Star Wars

Third essay on How to make 100K as a Video Game Artist or Art, Life and Games Lessons from a Former Star Wars Artist – my book is coming out at the end of May by Mirena Rhee

The big question is why, why write this book, why put $100,000 on the cover and who cares?

My book is a bit bait and switch, how else am I going to get you to read it. It is meant to entertain and inspire.

The book is meant for all the underdogs, for all the weird kids and the misfits. The young and not so young adults who read strange books and ask odd questions. And who feel there’s nothing going for them, and that there’s no hope. They feel stuck and they feel rejected. But they have dreams and imagination.

I’m here to tell you there’s not only hope, but even your wildest dreams will become true and a lot more.

At the end of the essay I put the reason why I have hundred thousand dollars prominently featured on the cover and what it’s all about.

As a Eastern European girl growing up I had nothing going for me and I had zero prospects. I was reading weird books, and instead of doing homework I was thinking about aliens and talking about it too, guess how that went ( skipping ahead when I moved to California there was a guy there who too was thinking about aliens as a little boy. And he made a billion dollar empire out of it ).

Going back to being an Eastern European girl with nothing going for me, I should tell you I did have something going for me and it was five shelves of secondhand science fiction books, and dreams and imagination.

I tell you with confidence, all of you dreamers, if you have zero confidence, zero connections, zero support and zero money, I want to assure you that if you have at least one shelf of science fiction books, dreams and imagination, you are at least halfway to everything you ever wanted.

Okay so in addition to being stuck and with nothing going for me, I was going to the wrong school, I went to mathematical high school and guess how I did in equations and in history. And later on I went to architectural school and my professors were asking “so, where are the toilets?” and I was: “in my buildings there are no toilets and there is no building”.

So if you feel you have zero prospects, if you feel that you are stuck like you are embedded in a rock, I’m writing this book to tell you that if you only have dreams and imagination everything will happen for you and more than you dreamed of.

And the lesson is it’s not you it’s your environment. The moment you change your environment you are going to be, man, I’m born for this.

It is not you it is your environment, change it.

The way it happened to me is that I moved to America with nothing but the clothes on my back, I have no idea how I didn’t end up in a Dracula Castle or something, sipping blood. It was so scary. But I had one thing going for me and it was that the American government decided to pay for my education.

And when I went to the Midwest for school I didn’t really like it all that much but there I found what I truly liked. And that was like finding gold. And so my lesson is when you change your environment – you must put yourself in a place of growth and learning.

I guess it doesn’t have to be necessarily a school or a university, could be just a place with potential but here’s how it happened for me and that’s what I’m telling.

When you put yourself in a place of growth and learning you’re going to find out something that you like, and guess what – they’re going to be people there that you like too.

Once you have these two things this will propel you to your next step.

Once this happens it is going to feel so natural, when you change your environment and put yourself in a place of growth and learning you are going to find people that you like and it’s going to push you forward, it’s going to literally sail you to the next thing.

When you find your true love you are going to be, man, I was born for this and of course we all know you weren’t really born for it, nobody knew but you will know.

I am back to the beginning of the essay where I promised a very important lesson about the material.

And here’s a very very good lesson. I had at one point decided that I no longer cared about the material world. And what happened is that I had taken a job as a cleaner at the airbnb I was staying at, and I didn’t have twenty bucks for a bus ticket to go see the opening of my own show. And here’s worse, all my art was in a storage unit which was going into auction. Here’s what failure looks like, and it was entirely my fault. I didn’t have a few dollars to go to the opening of my own art show which I worked really hard for, and all I worked hard at was going to be sold in the county market in Florida for pennies and be lost forever. I want you to read this paragraph again and know what failure looks like, it feels bad too. It was a great lesson for me to learn.

The important part is if you decide not to pay at least much attention to the material – make sure to do it smartly, pay attention in the same way you cross the road – you make sure you do not end up under a car. Take a week to read all there is about smart and simple living, there are so many ways to do this these days, the 4 hour work week, the nomad, the go fasting in the desert way, retreats in India if you want. Scale and live smartly and with common sense and your wits about you.

