Tara Saunders secured her first role with PlayStation London Studio after impressing the team at her graduate showcase. Now, following 20 years with the company, she is Studio Head responsible for co-leading the creative teams behind the brand’s most popular games.
Tara studied a Master’s in Computer Animation at BU in 2000, having developed a love of animation during her undergraduate degree. At the time Tara was unsure whether this passion would lead to a career in television, film or gaming and was lucky enough to get job offers from both PlayStation and the BBC on completing her studies. She said: “It was an exciting time to be studying computer animation, with studios such as Pixar experimenting with new treatments and techniques. I had been into computer games growing up, from playing on my granddad’s ZX Spectrum to enjoying too much Street Fighter and Tetris while at university. By the time I had completed my Master’s I wasn’t spending a lot of time playing games, but I was struck by the buzz of the creative and collaborative culture at PlayStation and knew that I wanted to be part of it.”
Tara started out as a Character Artist/Animator and followed the art route through to become Character/Animation Manager, Studio Art Director and then Studio Head – a role she shares with her colleague Stuart Whyte. Tara said: “As I have progressed in my career, I have become more and more interested in how you lead and manage teams and create a culture where people can innovate and work effectively together. That has become my area of focus, while Stuart leads on the production and technical aspects. We have worked hard to create a sense of identity within the studio which has carried us through during lockdown. It has certainly been challenging trying to harness a collaborative, creative environment while working remotely but we have found technology that has enabled us keep sharing ideas. In some ways it has enabled us to be more collaborative, as there is no limit on the amount of people you can fit in the room and digital platforms enable you to have multiple conversations which adds to the pace and energy.”
That pace has been important in the last year as the games industry has boomed with more people seeking entertainment at home. With recruitment ongoing, Tara advises graduates and others seeking to break into the industry to think about what they can offer and to tailor their approaches accordingly. She said: “Many of the skills from the broader creative industries can be refocused to computer gaming and we welcome that diversity. I often work with people who want to make the switch, to help them rework their portfolios and showcase what they can bring.”
Tara’s work to develop new talent has included volunteering with BAFTA and mentoring through both the BAFTA Breakthrough and Limit Break programmes. She has some specific advice for recent graduates. Tara says: “I always recommend that they hone their showreel back to show the very best of their work. I would always much rather see a few seconds of absolute brilliance than a few minutes of mediocre work. It’s also important to look outside gaming for inspiration. Even if computer games are your complete passion, try not to imitate what has gone before but look to other sectors to push your thinking. One of our key values in the studio is bravery and we want people to bring freshness and challenge.”