Caris Baker is an extraordinary artist who grew up in a small town with a passion for art and wanting to make the world a better place. Her journey to becoming a Tech Artist in Orlando was forged through a path of incredible self discovery as she faced life and its challenges with curiosity, kindness, determination and grit.
Caris spent most of her childhood in Mechanicsville, Virgina, where her dad was a pastor and church planter. As a kid, she was always driven by her artistic side and the curiosity of how things worked. She would take things apart to see what was inside of them and she would grab her sketchbook just to draw what was on her mind.
The pressures of being the daughter of a Pastor were not lost on Caris. She took her role as a missionary kid very seriously, as she felt she needed to be a good representation for her family. She always made sure she was speaking correctly, not using bad language or speaking ill of people.
She worked with her mom often serving the homeless, packing up boxes of basic necessities and handing them out. To this day, her mom still keeps boxes in her car to give away.
With so much passion and big feelings inside, Caris found journaling to be a perfect outlet to express herself and her desire to help the world. Before being inducted in 2023 into the Full Sail Hall of Fame, Caris kept remembering a journal entry she made when she was just 7 years old:
“Dear Journal, have you ever wondered when you look out the car window watching all those people go by what their problems are and if you knew their problems, don't you wish you could help?”
Caris’ connection to art ran in her family. Her Grandpa (from her mom’s side) would tell her that if he could have sent her Grandmother to art school back in the day he would have done it. Her uncle was also a gifted artist and observed him always working on his skill.
Her connection to tech and video games came from her Dad as well as her Grandpa (dad’s side) who was a toy collector who purchased the Nintendo Entertainment System that Caris loved to play.
At 5 years old Caris learned to play “Descent” on Microsoft DOS and created her very first Gamertag (Jazibeth - a combination of her cat's name and middle name). She also discovered the screensaver to CorelDraw.
“The screensaver was a timelapse of people doing beautiful artwork. I would just sit there and watch it over and over studying what I was seeing. I remember asking my dad to put on the screensaver before he went to work just so I could sit and watch it.”
When it came to video games, Caris loved the challenge of working through all the levels to beat them. Outside of game play she also loved the stories of the characters and developed her own expectations of how the stories would end. If they didn’t end the way she expected, she would pick up her sketchbook and draw what she wanted the ending to be.
Caris enjoyed drawing things she was consuming. Back in the 90’s, she would pause Disney movies, like the Lion King, and trace over Simba’s face. She wanted to figure out how to make something so beautiful and expressive.
By 8 years old, Caris was drawing 16 bit Disney Princesses over and over again in MicroSoft Paint. She eventually found her way to Adobe PhotoDeluxe, and by 8th grade, her brother used his hard earned money to buy her a Wacom drawing tablet (along with a pirated copy of Photoshop)
Back in the 90’s Caris started to hear a common theme: “You’ll never make any money doing art.” This impacted Caris’ decision to choose different class electives in school, but didn’t stop her from continuing to pursue art on her own.
While waiting for her mom, who worked as a substitute teacher, Caris would always make her way to the library where she spent hours upon hours. From elementary to middle school, Caris is positive she consumed or read every artbook that was available on the shelves. Her love for reading accelerated and she found joy in learning as much as she could through books.
In her senior year Caris had changed schools and found herself with too many credits and had the option to graduate early. Rather than graduating, she chose to stay and join the Choir team.
While showing her artwork to a friend in choir class, the teacher came up behind them and told her how nice her work was and asked, “Wow, do you want to be an animator when you grow up?”
Caris responded with, “I don’t really know what I want to do…”
Caris’ teacher was shocked and responded, “You can draw like that and you don’t know what you want to do?!” as he scoffed and walked away.
That was when the light bulb went off in Caris’ mind and she realized she might actually have a chance; that she had studied enough and that she could actually take it somewhere.
While watching the behind the scenes of Toy Story, she was introduced to Computer Animation. She didn’t really understand what went into it but she loved creating things that she could see all the way around. As they showed clay sculpted maquettes of the characters, Caris immediately felt she’d be really good at that and started to look into schools that offered it.
After finding Full Sail University she shared the news with her parents. The cost to attend was out of her parents reach but Caris’ Grandpa (the toy collector) co-signed the loan for her to attend Full Sail and she made the move in 2009.
Her move to Full Sail was met with a number of challenges. From an extremely traumatic personal experience, to educational challenges that required a mental tenacity to persevere, Caris dug deep and found what and who she needed to be to overcome the challenges with kindness, determination and grit.
One of those challenges came with the discovery of Unity.
When Caris was introduced to Unity she recognized the vast difference in the image and movie rendering processes, and was intrigued by Unity's real-time aspect of games.
After signing up for classes on Python and Mel Scripting she was hit with the difficulty in understanding it. She quickly sought out help from fellow classmates but even with help she continued to receive poor grades. This defeat didn’t stop her and with absolute determination (and having to repeat the class a few times) Caris figured it out. Once she did, she was hooked.
“I remember thinking and asking myself, “I’m either gonna figure this out or I’m not. Am I going to quit? No.”
Caris graduated in 2013 with a degree in Game Art and a desire to do something purposeful. After a few job opportunities, including an internship at Full Sail, she found herself with an opportunity to work as a Unity Tech Artist for Walter P Moore, a Structural Engineering Firm in Orlando.
The job at Walter P Moore spoke to her desire to do something with purpose. She didn’t want to make things just to entertain people, she wanted to do something that made the world a better place.
For 4 years Caris pushed the boundaries with technology, developing a reputation in the industry for her work. That reputation along with her volunteer service at Full Sail, led to her being recommended to Unity when they approached her alma mater looking for a Tech Artist. Being pursued to work for Unity completely surprised Caris, and with some encouragement from her husband CJ, she decided to go for it. Now working at Unity in GovTech, Caris is working on space projects, safety simulations, search and rescue, improving recycling practices, and more.
“Unity is made for people like me. People who just want to figure it out. People who want to make things they believe in. People whose philosophy is the democratization of development and the world is a better place with more creators in it. They want to enable people to create the things that they see in their mind and deploy it to millions across the world. What’s more powerful than that?”
Caris believes we have something incredibly special here. She sees so many amazing projects coming out of the indie game community and the development community and feels you can throw a rock and find somebody who's working on something cool.
Caris feels that the people here have a global mindset. They want to pursue excellence in order to help others and that they’re not content with the status quo. They see big problems and they want to solve them.
“I have a lot of doers around me. I tell the students I talk with to beware of the talkers and seek the doers. Someone can tell you a lot about what they're going to do, but until you see them do it, don't believe them.”
Defining the Orlando Life