Working Culture and Recruiting Process at Bad Rhino Studios

Bad Rhino Studios' CEO Ryan Manning has told us about the work organization at the company, discussed how Bad Rhino helps beginners, and shared some useful tips for those who would like to work at the studio.

Bad Rhino Studios

My name is Ryan Manning. I currently own and run Bad Rhino Studios, an Independent Unreal Engine studio based out of Kansas City, KS. I’m also an Authorized Epic Partner Instructor, MegaGrant Recipient, and YouTube educator. Much of what I do revolves around Unreal Engine and Unreal Engine-based projects. While my primary degrees are from Full Sail University, all my life I’ve been constantly learning, adapting, and growing to the ever-evolving and changing landscape of real-time technology.

Bad Rhino Studios is a team of Artists, Engineers, and Designers from various ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds across the world. We have an amazing group of talented folks from all walks of life, professional backgrounds, and skill sets primarily specializing in Unreal Engine. Without a doubt, the thing that makes our studio great is our team.

How I launched the studio…or more specifically why I launched the studio has a long history dating back to 2006, but that’s a story for another time. The core reason Bad Rhino was founded was to be the change I wanted to see in the industry, leading by example. More specifically, I wanted to build a studio that was founded on trust, collaboration, and mutual respect and attracted a multidisciplinary team of folks that could do an incredible job at solving problems, and create amazing stories and beautiful worlds.

Work Organization

Much of the way we organize any of our projects is through a "leads scoped, team-based" approach. That is, we typically start out every project with a smaller group of key folks; more specifically those with the knowledge and expertise best suited for the project, and eventually phase in the rest of the team as we solidify more of the project’s specifics.

Since our team is built on mutual respect, trust, and collaboration, between our team’s various skill sets and expertises we never exclude anyone from the ongoing planning, development, and organization of the project. We’re not a studio that just hands out tasks and tells folks what to do. We’ve found that when the whole team understands the goals and objectives, it’s a lot easier to stay on track and make sure the important stuff stays important. That goes without saying, we frequently reassess our targets, workloads, and ability to hit milestones. Aka "plan, assess, and adjust regularly", but at the core, it’s all about trusting our team to hit the target.

When it comes to communication, something we’ve found critical to our success on projects is making sure each of our respective teams has an environment to grow in, thrive in, and have walls of trust and collaboration. We break our teams into silos pretty typical of the industry. For example, we have separate teams for Art, Animation, Audio, Characters, Concepts, Design, Environment, Engineering, and QA. While on the surface they may appear isolated from each other, underneath they’re all very interconnected.

Our folks have recognized how valuable it is to have collaboration and ongoing input from other teams/disciplines. For example, our Environment World Building team regularly talks with our 3D Artists to inform them of how they intend on using props and assets within the spaces they are designing as well as asking how they considered their assets could be used within the world. They also regularly talk with our Design folks to make sure the spaces they build fit with the overarching designs set forth by the project. It’s important to note that while our team is very interconnected, we place a lot of importance on each team owning their specific part of the production process.

While it’s great to have input and collaboration between all our respective teams, at the end of the day it's up to each of our teams to make sure they’re hitting project objectives as well as anything we’ve established internally. 

As for how we communicate on a regular basis, our team has been working distributed since day one of the studio's existence and thus we’ve constantly been evolving our communication and communication platforms to best suit the needs of the team. Something I recognized long before the COVID pandemic forced everyone into working remotely, was the growing notion of hiring (and keeping) the best talent in the industry and supporting their passions, lifestyles, ambitions, and families. While there isn’t a day that goes by where many of our folks wish we could be in the same physical space again, there’s only so much benefit to centralizing everyone in a single location. Thus, we’ve made sure that our team still feels like a team, even if there is a physical separation between many of us. 

