Producing the magic: With The Chinese Room Art Producer Emily Cook

19th Apr 2023 Game Dev Disciplines

Making the move from one huge entertainment industry to another can be a big change. But for Art Producer Emily Cook at The Chinese Room, the shift was a rewarding opportunity to dive into her childhood passion of gaming as a full-time career.

Emily spoke to us about joining the Sumo Digital family in our Brighton-based studio, her experience moving from the film industry, and the importance of supporting women in games.

“I’m responsible for managing the production and delivery of art and animation,” said Emily. “I’m currently working on an exciting new game – and as part of that I cover Concept, Character, Environment Art, VFX, Lighting, Tech Art, Rigging and Animation – it’s a big team!

“I work heavily with our fantastic Art Director John McCormack and Associate Art Director Ben Matthews, as well as the wonderful art and animation leads to create and manage project schedules, improve best practices for the team and generally act as a day-to-day point of contact for any firefighting, bug fixing and capacity issues the art team may face.

“My day-to-day can vary quite widely depending on which stage of a project or sprint cycle we’re in but some things always remain quite set in stone – leading morning stand-ups and check-ins with the team, to catching up with the other producers and reviewing work with the leads. My role has the benefit in that I spend a lot of time looking at a lot of incredible art and animation, I’m constantly in awe of the work that the team produces.”

Since graduating in 2014 with a First Class Honours in Digital Film Production, Emily has since gone on to work in a production role in two major industries. She shared her reasons behind why production is a vital aspect whether it’s on the big or little screen.

“Producers are the anchor point of a project,” said Emily. “They really are the glue that holds it all together. As a producer, you’re a facilitator – it’s your responsibility to ensure your team is working as efficiently as possible at all times.

“I think the Extra Credits video ‘So you want to be a producer?’ puts it very well in that producers are there to ‘align the wild aspirations of the development team with the harsh realities of the schedule and budget’. You must be able to compromise, negotiate and – sometimes painfully and reluctantly – say ‘no’ to ensure the project stays grounded, and ultimately ships.

“I’m very lucky that the producers and project manager I work with at The Chinese Room are an incredible, supportive and talented bunch – they make me look forward to coming to work every day.”

Having worked on some blockbuster productions during her previous jobs – including a cheeky cameo in a Jason Bourne movie among the FBI’s Most Wanted list – Emily made her move into the video games industry in 2020, eventually joining The Chinese Room in 2021. We asked her about some of the amazing projects she’s worked on and how the decision to switch to games came about.

“I think video games connect people in a way that is unlike other entertainment platforms. When we engage in play, we take on a perspective that might be unfamiliar to us and broadens our mindsets.”

“Prior to working in games, I spent five years working in VFX production within the film industry on a wide variety of films and TV shows,” said Emily. “Everything from Avengers Infinity War to The Great.

“I sort of fell sideways into film – even though I had a strong interest in gaming from a young age, unfortunately, my education didn’t set me up for a career in games. It was always seen as a bit of an unviable, impossible path- especially as a woman.

“I chose to do a foundation year in Art, Design and Media at university as I knew I enjoyed the arts – and from there chose to follow Digital Film Production as a degree as I had enjoyed the filmmaking unit the most. After graduating, I took on an array of jobs in retail to pay the bills and worked on numerous short films and other small projects but struggled to get my foot in the door.

“I landed a job as a runner at a post-production house in Soho, and was lucky enough to be exposed to the various roles such as post–bookings and post-production coordinators – and I was then picked up as a VFX Production Coordinator at DNEG which is where my love of production really flourished.

“I really enjoyed working with multi-disciplinary teams and aiding the smooth running of high-end TV and film projects. I spent time on both the ‘show side’ and department side looking after teams including Animation, Layout and Compositing.

“I worked my way up, and after three and a half years at DNEG I became a Senior VFX Line Producer at Bluebolt VFX, where I had more client-facing responsibility, managing project budgets and ‘bidding’ material for the company.

“When the pandemic hit, a series of life-changing events forced me to re-evaluate my life decisions. I was very fortunate at the time to keep my job, but I was left questioning whether it was something I really loved- life is short- was there something out there I would enjoy more?

“After playing about the 36th hour of The Last of Us Part Two with my partner, he suggested ‘what about games?’

