Design Notes

BECOMING A GAME ARTIST

Posted by on 15 comments

Hey, guys, Cysero here. 

Recently, on my Cysero Facebook Fan Page, I've written some Behind The Scenes posts and general Game Development posts which have had such positive feedback that Artix asked me to start making them here on Artix.com. I said this on the page but seems like those of you who are really trying to become game developers were getting something from the posts and you really elevated the discussion past folks asking to be mods and begging for free stuff. You really impressed us. Thanks. 

I've gone back and time and transported these posts to Artix.com.
 
On to today's post. 
 
Art in gaming has come a REALLY long way since the early days of gaming. One of the best games on the ATARI 2600 was called "ADVENTURE".
 
That's it. Just "ADVENTURE".
 
I know. It's like making a movie and calling it COMEDY but back then there were so few video games that you could name your games like that. The cover art was a little misleading back then. This is what the game itself looked like.
 
Note the dragon on the cartidge art.
 
ADVENTURE ATARI
 
 and THIS is what the dragons looked like in the game. 
 
Quack 
 
That's because, back then, games really had no artists. All of the art was usually made by the coders and nobody really minded that it looked like crap because back then crap was the best that anything COULD look. Times have obviously changed...
 
Chaos Dragon...and changed for the better in my opinion.
 
There's a lot more to making a good game than having clutch graphics but it does help. Now that the technology has caught up with the creative dreams of the developers, a game company needs talented and skilled artists to bring their games to life.
 
So, what do you need to become an artist in the industry?
 

What Kind Of Education Do You Need?

None. I'm not saying that you shouldn't go to college and get your degree. I have a Bachelors Degree In Fine Arts with a focus on animation and illustration and I do not regret the time I spent there. I took my work seriously and I grew more in those few years than the whole rest of my artistic life. 
 
BUT, lets take a look at some of AE's finest and compare their educations. 
 
J6: Current Lead Artist for AQW. 3 year degree with a focus on illustration and design but, like me, his arts education covered everything from fine art to architecture. 
 
DAGE: Entirely self taught. Never spent a second in formal art training but works with a drive and raw talent that very few can match. He spends hours upon hours every week outside of work learning new techniques and experimenting with new styles to sharpen his skill. 

DIOZZ: Apprenticed at pretty much every comic book house in Puerto Rico before attending college and getting a degree. He even taught art for a while. 

OISHII: Self-taught almost her entire life but recently got her degree to push herself past her comfort zone.
 
THYTON: Entirely self taught. The most formal art education he had was high school arts class but even back then he was far above his peers because he had been drawing from observation and learning from his favorite comic artists his entire life.    
 
The two things that these giants share are a passion for creating art and a constant drive to push themselves to the next level. They all know that the second you become satisfied with your skills is the second that you start sliding backward. 

A degree always helps. It let's a potential employer know that you're very serious about your craft and that you probably already have more experience than someone without a degree. But what an employer really looks at are your portfolio and your experience.
 

Your Portfolio

It doesn't matter if you want to be an environmental artist, a character concept artist, a graphic designer, a 3D modeler or some other kind of game artist... you need a portfolio. 
 
You will be tempted to make it a novel, but keep it fairly small. If someone can't flip through it in about 10 minutes then it's too long. Update it FREQUENTLY with examples of your BEST work ONLY. It's more important that every image is mind blowing than it is to see that you can handle various styles if the examples are only OK. 
 

Your Experience

This is a tough one. Experience is worth more than anything. If you can show that you have worked for a real company doing real art, it speak volumes about you. DO NOT mention the "game company" that you and your friend started a few years ago but never really got anywhere. It may have seemed cool at the time but that does not count as professional experience and comes across as very unprofessional. 
 
The trick is how to get experience without any experience. Lucky for you there are companies (like us) who pull volunteer artists from their player base. It may seem like you're working for free but what you're actually doing is getting that precious professional experience. Even if you don't get picked up by the company for which you're volunteering, you can say that you made art that appeared in a game with 10 million registered users. That's a big deal. 
 

 
The gaming industry has exploded in recent years but it's also become a dangerously competitive place. If you're not one of the tops in your area then you need to keep working until you are. 
 
Here's my advice:  
  1. Draw from observation, ALWAYS. Being able to make up a drawing of a realistic person only comes from years of ACTUALLY drawing real people. Draw things that you're no good at. People often have a hard time with hands so become a HAND EXPERT. Force yourself out of your own comfort zone and break your own artist boundaries.

  2. Be able to do everything. Some game companies need big dudes in armor but others need chibi fairies or cute puppies or realistic mobsters or watercolor robots, &c &c. It's great to have a style that you love but learn be flexible to increase your chances of getting work.