The reason I put dollar signs on my cover is that you must get the material stuff out of the way and this is the second lesson about the material. When you satisfy your material needs you are going to get sudden clarity, this is when you are going to find out what you truly love and what truly matters to you – then you could say to hell with it, I got it.

Again about the material stuff – you just have to make sure there is nothing you desire materially and take care of your material concerns early, because if there’s something you desire in the material world I discovered that it’s always going to be on the back of your mind. I realized that as creatures with DNA we are very material beings, we operate in the material world and by our nature we respond to material stimuli.

You are not going to find what you truly love if you are striving materially. The moment you are free from worry then you will have the clarity to find what makes you truly happy and what truly matters to you. And here’s my secret about what makes you truly happy – what you are really good at and what you’re great at.

Again, you are not going to find what you truly love if you are striving materially. The moment you are free from worry then you will have the clarity to surely find what makes you truly happy and what truly matters. Here’s my secret about what makes you truly happy – discovering what you are really good at and what you’re great at.

Never want stuff, instead gain inspiration, seek dreams and challenges. Look for knowledge and look for the betterment of mankind. Dream mighty things, think how to touch the hearts of people, think how to take mankind on a great adventure, and fear nothing.


How to make $100,000 as a Video Game Artist or Art, Life and Games Lessons from a Former Star Wars Artist – Part 2 – my book is coming out end of May ! by Mirena Rhee


And the first lesson is don’t. Hundred thousand is not much money, as a senior artist in today’s market you’re probably going to be compensated 150,000.

Don’t do it for the money. There are hundreds and thousands of great ways, there are beautiful, amazing, adventurous, awesome ways of making a lot more than a hundred thousand and if you put yourself in the right business like law, finance, governance, executive entrepreneurship, sales, acting – there are many, many ways to go about it, even making decent memes on the Internet is going to do it. You can make millions making and having all kinds of fun.

Seek instead to become a highly skilled professional that people are simply going to make you an offer you can’t refuse every time. The adrenaline rush, the satisfaction and the pride you are going to take in making great work that’s the kind of thing that could never be erased or replaced by making money, because if you navigate the A player field successfully you will become capable of creating work that just can’t be beat or easily reproduced.

When I first got on board at Lucasfilm I never cared one bit about how much I was going to make but I was curious instead to find out how a highly respected venerable leader in this field operates, what type of creator, what kind of process makes people line around the block at midnight just to take a glimpse to experience their entertainment product. Millions of people go crazy about the stuff that Lucasfilm puts out, that’s indistinguishable from magic.

People pay thousands of dollars to go and learn something, and then they have to pay student loans until retirement, but instead you can get paid to get an invaluable insight into the inner workings of a great operation and I haven’t even started talking about the art aspect of it, and I haven’t even touched on the fact how much I loved Star Wars.

To sum it up if you care about the money you will miss out on developing the kind of qualities in yourself as a professional that you can be part of, that you can partake in and even create an ( entertainment product ) that simply can’t be beat.

So how do you become that? You probably need a portfolio right. Well I want to tell you a secret that even if you make the greatest bestest portfolio in the world, there are 50,000 okay maybe not 50 – 5000, 500 people that have exactly the same skill set. Portfolio will definitely help but nobody is going to call you with a great offer based on that. Because that’s not what your producer is going to be looking for.

You know of the term getting your foot in the door, and it seems logical that a portfolio will get your foot in the door but no, what really happens is that the producer on the 80 million dollars project is going to look for someone who is not going to screw up his 80 million dollars project when it gets really tough, like it gets really tough every time before a project gets out.

They want to make sure that you have a track record of delivering on a half million dollar project and then delivering on a 2 million dollar project and then delivering on a 20 million dollar project and perhaps then they can trust you with their own skin because their own skin is on the line.

See I haven’t even started talking about art yet because of course art comes into play and in a very very big way, you have to deliver what is promised, you will have to deliver under high pressure. Often times you have to work 16-hour days for months, just find out how many hours Elon puts into his rockets so that’s exactly the amount of time his engineers put into his rockets.

But for 2 years you are going to get the experience of 10 or 20 years elsewhere.

