From Bradford to Hollywood

In the world of video games, one Visual Effects Artist, Mohammed Ikram (known in the industry as Iki Ikram), tells his story of how he became an NPC to a full-blown main character of a 5-star game. 

When I was 10 years old, I vividly remember sitting in the middle of the front row at the Odeon 2 cinema in Bradford. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the cinema let alone the movie I was about to see. This was my first ever visit alone to the movies and it would make me fall in love with the magic of cinema forever and shape my future career. It was 1977 and the film I was there to see was Star Wars.

After seeing the movie, I went home with a very clear idea of what my goal would be. I wanted to recreate those images and emotions. So here I am sitting at my work desk in 2019 in sunny Santa Monica, California.

My career as a Visual Effects Artist spans as far back as when I was 14. This was the year that I bought my first basic home computer, the Dragon 32k. As soon as I got the computer, I started to play and make games.

When I turned 18, I went to Bradford College where I studied Graphic Design. It was my first introduction to an Apple computer and Photoshop. After a further stretch of higher education at Southampton Institute of Higher Education, I landed my first job in the games industry. It was only at a small company in an out of town place, but it was the perfect springboard to launch me into Psygnosis which, at the time, was one of the most recognised and respected game companies in the world. Psygnosis was acquired by Sony Computer Entertainment and I remained an artist there for over 13 years. In the time I was there I worked on a handful of games, some never saw the light of day, others were released to some success, but one or two met huge critical and financial success.

One of these success stories was when I was loaned out to Guerrilla Games in Amsterdam to work on a game called Killzone 2. The game drew a lot of attention and I started to get calls. I was approached by many companies but two of them really stood out. LucasArts and Naughty Dog. I flew into San Francisco to the LucasFilm campus. I was given a grand tour of all things Star Wars and all I could do was smile. 

Three months went by and I had heard nothing from LucasArts, but I was already on a plane to meet the people at Naughty Dog in Santa Monica. My interview at Naughty Dog was incredibly gruelling. I had to do a test before I was invited for an interview and when I got there, they tested me more. I really loved what they were doing, and I was very excited about their approach to developing games. They offered me the job at the end of the day, and I accepted it on the spot.

I returned on Monday from Santa Monica to London and that is when I received an email from LucasArts to say that they would like to make me an offer. The opportunity to work in the place I had always dreamed of since I was 10 years old was right at my fingertips. However, I turned the offer down as I felt like Naughty Dog was the place for me. This was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.

I worked at Naughty Dog for just under a decade. In that time, I had worked on two critically acclaimed games. I had also won, as part of a team, the Visual Effects Society’s award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project.  These games are regarded as the best games of all time in hundreds of publications and awards ceremonies.

Today I work at Beyond-FX, a small but rapidly growing company.  It is a Visual Effects studio that caters to Real-Time Visual Effects projects (video games, Installations and the movie industry).  Our clients are based all around the world and range from small Indie developers to large AAA studios making blockbuster games.

So, the boy from Manningham who dreamt big finally made it happen.  The truth is, I just kept striving and pushing wherever I was working.  Whether it was a pot-washer in a kitchen, sticking samples to magazines in a warehouse, selling suits in a department store or even a waiter/barman.  I loved all of them because I knew my goal and where I wanted to be.