Monday, 10 October 2011

Joining The Firm

Recently on various forums, there is much talk and discussion about the difficulty of getting a foot into the industry. For concept & production artists in particular, I wanted to highlight the actual process and duration of the different  levels of training required as a artist joining a new firm



//////// Seasoned artist ////////
A seasoned veteran concept artist - takes about 1 month to acclimatize to studio culture, game project and style (with some or minimal retraining)

//////// Senior artist ////////
A senior concept artist - takes around 2-3 months to acclimatize (with some filling of gaps in knowledge, production methods and adjusting to new art direction/style).
Senior artists tend to break into two camps - those that are happy to lead, provide direction and supervision (suitable lead artist material) and those happy to paint, paint and paint, and take in any given direction.
The former, will be potentially groomed for art director material and if made a AD - can present a strong unified vision - composition, cinematography, colour pallete and visual based approach to things versus a 3D born AD which is more interested in how it looks like in the engine.

//////// Concept artist ////////
A concept artist - takes around 3-6 months to acclimatize (with more vigorous practise, self directed training and active hands on tutelage by senior artists/art directors).
Often there is a readjustment period if previously working at another company -due to change in management, art management and feedback/support. This can even result in artists hitting a wall where they have had good success in the first job, but now due to differences have had to adjust.
The ability to persevere and work through these issues, is the mark of potential as a good senior artist. 

//////// Junior artist ////////
A junior concept artist - takes 6-8 months to become really useful (often these candidates can be preffered due to the potential to be re-shaped into the image of the company art style/direction.
Large gaps in knowledge, lack of appreciation of production need to be instilled. bad habits need to be beaten out, and loads and loads of mileage required before they can bear fruit.
Hopefully, this means a good investment when the artistic talents mature - however the onus will be on management to ensure just rewards, incentives are made to provide adequate retention of skilled staff vs the preponderance of young artists with wanderlust.

//////// Intern /house plant/ extras ////////
A internship  - may take up to 1 - 1.5 years before maturing into a junior artist role (skilled intern, less so - but these are uncommon).
This is due to lack of solid grasp of basic art theory and application. Requires intense amount of mileage and structured education on the job. May not be suitable for live projects - and good as supportive role to senior concept artist (thus establishing a mentor-apprentice relationship / artistic mind meld).
Will required intense out of hours work to hone up polish and knowledge to gain more art-fu

Hopefully, the range of the requirements of different artist levels should provide a realistic  yardstick of an artists skillset level when applying for your next job, salary or overall worth (including freelance abilities) when you take a good long punt in the responsibilities, professionalism and seriousness of the job at hand.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Guest Post (Alex Tooth) - Being part of an online community

Hello there, sorry for lack of postings - life seems to always find a way of getting in the way.

So, anyway now I have introduced myself I'd like to talk a little about the very beginning of my artistic journey - it is such a daunting and seemingly complex profession, so where can you start from scratch with no experience?

Luckily for me I joined the ImagineFX forums and from there, a lot was de-mystified after spending some weeks on there, and seeing what everyone else in similar shoes to mine were doing. So I'd like to talk a little about being part of an online community, getting involved and the rewards which come with it. You do not have to have any experience in Art education or be in Art school or even have plans to attend Art school. Luckily for us there is a huge online community of people willing to help, offer advice, from beginners to pro's at the top of their game.

There are literally tons of online Art communities out there - some people like to be on every single one, update all of them and take part in all of them. While it can be beneficial, maybe it's not so realistic for everyone! I'll try to write a little bit about my experience and my favourite ones.

One thing to consider is the field you want to go into when picking the best community for you, whether it's illustration, game art, general concept art, caricatures, whatever - they'll be a buzzing community out there.

ImagineFX http://community.imaginefx.com/forums/

ImagineFX is a SciFi and Fantasy magazine - bit of a jack of all trades Art-wise - they cover game art, illustration, anime, film, concept art and most things digital.

