Lead artist - Games industry

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Adam is  employed as an senior artist at IR Gurus. He's working on a computer game that is so large, each part has to be broken down into smaller chunks and more manageable team sizes. There is an art lead for the whole project and then Adam is  a manager underneath that. In his team, Adam is  responsible for four people out of an entire art team size of about 20 people.

What's a typical work day like?

On any one day, the first thing I do is touch base with the team and see if there is anything that needs to be done for the day. We all have our work scheduled out quite well so I generally follow the process that we've already detailed. So it's a matter of ticking of boxes to see that I'm on track.

My job is organising people to do their work, tracking they are on time within the time frame, and also checking the quality of the work. It's a matter of working out what we need for the game, working out who will work on key areas, and managing the work flow and the quality. I'm also there to answer questions.

At the moment, my team is a world-building team. We make objects that go into the game's virtual world. These could be anything from trees to buildings, to park benches, or whatever. Each of us is assigned to create the different bits and pieces. In the game that I'm working on it's a World War II project, so we have history to draw upon for ideas. We do very extensive research, and it's all very location specific.

How did you become an artist for a game developer?

Originally I was one of the quintessential 'starving artists'. I started in sales years ago, but I got fed up with that. I've always had a bit of artistic background, so eventually I tried my hand at illustration, web design, graphic design and so forth. I didn't envisage myself as being in the games industry as back then I didn't really see it as a real job.

I was finding it difficult to make a regular income from the work I was doing at the time so I had to analyse it - how could I make money from what I love doing, and that's creating art? There were a number of options, so I narrowed it down to what I was more suitable to and what was achievable.

It was a windy road. I knew nothing about the games industry, or what was required to create a game. So it became a process of detective work; tracking down what you need to do to get into the games industry, where the jobs are, and what sort of experience and background you need.

What skills do you need for your job?

For an art position, it always helps to have a 2D background - that can be illustration or graphic design. There are a lot of jobs in the games industry, in art in particular, so you can diversify a bit.. But it's important to have an artistic ability, and that can be tough as it's not something that you can learn in a college. You can get a general overview from a college, but if you don't have a bit of spark or a bit of ability, then you're not necessarily going to get a job.

I did both painting and drawing. I did a bit of digital painting, where you use a software package like Photoshop and paint an image. But hand drawing is at the base of all illustration work.

In the lead art job, you need people skills and time management skills. You also need to be able to solve problems. Problem solving is a very big thing in the games industry as you have all these constraints - monetary, time constraints, hardware constraints for each platform you are working on. Developing for next-gen consoles, we have certain limits in storage and memory, so we have to keep all our objects as small as we possibly can but achieve an acceptable amount of quality at the same time.

How important was your training?

After thinking about the best way to get into games I thought a communications degree might be the best way. Part way into that I discovered private colleges - colleges that train you in particular software packages - so investigated that further. I discovered that in the games industry if you have an understanding of the software package and you can create game quality assets, and build a portfolio, then that is more important than doing the four year degree.

So I did private training in a software package. After getting that foundation, I spent about a year putting together a portfolio of work which is called a show reel - creating world objects that you would see in a game.

Where do you see your career going?

Earlier on I saw myself going into film, but the more time I spend in the games industry, the more I love it so I think I'll be in the games industry for a lot longer. As you get more experienced, you take on more management roles, looking after other people like I'm doing now.

Any advice for people who want this career path?

Research all of your options as thoroughly as you can. Try to network with people. You may have a qualification but ,at the end of the day, if your work isn't up to scratch then you're not going to get a job in the industry. So you need to focus on polishing the actual quality of your work and, if you can, have it assessed by someone who works in the games industry, and try and get feedback and advice.

Most of all you need to be persistent. It can be quite disheartening trying to get a job in the games industry. I sat by the phone for many weeks hoping someone would call, but it doesn't work like that. You really have to chase hard to get a job and you have to be motivated.

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).