Pathfinding: How the team behind Sable found its 3D artist via Twitter

Shanaz Byrne shares how she became a freelance artist and key contributor to the game Sable.

January 27, 2023
Pathfinding Hero Image of Shanaz Byrne

As we continue meeting individuals that contributed to Sable, today we are talking with Shanaz Byrne, who worked as a freelance artist for Shedworks during the creation of Sable. If you missed the introduction to Sable and the story of how Shedworks was founded, check out our previous post with the co-founders: Pathfinding: How family legacies in architecture influenced the world of Sable | Microsoft Developer.

What brought you to the games industry?

I’ve been interested in gaming since I was kid. It was something I had considered as a career, but thought the industry was only for people who were good at math and coding. When I got to university, my partner introduced me to code. He explained that coding is not that mathematical, it’s more about problem solving and kind of like learning another language. When I eventually sat down to try it, I ended up spending 8 hours straight learning how to code, I enjoyed it that much.

That gave me the confidence to seriously pursue working in the games industry. As an artist, my main focus was learning the creative side of game creation, which involved navigating game engines, level and environment design, 3D modeling, and concept art. My first experience dabbling in all these areas was with my university projects, where I made mini games to experience the full game creation process. I was inspired by games like Journey and Zelda. They felt relatable to me, I loved their unique stylization, and remember thinking “I want to make games like this.”

How did you become a freelance artist?

After I graduated from the University of the Arts London with a degree in Illustration and Visual Media, I created a Twitter presence and started connecting with indie developers already in the games industry. My artwork got a lot of attention and the developers of Astroneer reached out and asked me to be a freelance artist. I said yes and thought to myself “I guess I’m a freelancer now.”

Freelance is messy. You’re basically self-employed, which I had no knowledge about. I had to figure out my working hours, what to charge people, and track things like taxes and expenses which I often found stressful and boring. The first couple of years were tough because I had taught myself how to 3D model and felt under qualified to be working as a professional 3D artist. Without the support of a full team around me, I had to teach myself how to professionally model, and especially brush up on the technical side of 3D art, but I was determined to keep improving. After that I got a job working on an MMO and the chance to work with art director Eran Hilleli, who taught me how to use 3D in different and stylized ways.

How did you end up working on Sable?

While working as a freelancer, I discovered games that are emotionally driven, that focus more on storytelling, resonate the most with me. I remember as a kid I was never drawn to the violent aspects of gaming. I was more into exploring the world, listening to the stories, and understanding the lore. I started making a conscious effort to work on only these types of games. Games that felt inclusive, encouraged empathy, and would resonate with people outside of the gaming community, in the way books and films are inclusive and relatable to a much wider audience.

I had been in touch with Greg and Dan because they were on Twitter. We were all part of the indie game Twitter community. I was drawn to Sable not just because of the beautiful visuals they were developing, but because there was something really special about the lore. I think that has a lot to do with how diverse the team is – not just in terms of ethnicity, but also having different academic and industry backgrounds that I believe made the story and world of Sable exceptionally unique. I had been living away from London, but when I came back Greg and Dan got in touch and asked me to join the Sable team. I was super excited and keen to work with them. I read through their huge documentation which covered the history and lore of Sable’s world, and I was hooked. I started out on character concepts and gradually moved into modeling assets, character clothing, and environments.

What are you doing now?

I’m a full time Artist for That Game Company. I’ve wanted to work for them since before university, when I first played Journey. It still feels surreal that I am working for a company that inspired me so much as a teen, and it’s been a really amazing and fun experience so far.

What advice do you have for aspiring game artists?

I would suggest jumping straight into whatever area of game art inspires you and just start creating! It’s amazing the number of free resources out there for learning. I am completely self-taught on Blender, Photoshop, and game engines like Unity and Unreal. You can find so much free learning on YouTube. Don’t be shy about putting your work out to the world and sharing your progress. Almost all of my work opportunities have come from Twitter, so I would also suggest joining a platform that has a strong community of game developers and to begin networking with people.

Check out Sable today at the Xbox store: Buy Sable | Xbox.