This was the first forum I joined, really because I had bought the magazine and found it through there. This is a really great little community, extremely warm and welcoming atmosphere for anyone wishing to join. I still haven't found a place I would have rather started out, and recommend any complete novices to try there first. One benefit here is the size, it's not too big, and you won't get lost in the never ending sea of other artists, which can happen on some of the bigger websites. This creates a really relaxing and laid back environment where life isn't taken too seriously and learning about Art is fun without the pressure.

For the more serious learner, you will most likely need to join other sites, to get those "harsh" crits and the like, but that all comes with added pressure. Which is why I like ImagineFX so much.

There are weekly and monthly challenges, and really these are fun - not too crowded and there is always opportunities to get feedback from your work which can be difficult in other places.

I'd encourage all, regardless of skill to make a sketchbook on ImagineFX, join the challenges, give critiques and you will really be rewarded from a great little community.

Conceptart.org http://www.conceptart.org/forums/

So, this was the second site I discovered, and wow - this place is like ImagineFX x100! A huge community, this comes with it's good and bad points.

For an absolute beginner, you're really going to find a hard time getting noticed. That is one of the reasons I really recommend joining some of the smaller sites first, you can easily get discouraged on a big site like this when you simply don't get any recognition. It's also called "conceptart" for a reason, there's a definitely style and outlook running through the site, very much geared towards the game industry. Don't be put off by that though - artists from all walks and genres can be found on this site.

There are many sub-forums and a lot going on, the best place to start is probably the sketchbooks. I have seen countless people going from zero to hero on this forum. If you're serious and willing to put in the effort then really the sky is the limit in this place - there is advice available throughout from hundreds of top Artists. Be prepared for serious comments though, don't expect to just get a pat on the back, people want to see real improvement and effort - many take anatomy, composition, lighting, colour, and all other aspects of Art quite seriously. So again maybe not for the total beginner. To really get the most out of this site, you have to make an effort of interacting with the other members - visit their threads, introduce yourself and try to say something constructive about their work. The benefits of this site are huge, and for the serious learner making a sketchbook here is an absolute must.

Other aspects of the site -

Famously known for the "Character of the week" challenge or CHOW - which has seen countless iconic characters created over the years, many from people now working in the top game companies. Any aspiring character artists will learn a great deal from taking part in this. There is a huge turnout though so don't expect to get a critique or even get noticed - but do try to soak up people's process and how one can go about creating convincing characters. Other challenges include environments, creatures and even industrial design.

There are some great downloadable videos too on this website from some really great artists - my favourites being from Jason Chan and Whit Brachna - learnt a lot from these guys. Really there are videos from all styles too, worth checking out!

CGHUB http://cghub.com/

Well, cghub really puts the Pro in professional! This site has an insane amount of awesome work, easily accessible at a couple of mouse clicks. It's very well laid out with a great design - I have spent countless hours finding art on here, it's really a great inspiration. If you ever needed a swift boot up the backside to get into gear this really is the place to get it.

Cghub is geared toward both 2D and 3D, with a definite emphasis on Games and Films.

The community - the general forum activity here is pretty sparse and there certainly seems less of a definite community of individuals, unlike other sites. It's a bit like you go there, post your work, and don't really get any feedback. However it is improving and the sketchbook section for example is much more active than it used to be a couple of years ago.

Where cghub really excels is the challenge forums, there are mainly challenges to choose from, 2D and 3D - ranging from bi-weekly to monthly. They also host regular large challenges which involve professional artists and companies. Recently there have been ones inluding Mudbox software, Bobby Chiu and Adrian Smith.

The challenges are always lively and the community isn't too large - it's a good place to get noticed and importantly get good feedback, with several prominent professionals frequenting. Like conceptart.org there is a range of subject matter, environments, illustration, characters, creatures, drawing jams, 3D jams. Check it out!

The big 3

So for really being a part of a community - as far as I'm concerned these sites are the "Big 3" - sites which all aspiring artists and professionals should at least have some kind of presence. Bearing in mind I am interested in fantasy/sci-fi digital art, so these are my big-3 but not necessarily for everyone!

Other sites

There are many other sites, some I'm not really all that familiar with, but I'll try to name a few and write a little about them.