“I didn’t think I was qualified enough, but after encouragement from my friends that I had transferable skills, I decided to apply for several production openings, eventually accepting a position at Supermassive Games as Production Integration Manager. It was there I realised I wish I had made the leap sooner, as it solidified that the games industry was exactly where I wanted to be and exactly what I loved doing.

“I think video games connect people in a way that is unlike other entertainment platforms. When we engage in play, we take on a perspective that might be unfamiliar to us and broadens our mindsets.

“Gaming is a relatively young industry that has changed rapidly over the years, I think its exciting to see how it evolves.”

Emily has been a WIGJ ambassador for two years and is particularly passionate about improving education for marginalized genders, in order for them to have a clear path into the games industry. Her passion for this cause and many others was one of the reasons why Sumo was a perfect fit with like-minded talented people.

“It was Sumo and The Chinese Room’s studio culture and values that really stood out to me,” said Emily. “Sumo prides itself on promoting an atmosphere that allows everyone to be their best and authentic selves, giving everyone an opportunity to shine and make a real, meaningful impact on the games they create.

“There’s also a real strive to remove obstacles to ensure under-represented groups can get into the industry – including The Chinese Room’s pioneering entry scheme – a regular drive for applications from individuals that have no game-making experience and come from backgrounds marginalised in the games industry.

“My first interview with Executive Producer Ross Manton and Producer Alex Girling (who I now work with every day) was a great experience. Within minutes of talking to them, I felt my nerves melt away, they made me feel welcomed, and instantly at ease – and I realised what a supportive environment The Chinese Room advocates for.”

Though Emily has only been with The Chinese Room for a short space of time, we asked her what have been the biggest rewards or achievements that she’s experienced so far.

“I’m proud to be a Diversity Champion for the Women’s stream of PRISM; Sumo’s inclusion and belonging community group headed up by the incredible Leon Killin,” said Emily.

“Along with the other Women’s DC’s (the amazing Alice Liguori, Dani Viljoen, Ines Lagatro and Esha Mahadkar) I’ve contributed in running a campaign for International Women’s Day, exploring what the theme of ‘Breaking the Bias’ meant to the women of Sumo. It was fantastic to see such a variety of insights and connect with the talented women across all of Sumo Group.

“Additionally, we’ve set up a Microsoft Teams safe space for Marginalized Genders, nurturing intersectional bonds for communities across Sumo Group. I also run the Women of TCR meetings (co-chaired by our awesome Senior Marketing Executive Marijam Didžgalvytė) and we even managed to do an IRL version at the first Sumo Developer Conference – something we hope will make a comeback this year too.

“On a more personal note, I have struggled with imposter syndrome for a long time, and it’s only recently that some of this has started to shift. Working amongst the incredibly supportive team at TCR has brought me more confidence in my own abilities, and much less self-doubt and fear of failure.”

The Chinese Room and Sumo Digital are proud to have people like Emily championing inclusion in our industry. We asked Emily what advice she would give to other women either looking to break into the industry or move up the ladder in the world of production.

“Make use of all of the resources out there – Into Games, Grads In Games etc – connecting on one of those Discord servers and meeting like-minded people I think is really beneficial,” said Emily. “You can meet people for game jams, portfolio shares and job-hunting advice.

“Limit Break is also fantastic – it’s a mentorship program aimed at underrepresented people working in the UK games industry. This year I’ve participated both as a Mentee and Mentor.

“My mentor is a Production Director, who’s been invaluable at giving me advice on how to move up the ladder and improve upon my confidence – and I’ve been mentoring someone looking to break into the industry. I really can’t recommend it highly enough!

“For progressing in your career, I also recommend the Moving Ahead Mission Gender Equity Programme (formerly 30% club) where you are paired with a mentor with senior leadership experience in order to bridge that gap so more women can be nurtured and supported into executive and senior management roles.”

Being part of many Sumo initiatives, as well as working away behind the scenes on an exciting new project, has meant that Emily’s time here so far has been busy – but there are lots more to come as she shares her goals for the next few years.

“I love my job as Art Producer and would like to continue learning and growing in this role,” said Emily. “As part of working at Sumo, you get learning days – I like to use mine by taking courses that I know will help me keep up with my team and improve my technical knowledge of each discipline – last year I chose to undertake learnings in animation and concept.

“I’m a passionate advocate for diversity and change so I’m very keen on getting involved in a wide variety of initiatives to use my privilege to help underrepresented groups. I’m also aiming to give a talk at SDC this year – watch this space!”

19th April 2023 Game Dev Disciplines