It seems like yesterday that I walked those creaking wood floors at Ubisoft Montreal. I still recall the heavy ventilation system which hung from the ceiling and the kilometres of colourful network cables that followed me along the corridors of the old Peck building. In truth, It always made me feel like I was in the rebel base on Hoth. Considering the winters we get here in Quebec, it wasn’t much of a stretch of the imagination. Geek jokes apart, It did feel like Ubisoft was mobilising beyond all expectations. Back in 2004, the company was the underdog of the industry. We were a rebel army of gamers who, for the most part, were connected through a mutual passion and our love of Montreal. It was no small feat. Mostly young and taking first steps in our professional careers, we all wanted to find our place, to prove ourselves and take down an AT-AT Walker. Ok, no more Star Wars references, I promise. Looking back on this period of my life, I feel fortunate to have been there. It was a unique moment in the history of Quebec and it undoubtedly shaped the person I am today. Had it not been for those formative years in the gaming industry, I wouldn’t be the audiovisual specialist, podcaster and marketing artist I am today.
Video games have always ignited my imagination and constantly lured me back to my controller. I’m a 100% geek at the core. Even today, If I’m not playing games, I will spend hours watching YouTube videos about games. As far as I can go back, I wanted to create my own video game. So, it made sense, when I completed my studies in Multimedia, that I would go knock at the door of Ubisoft Montreal. Back then, the building didn’t have any security gates, so I just walked in and sparked a conversation with someone working there. I will forever be grateful to this random person who eventually brought my resume to HR and spoke on my behalf. On my first day at the job, I couldn’t believe where I was. I remember that I had to pinch myself to snap out of it. I had this unbelievable feeling that I was finally home and that, more importantly, anything was possible.
Quality Control 2004-2007
I first started in the quality control team, surrounded by the amazing people who tested those first classic games published by Ubisoft Montreal. True video game testers are meta human. I don’t know if it’s still the case but, at the time, being on the quality control team meant that you were a contract worker. It also meant that if you didn’t put in the effort or the extra hours, your place wasn’t assured. It’s in this context of survival of the fittest that the true die hard gamers stood out and kept playing, even during their breaks. I’m proud to say that I was one of those unstoppable freaks that gave it their all. Although, I will admit that I did tap out once during production ‘crunch time’, after a 21 hour marathon of Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. Going above and beyond allowed me to always get my contract renewed. I look back on those years with a profound sense of accomplishment.
My efforts were acknowledged through my hard work and I became an asset to the core team of Quality control. Or maybe it was just my basic grasp baby foot or my rudimentary Hacky sack abilities that people liked. I do remember that my animated GIFs were especially appreciated by the team of programmers. Explaining the ‘reproduction’ steps of a ‘bug’ with a static image was never an easy task. I don’t recall why we couldn’t just send a video of the problem caught in the act. Perhaps it was just a limitation with earlier iterations of the JIRA database. In any case, I did the next best thing to communicate the information visually. Even today, It is still something that I thrive to do in my line of work in marketing. To communicate with my utmost capacity.
I was so intimidated when I sat in front of producer Jade Raymond. I still don’t know how I gathered the courage to simply go up to her to talk about my interest in video editing. In any case, not only did she take the time to watch the Assassin’s Creed fan trailer I had edited in my spare time, but she sent it to the right people. I will forever be grateful for her kindness. I felt as though I was floating when I read the email summoning me to the marketing department. Although there was no opening for a video editor, they were on the lookout for a screenshot artist. I was already comfortable with Photoshop at that point in my life, so I gladly accepted this job offer. Even though it took me a few weeks to get used to the learning curve, I eventually grasped the workflow and enjoyed being a communication artist. I have, since then mastered, Photoshop and still feel at home editing photos and being a graphic designer.
After a few changes in the department, I was given a bit more leg room and my first video editing mandates. I proudly look back on my Assassin’s Creed trailers and I am amazed at how many people have watched them on YouTube. Cinephile at the core, I went about these mandates with the eye of a movie director, making sure the camera tracking had proper movie composition, as well as multiple angles. I even added the Wilhelm scream in some of my trailers, as a nod to George Lucas, a person who had influenced me on a level I still haven’t fully grasped. The bit of comedy with the bards getting grabbed by Ezio at the very end was also my doing. I learned a lot from each and every person in that marketing department. I have cherished memories of moments I shared with everybody. Thank you.
