Today we’d like to introduce you to Scott Knapp.
Scott, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve always been in love with great movies and video games. Growing up, I loved watching behind the scenes footage and making of videos because it gave me insight on how things were made and how different artists contribute to a project. When I learned a bit more about what 3D artists do, I knew I wanted to make a career doing that. So I went to University of Central Florida to pursue a Digital Media degree. When I first entered the program, I actually was really interested in being a character artist. I did a few characters while in the program but really fell in love with the process of lighting and presenting my work. I started digging deeper into lighting, and instantly knew that’s what I wanted to do. I found the main reason films and games look so good is because of the cinematography and lighting.
I became obsessed and started trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible for digital lighting. The program was really great because we had to collaborate on a project and build a 3D animated movie together. I had two really great friends, Caleb Hecht and Eric Schoellnast, who were also really interested in lighting in the program and we were responsible for lighting the whole project. People started calling us the three amigos because we were always together learning. Anytime one of us would find a cool resource for learning or a new tutorial, we would always share with each other and give each other tips as we went along. Caleb and I both ended up getting internships the summer of our Senior year in LA. So we road-tripped out there together which was a really amazing experience.
I landed an internship at a really small boutique called Deva Studios. Deva primarily focuses on motion graphics sequences for film trailers. So all the awesome opening title sequences you see for films, they most likely did it. There were a sea of great designers and artists that I was able to scoop knowledge from. Everyone was very friendly and it was pretty close to where Caleb and I were staying. Since Caleb was the one with the car, I had to skateboard everywhere, so luckily the studio was only about a mile away from where we were in Venice Beach.
After finishing my Bachelor’s Degree at UCF, I decided to continue my education and pursue a Master’s Degree. UCF has an incredible Master’s program for video games called FIEA (Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy), where they truly try to emulate what it is like to work in a production environment. My dad served in the Army for over 30 years and was able to pass his GI bill to me, so I was able to go through the program with my tuition taken care of which really allowed me to focus on my work. We worked late nights and collaborated with each other to help build games. It was a really awesome experience and I was able to start learning how to light in real-time engines.
During my time at FIEA, my wife, Ashley, and I had our son, Maddox. It was a really wild experience because I had to work really late nights at school, and also started working at a simulation company making 3D models and textures for helicopters and drones to help support our new family. My wife and son would often come to hang out late nights and bring me dinner and hang with my teammates. After wrapping up my M.S. in Interactive Entertainment, I started hunting for jobs everywhere.
I sent my portfolio everywhere and had little to no bites. It’s extremely hard to break into the game and film industry without experience, so focusing on having a stellar demo reel and portfolio was my main focus. I started networking a lot and trying to meet industry lighters to get advice. I finally was offered a contract gig at EA to work on Madden as a lighting artist which was a dream come true because my brother and I grew up playing together all the time. My time at EA was awesome, and I made a lot of great friends. After my contract ended however, I was on the job hunt again. We were living in Orlando, Florida at the time, and EA is pretty much the only game studio out there. It was really hard to find work as a junior artist while living there because companies wanted locals only. So I knew we needed to move somewhere else to find work.
Since I enjoyed my time in LA so much, I took a risk and moved out West. Ashley and Maddox stayed at my in-laws’ house in Texas while I went out solo to try and find a job. Luckily my buddies, Caleb and Eric, let me crash on their couch while I hunted. It was really risky and I knew I had to find something fast because I couldn’t live on these poor dudes’ couches forever. One of my buddies from EA, Rory Jones, reached out to a friend who worked as a recruiter at a VFX studio called Zoic Studios. Zoic mostly works on television and commercial work, but sometimes lands some film work. It was a great foot in the door for me to get into the VFX industry. When I started working at Zoic, I was able to bring my wife and son out and we picked a house together to rent. I worked on some TV shows (Once Upon a Time and The Flash) and built up a new group of friends that I still keep in touch with today. Again, these were contract positions, so after my contract ended, I was on the hunt again.