Many many many many people create beautiful things on YouTube but when a highly-skilled professional artist sits in front of that computer and they have to make a zebra – between that and the highly detailed beautiful zebra that’s prancing in the game stand numerous obstacles.

And that’s why the producer on that project is going to pay you to be able to, on your own initiative, remember – on your own initiative and without prodding or being tasked by somebody, you will have to navigate your way from zero to a highly polished entity that’s beautifully prancing in the game and that’s a lot more difficult than you think. Not least of which because they may discover that they may not need a zebra after all.

And that is because they want to make sure that there are a few hundred million people out there who will want to see the zebra prancing and it’s going to make them buy the product even in a small way. By the time you’re done with that zebra you will have become in a little way a zebra yourself and will know how to prance well.

So to sum it up your job as a video game artist, okay forget the art, as a highly skilled professional is to navigate an extremely well seeded minefield of obstacles to accomplish your goal.

There’s actually very little complacency in games because every new game is a new ball game simply because the hardware, the tools and the consumers have brand new expectations every single time. That’s why working in games is very very exciting because there’s always a brand new experience.

So how do you navigate that minefield that I talked about. Steve Jobs had a beautiful metaphor for this and it is the metaphor about the rock tumbler, so you have this rock tumbler and you put just dirty rocks from your garden into it, you turn it on, let it spin overnight and on the next day you open it up to find out beautiful polished rocks in there.

What happens when you do AAA software development, video games are in fact both software development and a product development, so what happens is that the product is so complex that it depends on millions and millions of individual interaction between highly skilled professionals to navigate the way to the beautiful polished rocks. Because unlike movies you never know what you’re going to get, you just can’t shoot the script on paper. There are so many uncertainties and ultimately you may end up with a product that doesn’t at all resemble what you started with.

Neither your manager nor your producer, perhaps nobody in the entire studio will have any idea what is it that you need to do to get your job done and I’m not saying it in a major way – of course you will have a task and you will have to complete it really nicely, but the many many moments when you will need to troubleshoot stuff when things go broke, when things will need to get better you will need to know what to do, and in this instance you have to go and find out and communicate with another skilled professional to figure out what to do cuz just imagine if 300 people on the team every day go by the producer or the art director to find out what is it they need to do – it’s going to take 500 years to make a game or a software product.

The micro transactional aspect of development is one of the reasons why open source software became very popular and quite robust.

So what the Silicon Valley has worked out is that they develop this pool of talent who is proven to be capable of navigating the rock tumbler and the minefields of obstacles by learning their way while interacting with others just like them, interacting with higher ups and people down the chain, it is actually absolutely flat structure, well not absolutely flat but in terms of navigating into the process of accomplishing your work it’s a completely flat field. You will have to go and talk to 10 people to figure stuff out sometimes. Because it’s not going to be written anywhere because things develop and information gets old really fast. The funny thing is that in software development in the Silicon manage your higher-ups and you often have to tell them how to help you to get your job done. But in order to be able to talk to a person who’s literally a salaried millionaire and ask them to do stuff for you – you have to have your s*** together.

And here’s the other important lesson – we don’t call this game making, we call it game development and similar to what they call kaizen in Japan which is gradual improvement. The word we have for making gradual improvements over time is development, especially in software and of course video games.

Anyway, what does it mean to get your foot in the door – you become part of a pool of highly skilled professionals who have been trained in that way of operation where they understand that they will need to be proactive in their work and not just sit in front of a computer and sculpt stuff, they will have to be proactive and often in a very very irrational way. They will have to complete thousands and thousands of microtransactions, alone with the computer or with other professionals to the greatest benefit of their product or their company or their employer. They will have to be highly self-motivated, they have to be motivated just because of peer pressure.

I guess the next step is really important – get yourself in a place where stuff like that happens – this is Los Angeles and San Francisco hands down, I know there are other places, I just don’t have much experience elsewhere but I can tell you that’s your best chance of finding a place where there’s concentration of talent and concentration of industry. I’m not saying you can’t go anywhere else I’m just saying that’s your best bet.

Okay so the next lesson that’s really important is you got to make sure you like what you do and you have to like it a lot. I remember I used to get up at 5 a.m. to get to work at 6 a.m. because I absolutely (until this day) loved 3D modeling, sculpting, doing work on the computer – to me it has never been even 10 minutes of work and just love.

