Terry Coolidge

Computer Graphics Lead at Cyan Worlds, Inc.

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Arts, Joseph

Terry Coolidge is a Computer Graphics Lead at Cyan Worlds Inc., a company that created the video game called "Myst," which until recently was the leading PC video game of all time. In our interview, Terry shared how stories from the Bible of Solomon, Joseph, Jesus, and Moses have helped him make key decisions, work with others in his field, interview successfully, and find fulfilling work.

What made "Myst" the #1 selling video game?
"Myst" shattered the notion of the typical video game and appealed to all sorts of people -- to parents, grandparents, teens, college students, etc. It's very typical to hear, "I don't play video games, but I did play 'Myst.'" It was refreshing. It broke the norm of what you have to do to sell video games. "Myst" is nonviolent, intellectual, and requires more than just a twitch reaction. It has a story behind it. There are no weapons, no fighting, no death. Cyan Worlds believes in creating non-violent games. There is an emphasis on high quality art, music, and sound.

What's the objective when you play "Myst"?
You have to uncover the story through exploring, discovering, solving puzzles, and being adventurous. You are dropped into this surreal and beautiful environment. There are two brothers who are trapped and pleading for your help. You have to discover who is telling the truth, who to trust. You see symbols on one side of the island, a planetarium you can use for looking at stars, a clock and wheels and a journal -- all elements that may work together to help you solve the game.

What is your role as a computer graphics artist at Cyan?
I'm part of the Art Production Team now working on expansion packs for a game called "Uru: Ages Beyond Myst," which was released this past November. I came on board over three years ago to help create the art for the environments for the game. I mostly build 3D computer models of the game environments, apply textures and materials to the models, set up the scenes to be "wired" for gameplay, use software to enhance digital images, and do whatever else is needed to provide the art content for our games. I also do "effects animation." I animate cameras, lights, props (machines, doors, etc.) -- the environmental components of the game.

How have you used the Bible in your career?
I have relied on the Bible throughout my career and especially whenever I felt I had very difficult decisions to make about what to do. One critical moment in college for me occurred when I had to decide what to do for the fall semester of my senior year -- to participate in a study abroad program and really commit myself to my art or to remain at school, run with the cross country team for my final season, and enjoy all the social aspects of my last year. I felt that I had made a commitment both to the cross country team and to the major I wanted to pursue. The story from the Bible about Solomon asking for wisdom to help him make the right decisions really helped (Kings 3:5-15):

Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad. (I Kings 3:9)

In addition, Psalm 23 has provided me with inspiration throughout my life. It has given me a wonderful sense of God shepherding all of us, making sure that we're in the place that we're supposed to be.

What did you decide to do?
I decided to pursue my career as an artist. My commitment to the cross county team was not on par with my desire to get an education and pursue a career, and I wasn't in school just for the social benefits. Once I made the decision, it was a very easy decision. I felt that a burden had been lifted. I had leaned on God for guidance and felt that I received it.

What did you learn on your art abroad?
Certainly we gained all sorts of cultural enrichment from living in Scotland for six weeks. But more important for me was the fact that I realized how much I enjoyed expressing myself through visual arts. My faculty advisor had told me that immersing myself in my art and making the commitment to it would help me make a quantum leap forward. It did.

How did you become a computer graphics artist?
I've always had an interest in math and science and took a computer programming class my senior year in high school. In college I was encouraged by the computer science staff to see what I could do to stimulate my interest in computers and visual arts. So I began experimenting with 3D computer graphics.

What are some of the challenges you have had in your career?
When I finished art school, I was blessed with the opportunity of having multiple job offers. The trickiest part of deciding was trying to make the best choice among good options. A friend of mine who knew I looked to God for help said, "When you know what to do it will be as if an elephant sat on you," and that's exactly what it was like. The story of Joseph has helped me through many decisions.

How has Joseph's story helped you?
After a year of having what I thought was a pretty good job, I found myself laid off. The whole story of Joseph shows his remarkable trust in God. At the end, Joseph tells his brothers:

Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life…. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. (Gen. 45:5, 7)

If things hadn't happened to Joseph the way they did, they all wouldn't have been saved. The same was true for me. As a result of the layoff, I was released from a multi-year contract, and I got a better job that I had wanted even more than the one I left. Plus, it offered better pay and more fun. I could never have planned this. I was out of work for only three weeks and did not miss a single pay check.

What kinds of work-specific challenges do you face, and what has helped you?
I have found that the Golden Rule from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount has helped in working with others, which is a big part of my job. In the computer game industry, there are artists and computer programmers, and there tends to be a separation between the two. Many artists feel that the programmers are completely close-minded, and many programmers think that the artists don't know anything. As an artist, I have to work with programmers. There are times when it would have been very easy to bristle at the lack of respect that the programmers express towards me (and other artists) because I'm an artist. But I think I have been able to treat the programmers with respect. As a result, they have been able to see me more as someone who provides value, and they are more willing to believe that I can keep up with them. I feel that doing my part not to criticize others has helped promote harmony and respect in the workplace.

