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NarraSoft’s 3D Artist Alex: The First Filipino to Participate in WSA’s 3D Digital Game Art Contest

As with any art form, designing 3D digital art takes time, resources, and skill to master. But what if all you had was skill?

This was the case for Alex, the Philippines’ first-ever 3D digital game artist to participate at the international WorldSkills Asia tournament held in August 2021. 

She also happens to be one of NarraSoft’s game artists.

Image credits to Canva

WorldSkills Asia 2021 & Alex’s Experience as a 3D Digital Game Artist

WorldSkills Asia (WSA) is a non-profit organization that “raises awareness on the importance of professional excellence and high-quality vocational education and training at [the] Asian level,” according to its official website.

The organization’s biennial “Skills Competitions” branch out to different fields and practices, such as industrial design, fashion, and web design. And when one of Alex’s former college professors saw the recent addition of 3D digital game art to the competition, she immediately tapped Alex.

With the prodding of Joie back in 2020, our 3D artist entered WSA’s 3D digital game art category despite the odds stacked against her. She had her work to consider, her baby, and even COVID-19, which was still new and elusive then.

So it came as no surprise when she initially declined Joie’s offer to include her in WSA’s international event. Eventually — and thankfully — Alex conceded. 

With the help of her work at NarraSoft, Alex was able to gear up for the competition slated to begin in August 2021. The plan was to find a hotel near her alma mater De La Salle-College of St. Benilde (Benilde). However, right before the competition started, ECQ was yet again implemented in Metro Manila. So Alex and Joie struggled to find a good place to stay for the three-day virtual competition.

Fortunately, they found a suitable alternative in Caloocan City, the Sobel Hotel. Its manager even sponsored Alex’s stay and let her use the dining area for the event, which proved to be tremendously helpful.

A Look into the Competition

During the competition proper, participants in the 3D digital game art category had to design a character that could do simple animation. The event took place in three days:

  • The first day was dedicated to conceptualization, modeling, and UV mapping with a time limit of seven hours.
  • On the second day, participants had to add textures to their character with a time limit of seven hours.
  • And on the last day, participants had to add animation to the character and export it into the Unity game engine, all within three hours.

Because Sobel Hotel provided Alex with a spacious venue — their dining area — where internet connection was at its most stable, she had no problem with video conferencing as she worked, which the competition’s organizer mandated to monitor the participants.

Everything unfolded smoothly for Alex and her mentor Joie once they stepped into their chosen venue. And to Alex, participating in a competition as big as this one already made her feel like the true winner. 

Still, the road to get to that point was not without hurdles. But to Alex, beating the odds is nothing new. In fact, her difficult journey toward becoming a professional 3D artist dates back to college, which didn’t seem to be in the stars for her at the time.

Image credits to Canva

Alex’s Years as a Game Design & Development Graduate

Because of her family’s financial situation, Alex’s parents thought it improbable to send their daughter to college. Several computer colleges in her city were offering scholarships. However, her family’s finances would have still fallen short despite Alex’s part-time jobs — being a waitress, dishwasher, and promodiser, among others — and her father’s income as a taxi driver.

Even with this problem, Alex managed to find an organization offering free college-level education to those who didn’t have the funds. Her outstanding grades in elementary and high school also enabled her to be a candidate for the organization’s program.

This led to her enrollment at Benilde in IT with a specialization in game design & development. Her focus then was designing 2D user interfaces (UI). 

At first, Alex didn’t anticipate how financially trying game design & development would be — how do you develop game art with no money for a laptop? 

She also went into the IT program thinking it would be an investment toward a financially stable future, not another cause for her finances to suffer. And despite her part-time jobs, she was unable to save for a laptop that met the demands of learning game art development.

It’s not very often we see someone with this kind of trouble pull through, but Alex was determined and surrounded by generous people who understood her situation. Some of her college friends went out of their way to help her, occasionally gifting her with things she needed and even going to school early just so she could pass an assignment. 

Even her professors were understanding, extending a deadline at times whenever her home lost electricity.

One time, her coursemate lent Alex their laptop in the hopes of buying a new one. This coursemate never asked for the laptop back, and until today Alex treasures the kind gift from her friend. 

From 2D UI Designer to 3D Digital Game Artist

For a long time, Alex didn’t see herself committing to, or even dabbling in, 3D game art creation. Come fourth year, however, she was grouped with a team of game artists for their thesis. Their goal output? To build a 3D game. 

By this point, our artist felt she wanted to learn techniques outside the realm of 2D UI, which is already in itself highly complex. So when her teammates volunteered her to do the 2D UI of the game as well as its 3D game environment, she agreed. A game environment is the video game’s backdrop, the world in which the game operates.

Not having had any experience in creating 3D digital game art, the NarraSoft artist rigorously studied. She stayed at the school’s library, went to computer shops, and dove deep into whatever resources Benilde had to offer so she could apply her learnings on the laptop her friend had initially just lent her.

The 3D game Alex’s group produced won the Best Gameplay award at the prestigious ICT Creatives Awards Night. Her teammates were impressed with her work, and those who were hesitant to include her in their group apologized for not having seen her potential and for rejecting her due to her lack of resources.

Although Alex says there’s really nothing to forgive, the situation tells you how having the right tools significantly affects a person’s capacity to work. But with the help of her college friends, professors, and her unwavering determination, Alex was able to finish her program and have the kind of fulfilling career she’d always hoped to have.

Alex’s story is a testament to the power of persevering in your dreams. But more than that, it demonstrates how invaluable looking out for others is. 

You’ll never know a person’s full potential until they’re given a chance.

Note: This profile feature is based on an online interview with Alex. We sat down with our artist to ask her a few questions, particularly about her journey toward a career in creating 3D digital game art.