Another important thing is you got to scratch and crawl and claw yourself into finding people that you deeply respect and admire and work for them. Never work for people you don’t respect admire and you don’t want to emulate. This last line I stole from someone, so that’s not my line but it’s a great one.

I was really lucky I have to admit in the sense that on my first job I landed people who were absolutely astonishingly hard-working, talented and capable and with integrity. Never work for people you don’t respect you don’t admire and you don’t want to emulate.

So to sum it up you got to love it, you got to get to the place, you have to do the work with people you like and admire. Actually to get all of this accomplished you’re not going to be compensated hundred thousand dollars, you going to get several million dollars worth of value out of it.

My book comes end of May – if you want to know how to make this happen and what to do with it because the time will come when you will outgrow an organization and you want to strike on your own and you got to know what to do.

How to make $100,000 as a Video Game Artist or Art, Life and Games Lessons from a Former Star Wars Artist – Part 1 – my book is coming out at the end of May ! by Mirena Rhee

The computer is like a bicycle for the mind.., ( Thanks, Steve !). It was a lot more for me because the computer gave me a life. Without the computer I would have been stuck in a kitchen somewhere, just kidding.

Just saying and telling girls everywhere – learn how to use it and learn how to use your mind because when you learn to use the computer and well you get to be around smart people and will get smarter yourself.

And because I was able to use the computer and well and I was all around smart people I was able to go and make a living in the Silicon Valley and make hundred thousand dollars and travel the world and expand my mind and learn and grow. I had a wonderful time and a total ball although at first glance you would think I was just sitting in front of a computer all the time but no, the computer was the gate to the magic kingdom.

I remember going into one of the lead engineers at Lucas’ office and I saw him sitting behind a Mac and I was like what is this, I didn’t know Macs were any good at 3D, and he’s like oh I bootcamped it, so this friend of mine taught me how to use the mac basically having both OS X and Windows installed on it. Then and there I was hooked and I’ve used a Mac ever since, of course I’ve always had a bootcamped Mac and that saved the day many times.

Being a video game artist became a part of my DNA as a fine artist and as a thinker and as a philosopher because I do have a stance and I do think a lot when it comes to life and video games and computers and how to do things and how to do things well, and I’m really into old Masters but I’m also crazy about all the new technology.

When I was growing up I grew up with the worlds of Isaac Asimov and I was constantly on some sort of a voyage in outer space on ships and fantastical planets but I see that a lot of what was in these absolutely imaginary spaceships is becoming a reality today with the computer and really fast chips being able to process incredible amounts of data and having incredible magic available at our fingertips.

So I was really excited to finally make a push and put this book together because it was a totally worth the adventure and I learned a whole lot.

I did my first computer rendering  when 3ds Max was called 3d studio and I think it was version 1.23 or something like that and it was running on DOS. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

So it really has been one miracle after another ever since and although I decided at some point to go into Fine Art full time and just remain in computer graphics as a teacher and freelancer I still really am crazy every time about everything 3D.


Joseph Campbell's "The Power of Myth", in conversation with Bill Moyers is free on souncloud by mirena

The role of the artist I now understood as that of revealing through the world-surfaces the implicit forms of the soul, and the great agent to assist the artist was the myth.
-Joseph Campbell

I worked as an artist for George Lucas and I am very familiar with "The Ranch" in Northern California, where Lucas held 4th of July parties every year. The following conversations between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell took place at  George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch, right before Campbell's death in 1987.

If there is a single text that has influenced my view of the world - The Power of Myth is that text. In it Campbell says:

"Everyone is a hero in his birth. He's undergone a tremendous transformation, from a little water creature living in the realm of the amniotic fluid and so forth, then coming out and becoming an air breathing mammal that ultimately will be self-standing. This is an enormous transformation and a heroic act."

On Art and Artists Campbell wrote:

" Myth must be kept alive. The

people who can keep it alive are artists of one kind or another. The function of the artist is the

mythologization of the environment and the world."

Joseph Campbell also wrote "The Hero with a Thousand Faces", a seminal work of comparative mythology.