But on that note, we’ve found there are several key things that help our studio to be successful when working distributed. We place heavy importance on regular syncs (short, but daily syncs work great), minimizing any barriers to collaboration, aka "jumping on a quick video call with screen sharing" (I’ll reserve my opinions on which platforms work best, but it’s worth noting we heavily use Discord for much of our internal communications), setting and sticking to regular/personal work hours so we know when we can generally rely on someone to be around, and making sure no one is isolating themselves from the rest of the team. Our team has become very comfortable in determining when it’s best to keep conversations asynchronous (aka "Slack or DM’s") and when it’s faster/easier to jump on a quick video call. 

Hiring New Specialists

Since our team works on projects that heavily rely on collaboration and the ability to deliver on time and on quality targets, we make it a point during our interview process to not only address the hard skills needed for our team but also make sure any new hires understand the importance and impact they’ll bring to the team.

Since we’re not a large studio, we want folks to understand their impact on projects and the team both the positive and negative. Fundamentally, we look for folks that know the areas of production they’re strongest in, but also have an acute awareness of areas where their skills are lacking. We never look down on someone who lacks skills in production, but it’s important that all our interview candidates are honest and candid about their skills and can clearly demonstrate the ones they’re most comfortable with and want to grow in. 

It’s also worth mentioning that there are various opinions on whether it’s better to be more of a generalist versus a specialized when applying to work at our studio. My opinion has always been, to know what you’re best at and let the other skills be supplemental. Rarely do we ever hire generalists, however, if you are (for example) an Animator who also has skills in Environment Lighting, our studio absolutely loves and encourages these types of candidates to apply.

I’ll pick on myself for this next example since I made this mistake early on in my career, but I don’t recommend A) applying for every position you have some degree of skill in (pick the one that’s your strongest), and B) make sure your portfolio/experience reflects the position you’re applying for; we want to see your skills & abilities demonstrated in some fashion. Just because you can do Animation and Photography and Web Design and have regular D&D sessions and Stream on Twitch doesn’t mean you should include all of it in your portfolio. Build an identity with your portfolio that best showcases the skills necessary for the position you’re applying for. (You can always use other websites and social media for these).

When it comes to soft skills, we love and embrace the uniqueness, quarks, and characteristics of all the folks who work at our studio. However, I can’t overemphasize enough that our team is composed of working professionals from all walks of life and backgrounds. Having and building your soft skills is equally as important as your hard skills. It really boils down to the fundamental principle that your team relies on you in the areas you’ve committed to supporting.

Soft skills are a huge part of ensuring you not only deliver on projects but that you are keenly aware of your impact on the working relationship with your team and strive to keep it healthy. While what we do is very technical in nature, soft skills are the key to maintaining a positive and healthy working environment. We look for individuals who can be trusted, can self-manage their time, understand the importance of being proactive, that problems will inevitably arise in production but can work together to build a solution, are reliable, and will complete the work they commit to.

Working with Beginners

Over the years of working at a predominantly remote-based studio, we’ve discovered a lot of things (good and bad) when it comes to feeling integrated with the team even if we don’t share the same physical office. When a new hire joins the studio, one of the things I always do is set up a one-on-one with them and our management team to discuss who and what we are at Bad Rhino Studios.

During this meeting, I always reinforce the core pillars of Bad Rhino Studios and how trust, respect, professionalism, and accountability are paramount to our identity. Folks need to know that we do things differently at Bad Rhino. We do everything we can to not only build and reinforce trust for our team but are constantly checking every nook and cranny of our studio to make sure things won’t rot us from the inside.

Everyone at our studio knows we have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment, bullying, discrimination, or just about anything that would deteriorate or harm a relationship. Our team and I make sure that that message is broadcasted often and regularly reinforced through our words and actions.

One of the other critical keys to helping new folks get integrated into our team is on day one setting up a meeting with their lead (or direct report) so they have the name and face of someone who will help guide them in the first few months of their involvement with the team.

Generally speaking, after all the official paperwork has been completed, we try to get folks integrated as quickly as possible so they can start working & collaborating. Additionally, with our regular communication channels and daily syncs, we make sure new folks understand where to ask questions, who on the team they should direct those questions to, and, in general, how to stay in sync with production. 

