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These notes were inspired by the idea that it's difficult (near impossible?) to complete art for a game. The challenge is keeping the team inspired while working against deadlines, disagreements & lulls of creativity.
- Commit to a vision: If you have the luxury of time on your hands, create a style guide before other artists join the project. This forces you to actually think about what it is that you are doing and trying to accomplish, visually. Strive for consistency and clarity in style, shape, size, line, color, perspective and anatomy. Sell the team and yourself on the gestalt and the fiction of the game. Sounds daunting? Here’s a trick to take the pressure off; If you’re still trying to figure things out, schedule it in to your daily routine. Dedicate an hour at the end of each day for a week to reflect, curate, itemize and resolve your work. You will be left with the beginnings of an elegantly compiled style guide.
- Alignment in vision: Aim for each artist to have a clear understanding of what the game should look like. Distribute the style guide and have an open forum to discuss the visual direction that has been chosen and why. Hold art "town hall" meetings to get realtime feedback from the team about the overall look and feel of the project. Great ideas tend to be presented by team members when asked for feedback on artistic decisions that have already been made. Remember that alignment in vision is a living process. It involves many opinions and may never be fully realized. Aspire to give artists a visual and mental starting point rather than having them start with an intimidating blank canvas.
- Play to strengths: Amidst a hectic production schedule, where artists may feel less inspired, enabling them to do what they do best can significantly increase engagement. If an artist excels at sketching, then allow them to focus on that skill. If they show an interest in other artistic areas, such as painting, work out a tactical plan to exercise that skill. For example, dedicate 90% of their time towards what they do best, and allow 10% for skill development. Keep your team strong and flexible.
- Chunks, not bites: Rather than having artists complete daily isolated tasks, think of their contribution to the team in terms of chunks of work. Aim for significant outcomes from each artist. Let them know how their work fits in to the big picture and benefit's the project. Taking ownership of a large portion of work is empowering and acts as motivation through the daily grind.
- Keep things moving: More is lost through indecision than wrong decision. Aim for rapid iteration. Avoid getting caught up in the beauty of just one image. When it feels right, move on to what needs more attention.
- Celebrate the milestones: Show that deadlines matter. Successful delivery is something to celebrate. This could take the form of a presentation of all the work done by the team in a meeting or on a visual board. Let them take a step back, see how it all came together and appreciate it. A round of applause goes a long way.
- Work is for the game: Remind yourself and others that the work you are doing is for the game. It is dangerous to fall in love with an isolated idea only to have it be misaligned with the overall direction of the project. Check-in with the Design and Product teams frequently to make sure you’re staying on track.
- Play the game! Each artist should be playing the game that they are building. If it is too early on and a build is unavailable, the Art Lead/Director should understand enough about the game to describe it in detail to the team. The artists should know the context for which they are creating art. Inspire them with a written synopsis and reference images that capture the spirit of the project. Daily interactions with the Game Design & Product team also provides a healthy dose of inspiration. Immerse your team in the theme of the project. Artwork should not be done in a vacuum.
Obviously not every single point will apply to all teams and all artists, nor is this list entirely comprehensive. The important thing is to create a roadmap like this one for yourself, with what's best for you and your team. If you're planning ahead and doing what you set out to, you'll be just fine.
- Ricky Baba
Art Director, Kiwi, Inc.