The Ubisoft Universe
I can’t even begin to describe how it felt to work at Ubisoft, surrounded by so many creative people. I couldn’t help but allow the atmosphere to inspire me to grow in my own right. In my spare time, I would familiarise myself with my Wacom tablet, write the stories for my video game concepts and create composite imagery. Using photos, 3D elements and my drawings, I eventually conceived an elaborate storyboard video based on a story concept I had written about the Sandwraith. The latter, is a Prince of Persia character who had infinite potential for a spinoff. In spite of the fact that no one shared my hopes for the character, I was grateful to have been given the opportunity to show my video producers and to Corey May, writer behind Assassin’s Creed. Although the game project wasn’t possible, I was humbled to learn that my storytelling skills had been appreciated. The Sandwraith concept video suddenly paved the way to an avenue I hadn’t even considered. It was then that I was offered a job on a writing team, separate from marketing. For reasons I still don’t fully understand, I declined the offer and decided to stay in the marketing team. Looking back, I think I felt devoted to my team and thought I would betray them if I left. I was also torn at the ideas of never being able to produce video game trailers or work with Photoshop to create visual assets.
Back then, there was another project I had conceived that probably influenced my decision to turn down this slight career change. For months now, in my spare time, I had been working on the designs for a CMO database I simply called ”The Ubisoft Universe”. In true quality control fashion, I had noticed the issues that constantly hindered the workflow and prevented quick access to updated content. That’s when I set about finding solutions. Inspired by the latest ”cloud” technology, Facebook, Marvel comics and Wiki websites, I envisioned an interactive platform that would connect Ubisoft across the planet. This project brought under the same roof everything that I had learned over the years at quality control and marketing. Both worlds were coming together as I designed a carefully crafted interface meant to inspire others in the same way the games had stimulated my imagination. I then patched up an interactive demo in HTML with Dreamweaver and set off on a mission to reveal my concept.
I’ve always been an ideator; someone with an imagination that brings solutions to the table. And so, after my interactive database concept was approved, I started to work with some programmers to develop a functional version of the ”Ubisoft Universe”. Once in place, the tool would enhance communication, simplify access to updated assets, facilitate the workflow and stimulate creativity. I always felt that ”Wiki” pages fell short in the context of a creative production environment that was spread across multiple offices around the planet. This ground breaking tool would not only alleviate production woes, but had the potential for a public counterpart specifically built to promote Ubisoft and its expanding intellectual properties. Along with my Sandwraith game concept, I wanted ”Ubisoft Universe” to pave the way to a cross-IP universe, directly inspired by Marvel who, at the time was setting up phase one of their lucrative MCU. Thank you to the great people who worked on this with me, all the way from Ubisoft Romania. I learned a great deal from you and I’m sorry I forgot your names. You hold a special place in my thoughts.
2011 Onwards: Beyond Those Walls
It was with a heavy heart that I left Ubisoft Montreal in February of 2011. Even though my soul was with the company and the wonderful people who worked there, I needed to pursue other dreams. Among those was my desire to record music in my studio, become an artist and to make documentary films. To do so, i had to get out there, build my network and learn new skills. Concerned with the growing problems of our planet, I was fortunate to find a calling in socially conscious marketing. Now a freelancer, I offered the skills I had developed over the past few years for new clients such as Wapikoni Mobile. I eventually crossed paths with Pierre Blackburn and did some editing related to the arts and the LGBTQ community. Along with Pierre, we also worked on an cool music video and got into podcasting. I also went back to school at Musitechnic and obtained my diploma in audio techniques. This opened the door to many other great professional experiences in the realm of audiovisual production. After years away from the game industry, I am still an avid gamer. It is with great pride that I look back on that era, at the beginning of the multimedia revolution in Montreal. Makes me wonder why I never went back. Thanks for all the years.
For more information about me, you can find my art portfolio on ArtStation, Behance and on Deviantart. As always, I invite you view my official website www.ericzone.com and visit my Facebook page. Don’t forget to click “Like”. Have a look at my art on Instagram. You can also find me on YouTube. Ericzone is on Instagram. Did you send me an invitation to connect via LinkedIn?
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