Deviantart http://www.deviantart.com/

Absolutely huge. Endless hidden depths - like cghub I have found a large amount of great art and artists here. Not a great place to learn, don't expect professional critiques or much useful artistic advice. Do post here for exposure, there is no other place where you can have your work seen by so many people so easily. You have to persevere though, because of it's size you have to find a lot harder to get seen - so join groups and use the forums and really try to promote youself.

The Kitchen Wecookart

Tbh, I haven't been on here much - seems like a great little community, much like imagineFX - certainly with a game edge and about serious learners - seems like a lot of great incentives to improve and compete with fellow artists.

Game Artist http://www.game-artist.net/forums/

Game Artisans http://www.gameartisans.org/forums/index.php

3D total - http://forums.3dtotal.com/index.php

CG Tantra - http://cgtantra.com/

CG Society - http://forums.cgsociety.org/

CG Channel - http://forums.cgchannel.com/index.php

Sketchoholic - http://www.sketchoholic.com/index.php

It's Art - http://www.itsartmag.com/forum/

Illustration Friday - http://www.illustrationfriday.com/about_p.php

Gnomon Workshop - http://forums.thegnomonworkshop.com/index.php

Conclusion

So, as you can see there is a lot of site to choose from. If you know the field you want to go into - pick the sites most relevant to that. If the only thing you know is, you want to learn to be an artist - conceptart.org is probably the most essential learning tool and community to join, because as I said before, these are serious learners and take the classical - tried and tested approaches to learning drawing and painting.

Otherwise, try any and all of them, see which you seem to fit into best and make an effort to interact to get the most out of these invaluable learning resources for our digital age. Don't just "dump" your work everywhere and expect many useful comments, being a part of a community is just as much giving and taking!

Monday, 18 July 2011

GAME PRODUCTION & THE ARTIST

For many, the idea of a concept artist is to produce various mood pieces or illustrations. Sometimes, they feel they are asked to come up with a character, creature or transport concept. However, not many are aware that producing work for games is a large combined team effort and often its not all guts and glory (painting only pretty pictures) but to a large extent will need to have what we call a production artist mentality.

Firstly, to understand the responsibility of a production artist, let us look at what the overall game production involves.

//////// GAME PRODUCTION ////////

Unlike a typical illustration or mood concept, a production design is the process of coming up with a new character, according to a initial brief, and developing the concept alongside the client and cumulatively through multiple iterations come up with various versions and the end result design.
Game production is rarely a one hit wonder type of concept (to make a really, REALLY good functional believable character)


//////// GAME PRODUCTION DESIGN ////////

Designs can have multiple phases.
In the initial instance, a vertical slice demo is typical of game development. This means conceptualizing a bunch of characters to explore mood/feel of a new game or new sequel.
Prior to developing a VSD, you will need to develop some concepts to explore the mood and feel.


//////// PRE PRE-PRODUCTION ////////
You can call this Design - Line 1(also know as blue sky thinking. no known script is made and the art team often get time to just draw anything, throw ideas about and produce interesting stuff. Once a few piece of artwork start to develop some sort of early identity, a project idea comes together)


//////// THE PITCH ////////

OK, you have some artwork, but now you need to get permission to pitch this idea so the game has a chance of being funded to produce a Proof of concept. This is important, as it either dies a silent death, or has some potential to be funded into a demo.
The demo can also sometimes be called a vertical slice demo (a snapshot of what a segment of a game may look like in gameplay, looks, feel, environment and these are often shown at various game conventions and such). Often, the overall game is not finished and you may find that teams spend effort to build a demo but this build may not be integrated in the game overall - due to the typical nature of the beast that marketing tells you, you have 2 weeks to show the game build to the HQ, to some press, etc

There are HOLES, and one has to do the best to make it look good. These additional information is important so that you as the concept artist are aware of what your responsibilities, roles and job lie - and thus how you can help out.
If stuck for time, companies then look at visual outsourcing of promotional material, design and such. 3D base models and textures are nowadays outsourced 90%, freeing up the core team to tweak, provide quality assurance and refined the base models

Once you have these, you can subsequently have a initial model produced to walk within your crude demo. Further feedback and development will produce a Design - Line 2

//////// Early DEMO ////////

At this point, we skip forward 2-3 months of development time and you start to show your internal team/publisher the early Demo (milestone1)
There will be high poly tweaks and reams and reams of emails/feedback on the environments, characters, props, AI, early gameplay and so forth. If you are lucky, your final design - line 3 will be the representative design for the early VSD.

