Explore multiple art styles from different cultures. Study old masters, new artists, and everything in between. Do not lock yourself in a specific aspect of art. It will limit your range of experiments and, thus, potential. If you're not fiexible and able to work in multiple styles, you're not preparing yourself adequately. The game industry is still in infancy. Many of the current products out there conform to a "realistic" art style. With the growth of casual gaming and multiplication of platforms available to consumers, developers will have to diversify their approaches from each other and strive for more originality in order to be noticed. I acclaim titles like Journey, Team Fortress 2, Castle Crashers, and Limbo for their mind-blowing visuals. Finally, something fresh to look at.
Realism is a touchy subject in video games. Many people believe that customers demand realistic graphics. I think gamers want authenticity; they want to be immersed and moved by the fiction that is being presented. Realism is actually easy to achieve, easy to communicate, and understood by all. This is probably why it is the first choice for developers. The tools are built for it; production is likely to be more predictable. It's less challenging in many ways.
In The Art Spirit, Robert Henri said, "When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressive creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and opens ways for better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it and shows there are still more pages possible."
If your work is based on marketing studies of what the public seeks, you are keeping this book closed. They can't tell you what they want; we artists have to find new ways. It's part of our challenge. Stylization has a big advantage. The more you lean toward a specific style/abstraction, the higher the art challenge gets, but the better you can tell your stories and enhance the gameplay experience.
There is a tendency to dissociate gameplay and art. Too often the story is shoved down/rushed/overlooked, and is used as a tool just to create pretext for gameplay sequences. You may also hear from people that you can apply any art style over any gameplay. It's an incredible loss; a game is not solely about the gameplay. It's about a whole experience.
Art, story, and game design should come up together, amplifying each other and carrying a unified statement. The depth of the game experience depends on it. Can you imagine Shadow of the Colossus in a different art style? It's surely possible, but the three components (art, story, design) are so nicely welded together that it makes it hard to disassociate them.
Another reason why it's good to study multiple styles is to feed on them and enrich your personal style. There are endless ways of shaping or shading things. You can take influence from various sources; mixing them will result in something original in your own work. Art has a long, rich history, and it would be a mistake to ignore the solutions our predecessors have found. Why reinvent the whole wheel when you can take off where others have left? My painting skills quickly ramped up when I started scrutinizing Walt Disney movies. It helped me to understand how design was affecting my work and allowed me more freedom when painting outdoor scenes.
When you cultivate beauty -- when you seek it -- it will soon echo back in your life through other channels and media. Many famous painters didn't solely study painting; many of them used to sculpt, play music, branh into culinary art, poetry, or became unquenchable travelers. Be curious, explore, and experiment. Inspiration comes from everywhere, in many forms. The sum of your experiences will enrich the view and statements you have on life, the world, the whole universe and everything beyond. It will give you breadth -- a heavenly, sexy attribute.
Throughout the years, my biggest enemy has been myself and my expectations. You can't possibly work freely if you are constantly watching over your own shoulder -- the same way I can't work if someone stands behind me, watching every step. You need to create room around you -- room for errors, and room for experimentation, free of critics.
Often you'll find yourself disappointed with your output, the result being not quite what you had in mind. It's perfectly normal; I see it as a motor for personal growth. As you gain skill, you get pickier and pickier. There will always be a gap between your current output versus the thing you envision. This is where many people give up on art, unsatisfied and now convinced that it is not for them.
A piece of artwork is quite never finished; you will always find things to add or "fix". This is where collaboration can give you an incredible boost. Rely on your peers' eyes, and help them help you to clearly see what you are trying to achieve. You can choose to work in the dark, and never show your work, or you can stand out in the crowd and learn from how other people respond to your work.
We don't make art for ourselves. Art is communication, but for communication to happen, you need a receiving end. That receiving end is a great teacher. Your reaction to criticism and feedback, your attitude toward other artists who may hold a piece of advice you critically need, and what you accept will define you as a much as what you reject. Just like that split second of silence in a piece of music, it can enhance a whole composition... or not.
I want to warn the prospective students about the myriad of 3D schools out there. School is time consuming and really expensive. They run like businesses; that is what they are. The students are customers, and each one of them brings in a hefty sum. It's in the schools' interest to recruit as many students as possible.
They're not necessarily concerned with your professional success once you step out. They will teach you the technical side of 3D, the software package, the semantics, the process and workflow, team collaboration. But a big majority of them won't teach you art. The reason being that teaching tech is easy; teaching art is another thing.
Some more conscious schools will require a portfolio prior to your enrollment. These schools want to make sure you possess enough art background to succeed later, once you learn the technical side of things. Some other school will teach you both art and tech, usually with a longer curriculum. I favor these, if you don't have an art background.
About hiring, I've recruited a good number of artists, and there is one rule that never failed me so far. It's not about your experience; it's not about your education. What will get you a job is a mix of your personality and the promise of your portfolio. We like people who can work in a team, collaboratively. That's nothing new. We also like people who know more about art than the average person. We don't want peons. We want artists with opinions, vision, and the confidence to speak up. If a candidate shows great interpersonal skill and possesses a strong artistic value, I wouldn't mind hiring him even if his technical skills are not up there. For I know teaching tech is easy, but teaching art is another thing.
I will probably sound cliché once more, but I firmly believe that artists are made, not born. I don't believe in the innate gift of artistry. Many artists will tell you -- calling something you've sweated so much for a "gift" is demeaning. What we call "talent" is the inevitable byproduct of passion and hard work perceived in an individual.
Ultimately, what will make a difference in the long run is your own eagerness to grow. Don't ever settle for what you believe is your maximum. Many people will disagree with me on this topic, based on their personal experience at drawing. They probably failed a few times and now they are forcefully convinced that they are unable to hold a pen and draw, sabotaging every effort with the belief that they didn't get the magical dust of talent at birth. As the saying goes, every great draftsman had at least 10,000 bad drawings in them. Each of these bad drawings will grant you a piece of knowledge. Passion and hard work will get you where you want to be -- not magical dust.
The social success of an artist doesn't rely only on his draftsmanship abilities -- in many cases, not at all. There are hundreds, if not thousands or parameters -- probably the two most important being the social climate of your epoch and the message you are delivering. So no, you can't be DaVinci, but you are yourself, and you possess the absolute freedom to improve that self -- in a way that your peers, clients and the old masters could look at your work and see value in it.
Going back to those African words of wisdom, it's never too late to work on something that can feed you in the long run. All failed artists have one thing in common: They all have quit too early. So just hang on, don't ever give up, keep learning, keep pushing, keep growing. The ensuing will be a byproduct of your determination.
I would recommend these blogs to anyone willing to crank up their game. These people unknowingly helped me on that journey. They left valuable clues behind them in their ascent.