I was fortunate enough to spend the day at the EA Sports Campus in Burnaby, BC, Canada a few weeks ago at an event hosted for the Make A Wish Foundation – BC & Yukon.
It was one of many events that the EA Outreach program hosts for deserving non-profit organizations that are focused on putting smiles on the faces of kids who have life-threatening medical conditions. It was pretty amazing to see the kids faces light up when they were able to meet some of their local sports heros and take them on in a friendly game of NHL 12.
Check out a few photos of the event here: Travis Lulay Facebook Page – EA Sports/Make-A-Wish Foundation Event
A Sports Job That Pays You To Play Games
If you’ve ever played video games before, you know how addicting they can be. It’s quite easy to get caught up in the excitement of creating your own player and going head to head with the likes of Steven Stamkos or Patrick Kane and competing for the Stanley Cup!
Now, imagine if you were paid to play video games all day. Well, that’s not exactly all the guys at EA Sports do, but it’s definitely a perk of their sports job!
I had the pleasure of interviewing a couple of the main guys responsible for producing the popular EA Sports NHL game – James Banting and Jay Bulbrook. We talked about how they landed their jobs with EA Sports, the path they took to get there and the best part about their job. They also provided helpful advice for anyone looking to follow in their footsteps and work for one of the most iconic sports companies in the tech world.
EA Sports Software Engineer – James Banting
EA Sports Animator – Jay Bulbrook
EA Sports Software Engineer – James Banting – Video Transcript
Hey everyone it’s Trevor Turnbull here with Sports Networker and I’m out at the EA Sports campus in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.
I’m here with James Banting, who is a programmer for the EA Sports NHL franchise. I’m going to flip the camera around here and ask him a few questions about his job. How’s it going James?
Good. Maybe tell us a little bit more about what you do here at EA.
I’m a software engineer at Electronic Arts; I’ve been doing this for seven years.
I create the game code; I get a lot of ideas from the fans, from our producers, from our designers and make those ideas a reality in our game.
Cool. I have to ask the question – how does a person actually get into a role like this? Did you go to school to be a programmer and then work your way up? How did it all transpire?
I went to UBC and took computer science. I did their co-op program – all of the schools offer the co-op program where students get to alternate between taking classes and going to work for real companies getting real experience.
One of the companies I worked for was Electronic Arts and I loved it, that’s what I knew I wanted to stick with, computer programming and games. As soon as I graduated I came back to EA.
How long have you been with EA then?
Seven years now.
Seven years. I imagine a lot has changed over the seven years you’ve been here.
Yeah. When I first came here I was working with the PS2 and Xbox 1 consoles and now I’m working with Xbox360 and PS3 and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more consoles coming out and a lot more technology.
I’m always learning; I’ve been here seven years but it feels like I’m still brand new.
Yeah. We were just chatting about that a little while ago too about the ongoing education. Maybe speak to that from the EA perspective. Obviously you get educated in school but these platforms are constantly changing and they’re coming up with new features every year. Talk about what you guys get in that ongoing education here.
We have a lot of talented people here. All of them like to teach everyone else the tricks of the trade.
I’m a junior programmer, that’s how I started, and a lot of the senior programmers would teach me ways to program. It’s always ongoing.
Now I get to teach the new guys coming in so it’s always an ongoing learning process over here.
You also speak to students when they come in a go on tours at EA Sports don’t you?
Yeah. We invite high school students who are all interested in programming and art who basically want to get a general idea of what it is like to become a video game programmer, an artist.
I just tell them all of the info and all of the things needed to get into the gaming industry, what they can do in high school now to get a head start. It’s great because now they get a better idea of what they want to be in the future.
For people out there looking to break into the sports industry, maybe a lot of them don’t think about companies like EA, what kind of advice would you have for them? Would it be to just get that education, proactively try to get internships, what would your advice be?
Yeah, just be proactive. Everybody goes through school but there are a lot of things you can do on your own to get ahead of the game.
There’s a lot of free software out there to let you make your own game.
Just show that you have a strong passion in what you want to become in the future and you’ll definitely be able to do that.
Cool. Last question for you – how do people connect with you online? Are you on Twitter, LinkedIn?
I am on LinkedIn; my name is James Banting. Yeah, you can connect with me through there.
Good stuff. Thanks very much for doing this James.
