“What advice would you give someone who wants to be a videogame artist?”
I get asked that question, and ones like it, very frequently. As a public service, I present to you an FAQ of sorts:
1. What is an average day of work like for you?
I get up at 5:30, help get the kids off to school. I get to work between 9 and 10AM. For the rest of the day, I work on art, animation or user interface assets for games. Sometimes I manage people. I come home anywhere from 6 to 10PM (later if we’re on a deadline). I try to be a decent father and husband, help with dishes, homework, walking the dog, home maintenance, exercise. And then, 10 or 11PM, I start working on my comics until midnight to 1AM or so. And then, do it all again the next day.
2. How did you get your start in the industry?
I was going broke as an illustrator. I answered an ad in the paper for a multimedia company that needed an artist with some computer skills – which I had- and built my skills and entire career from there over the course of 30 years.
3. What do you feel is the most important skill in your position?
The ability to learn new skills. No question.
4. How do you stay up to date on changes in the industry?
I play some games, but not enough as time is at a premium. Occasionally I watch Twitch, I watch my sons play games, I read industry magazines and websites, I talk to people, and I sometimes go to conferences. Mostly I work. At some point, the changes in the industry are the things you yourself do.
5. What are some challenges that you face while working?
Sometimes I have an idea for something artistically cool, but it won’t work in terms of gameplay. So, getting those two occasionally competing ideas to work well together is a challenge.
6. Do you do work in your free time?
Only if you count stuff that spills over from my day’s work (“overtime” or “crunch”), and my various personal projects.
7. What is the best way to approach industry professionals?
With respect, and a full understanding that we’re busy, underslept, tired, worn out and generally busy and tired. And also busy. 🙂 I dunno. Some guys will talk to you and some won’t. Some do, and then they get inundated with requests, and then they don’t do it anymore. The challenge is to find the nice ones or the young ones. Or both.
8. How important is communication?
I think communication is the most important… uh…thingy… you know, really, uh… I think you know what I’m trying to say.
9. If you had to give advice on getting into the industry, what would it be and why?
No one is going to hire you without experience and a killer portfolio. Sounds unfair, right? Meh. Crying about that is a waste of time because it’s always been that way and it’s not going to change. Think about it – would you pay someone else multiple thousands of dollars to do something they’ve never done? Be honest, now. I wouldn’t, and I never expected anyone to hire me without proving myself.
Do you have to go to art school to be a professional videogame artist? Strictly speaking, no. As a hiring partner, I went off of good portfolios and wasn’t concerned where a candidate went to school. But completing college shows that you can stick to something, and gives you an excellent opportunity to build your skills – both personal and interpersonal – on which to build your career. For most people I would not suggest skipping some sort of artistic training if you want to be taken seriously as a professional candidate at a serious videogame studio.
The key to getting hired is that you have to *do* something worth hiring. You have to have something to show besides an art school diploma. First, wanna be an artist? PROVE IT. Work on your craft. Get good at it. Show that you love it so much that you do it at night while other people are sleeping, and in the morning when other people haven’t gotten up yet.
When you’re good enough, you’ll have a killer portfolio and you’ll want to build on it.
Get some friends together, either in meatspace or on the net. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is – team up with them. MAKE SOMETHING. You want to make games? Make games. Get with your friends and make games. Make them until you are good at it and you have something compelling to show and good stuff in your portfolio.
Who knows? You might make something so good that you skip working for someone else altogether and you and your friends wind up starting a game company. Stranger things have happened, and I’ve worked for some people who did just that.
Most importantly, making games will tell you whether you actually *like* making games, or whether you just like playing games and *think* it will be fun to make them.
10. Would you have done anything different than what you are doing?
I would have been an astronaut. 🙂 Or, ya know, a cartoonist.
11. I was wondering if you have ever gone to the Game Developers Conference and if it’s worth going to while in school?
If you can afford it, do it. It’s a great way to make contacts and see firsthand what’s going on in the industry.
12. What would be the best way to keep consistency between the art on a project where you have multiple artists working together?
That’s called being an Art Director. 🙂 What it means is establishing a style ahead of time, getting some reference or some drawings that you can point to and everyone knows – if it doesn’t look like this, it’s not right. And then, you have to be brave and confident in your own vision and keep everyone marching to your beat while still being open to new ideas. Sometimes you don’t have it as figured out as you think you do.
Hope that helps, and as you think of more questions, I’ll answer them here.