Zak’s days as a young UVic Visual Arts student were split between his studies and McKinnon Gym, where he played Vikes volleyball. He admits to being “an anomaly in both those worlds.” On a volleyball trip to New York, when everyone else went to see a game at Madison Square Gardens, Zak went to the Museum of Modern Art. In class, his flair for computer-generated art began to flourish. He specialized in photography and was part of the early movement toward digital image manipulation. He learned to use computers to do things that are difficult to do otherwise, like isolating objects in a field. He later completed a master’s degree, specializing in computer graphics and game engines, at Maharishi University of Management in Iowa. He’s been with Bungie Studios since 2004.
He still hits galleries and museums when he can and the more traditional art world is very much a part of his life: he paints in his spare time and his wife is a contemporary artist working in photography and video.
An eclectic background—with past interests and studies ranging from computers and math to English and art history—means he brings a certain depth to the production of a video game. On Bungie’s development team, his position puts him in a sweet spot because he has a sense of how to take technical issues into account when designing the game art. “I don’t do any programming, but I understand how those things work.”
With Halo 3 completed, there are new ideas to explore and new games to create. Even as he speaks on the phone from his work space, Michael Zak has his note book in front of him and he busily sketches away. The next, top secret, game project is taking shape and he is clearly excited about it. “Preproduction is the most interesting part (of game design). It’s the most fun…it offers the most freedom to create ideas and let your mind go. It’s about pushing your imagination and making fun choices.”
The Art of Halo 3 | 2 | 3