Grad Brian Erice: Designing the Environments for ‘Temple Run: Oz’

Since graduating from Full Sail in 2004 with a degree in Computer Animation, Brian Erice has worked on games such as Tron Evolution and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, among others. Most recently, he’s been at Disney Mobile in Burbank, working as an environment artist on Temple Run: Oz, which hit the top spot in the app store within a few hours of hitting the market earlier this year.

“When we get a game in, much like a designer would do, I’ll start grayboxing it,” Brian says, explaining the workflows of being an environment artist. Grayboxing refers to laying the foundations for how the game looks based on the concept art and preliminary design work. Sometimes, like at Disney Mobile, he does this with a team of five or six artists, who collaboratively put the digital pieces together. Other times, like when Brian worked at n-Space, he’s built entire game levels by himself, working with just one designer.

After that foundation is mapped out, the design becomes something like trial and error. It gets dropped into a computer engine and the team starts playing around with it to see what works and what doesn’t, where the timing of the characters’ movements seems effective and where it needs to be tweaked. After that, the team starts filling in the art itself.

At Disney, Brian says, though he works with a team of environment artists led by an art director, consistency is important and “the art is all very, very similar. It looks like one person did the whole thing.”

Even with a team to bounce ideas off, the process of designing game environments isn’t as simple as you might think. “Honestly, I don’t think people know how hard it is,” Brian says. “I’m a glutton for punishment. I read the comments [on websites] for games I’ve worked on. I don’t think people know how much time we have to work on a game.”

In the case of Temple Run: Oz, which was tied to Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful movie, the team had four months to develop the game. There was a very tight deadline, and it had to ship on time.  But, as Brian says, despite pressure like that, “I still wouldn’t trade [this job] for anything else.”