Game Artists: The Three Cardinal Rules
March 12, 2009 Page 1 of 5
[What guidelines do video game artists need to follow to succeed? Volition manager Self-Ballard draws from his experience to suggest three key traits of the best game art creators.]
Last year, I was contacted by a professor from my alma mater, Purdue University. This professor asked me for "five tips for artists" that could be shared with the student body. Purdue has a Computer Graphics Technology department, and I serve on the Industrial Advisory Board.
I and many other alumni have entered the gaming industry since graduating from the department. Thus, the faculty shows a great deal of interest in what its students should know.
This is a topic that has interested me for many years now. Over a decade ago, I started in this industry with admittedly very little understanding of the expectations in place for professional artists in our industry.
As I learned new tools and techniques, I also developed an understanding of how to collaborate with peers and leads, resolve issues during production and work with a wide variety of truly unique individuals.
At the same time, I also made mistakes in conducting myself professionally. We all make mistakes. Thankfully, mine were not so egregious that it resulted in my termination. I would argue that most mistakes that people make when they're new to this industry are more like your common workplace pitfalls.
In the intervening years, I've continued to be vigilant for these behaviors, both in myself and in others. And I have continued to observe them and their impact.
The impetus behind all of this analysis revolved around a personal career change. Roughly two years ago, I moved from my position as a veteran production artist to a studio management position at my current employer.
This prompted a change in my priorities, and I found myself in a position where I would be addressing issues of staffing, hiring and personnel performance as they related to artists. As such, I desperately wanted to identify common expectations for professional artists.
To those ends, I began doing research into established expectations that our industry holds for artists who work in this field. I ultimately wanted something concrete that I could share with artists and use as a coaching tool for employees who are coming straight from educational institutions or other industries and have no clear understanding of expectations.
To my surprise, I found very little on this topic. Most of the articles I did read were either too broad or too focused on the details.
In the absence of a substantial amount of written research on the topic, I had to turn to alternative means for establishing these professional practices. Beyond just my personal experiences and observations, I solicited input from professional colleagues.
I spoke with art directors and producers from other studios. I spoke with faculty from different educational institutes. Finally, I discussed these topics with senior artists from outside the gaming industry, all in an effort to identify consistency in these practices or lack thereof.
Returning to that professor's original request, I sent him the following off the top of my head:
- Don't wrap up your ego in your artwork. People are going to criticize the work you do. Learn from those people.
- Engage your peers and learn from them. Every artist knows something you don't. A tool, a tip, or a technique. You only have a limited amount of time to learn these things from them (before you graduate, one of you changes jobs, etc.) The best way to learn these things from others is by sharing what you know. Don't hoard.
- You can only grow so much through school and work. The best artists hone their skills outside of school and outside of work. They keep creating even when they're not "on the clock."
- You will not enjoy every task/assignment you are given. Some you will like. Some you will hate. As a professional artist, you will be gauged on your ability to execute both types with the same quality, efficiency and dedication. Half-assed work, regardless of preference, is still half-assed.
- Learn to communicate with others proactively. If someone tells you what they want, and they walk away without you having enough information, it's not the other person's fault. If there is information you need, it is your responsibility to obtain it. If you start working with incomplete or inaccurate information, you're probably going to end up doing the job twice. Ask the questions you need to ask. The flipside of that argument is true as well. If you foresee a problem or think that a peer or manager doesn't have enough information, then it's your responsibility to voice your concerns.
Candidly, my original list in preparation for this article enumerated over 30 professional practices. These were condensed through my discussions with others.
While this article does not cover all of my thoughts and research on the topic, my goal was to highlight three of the most consistent, high-priority practices that were validated by others. It is my sincere hope that this can be used as a guide for new and aspiring artists, and also provides food for thought for the veteran artists as well.
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