Managing Burnout

One of the phrases repeated a lot around our studio is "work hard, to play hard…to get back to working hard, so you can play hard again." Oftentimes I see folks get hung up on the week-to-week. Aka "this was a hard week….welp this must be my life now!" and forget to pull back and see the bigger picture. I encourage folks to look at life more like chapters instead of paragraphs. Yes, some chapters of our lives will be more stressful than others, but, over the course of several chapters, what does your life look like? 

I’ve been involved in many projects over the years on both sides of production: working projects and managing projects. I’m a firm believer that burnout is 95% of the time a direct reflection of management…or mismanagement. If burnout is common on a team, generally speaking, it often relates back to management’s handling of project goals and expectations.

I know that’s a bold statement, but I can back that up with the fact that our team heavily avoids (and does a pretty good job at) reducing and mitigating burnout. Don’t get me wrong, burnout is inevitable in highly creative fields like game development, but that’s not an excuse to let it be the norm. Anyone who’s been involved in a creative endeavor knows "things" happen; ideas blossom late in a milestone/deadline, systems fail, you just can’t get "such-and-such" to work, you squash one bug and 30 more appear, you had this amazing epiphany and have to get it into the project, etc. However, we take a very firm stance on if/when it happens what to do.

Going back to the "life is about chapters" analogy, if we have a period of crunch (or heightened stress), we immediately start planning for opportunities for decompression (aka "lower stress"). There have been a handful of times following periods of intense crunch that I’ve literally told folks on our team that they cannot be working today/this week. I want them to catch up on personal agendas, spend time with family, take a walk, play games, daydream, etc; something other than more work! Creativity has an essential relationship between pressure and relaxation. To function properly, both are necessary. 

When it comes to the mental and physical well-being of our team, I’m a huge advocate and supporter of healthy lifestyle choices and work/personal habits. If there’s one thing the global COVID pandemic showed everyone firsthand, is that working from home (especially if you deal in software development or anything computer software related) it’s all too easy to sit around for 8, 9, or 10+ hours on your PC and neglecting your physical and mental well-being.

We’re all human beings and one of our core needs is connection (yes, even the reclusive ones reading this article…you need/want connection too). Nothing can ever replace the in-person, face-to-face connections, but we’ve found a few things that help get us close to replicating them. Specifically, video conferences so we can see each other, daily sync-ups, weekly one-on-ones, and the occasional all-hands mostly meeting to recognize our accomplishments and our peers help draw us back together as a team. At the core, we want everyone to know they aren’t isolated and are just as much a part of the larger team, even if they aren’t sitting side-by-side with their peers. 

Creative Freedom

Our studio is built on trust and collaboration. We embrace the notion that anyone can foster a great idea and what benefits one of us, benefits us all. I love the quote from Georg Christoph Lichtenberg: "Everyone is a genius at least once a year. The real geniuses simply have their bright ideas closer together."

At our studio, we regularly encourage and foster ideas; be they for changes to processes, pipelines, operations, new projects, special events, or anything for that matter! While some ideas aren’t worth pursuing, we’re adamant about keeping the ideas channel open at all times. If anyone has a suggestion or feedback (be it positive or negative), we always take it into consideration. In fact, many of the things we now do on a regular basis came from the ideas that were generated from within. 


I have a huge passion for education and for personal growth. As Head of Studio, I recognize it’s one of my core responsibilities to provide an ever-expanding environment of growth and opportunity for my team. A part of our quarterly review sessions (or when the conversation arises) is asking if folks feel like they’re growing both in skills and career goals. Usually, based on the response, we’re formulating a game plan for the next few months to make sure they have every opportunity to grow and deepen their skills and knowledge.

Granted, it’s up to them whether they pursue the opportunities, but we make sure those opportunities are there and are clearly defined. While there are limitations on what we can/can’t do as an Independent Developer, I’m always looking for ways to grow and deepen our team’s skills and knowledge.