What would you say has contributed to your success?
Certainly God! The story of Moses has provided inspiration for me. Moses was concerned about being "slow of speech" (Ex. 4:10). When I was still in college, I was meeting people who could be advantageous to know in pursuing my career. Even though I don't have a task as great as Moses in leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, I still want to know what to say, and I want to feel that God is speaking with me in interviews. God told Moses, "Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say" (Ex. 4:12). I've learned to trust that even though I may not always be as eloquent as I would like, I'll be eloquent when I need to be.

What else is necessary to be successful in an interview?
One thing that's very important is sincerity. I think that a lot of people may get coached on what to say and have been given formulas -- this is your little trick to elicit a certain remark, etc. But I've found that having a genuine interest in what I want to do sells best. When I go into interviews, I feel comfortable because I really do know what I'm talking about. I have a sense of confidence. I'm not putting myself in a position that's out of range of my ability. That doesn't mean I don't challenge myself. I've worked hard and believe I'm qualified and would make a valuable contribution. I had pretty high goals in art school, and I've been able to achieve many of them.

It's important to let the Christ shine forth and let your character be apparent. This reassures your employer that you're honest, that you give of yourself, and that you're not just there to pick up a pay check and clock out. You're offering more than just your skills.

What role do computer skills play in getting hired as a computer graphics artist?
While skills are significant, it's important that individuals do not get too concerned with merely becoming a software "jockey" with any one particular package. While it is valuable to be familiar with some industry standard tools and perhaps be an "expert user" to some extent, it is much more important to be versatile. There may be studios that are only looking for people who know a particular program, but oftentimes the good studios are more concerned about finding good artists. It is not uncommon for a studio to hire someone even though he or she hasn't used the software the studio uses. It's a good idea to know ahead of time what is used and try to be familiar with it, but being able to communicate through composition, lighting, color, texture, etc. is what makes a digital artist valuable. Knowing fundamental principles of art comes first; operating a software package comes second.

Are there any other Bible passages that have helped as you've prayed about employment?
One passage that I've heard a lot in my life but that has begun to have much more meaning for me is:

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matt. 10:29, 30)

There are so many different jobs and so many people applying for the same jobs. Each one of us wants to feel that we're unique, special, and can provide some original contribution, that we're not just one of a several billion. This passage reassures us that God values and loves us as individuals, and we're not part of a mass. God has an intimate knowledge of who we are, and it is with this level of attention that God is aware of us and takes care of us and our employment. We don't need to go looking for our individuality. I don't think that I'm necessarily trying to make a particular statement with my work, but I do want to be proud of what I do, and I want my family to be proud.

What are you most proud of in your career?
I am definitely grateful that I am doing what I love. I'm happy that I pursued my dream, didn't give it up, and am "living the dream," really. A few people in art school told me that they'd never met anyone with so much drive. I'm grateful that people recognized my enthusiasm. But achieving my goals was done by putting my trust in God. I feel I have been letting God lead me.

About Terry Coolidge

Terry Coolidge has been working professionally as a computer graphics (CG) artist for over 8 years. He is currently a CG Lead at Cyan Worlds, Inc. in Mead, Washington.

Terry first became interested in three-dimensional computer graphics when in high school. A Disney television special demonstrated how 3D graphics were being used to create complex, virtual backgrounds for animated films that would be too difficult to paint by hand. This TV special, among other things, inspired Terry to take a number of Computer Science classes in college while majoring in Studio Art. Terry graduated from Principia College in 1992.

To receive more specific training, Terry enrolled as an Illustration student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. In addition to studying painting, figure drawing, color, design, and other traditional art disciplines, he also had the opportunity to experiment with high-end graphics workstations for 3D modeling, rendering, and animation, as well as Macintosh computers for motion graphics, digital imaging and video, and interactive media. Terry received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration from the Art Center in 1995.

For the next 4 ½ years, Terry worked as a digital artist with the Walt Disney Company in Glendale, California: first, as a 3D artist creating environments for a CD-ROM game with the company's interactive entertainment division, and then as a Show Designer with Walt Disney Imagineering. As an Imagineer, Terry contributed to the development of new attractions for the Disney theme parks. While Terry was involved with numerous projects, much of his time was focused on helping to visualize the "Mission: SPACE" attraction for Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida which opened in October of 2003.

Terry left WDI in 2000 to join the Cyan team just outside of Spokane. Terry had been impressed with the 3D artwork of their previous CD-ROM games "Myst" and "Riven," and jumped at the opportunity to work as a member of the art production team on their newest endeavor. "Uru: Ages Beyond Myst" was released for the PC in November of 2003 and immediately won numerous honors and awards. Expansion packs are currently under development, along with a Macintosh version of the game.

Terry lives in Spokane, Washington with his wife, Karen, their two children, Ruthie and Joe, and their dog, Tancy.

About "Myst"
This past fall, "Myst" celebrated its 10th anniversary and was re-released. You can find "Myst" with its two sequels, "Riven" and "Myst III: Exile," in stores.

Software for Computer Graphics Artists
The following is a list of software Terry uses or has used, which he has found helpful as a computer graphics artist:

Adobe Photoshop
Adobe After Effects
Alias Wavefront - Maya
Apple - Final Cut Pro
Discreet - 3D Studio Max