Episode 295 — DOOM ETERNAL – Hugo Martin


Episode 295 — DOOM ETERNAL – Hugo Martin

Welcome to Episode 295! This is Allan McKay. 

I want to break down a discussion I had with Hugo Martin, the Creative Director for DOOM and DOOM Eternal, and all the key takeaways I learned from speaking to him. I’m really excited about this. It’s a bit of a different formant. I did an Episode with Hugo a while back and it was in between DOOM and Call of Duty. At the time, we couldn’t get clearance. But because so many amazing insights were shared, I wanted to go ahead and do it through this format. 

I thought it’d be interesting to at least deconstruct the discussion I had with Hugo because there were so many amazing insights. We talked about being a creative leader. With so much pressure on you, how do you succeed and rise above the chaos? I thought the Podcast would see the light of day, but I no longer wanted to sit on it. So I thought I’d deconstruct what I learned from the Podcast, in terms of actionable actions that you could apply to your career. 

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Let’s dive in! 



[03:54] Creating a Sense of Urgency

[09:59] Eating Your Fruit and Vegetables

[13:06] Understanding Your Place 

[14:44] Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

[16:40] id Software Core Values

[24:36] If You Don’t Believe in Your Product — the Audience Won’t

[24:55] Never Settle

[28:33] Summing Up



[01:02] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what was the reason you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[29:36] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!



[03:50] These are the seven key insights I want to share with you from my interview with Hugo Martin.



[03:54] There are several times in Hugo’s career where he created a false sense of urgency. He put time constraints and into a level of discomfort that allowed him to excel. I think this is really critical. Looking back at Hugo’s career, when he went to college he had to get student loans which he had to pay off upon graduation. I think he’s still paying off $1,100 per month right now. But putting that much in, you want to make sure that you’re 10X-ing whatever you’re getting back out. Knowing that crippling debt was something that could ruin his life was the boot in his ass that he needed. That external pressure made him make sure that his education really counted and pushed himself.

[04:52] Another thing we talked about was that he really pushed himself to invest in all these different areas that would make him a better storyteller, a better leader, a better communicator. Making an agreement with his wife at 29 that they wanted to start a family meant that the time was running out. He could go off and do all these things to invest in himself; but he had a set deadline. Everything that he did, he had to go hard to get it within that deadline. So he was learning to write better, he was learning standup comedy and other areas. Knowing that that chapter of his life would be over meant that he could compress that experience and get the most out of it. Comedy for him meant getting over his fear of crowds, learning timing and delivery and even humiliation. That humiliation taught him to be a better leader and be able to take criticism. 

[06:27] Another thing he did that I found fascinating was that he’d be quitting jobs before he had anything lined up. I talk about lining up the next job before you quit your current one, that way you have room to negotiate. In addition if you were to change careers, you typically would moonlight and set up that second career. But that’s the opposite of what Hugo did! Hugo was a beast at what he did and he had extraordinary ability. He had connections in the industry as well, which is reassuring. But he’d leave one job and he’d give everything he could to getting the next one. Putting a time constraint and putting that pressure on yourself is important to jump ship knowing that you have to get a job, rather than staying stagnant. Part of this is he’d want to leave a job once he learned everything he could — but before he’d get comfortable. It’s easy for us to stay stagnant rather than throwing ourselves out there. But that means that our careers stop evolving. That is why he’d throw himself into chaos. So adapt with the surroundings you have but always put yourself out of your comfort zone. 

[08:59] On my Podcast, I’ve talked about having false time constraints for that reason. I’ve talked about having a 90-Day Year, for instance (www.allanmckay.com/110). It’s a good way to condense an entire year into 3 months which forces you to get results faster. I always say: Attack with urgency and fail fast! Attack everything with aggression but also be willing to fail quickly. If you have a New Year’s resolution, after some time we tend to lull. But if you give yourself a more condensed timeline, in one week you aren’t moving forward, you can course correct. There is nothing worse than getting complacent and slowing down. You have to keep that fire under your butt!



