Monday, 18 July 2011


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 ////////

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.


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!