//////// GREENLIGHT. GO GO GO! ////////

If favorable,  your early demo gets greenlit for production.
The early designs can be used as a springboard for the new project title.
Often, the designs may die a silent death, or be redesigns another 3-6 times, with each tweak being more and more subtle. Large productions will have focus groups, metrics and critique from just about everyone including the local window cleaner (joking). But it will feel like that.
From now till final production, the character designs may undergo some minor changes or if they are the main characters undergo more changes. This can prove a bit frustrating, but is fairly normal for various game projects. Especially large established franchised. Such, is the nature of the beast.

A mature artist, understands these and sometimes there is nothing for it but to produce version 1-50 each month.

You have to be a big boy/gal to take on such a responsibility. Unlike illustration, your job is to be the most perfect production artist (cog) in the overall game production process (wheel).

Such lies the challenge.
And the just rewards!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Being Strategic About Jobs: Location, Location, Location

In the games industry, it is not uncommon to see layoffs and unemployment after the successful
completion of a major game project. In addition, games are looking at adopting production practices of film, which echo the above (however unlike film, game folk cannot up simply up sticks and relocate - family, social issues and such).

//////// CUTBACKS & BEING STRATEGIC ////////

With the global recession and tightening of budgets, a future career in one studio is not gold plated and even if you survive the initial round of cutbacks, the studio may inevitably be one foot in the grave either from lack of cashflow, cancellation of remaining projects, cancellation by main parent group, failure to meet milestones and so forth.

So, the thing is not to get into a bunkered doom and gloom mentality. This is entirely natural and cyclical in every industry. Some years, a combination of global economic forces, local forces and untimely circumstances lead to these perfect storm of seemingly bad news or multiple studio closures.


Thus, one has to be strategic in location. Ideally in the extremely unfortunate event you are laid off or the company enters administration, you want to be able to walk into another job relatively nearby without having to uproot your entire family, and also ensure there is not so much competetion that there is NO jobs to be had.

//////// LOCATION IS GOLD ////////

BIG CITY, BIG HUB
Being in a relatively major city means, often enough there are a few game companies to shuttle between various projects eg. Austin, San Fran, LA, Paris, Montreal,  London
However, local forces such as tax breaks may cause some degree of talent poaching. As such, if you are in a region without a big studio set up, chances are there are no new jobs to be had.

Case in point. Montreal has major investment in Ubisoft, Eidos, Funcom, THQ and Warner Bros and  such is the battle for talent, that if you are a relative junior artist, you either get good fast, or go swim in a region where there is less AAA development and a modicum of job availability like Vancouver or Ontario.


FIXED TERM CONTRACTS

Be aware that certain companies eg. Microsoft offer something called fixed term contracts. In initial instance, the pay may seem lucrative, but the contract will only be for the duration stipulated and its is not uncommon to be let go after the contract or gig is completed. This is the reality of the film production like approach these days.


BIG studio vs SMALL studios

For a starting budding artist, it is often a challenge to get a foot into the door vs being lured by the bright lights of a large corporate studios vs a smaller independent studio. Whilst we cannot advise on the work culture of a large game studio, what we can say is a independant studio will often allow you full capacity to grow and earn your wings, try all sorts of different media and responsibilities and to grow as they grow. As such, it is often better to learn and grow your craft at a independant studio.

In addition, Independent studios often have better budgetary control and care of its people, whereas being part of a large group can often involve unexpected layoffs on a massive spectacular spectacle, and sometimes with minimal just cause.