  3. Learn to take criticism. If someone says that your work is coming along but it's nowhere near as good as you think it is, listen to them. Ask them why. Don't let your ego get in your way. If you do get a job doing game art, your work will come back with a list of changes as long as your arm and if you're in love with your first draft then you're going to go nuts. People will also think you're a D-bag. 

  4. Learn from people who are better than you. Never be afraid to admit that you're not the best but always know that you can be if you keep going. If you see someone do something amazing, find out how. Watch their process. Ask questions. 
Good luck, fellow artists. I hope this advice helps you as much as it has helped me in the past. 
Sorry Comments are now closed for this post.
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YamiKakyuu
YamiKakyuu: Nice to read about the different backgrounds of all the artist. Sage advice again from the Green Mage.
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Gjappy
Gjappy: I'm not a high-class artist like guys above, but you can learn a lot from examples!!
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Lady-Sheogorath
Lady-Sheogorath: Definitely going to use those four tips. Recently I feel like I've landed in a rut with my art. I'm not improving at all, I'm just doing the same old stuff and there's no apparent growth. Hopefully by utilizing your advice I'll improve c:
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Tendou no Mazo
Tendou no Mazo: I'm really not good at art but that never means I will not be a good one. Thanks for everything you did :)
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Masterandrew
Masterandrew: Thanks for this advice, i've attempted to do flash, but i'm honestly not getting anywhere. Hopefully some of your advice will help me out.
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Menirz
Menirz: While I have no real desire to pursue a career as an artist, the wisdom of this post can really be applied to any field. I hope people take it to heart, it will really help them out.
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BinhMinh
BinhMinh: Hey guys i have a bad new ,well i gess most of you may know it anyways ...Hero Smash is gonna die sooner or later ...the only think you can do to help is buy a member or sc ,cuz without player who pay for the game the Dev cant make new items or events end without it there will be less player , if there's less player ...there is less money end you know what that's mean ....so Plz dont ignore this post ...help me if you have a fan page post this post onl them ,help me save the game ...then maybe we can have the Herosmash that we used to know end love
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MKDarkDraidey
MKDarkDraidey: I'm really good at drawing but not so good on computer, to be honest I'm bad at it. I have so many ideas but it doesn't come at as I thought it would be, so everyday I draw something new, different styles and try to get the best. Ever since I player AQW and all the other AE games I wanted to be an artist for Artix Entertainment, so everyday I do my best to get in. Those advises will surely help a lot, thanks!
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Kokujoe
Kokujoe: Exactly why I've never stopped myself from pushing my boundaries and have always tried to learn from my fellow artists. Also observing things has helped me a lot in the past few years. I look forward to keep improving as much as I can for I believe that one day, I will get better at what I'm now. Its always about the kind of committment and the amount of time one is ready to put-in to his/her efforts. So yeah don't lose heart and keep working on your skills. But most importantly enjoy you art!
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DaiTigris
DaiTigris: This was interesting and insightful to read overall. One thing that bugs me is discerning what kind experience is okay to mention. For example; One of my goals this year was to create more art that could easily have been created for use in a game. Ironically I also came across a game design club. The clubs goal was to help others create work to build personal experience and create our own portfolios by combining efforts to create games together. I've been learning a lot from the group in general and have had a blast working as an artist for them. I know this isn't professional work by no means, but I've learned a lot and most certainly would have not learned as much on my own. Is it something I should mention in job interviews or should I just leave out anything related to said group for the fear of offending the potential employer at my lack of professional experience? I don't have much 'professional art experience' so trying to determine what kind of experience is okay to mention with so little to go on is stressful.
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Cysero
Cysero: I would say that it depends on if you have A) finished a product and B) the end results look fairly professional. I mean, you're always just gong to tell them the highlights that make you look good. If you say you worked with them but have no finished game to demonstrate or it looks nowhere near a professional level then leave it out.
SlayR
SlayR: Hey Cysero, would like to ask you a question about the Infamous Milton Pool, as we know Nulgath, how did you end up meeting and working with him , i understand he used to have a web show; Akumi, but how did your lines meet up?
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Saizo
Saizo: I mean, is there an age requirement? I'm really good at drawing, even if I'm just 12.
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Cysero
Cysero: This was really more of a primer, from my perspective, about becoming an artist in the gaming industry in general but yes, AE has an age limit. http://www.artix.com/designNotes/post/26757/SO-YOU-WANT-TO-BE-A-MOD
Saizo
Saizo: Man, I guess I have to wait for 6 years of my life.