Additionally, it’s not uncommon that we transition folks away from what they were originally hired for into a new career path. For example, just recently we had a Jr. Designer who realized their strengths and passions were better suited to Engineering but hadn’t been too exposed to Engineering-related work. Thus, I proposed our Design and Engineering leads formulate a transition plan so this particular individual could trail run Engineering (when it wasn’t a huge impact on production).

Both team leads collaborated to establish a plan and within a few weeks/month started the transition process. During this trial period, the Jr. Designer was given opportunities to win/fail, test their skills, and push their boundaries; all within the confines of mentorship and safety. We wanted them to feel it was ok to push themselves and fail! In the end, it turned out to be a great fit. On that day we lost a Designer and gained a new Engineer!

Team Dynamics During the COVID-19 Situation

Because our Studio has been operating remotely since the beginning, continuing to work from home which was already a part of our regular operations and didn’t impact us much, if anything. However, given the fact that humans are by nature relationship beings, it became very apparent that during the pandemic our primary objective was keeping each other connected (even outside of work) and sane…

So we didn’t feel even more isolated than we already were. We regularly tried to find opportunities and platforms that would help deepen our connections as a team. Now, on the flip side, for many studios/companies that have never done the work-from-home gig; it can be an earth-shaking experience. Immediately shifting from in-person collaboration to watching your peers from a webcam can be a huge demotivator to creativity, collaboration, and general well-being. 

Now, while it’s not impossible to be effective in working remotely, there are some common struggles everyone faces (Bad Rhino included). For example, you might experience at some point: overworking, anxiety, occasional inability to shut your work brain off, loneliness, depression, relationship disconnect, burnout, isolation, and dwindling creativity.

That’s why our leadership encourages everyone to set boundaries, routines, and triggers, and to protect personal space when working from home. There are some positives that come with working from home: you can live where you want to, support your family/friends, work in your pajamas, travel the world, etc. While some of this may be a bit exaggerated, the truth is, working from home does have some nice benefits.


I’ve worked in different types of settings and collaborative (or lack-thereof) environments and throughout the pandemic routinely asked my peers their thoughts on work-from-home. While work-from-home provides some great benefits, when it comes to creative industries; the general consensus is… it sucks (at least most of the time)!

At Bad Rhino, we’ve tried everything under the sun to replicate the creativity and collaboration you get when being physically in the same room as your peers, but the truth is, you just can’t! And I don’t think any piece of software, hardware, or metaverse is going to replace in-person, face-to-face collaboration. Now, I personally believe there are some industries that can support 100% remote, work-from-home, but creative industries aren’t one of those!

Advice for Beginners

As an artist myself, this question is near and dear to my heart! There are a few things I highly suggest for artists working at our studio.

  • It’s great to learn new tools, processes, and software… but don’t lose sight of practicing and perfecting your craft.
  • Art (in a production setting) is highly collaborative. Embrace the fact that others may/will contribute to your work. Take ownership of your contributions, but accept the fact that a team is there to help you build great things.
  • I do not recommend putting work-in-progress images in your portfolio. The message being sent is "you can’t complete things". WIPs are better placed on public forums that are geared towards community feedback. We want to see you know how to start and complete a piece.
  • Focus on smaller, manageable portfolio pieces. I absolutely love dioramas! They’re self-encapsulated stories on a small, attainable scale.
  • Story, story, story!!! I can’t press this point enough. Everything has a story; where did this come from, how was it used, what’s its purpose, was it repaired, was it damaged, who owns this, what world does it live in? Taking a few extra mins to think about the backstory will greatly enhance the depth and realism of your art.
  • Passion and ambition are excellent traits to have, but don’t neglect starting and finishing pieces.
  • It’s ok to experiment and play with new ideas, but make sure you know what you’re best at and can demonstrate it. 

Ryan Manning, CEO of Bad Rhino Studios

Interview conducted by Arti Burton

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