In summary, be smart, be consumerist and above all always evolve your portfolio. Everyday in everyway. Because, you just never know!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Good Books: Sketching The Basics

Part of the growing evolving artist, is to surround oneself with the right reference materials.

As such, books are the proverbial treasure to have at hand. This week, we would like to bring to notice this essential book on the basics of sketching. (what it also contains is a invaluable de facto book about design)

Check out Koos Eissen's : Sketching: The Basics !

Sunday, 19 June 2011

UK - Concept Artist Education

The path to be a concept artist is still generally in its infancy, primarily in UK.

As such there is not a full integrated entertainment design course set up to develop, train and graduate a artist to be a pro artist on graduation into the Game or Film industry.

//////// ALTERNATE CHOICES ////////

Thus, one has primarily two choices in UK.

  1. Illustration Course
  2. Animation Course
  3. Game Related Course

//////// ILLUSTRATION COURSES ////////

In general illustration courses are not equipped or mentally set up for conceptual art. They tend to run courses that are more "artsy", and looking to instill a sense of producing statements via their art or with the aim of being a book cover illustration.

This in itself is no bad thing, however it may not be what you signed up for.
A complementary strategy is to integrate alot of self study and self education about the digital arts, games industry and develop your own unique coursework to complement the illustration course.

A good illustration course can be advantageous, if it can impart the basic grounds of:
  1. Life drawing (allowing for full development of volumetric form, anatomy, line and sense of movement)
  2. Basics of drawing - perspective, form, movement
  3. Opportunity to educate in art history, be aware of various influences and deconstruction of art styles
  4. Opportunity to develop your own individualistic style and perfect the basics of painting
  5. Develop a good innate sense of colour and vibrancy
The disadvantages are:
  • Your degree is probably quite divergent from concept art, ad thus you might be fighting the system.
  • Your coursework and self development means all your time is maxed out, with less time on social experimentation. (if you can stick some of that 10000 hours of art skill points, this wil set you up for a good line of freelance work)

//////// ANIMATION COURSES ////////

Animation courses on the otherhand are more closely in tune with producing concept art.

Advantages are:

  • Upon graduation, you are ready to enter animation, film or games
  • You understand how to distill real life into a stylised form
  • A great understanding of colour and flat tones/shaders
  • A great understanding of movement, gesture, anatomy
Disadvantages are:

That alot of the great stuff you've learnt you have to partially unlearn or extend further, due to ingrained habit.
  • Your are is too stylised. This may require further self education to explore alternate methods of colour rendering and aesthetics
  • Your art is too stylised. You require further exploration to produce realistic looking contemporary artwork for FPS type games.
  • Your art is too stylised and your whole colour spectrum tends to be happy, vibrant and technicolour vs the more gloom laden desaturated moody pieces. This will require more experimentation.


RECOMMENDED UK COURSES


ALTERNATE UK COURSES
  • Abertay Game Design Course (dose not teach you to be a concept artist per se, but you learn a bit of everything)
  • Staffordshire University - GamesConceptsDesign course (teaches a mixture of 2D/3D/mattepainting to aim to develop games artists).  http://www.gamesconceptsdesign.com/
  • UCA Rochester - CG Arts & Animation. They have a good group blog that incentives the participants to think about art, sources of inspiration and accountability.
NOTE: please do write in to help share your experiences in the various UK courses, and we can compile this to provide a accurate experience and recommendation of UK related courses to be a Concept artist.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Guest Post - Alex Tooth (Pt1 - Introductions!)

Hello!

Well, I thought rather than extensively plan out any super detailed and structured set of posts, I have decided to just jump in with a new post and write something.

I have kindly been invited to contribute to this blog by Koshime, he has been a great help on getting me started in the industry and I think this will be a good way to give something back to "future Me's"! What I mean by this is give any tips and helping hands to the complete beginner.

So where to start... firstly I guess a bit about who I am would be useful! Then I'll try to give a chronological account of how I got from A to B and my plans to get to C over the next few years. I'll try to spread it out over a few posts whenever I have a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon or something :)


//////// So, who am I ? ////////

I'm a freelance illustrator working in the gaming industry, this covers your tabletop games, collectable cards games, video games and anything similar. I work pretty much exclusively in Digital, though I have some pencil skills - really the bulk of my work is done on a PC with a Wacom Intuos4 tablet. I paint my images in Adobe Photoshop and I use a lot of Autodesk Maya for any 3D bits and pieces I might require.

