Journey of the Traveling Technical Artist

Hello Lumbernauts!

For this month’s Dev Diary, I would like to introduce Melissa Austin, our Manager on the Communication and Content team! See below for her Dev Diary.

Hello Lumberyard Community!

My name is Melissa Austin, previously a Senior Field Technical Artist on the Lumberyard Support team for many years but more recently the manager for the Lumberyard Community and Content team (more on that later). My background as a Technical Artist was with rigging and animation tools from the content creation side and grew to focus more on the character, animation, and cinematic workflows on the game engine side. The first half of my games industry experience was on the game development side and the latter half has been on Amazon Lumberyard focusing on game engine software and helping teach our customers how to use it.

When I first joined the Lumberyard team, I was hired onto the Support team prior to the public launch of Lumberyard, primarily to help our enterprise and internal game studio customers with the character and animation tools in Lumberyard. There were a few Technical Artists on the Support team and we all had enough introductory level knowledge over other areas and domains, but I was the one with deeper knowledge in character and animation workflows specifically. The help I provided customers varied from teaching content creators how to use the tools on an introductory level to troubleshooting if there was a bug with the systems, coming up with workarounds if possible, sending information over to documentation, and/or if a new feature was required to meet their needs. When we launched Lumberyard in 2016, there would be times where I could help jump in on public forum posts to help answer some questions as well, but my primary focus was making sure any issues or requests that came in from enterprise or internal customers was addressed first.

A few months after our public launch, I was requested to join our Marketing and Business Development teams on various trips to conferences like Nordic Game Conference or more often to give introductory-level demonstrations on the content creator tools within Lumberyard in on-site meetings with different game studios. The conferences were straightforward with a single demo of focus with open Q&A or discussions with whoever came by the Lumberyard booth, and a lot of feature requests to bring back to the product team. The Business Development trips often involved planning out the type of content or topics I would cover like introduction to the terrain system, character and animation tools (in the early Lumberyard days these tools were separate), lighting, etc. Mostly simple demos with simple assets or examples that I carried on my work Razer laptop, with copies backed up to various locations in case I saved over any default setups during any given demo. These trips turned out to be the start of my work travel experience.

During the summer of 2016 I was mostly traveling to Asia with more than half of the time working through a translator that was not familiar with game engine technology or game industry terminology, which presented its own challenges. I spent most of those trips repeating the same demos and answering a lot of the same follow up questions, things that most people would expect to find the answers in documentation or introductory tutorials for Lumberyard. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. Lumberyard was still new, our documentation and tutorials were still in their early stages as well and there certainly just wasn’t enough content, and I was excited to just help potential customers. Back at home while I was traveling, my teammates still needed help covering some of the gaps for character and animation areas, or sometimes those areas would have to wait until I returned to get the attention they needed. This is when I first saw an opportunity to spread more of my knowledge to my peers by doing internal training sessions for the areas I was considered an expert in.

In 2017 and 2018, I was still traveling to help Marketing for some conferences like GDC and SIGGRAPH, and did more trips with Business Development to Asia and various parts of Europe. This time around though, I made Support-specific trips that were focused on onsite training and troubleshooting with the enterprise customers using Lumberyard. The difference with the Support trips was they often included some small group training sessions or discussions with content creators and the ability to spend time with individual artists that were running into specific problems. The Support trips were my favorite since they fit more with what I was originally hired to do: help other content creators using Lumberyard. I still ran into similar situations though where I was repeating myself for knowledge that should have been available in documentation or could have been covered as a tutorial. Whenever I wasn’t traveling or working on customer issues, I was looking for ways to help the documentation team by providing them new or updated content so more information could be available to all customers.

2019 is where I started to see a shift in not only what I wanted to do to help customers, but also how Lumberyard went about getting more knowledge out. I still traveled a bit for the first half of 2019 for Marketing and Support trips, but one of those trips was an interview with one of our experienced customers to understand more about their customer experience with onboarding onto Lumberyard. This was the turning point for me since as a Technical Artist, I started to try and work myself out of a job as my manager kindly pointed out to me later (it’s actually a compliment for a Technical Artist). Technical Artists will try and automate tedious workflows for themselves and other artists, and here I found myself wanting to replace the need for me to repeat demos and introductory training by hopefully improving documentation, tutorials, and eventually sample content. This was also the year that John Diaz (or former Tutorials and video ace) joined the Lumberyard team as our Tutorials Designer, and I helped him knock out some quick tutorials around getting FBX content into Lumberyard (I think still they live on the Game Tech channel). We also saw the Amazon Lumberyard YouTube channel come back to life as we wanted it to be easier for customers to find Lumberyard-specific videos.

Behind the scenes after the FBX series, I helped John Diaz manage the planning, timelines, and other managerial type processes so he could focus on making great content and bringing on experts from within Lumberyard to talk about different areas. I also found myself supporting the documentation team as they started ramping up new writers. I still couldn’t let go of my passion to help people, but I was just doing it differently now by functioning behind the scenes to try and make larger changes to impact all customers instead of only the ones I was sent out to talk to.

During 2020, we found strides across documentation, tutorials, and even worked with others in Lumberyard to rebuild StarterGame to use the latest systems like Dynamic Vegetation and Script Canvas. I became responsible for a small team to focus on Community and Content (such as our community forums, tutorials, and samples) in order to try and keep the momentum going, and work closely with the Lumberyard Documentation team because they are also another public resource customers rely on for information. Part of my more recent career growth of having a team to manage has been learning to be a people manager, which is another form of support I provide now just to the people on my team and their careers. John Diaz’s departure did mean the pause of our tutorial content for the time being, but as his former manager I was excited for him and the opportunity he took on for the next step in his own career. It’s an interesting balance to be constructive and supportive as a manager, and there’s still more for me to learn in this area.

Last year presented opportunities as well as challenges in many ways, yet it hasn’t stopped me on my mission to reduce the need for a Technical Artist to get sent out into the world for onboarding onto Lumberyard. It’s also hard to believe we’re already in April of 2021, but I am excited for this year even with the challenges presented, and hope to keep making progress that benefits all customers and not just the ones we make special trips for. We have also seen the community step up and make more content as well in 2020. Both the Lumberyard team and myself thank you for your contributions and hope you will find ways to keep up your momentum too!