My buddy, Brian Lee, put me in touch with the VFX Supervisor, Alex Thomas, at Framestore to do a Superbowl Commercial. They initially hired me on to help with on-set data capture, which means being there on the day of the shoot, to help capture info that will be used to help artists make the VFX for the commercial. The commercial was for Ford and had James Franco and Rob Riggle who are both super funny and awesome guys to be around. My tasks included capturing photography of the set, getting color info in the cameras, capturing panoramas of the set to use for lighting in post, and getting measurements of the set. All of these tasks are very important because they help inform artists later what the lighting and environment was like, so they can better integrate 3D assets into the scene.
I loved my time on set, and learned a lot from Alex. We were working together at different locations for five days and I was able to be around a real tiger, Hollywood Hills mansions, and a Jet (the commercial was bananas haha). Alex and I got along really well onset, and he ended up bringing me on to work at Framestore on the VFX as well. So I was able to work with some incredible artists and learned a lot about lighting.
After my Framestore contract ended, Zoic wanted me back to help them with their pilot season, which in TV is the most hectic time of year. A bunch of pilots are being pitched to various studios and people are all trying to get bids for shows, so there’s a ton of work to be done all the time. The pilot I was on was for The Flash, which was really rad because I always loved comics growing up.
After The Flash wrapped, I needed to find another role. I found a game studio in Orange County that was looking for a lighter for a game called Evolve. The studio was Turtle Rock Studios and they had a cool history of making Left4Dead and helping Valve make Counter-Strike, so I was super excited about the opportunity. Working on Evolve was a ton of fun because the lighting was very moody and dark since it was a monster based game on an alien planet. I loved working at Turtle Rock, but I knew once my contract ended, I would need to find another gig.
MPC in Vancouver gave me a job offer to work on some feature film projects, which I had never done at that point, so I was very interested. My wife is a total badass and has supported me through my total career. I figured she would be tired of moving, but she was on board because she knew what working at MPC would mean for my career. We packed up all of our stuff in a U-Haul and drove up to Vancouver without ever even visiting! We fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. We ended up having our second child there, Stella, which worked out great since Canada has free health care (THANKS CANADA)!
While I was at MPC, I learned a ton about what goes into making movies and found some fantastic mentors. My leads and supervisors were all great and helped train my eye to see things I normally would never notice. My first project at MPC was Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. This project was a ton of fun because there were so many different types of characters to light, plus Ben Stiller is hilarious to watch in dailies. Another project that was beginning to ramp up was Batman V Superman. I was incredibly interested because again, I love comic-book characters and Batman and Superman are some of the most iconic ones. Getting on that project after Night at the Museum became a big priority for me, so I reached out to our lighting manager to see what I needed to do to get on the team. He was happy with my work on Night at the Museum, so he brought made it happen! THANKS DAVE! We were a tiny crew starting out, and the initial work they needed help with was doing the shading/look development work for Batman and Superman. I was appointed Batman, and my good friend, Maung Maung who sat next to me got Superman. We had a ton of fun pushing each other to make the characters better and better. It felt like my time with the three amigos where the collaboration and knowledge was flowing. The team was really good on the project and we had amazing leadership, so my time there was great.
As my time on Batman V Superman started coming to an end, my friend and old lighting lead at Turtle Rock Studios, John Enricco, reached back out to see if I wanted to come work with them as a full-time employee. Up until this point, I had only been offered contracts, so I was very interested. I told my lighting manager, David Hirst, and lead Jason Gagnon about the offer and they counter-offered a full-time position at MPC. We loved Vancouver, and I really loved the team and projects at MPC, but I also loved the culture and people at Turtle Rock, so it was a very hard choice to make. Ultimately, I ended up going back to Turtle Rock because we wanted to raise our kids in the United States and be closer to the grandparents, plus Cali is just so awesome.
