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Life & Work with Natasha Hui

Today we’d like to introduce you to Natasha Hui.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I was born and raised in Southern California to Hong Kong immigrant parents and raised by my single mother for most of my life after my dad passed away when I was a child. Growing up, I always felt inspired by computer graphics in cinema and games and had a strong desire to be creative. Due to external pressures, I initially went to nursing school where I was in the Mayo Clinic cohort and Phoenix Children’s Hospital residency programs at Arizona State University. Shortly before graduating nursing school, I got accepted into a Doctoral Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner program but decided to take a chance and change careers into something I was more passionate about. One week after receiving my registered nursing license, I drove from Arizona to Michigan to pursue an education in game development at Michigan State University, the #1 ranked public university for game development per Princeton Review. I worked as a psychiatric nurse and nurse case manager as I got my degree in game development. Since starting school in game development, it felt like I had finally found my calling and fulfilled both the science and artistic sides of myself.

One and half years into my game development program, I was offered a technical art internship on Activision’s Central Tech Experience team this past summer where I worked on two upcoming Call of Duty games and had the opportunity to work on a main character. The team combines expertise from the game industry and film industry to advance real-time visuals that were previously elusive to motion pictures. At Activision, I helped build and document workflows for new technology. Before finishing my internship and going back to finish my last year of school, I decided to apply to full-time jobs and interviewed with studios such as Blizzard, EA, High Moon, and Naughty Dog. I ultimately accepted a midlevel visual effects artist position at Naughty Dog on their first standalone multiplayer game and started working this October. Naughty Dog has created some of the most critically acclaimed franchises, such as Uncharted and The Last of Us, and I’m incredibly honored to work alongside the talented developers at Naughty Dog. According to my MSU faculty, I’m the first from the program to have gotten into Naughty Dog, and MSU is helping me waive my final year of classes so that I can still get my degree even though I will not be returning to school. I’m very fortunate and humbled to have successfully made the switch from nursing to game development and I have never been happier!

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Going through nursing school and ultimately changing careers was tough. Growing up, I always had a longing to create but was pushed away from art and pushed toward science and healthcare because it would have provided a more traditionally stable career. From the start of nursing school, I knew that it wasn’t the right fit for me, but I was afraid to disappoint my family by changing out of the medical field, yet I knew that I would not be happy if I continued to be a nurse. I will always remember that on the first day of training for my first nursing job, there was a bullet point that said “out-of-the-box thinking in dangerous” and it filled me with determination to make sure I was successful in changing my careers to a field that valued my out-of-the-box thinking and creativity. I’m lucky that my family has been supportive of me changing my career. Working as a nurse while going to game dev school was also difficult, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. There were semesters where I was working up to 36 hours a week to pay out of pocket for school while taking a full course load of classes, and there were times I was afraid I would not make rent or afford food. Finding a healthy work life balance has been something I have been continuously working on. It’s definitely important to find time for self-care, as that was something I definitely struggled with during some of my time working while going to school.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I would consider myself a technical artist in game development. Technical artists tend to be people who are both artistic and technical, and they help bridge the gap between artists and programmers. I started off specializing in rigging, which is putting joints into characters or objects so that they can move and be animated, but ultimately decided to lean into visual effects because it brings me the most joy and was what brought me into computer graphics in the first place. As a visual effects artist at Naughty Dog, I make effects related to water, fire, explosions, smoke, dust, blood, fireflies, etc. I love most forms of visual effects, but I have more of an affinity for water because I love the way it moves and the different forms it can take. Technical artists and visual effects artists tend to be hard to find due to the difficulty of the specialty. It definitely feels good to work in a specialty that is necessary but hard to find and to be the go-to person when people need help.

Risk taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
The biggest risk of my life was changing from a stable career in nursing to game development which is known to be an extremely difficult industry to get into. I decided to turn down my acceptance into a Doctoral Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner program to move to Michigan and pursue a career in an entirely different field. I was definitely nervous going back to school for something else and was afraid that I was going to be behind, but I worked hard to make sure my work stood out so that I could get a job in game development. It was a huge risk but it definitely paid off and was worth it for the sake of my happiness and passions. I’m passionate about talking to others about working in a career that they find value in because we spend most of our lives at work and if we are unhappy at work, we are likely to be unhappy in life.

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