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#MEETIRONGALAXY – Tiffany Dao, Associate Art Director

05/11/2022   •   Written By Keenan Moralicz

Here at Iron Galaxy, our artists breathe life into to the worlds we create for our games. In this interview series, you get the chance to meet a variety of people who help IG create awesome experiences for players. Today, we’re talking to Tiffany Dao. Tiffany started with us in December 2012, making her a pivotal team member for many IG projects. Let’s learn about Tiffany and her journey in games.

Iron Galaxy: Who are you and what would you say you do here at Iron Galaxy?

Tiffany Dao: Don’t confuse me with my twin! My name is Tiffany Dao, and I’m currently an Associate Art Director here at Iron Galaxy. While I got hired here as a Character Artist, I’ve dabbled in lots of art disciplines over the years, be it environment, animation, even some concept work. It’s helped inform a lot of what I do now. I’m working with a dozen or so other artists, providing feedback, and facilitating work down the pipeline from client to artist!

IG: What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

TD: Time management would have to be the skill I’m constantly trying to exercise and improve. Meetings aside, you’d be surprised at how many unmentioned tasks you end up taking on to help smooth out the workflow and unblock your team. Delegation is so crucial to evening out your workload, with the added bonus of showing your team that you can rely on them.

IG: Teamwork and great leadership is a key to success! What’s one skill you learned growing up that you use the most in your role?

TD: I suppose I answered a bit of that in my last question, but an honorable mention here would be communication. It can be messaging your team to improve morale, interfacing with clients to uphold the company image, and even picking the right phrasing for proper translation to outsourcers.

IG: Sounds like choosing your words carefully goes a long way. What has been your proudest moment as a member of the Iron Galaxy team?

TD: For a long while now, it had been my time working on Killer Instinct, and watching the very personal reactions from streamers around the world gush and amaze themselves each month with the release of new fighters... But now I think it’s the reveal of Rumbleverse. It was wild seeing it hit the top ten streamed games the day the First Look dropped! Even having some of my friends and family hit me up on the side, asking if this was a project I was involved in. I might have not worked on the game myself beyond some pre-production way back in the day, but it was great peeking in and seeing it grow through playtests and conversations with other devs.

IG: Those are some wonderful moments to celebrate. What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone who aspires to be an artist in game development?

TD: If you’re an artist, don’t get mired in the details. It’s easy to get lost in the nitty gritty of things or labor over one particular area until it feels just perfect, but sometimes you lose the bigger picture. Always check your work in context and in motion. That face you so painstakingly detailed might not actually be visible in game camera, or it only occupies a couple hundred pixels on screen. It’s not about perfection, it’s about efficiency!

IG: What is the best thing about working at a gaming company?

TD: Just the camaraderie! Everyone on your project is an avid gamer of some sort, and there’s a certain level of just... friendship and connection that you make with your co-workers that doesn’t quite translate in other professions in my opinion. Plus, there’s all the free gamer swag!

IG: There’s nothing like bonding over games. What would you say is your favorite perk associated with your job?

TD: I thought about writing ‘Gamer Swag’ in this spot here, but I think there’s something more useful here. Feedback on your artwork. There’s something about putting your work in front of all of your peers and going through how to improve it together that just oozes collaboration, and it’s great. Posting your work online just doesn’t have the same intimacy. It also doesn’t have to be solely about artwork either, sometimes it can be a program that you never even heard of, but someone else is a pro at it. Seminars are held and we learn so many techniques and skills that you certainly could learn on your own, but here, you can just ask your buddy, and they’ll give you all the cool tutorials they have!

IG: It’s nice to hear that you’re frequently a resource for others, and others are also there for you. How has wearing the hats of an Animator, Environment Artist, Character Artist, Concept Artist, and Art Lead helped you grow in your career?

TD: It’s all about that pipeline. You have a vision, and sometimes it’s simple, like a D&D character that you want to sculpt. Sometimes it vast, like a battle scene of said D&D character smiting the BBEG. Knowing every aspect of that pipeline helps you achieve the larger picture. A concept to design all the players on the field, character art to bring those players to life, animation to strike dynamic believable and stylized poses, environment to add the ambience and mood, and finally... a creative eye to bring it all together and tell a story.

IG: You have quite the mind to understand the scale of your work responsibilities, and D&D rolls. Tell us a story of some of the challenges and successes you’ve encountered during your journey to become an Associate Art Director.

TD: Learning the managerial aspects of it was a challenge for sure. Up until this point, I was very used to having someone else tell me whether my work was hitting the mark or not, and then suddenly, I became that person. It took some time to get used to that feeling, both of power and responsibility (how did that quote go again?), but I had some great mentors down this road. The reward of it is just all that more fulfilling. Suddenly it’s not just your artwork getting praised, but your entire team’s. Their victories become your victories. It’s really rewarding.

IG: What’s one creative thing you wish you could get back to doing?

TD: I miss doing art in general, but if I had to pick something, I miss animating the most. I grew up watching anime and playing action games, and animation is so expressive and dynamic, and full of potential in terms of storytelling. Character art is a close second, but only because I have a very specific idea of what my characters look like in any of my games that I play, and I get frustrated with the tools I’m given to create said character.

