While most artists strive for their work to be featured center stage, Ingrid Aguero ’07 ’08MS takes pride in her work blending into the background. As an environment director for the Electronic Arts (EA) SPORTS Madden NFL franchise, she oversees a team that creates immersive 3D assets that are authentic to the real world.
“Electronic Arts is renowned for making great sports games, so from the very first day I was hired, I immediately felt the prestige that comes with saying, ‘I work at EA,’ ” she says.
While pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a track in animation at UCF, Aguero toured the university’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA), which prepares master’s students for careers in the video game industry. The field and FIEA — which The Princeton Review ranks in the world’s top two graduate game design programs — were a perfect fit for Aguero to explore her interests in technology and the arts.
“The unique challenges involved in creating a video game alongside software engineers and designers really appealed to me, and I loved that FIEA would create this environment,” she says. “I knew I needed to specialize my 3D skills in this field, as I already had a strong art background, and it seemed FIEA would allow me to accomplish all of that.”
During her last semester at UCF, Aguero applied for a temporary full-time position with EA and landed the job after presenting her 3D portfolio work from FIEA. Fifteen years later, she’s now a leader at the interactive entertainment giant, which has had a partnership with UCF since 2005.
“When I started at EA, it really did feel like it was a smooth transition where I could add value and communicate well with my team,” she says. “I not only felt equipped with the skills and work ethic I developed at FIEA, but I was also confident I could tackle any challenges that came my way at work.”
Aguero shares more on her journey at EA SPORTS.
From Trash to Top Players
Aguero started as an associate environment artist at EA SPORTS in 2008 and still remembers her first assignment: creating a trash can for Tiger Woods PGA TOUR for the Wii console. A few years later she joined the NBA Live team, which provided her opportunities to travel to complete her work. Over the years, she’s also worked on EA SPORTS’ NCAA Football and FIFA (now FC).
“I got to scan NBA arenas using a 3D laser scanner and take photos of NBA players using a portable camera rig developed here,” she says. “[I] met stars such as Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook, to name a few. That was by far one of the coolest experiences I’ve had.”
With the recent release of Madden NFL 24 in August, Aguero says the game is her favorite project yet.
Through its development, which happened in less than a year, she oversaw a team responsible for creating elements that complete the gaming experience, including 32 stadiums, team branding, field art, props, exteriors and more.
“Along the way I’ve developed a genuine passion for the game of American football,” she says. “I understand the impact our visual updates have on players and how [they] resonate with them, and it makes me even more committed to seeing what we can do each year to deliver even better environments.”
In addition to the responsibilities on her team, Aguero played a role in influencing the work of other teams such as characters, lighting and visual effects. Together, they must keep up with technology to use new and cost-effective methods to make gamers feel like they’re actually on the field.
“We have access to a lot of cool pieces of technology that help with our authenticity goals, such as lidar (light detection and ranging) technology to capture exact measurement and surfacing data for our stadiums and props — and a spectro-photometer to capture the RGB (red, green and blue) values for the different colors of the stadiums,” she says.
The Cheat Code to Success
Gamers would likely tell you community is a big part of what makes video games so enjoyable to play. For Aguero, this is true from the development side, as teamwork is a critical aspect of creating video games.
“The video game industry thrives on teamwork and collaboration with colleagues of diverse backgrounds, personalities and perspectives, which leads to innovation,” she says. “By learning to communicate effectively and have mutual respect among team members, we can build stronger relationships and create a better game product.”
EA SPORTS has supported Aguero’s commitment to continuous learning as an artist through technical classes, workshops and conferences. She’s also grown as a leader thanks to EA’s mentoring program, through which she’s been both a mentee and mentor. As co-lead of EA Orlando SOMOS, a Hispanic/Latinx employee resource group, she helps foster a sense of community internally and leads initiatives that expose students to career opportunities in video games.
“I prioritize making time to engage with the community, aiming to serve as an example and source of inspiration for everyone, especially those in Latin/Hispanic communities and young girls,” she says. “I want to encourage them to realize that they can have a fulfilling career with growth prospects in this industry.”