KCK graduate makes a name for himself in the video game business
by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — They might not have known him by name (at least until recently), but many high school students certainly know some of Harley Huggins II’s work.
Huggins, a 1983 graduate of Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas, has built an impressive resume that includes work on popular video games like “StarCraft” (1998), “Diablo II” (2000), and “World of Warcraft” (2004).
His professional titles have included cinematic director, art director, creative manager and executive.
Life has taken him to Orange County, California; Shanghai; and New England. But when he recently moved back to the Kansas City area, one of his first stops was his alma mater.
On March 25, Huggins spoke at Bishop Ward about his time as a student there and the path to his current career.
Huggins, who grew up in St. John the Evangelist Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, attended Our Lady of Unity School before graduating to Ward.
“As a kid, I was into all kinds of geeky things,” recalls Huggins. “I was into monsters and monster movies and movies in general.”
He also loved games, and was very artistic — drawing, and painting . . . what else? Monsters.
“I used to draw pictures of monsters and then have my mom hang them up when I was like 5,” said Huggins, “and then have her take them down at night because I was scared.”
But they didn’t stay down for long.
“The next day, [I’d] have her put them back up again,” he said with a laugh.
Huggins knew the monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein that grabbed his attention in movies weren’t real, but he was really curious as to how they were made.
He pored over “Frankenstein” and “King Kong” movie books he found at the library and became interested in stop motion animation.
But when in 1977, the first “Star Wars” movie came out, all his interests merged into one movie and its special effects.
Soon, he was creating his own effects in short animated movies.
His art teacher at Ward — Marty Brock, who died in 2009 — had a profound influence on Huggins and his future path.
“One of the things for me, when I met him, was that he didn’t judge me about any of the weird stuff I was into,” said Huggins. “What he always did was [find] a way to relate it back to something out of our history, or something out of other movies, or something out of literature, which sort of expanded how I thought about things.”
Under Brock’s tutelage, Huggins broadened his artistic approach.
“But the biggest thing about Mr. Brock was he loved to discuss and he loved to debate anything,” said Huggins. “And I probably spent half the time in class doing art and half the time talking to him about just life in general.”
“If you were going to take him on in anything,” continued Huggins, “you’d better have your facts straight or he was going to shut you down. I really learned [from that] to think critically, to apply logic to a thought process and to feel confident about backing that up.”
Huggins and Brock stayed good friends after the former graduated.
After Ward, Huggins attended Kansas City Kansas Community College, where he fed his passion for movies. He later transferred to the University of Kansas, where he earned his fine arts degree in design.
After graduation, Huggins continued to explore film and learn as much as he could.
While living in Chicago, he bought his first personal computer and started developing two-dimensional graphics.
That’s when he got a call from Kansas City Kansas Community College, asking if he was interested in becoming its media services coordinator.
Knowing he’d have access to all the college’s equipment, he accepted the position, made the move and tore into the opportunity to get his hands on the software that Hollywood had been using for modeling, animation, effects and texturing in the movies.
Soon, he met others with similar interests and started the 3D Studio Users Group.
That led to a share in an effects house in Kansas City, but when he got a call from an art director at Blizzard, the game company in Orange County, he found a crowd he fit in with and accepted the position.
It was at Blizzard that he started working on “StarCraft” and became a founding member of the cinematics department there. He worked on cinematics for a number of well-known games, and later joined with others from Blizzard to start Red5 Studios.
Now back in Kansas City, where his wife works as a physician at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Huggins tells young people he had to make his own path in life.
A lot of people along the way helped, but others said things like, “Special effects? Nobody really does that.”
He encouraged the Ward students to think beyond the diploma as they seek degrees.
Game companies will want to know what you did in college beyond what you were supposed to do, he said.
“So, if you want to get into the game industry, you can still do it, but you have to work really hard, you have to be committed, you have to have the drive to do it and not just do the assignments you’re given in class, but work on it in your free time.”
It’s about working with your friends and making games and coming up with things — and so many of the tools now are free, he said.
“The people who do that are the people who get the jobs,” said Huggins.