IG: What art have you found inspirational in the last few years?

TD: If you haven’t seen them yet, Wylie Beckart’s art has been super inspirational and fun. James Zapata too is moody and dark. Other than that, I’ve also been bumming around looking at Critical Role’s Fanart posts (don’t judge me!) Just seeing the wide variety of interpretations and styles is interesting in its own right!

IG: Aside from playing video games, what is a favorite hobby of yours?

TD: If my previous answers weren’t proof enough, I really enjoy playing Dungeons and Dragons! I did play before Critical Role (veteran from 4th edition here), but it certainly helped inspire me to do more and better in my own games. D&D combines storytelling, art, collaboration and even a bit of theater in such a fantastic natural way. I love it!

IG: D&D Veteran status confirmed! What is something you feel everyone must do once in their life?

TD: Travel. And see natural wonders, specifically, but any travel is good. Expand your worldview. It doesn’t even have to be out of your state or hometown if you don’t have the means, just go somewhere without the intention of buying something or doing something. Explore and be humble.

IG: Where would your once-in-a-lifetime travel destination be?

TD: Vietnam. The place my parents were born and raised in. I’ve always felt a degree of separation from that part of my cultural heritage, and it’d be a great chance to learn and immerse myself in that part of myself someday.

IG: What is something you have always wanted to create?

TD: A world. This is a bit open-ended I suppose, but I had gotten a taste of it when attempting to run my own D&D campaign way back in the day. Writing lore and superstitions, creating tribes and writing up myths and legends, creation stories and weaving together plots, it’s a lot of fun. It’s even better when sharing it with your players, but... well maybe one day.

IG: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

TD: Noodles. It’s just vague enough to provide enough of a variety of textures, and can be paired with soups or sauces of any kind across cultural spectrum. To be honest, I hate eating the same thing over and over, even if it’s something I love. This way, at least I can have my cake... and eat it.

IG: Who is your favorite author?

TD: I’m a big Brandon Sanderson fan (consistency goes a long way for me) and his Stormlight Archive in particular is a favorite of mine. There were characters that I didn’t like that ended up growing on me. Never mind the world building! It’s such a unique perspective on fantasy that just feels different compared to the traditional western high fantasy that is popular now.

IG: What was the last concert you saw?

TD: Final Fantasy 7 Remake Concert in Chicago! Hearing a surprise (really shouldn’t be a surprise) One Winged Angel at the end was a delight! Also Bombing Mission hits every point of nostalgia for me, and while 7 isn’t my favorite game, it has one of the best opening soundtracks. Hearing their rendition of it for Remake is fantastic!

IG: Looks like we have multiple FF fans in the office! Anna Heart also saw the FF7 Remake Concert. What is the one song most likely to earn you a speeding ticket?

TD: Toby Fox’s Death by Glamour. Well, most of his battle themes, but that song in particular makes even these rhythmically inept bones of mine wiggle.

IG: What game have you spent the most time playing?

TD: Considering I’m an avid RPG player, and how long those games run for, I thought it might’ve been a traditional JRPG... but the game is actually Monster Hunter World (and Iceborne afterwards). My first Monster Hunter Game, and I’ve logged nearly a thousand hours into that game. I didn’t even Platinum it (is it even possible?) But it ended up being such a fun way to spend time with my crew, where every battle is a boss battle, complete with in-depth character customization, great animation, and challenging fights!

IG: Name a scene from a movie that makes you cry every time…

TD: I’m a sympathetic crier, so it really doesn’t take me much. Coco is a great candidate though, at the end when Miguel is singing to his grandmother, and more recently with Encanto. That Dos Oruguitas song just *uuugh* hits me so hard every time.

IG: Pixar movies really do hit different. What is one superpower that you would like to have?

TD: I waffle a bit between telepathy, telekinetic power, and the ability to create illusions. Can I have all three? I’m always a fan of the non-violent superpowers, the ones that require a bit more cleverness to use and are more versatile. I can imagine so many good deeds I can do with any three of those powers!

IG: Since they’re non-violent, you get to keep all three. If you had one wish, and you couldn’t wish for more wishes, what would you wish for?

TD: Honestly, I’d probably use this wish to give myself a superpower (see above answer), but if we’re looking for something more traditional, I’d go with more time. It doesn’t even have to be immortality (although I think I could deal pretty well with the existential dread), it could just be an extra hour in the day. Give me more time for myself, more time to relax and play games, more time to chat with friends and family!

IG: Time is a great resource to wish for. What fictional universe would you choose over our own? What if there was no coming back?

TD: This is a double-sided question, given that most fictional universes also involve WORLD SHATTERING DANGERS that I most definitely would not survive in. That being said, if I had to pick a world, it might just be the world in My Hero Academia. Given that a majority of the population was born with a quirk, I might just have something to protect me. Or if I’m one of the unfortunate quirkless, then at the very least my daily life will be interesting.

PLUS ULTRA responses Tiffany! Congratulations to your well-evolved career at IG. Good luck on your next D&D campaign and may your character have telepathy, telekinetic power, and the ability to create illusions.

Wouldn’t it be cool to work with someone like this? We're hiring. Spot an Art opening you fancy on our Careers page? Consider applying today!