[09:59] A lot of the time we want to skip the part where we do our core learning — and get to the fun stuff! I always say, everyone wants to be an expert, no one wants to start as a novice. Hugo says the same thing. We all want to learn how to create cool work, but we aren’t willing to learn the principles. We’re in such a hurry to get to the end, we look for shortcuts and cheats. Ultimately, that reflects on our work. DOOM 2016 has a lot of depth because Hugo learned to be a production designer. Rather than just learning how to draw, he learned to do research and build out a bible for whatever you’re trying to create. He didn’t skim over the surface but invested in the knowledge that it takes to be a great artist! 

[10:59] Occasionally, I get YouTube comments, “Your video is too long. Just leave a 5-point step-by-step.” They want to grasp the knowledge. They want surface level knowledge. Hugo focused less on understanding the software and more reading books and expanding his knowledge. That helped prepare him for the journey of his career.  

[11:52] Hugo talked about how while he was doing a project, he’d fall into a euphoric state because he knew he was ready for the job. Because he knew he’d put in the time into investing in his skills and to better himself. He didn’t just learn the software and then freak out because he didn’t know how to do something. He focused on investing in his core skills and things that helped him grow long term:

  • How to communicate better.
  • How to ask the right questions.
  • How to mentally prepare himself.
  • How to be more organized.
  • How to be more productive. 

[12:35] These are the things that help us be a better artist and a better leader. That’s what he meant by “being in a euphoric state of confidence”. He put in the work early in his career, so he’d be unstoppable later in his career.



[13:06] This a critical one. As commercial artists, it’s easy to get caught up with taking ownership of a project that isn’t yours. You don’t have creative control over everything. That was a valuable lesson for Hugo: When someone is investing millions of dollars in a project, that project isn’t his project. You are a creative, but you have to align your vision of the project with the vision of the person who’s paying. That’s a balancing act: We’re there to fulfil someone else’s vision and take pride in what we do; but understand other people’s needs. Talent is replaceable. If you aren’t easy or pleasant to work with, you can be easily replaced. The morale of the company is more important!



[14:44] Hugo leaned into his years of experience over learning software. He would constantly get out of his comfort zone and pursue things that terrified him. He learned skills that terrified him and made him into a better leader. He knew that to be a better director, he’d have to learn how to tell stories. He’d have to learn how to write. He learned comedy as well. He’d go to comedy bars in the middle of the week, in LA. That’s one of the most challenging things to do: Not only are you learning public speaking, but also timing and execution. That helped get over his fear of speaking in front of crowds but also learn to be funny and get the audience to react how he wanted. That also meant dealing with rejection which numbed him to failure. That helped down the line whenever people would criticize his work. By leaning into his fear, he could learn new skills.

[16:09] Whether it’s story, leadership, creativity, he called his “Soul Searching Creative Bootcamp”. I like putting a name on it. By identifying the four key levers, he was able to double down on them. On the Podcast, I talk about getting out of your comfort zone because that’s where most of your growth happens.



[16:40] There are four core values at id Software. I remember the VFX Lead Wirginia Romanowska talking about those values on my Podcast (www.allanmckay.com/81). There are four key areas:

  • Hard skills
  • Soft skills
  • Team skills
  • Fundamentals

[16:55] Hard skills are more surface level things like knowing the software. That’s the area where most people invest a lot of time in, but that’s the area that makes you more replaceable because all you’re learning is how to push the buttons. It’s not going to make a better leader or a better artist. Do great work! If you want to put out the work faster, make sure the quality doesn’t suffer. Take pride in what you do but also keep to the schedule of the rest of the team! 

[18:03] Hugo mentions putting in the work when you’re young through mileage and repetition. Don’t be afraid to go back and repeat what you’re doing. Hugo talks about doing classes and repetition, pushing yourself. If you’re always doing the same work, you aren’t evolving. Each time, continue to evolve! Bob Iger talks about “Innovate or die!” That’s how Apple+ came to be. Bob Iger would have conversations with Steve Jobs about it early on about creating a streaming network. The more we innovate and push, the more it helps us grow. I’ve talked to many creative leaders. A lot of us would look at our younger selves and think something was impossible. But they pushed through and did it! Tomorrow, what’s the impossible thing you could do? There are so many things in my life I never thought I would do. I did achieve those things because I kept setting that bar high. I kept evolving. 