EA Sports Animator – Jay Bulbrook – Video Transcript
Hey guys it’s Trevor Turnbull here with Sports Networker and I’ve got another interview for you today from the EA Sports campus.
I’m here with Jay Bulbrook, who is the lead animator for the NHL franchise for EA Sports. I’m just going to spin the camera around here, there we go. How’s it going Jay?
Good, good. Maybe tell us your role with EA and what you do on a daily basis.
I’ve been here since 1997. In ’97 we started the first 3D hockey game. We took the NHL franchise out of California, it was originally being done in San Mateo, and brought it to Canada.
It was the first year of 3D hockey and it was the first year of hockey done in Canada, by Canadians, and it’s been here ever since. I’ve been a part of that franchise.
That was ’97 you said?
1997 for the NHL ’98 game.
Wow. So you’ve obviously seen the evolution of this game over the years then.
I’ve been there every step of the way, yeah.
It’s changed a lot, I would imagine. How do you go about getting into a role like that? What was your background before that? Did you go to school to be an animator?
I did. I went to school – I took more of a broad course and I took to animation like a duck to water. Some people just have a weird aptitude for animation and some dont, I did.
I ended up teaching the exact same course that I had taken right after. That’s when Electronic Arts heard about be and they brought me in, asked me if I maybe could help them finish NHL ’98, which was half in the can. Of course it was the first time we had done a hockey game in Canada so there was a lot of work to do.
They brought me in to pinch hit and that was 1997 and I’m still here.
Yeah. I was speaking with James earlier, who is one of the programmers for the game.
He’s one of my guys, yeah.
Yeah. He was saying that you guys work very closely together in building out the product from both a programming and animation standpoint, obviously.
The capture studio that we see here in the background; you guys are actually working in there a lot of times with the athletes too, are you not?
That’s right. The interesting thing about Electronic Arts is that not only are we developers but what makes us different than other sports franchises in other parts of the software community is that we’re also publishers. That means because we publish our own games we dont have “bosses.”
James and I, as developers, have complete control to do whatever we want and we are really a 365 days per year think tank for hockey. That’s all we do, that’s all we want to do, that’s all we care about.
And clearly a Canucks fan.
I’ve been on this ride for 38 years.
So it’s tough to argue that.
And I’m still on it.
Of course, and with the campus being here, close to Vancouver, it’s tough to argue that.
On a daily basis, what would you say is the best part about your job? What makes you get up in the morning and love what you do?
Loving the sport of hockey. I really, deeply care about hockey. It’s our national sport and I want it to be as good as it can possibly be.
Working with people that you respect – we’ve got a PhD from Moscow University who does our physics, we’ve got a lot of really good people in the right places and when you get to come to work and play and collaborate and come up with things that nobody has even tried yet; which is what you guys are going to see next year in NHL 13.
Yeah. James actually mentioned that, with the game, you guys captured a lot of your live footage at an ice arena here in Burnaby.
Yes we did. Our EA capture guys have a road unit. They went in overnight, they set up a whole motion capture space on ice and we were there for two days freezing our tails of but we got over 1,000 moves to put into the game this year so you guys are going to see a lot of new stuff you haven’t seen before.
Yeah it’s very cool what you guys are able to do with the animation.
For anybody out there that is looking at what you do for a living and saying, “I want to be in that business. I want to do what that guy does.” What kind of advice would you give to those people?
Take a course. There’s a lot of free stuff online now; it’s not like the old days. You can go to Maya’s Web site and get a free educational version of Maya; just download it straight from their Web site.
You can go on YouTube and there are endless tutorials that can teach you how to do anything. With free tutorials and free software, if you’re a self starter and you’re really proactive about it, there’s no reason why you can’t teach yourself for free.
Cool, good stuff. Last question for you – if people wanted to connect with you in particular online; LinkedIn, Twitter, how would they go about doing that.
You can check me out on Twitter @JBulbrook. I’m also on Facebook. My gamer tag is ArmedEscort. If you ever see me online let’s have a game of hockey.
There you go. I imagine you’re pretty good at your own game.
Alright, thanks for doing this.
Take it easy.
If you prefer reading the interviews versus watching the videos, click on the link above to access the video interview transcripts.
Would working for EA Sports be your dream job in sports? Let us know in the comments below or send us a tweet to @sportsnetworker
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