for the NMM internship because it was a unique learning opportunity. The course was brought to my attention by one of my teachers at Miles Mac and I recognized that it would be a great experience: I would meet likeminded individuals, professionals, and learn new things. The biggest learning challenge that I have overcome so far is probably moving to a new school. It was challenging to get used to a different location and new teachers. Thankfully, I’ve since adapted and am comfortable in my new learning environment. 

Yi- 16, Fort Richmond Collegiate 
The main reason I decided to take the program was to have intercommunication with someone who works in the industry. An experience with mentors who are understanding and is enthusiastic to teach us the process of making your passion into a career. I’ll say the biggest challenge I have overcome so far was to work progressively and completing assignments before each class starts.

During this unique time of year, it was extremely difficult to have enough motivation for well-managed work efficiency. As a person who never did 3d modelling before, confusion and mistakes were often made without the basic knowledge for modelling. Technological things such as quick access keys or menu settings were necessary for certain parts of the assignment and the solution for certain mistakes. It would have been easier to manage in a discussion but due to quarantine, we have to rearrange into weekly online video lessons instead of face to face interaction. But it wasn’t so much of a deal thanks to Rebecca our mentor assisting us regularly through chat.

Abby – 16, Maples MET
I decided to join the Creative Mentorship program because it sounded like a dream internship for me (we do internships as part of our coursework at my school). I would get to work with a group of artists, learn from an industry professional, and get hands-on learning experience. I also decided to join the program because I thought it would be a good way for me to start learning 3D art. The biggest learning challenge I had during the program was learning how to create 3D art. I’ve never used a 3D art program before, let alone sculpting with physical mediums, so it was a huge learning curve for me.

Stephen 
I would tell students who were thinking about taking the class to do it. It is an opportunity that not everyone gets and you really have no reason not to take it. It is a low-pressure intro to game art and design.  You get to meet fellow artists, engage with professionals, and learn new skills. Plus it looks good on a resume! 

Yi 
Some prescriptions I would give to other students who are thinking about taking the program would be to give it a try! If you see art as a passion or are eager to know more about making a video game this is the place to learn. It was such an experience for me to meet students across Manitoba who shares the same passion and an excellent chance to explore a brand new type of career.

Abby
I would say for them to take part in the mentorship. It’s a good way to connect to professionals in the creative industry as well as a less overwhelming way to start learning about art design and 3D art. I would also say that although the mentorship was a bit challenging for me, I came out with knowledge that will take me far as someone who is looking to work in the creative industry.

Stephen
Going into the course I knew that I probably wouldn’t want to work in the game development field. I want to either work in animation, children’s book illustration, or be a freelancer. However, this didn’t stop me from applying for the course. I thought that it would be an educational experience in which I would learn things that would benefit me in my future career, whatever that may be. And I was right, as I furthered my knowledge of animation, created a character and modelled him in 3-D, and built a video game level. I am glad I took the course and it helped me understand the world of game development a lot better. 

Yi
The program enlightens me to see game development as a future career. It was very enjoyable to see characters altering from paper to a 3d living being. Most of all I had fun doing all the work from modelling to animation and I’m eager to learn more for a further understanding of the course. It left a huge impression on me to put 3d modelling as a consideration for a future career.  

Abby
Definitely. I see myself working in either the art design or animation section of the game industry. I really enjoyed working in an environment with other artists who had a similar drive for art as I did. I was especially impacted by the class where we critiqued each other’s character designs and I hope I get to experience something like that in my near future.