I certainly class myself in illustration and not concept design. Though some of my work includes designing, I don't have as many aspirations of purely doing this for a living. The distinction for me is really the story-telling aspect of illustration, which I have found not as prevalent in concept work.

I have been taking professional jobs for around 6months now for companies including Catalyst game labs, doing some work on their Battletech line, also Fantasy Flight Games, Alderac Entertainment and most recently Privateer Press.

I only do work in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi genres right now, and have little interest in "real-world" illustration projects.


//////// So - how did I end up doing this kind of work? ////////

Now I know this is where 99/100 illustrators say they were drawing since their mum put a pencil in their hand at the age of 2. Well this really isn't true for me - honestly I rarely drew a single thing until I was 27. So my route into this may not be the usual one.

However I have been playing video games since I first got an Acorn Electron in 1986 or so. This went the typical route of NES, PC, SNES, PS1, PS2 and so on - I always knew the games industry would be where I'd end up career wise, in some shape or form.

Luckily, at school I could draw things easily and Art and Design were really the only subjects I could do in my game-geek adolescence. I ended up taking animation at Wolverhampton University - total waste of time, but Uni was the thing you used to do after school. I am not saying Uni is a bad thing, certainly not - and I will be writing about the benefits in a future post. As with most colleges, you either teach yourself something or fail - so I managed to learn some Maya4 from a good book and put together some 3D animations to get through the course. Nothing I could land a job with after Uni, BUT funilly enough it's a tool I still use to this day, 8years on.

So the 5-6 years following Uni, I did various "normal" jobs to get by, factory worker mainly, various shop assistants - I am sure many of you can identify with me here. I eventually ended up as a games tester for about 3 years, which I always heard was a "door" into the games industry. It's not by the way, so don't let people convince you otherwise! Really it's a bunch of 20-30 somethings playing games all day for a pretty much minimal wage - I won't lie though, it's a fun job and I am sure there's WAY worse things to do :)

Then one day around my 27th birthday, early 2008 I was looking around a local magazine shop and this one glossy magazine literally BEAMED "take meee!" this was of course ImagineFX magazine. So after flicking through for a little while, I was blown away, I didn't know what the hell I was looking at, where this imagery came from, who made it - all I knew is I liked what I saw, ALOT. If you're not aware of ImagineFX, it's a fantasy art magazine started in 2006, I'd recommend heading over too www.imaginefx.com and checking out what they do!

Discovering this Artwork and reading about the processes involved, seeing amateur works to uber pro stuff - finding out people were doing this stuff in their bedrooms on their home computer, no paintbrushes and canvasses, it really suddenly dawned on me "Hey I could be doing this!" - after a short while I gave up my job as a games tester, moved home and started learning about Art.


//////// Phew! OK, so you may be wondering why I just wrote all that? ////////

I wanted to make the point that anyone can do this, and that you don't need special degrees, mentors, extensive art training, drawing since a child, special talents or knowledge - I hadn't heard of Frank Frazetta or Wizards of the Coast until a couple of years ago! So I really hope some of you can get the extra boost of confidence after reading stories like these, that little push you needed to make a good decision about your future - remember life is short and it's never too late.

I am now just over 2 years after "picking up the pencil" and now making a living wage out of my Artwork. And over the course of my next few posts I want to share all the key moments, stages in the process and my plans for the future. It's not a complicated thing, and it's getting easier and easier everyday with the aid of blogs like these, forums and the wonderful, helpful, loving and constantly growing fantasy art community we have here online at our fingertips :)

I am really looking forward to sharing my experiences here and reading about others like me, just getting started with their Artwork.


//////// Study and Personal work 2009 ////////










//////// Personal work 2010 - featuring in "Expose 9" ////////



//////// Study and personal work 2011 ////////