So we moved down to Orange County and I started working with the old crew! My time at Turtle Rock has been amazing, and we’ve been working on some really fun projects. I’m currently the only Lighting Artist here, so it’s a big responsibility, but I love it. The studio is full of very talented developers and the owners truly care about their team. We do tons of fun morale boosting events like going to the beach, seeing movies as a team, going to Disney, having epic Halloween and Christmas parties. I’m incredibly fortunate to be where I am.
A job that came out of nowhere in 2018 was at Digital Domain to work on Avengers Infinity War. It was really exciting because all these Marvel Movies were building up to this main story arch with Thanos. I was able to work something out where I did two full-time jobs. I would wake up at 5 am, drive from Orange County to LA, work at DD until 7, then drive back and work at Turtle Rock all night (and would come in on the weekends to make up more time). At the time, it didn’t really feel too grueling, and I think it’s because I was so passionate about both projects I was working on, that it didn’t seem like a big deal. In hindsight, I can’t believe I was able to pull it off (especially with traffic taking an hour and a half to two hours each way from LA). Ultimately, I’m really glad I did it because I made some great friends at Digital Domain, and Infinity War has become the project I’m most proud of.
Now, at Turtle Rock, we are ramping up and working hard on our new IP Back4Blood. It’s a fast-paced, co-op zombie first-person shooter, which feels right at home for our studio since we developed Left4Dead. This project has been fantastic, and we have an amazing relationship with our publisher, Warner Bros. The collaboration on this project has been great, and we all get to help contribute to the vision of the game.
I have somewhat of a unique career background, where I’ve jumped back and forth between video games and film/vfx as a lighting artist. I have a lot of friends who I’ve worked within VFX that are very interested in transitioning into games, and I’ve worked with game artists who want to know what it takes to work in film. So, I try to help prepare people and understand the differences. I think a lot of the success in my career has come from the friends I’ve made and the relationships I’ve formed. Working hard and trying to be dependable for my teammates has paid off in a big way for me because they are the ones who recommend for new jobs a lot of the time. So any opportunity I have to give back to those people, I really try. I’m currently working with some artists who want to transition into games, and it’s great to see how enthusiastic and responsive they are.
Has it been a smooth road?
The biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome has been the loss of my big brother, Brandon. We were best buds growing up, and I miss him like crazy. The summer of my senior year in high school, we received the call late at night that Brandon had taken his own life. This was a huge shock to us because he was always the funniest person in the room and instantly made things more fun when he was around. He hid his depression behind his big smile. I had always been a straight A student, but that year was really hard to care about school. My parents, Heather and Denton, knew how much art meant to me, and my dream to work in film and games, so they didn’t want me to give up on everything. There were times where I would be driving for school, and I would just pull the car over crying and go back home. I found a new normal and managed to push through a lot of grief because I knew my goal was to get to college and make a career as an artist. Since then, things have been a series of really hard work and such immense relief when things have worked out. Getting accepted into the Digital Media program in college, having my first child with no real money, landing my first job to support my family, and trying to always push myself forward has been a long, but very fulfilling journey.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I specialize in 3D lighting. I use lights, shadows, color, and contrast in software on the computer to help drive mood and tell stories. I get to physically move lights inside game engines to give form and shape to characters and the environment. I use the sun, sky, color grading and atmospherics like fog/rain to push the tone and visual look. I’m essentially a director of photography for video game levels which is incredibly creative and fun.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
This city has some of the best game and film studios in the world, so it’s definitely a hot spot as a new artist. Also, a lot of industry vets who have worked at studios like Blizzard Entertainment for a long time, are branching off to make their own startup studios, so it’s an exciting time. Feature film unfortunately is not what it used to be in LA. Tax incentives have pushed a lot of work to Canada and the UK. Hopefully, we can bring some more VFX work back to our city because we still have a ton of talented people here with a lot to offer.
- Pro Lighting Kit $5.00
- Website: https://www.artstation.com/scottknapp/store/pjPX/pro-lighting-kit
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/takahashi19/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/scottthelighter
- Other: https://www.artstation.com/scottknapp