[20:15] Another thing that Hugo and I talked about was that skills count for nothing. We put so much focus into learning the hard skills. But that’s what makes you highly replaceable. A lot of the time, hard skills get you in the door. It’s just surface level skills. Soft skills on the other hand:

  • Do you take feedback well?
  • Do you give feedback well?
  • How do you handle notes?
  • When someone doesn’t like your notes, how do you handle that?

[20:56] The further along in your career you get, the more important soft skills become. You’re less likely to be replaceable. He talked about taking leadership courses and reading up on emotional intelligence. I was surprised that all the books that we discussed had nothing to do with art, necessarily. Yet all of them have made a huge impact on my career as well:

  • Good to Great by James C. Collins
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  • The Classics by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell
  • The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
  • Many Harvard reports on leadership, self-management and other areas.

[21:53] We talked a lot about Robert Greene’s book but how neither of us would model ourselves after some of the people in his case studies. Hugo talked about reading your way out of a problem — and I couldn’t agree more!

[22:41] As for team skills, it’s really simple: Are you personal goals consistent with the studio’s, the project’s, the director’s goals? A lot of the time, people are too focused on how to get ahead. Are you working well with the people in your department? I hope this makes sense. You need to align with the goals of the project. Stay in check and in communication.

[23:43] The fundamentals include: showing up on time and not being a dick. The best example Hugo could give was from the book The Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty. You can be the Michael Jordan with your skills but be an asshole as a person. Talent is just 50%. Some people can be talented but they’re super hard to work with. This impacts the team. Great teams make great games, without that you’ve got nothing. 



[24:36] Take pride in what you do — and do it to death. There is no pride in second best and half-assed results aren’t memorable. Show up physically but also with charisma, enthusiasm and everything you’ve got! 



[24:55] The last thing we talked about is not getting complacent at any given job. It’s easy to do well at a job and feel that you’re safe. Because of that, we get lazy which is the ultimate poison to our career. We start slowing down. Hugo talked about moving on once you’ve gotten the experience from one place. Sometimes, he’d throw himself back into the wild and it’d be a live-or-die situation. He’d force himself to get the next job. I talk about this in my Podcast: Making sure to keep in touch, to keep going out to business lunches and making sure people know we’re available. That way it becomes a constant flow. This is why it’s important to never get stale. If you get stale, you start getting fearful about the state of things out there. I had a friend email studios for me which forced me to follow through and get back out there. That led me to working on Blade in LA. It’s easy to stick to what we know and change is scary. By making sure that we’re constantly challenging ourselves, that’s how we always grow. That’s how we get better! 

[27:43] So make sure you’re always moving forward and how you can keep pushing yourself. Lean into those pains. Lean into those fears. Investing in those areas that may not seem very fun (like standup comedy) will equip you with the core knowledge. Ask people to evaluate you and critique your work. Most of us don’t go to our employer asking, “What am I doing right and what am I doing wrong?” Those of us that do align their needs with the company’s. I always say, “If I know what they want, I can always get what I want a lot easier.” 



[28:33] We’re all a work in progress. The more we’re leaning into the discomfort, this is where we’re able to evolve, get better results and opportunities. I get really annoyed when someone says, “That was the opportunity of a lifetime.” Those who are successful create new opportunities all the time. They throw themselves into situations with new opportunities. This is the charisma. This is the push that we want to have. So are you someone who has the hard skills, the soft skills, the team skills and the fundamentals? Can you get evolved and get ready for what’s to come?

[29:33] Please leave a simple yes in the comments if you find this video valuable. This way, I can continue giving more value back to you.


I hope you found this Podcast valuable. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this format: [email protected]. Please let me know and I can do more of these Episodes about previous guests.

Next week, I will be talking about blowing up your freelance prices and how to demand higher fees for your work. As I’ve mentioned, I also have a Branding Course out right now: www.Branding10X.com. Feel free to check it out!

Please take a few moments to share this Episode with others. This would be a great way to support this Podcast!

Until next week —

Rock on! 


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