In Your Face
February 11, 2016
“It’s important to keep a good attitude and be seen as a dependable person on the team who is willing to help out no matter what is asked.”
— Ingrid Aguero, EA Tiburon
Few people can claim that their work regularly puts them into personal contact with NBA stars like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but environment artist Ingrid Aguero certainly can.
Ingrid regularly travels throughout the country on “scanning trips,” – which are often scheduled with less than 24-hours’ notice – where she will meet with local professional athletes and capture their facial likenesses for use in EA’s popular sports franchises like “NBA Live.”
“We had a small team of talented people at EA build a custom portable camera rig composed of several cameras and slave flashes hooked up to a master flash and trigger that takes 12 simultaneous photos from different angles,” Ingrid explains.
“When traveling, we are able to take the camera rig with us to the destination. It takes about 30 minutes to set up. We have the players comes in and spend about five minutes with each of them, taking different sets of photos in order to capture different expressions. It saves a lot of time and guesswork compared to the traditional way of doing face.”
While some touch-up is generally needed after the fact, the images are processed through EA’s pipeline, generating a fairly accurate model of the athlete’s facial features. Ingrid doesn’t work with the back-end character data, but she is on the front lines in its collection. Among the expressions she captures are smiles, yells and forehead wrinkles.
“We interact with (the athletes) quite a bit,” says Ingrid. “We usually bring a system with NBA Live on it so they can hang out while they’re waiting to be scanned. Chris Paul brought his small son to come check out what we were doing.”
“Another time I asked Blake Griffin to take a photo with me because I’m a big fan,” she says. “Overall it’s relaxing and fun on both ends.”
Occasionally she gets to see glimpses of insecurity in the superstars, like when they express concern that their hair (on a bad hair day) might be immortalized in the game. Others are self-conscious about their teeth. Ingrid reassures them that the focus will be on the area between their forehead and neck.
As an environment artist, she’s also responsible for scanning arenas on site, a long, five-hour process. So far she’s scanned five arenas.
“We are some of the few people in the arena during those times,” she notes.
While Ingrid grew up playing NES and Atari, she never counted herself among the ranks of “hardcore gamers.” Her passion was always for art, beginning with pencil drawings and leading her to UCF’s visual arts program, where she specialized in computer animation.
“I knew I wanted to do 3D art, but I didn’t know I wanted to do video games yet,” says Ingrid. “I saw a commercial about FIEA and articles about the demand for video game developers, so I decided to apply and from there it fell into place.”
After graduation in 2008, Ingrid made a smooth transition to EA Tiburon, the company’s Orlando-based developer, as a temporary contract environment artist on the “Tiger Woods” franchise. She continued to work on contract until 2010 when she was offered her current, full-time position.
Ingrid attributes her success not only to her technical skills in modeling and texturing, but to her versatility and willingness to learn.
“In a project, there’s always a need for helping out in different disciplines, and schedules and pipelines change all the time,” says Ingrid. “It’s important to keep a good attitude and be seen as a dependable person on the team who is willing to help out no matter what is asked.”