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So you want to be an Artist in the Game Industry...
A very, very beginners guide to becoming a game artist

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Disclaimer: First off, I hope you all like my obnoxious pictures.: emo This thread is meant to be a very simple guide for people who might be interested in working for games and what to expect. I am by no means an expert, I have only been in the industry for less than a year, but have spent 4 years learning about becoming a games artist. I can only give an overview because of my lack of experience, but I hope it is helpful to some at least. If you feel I have missed something extremely important, please speak up! Also comment if my account is different than your personal experience in the industry.



Game Designer =/=Game Artist

See also: you are not a game designer!!!!11!!
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I've received several PMs from young people who have claimed they want to get into "game design". Upon asking them what they mean about game design, it usually becomes clear that they mean they want to make art or animations for games. While artists can be game designers, game designers are NOT usually artists. Game design is about making a game fun, and figuring out the mechanics of the game, levels, and how those elements will lend to the game experience. Game designers can be writers, producers, programmers, and artists. You do not need art skill other than basic sketching to be a designer. Larger companies will usually have designated game designers, and smaller companies might get all game developers involved with the game design.

This term is incredibly abused by those looking into the game industry. So please, STOP CALLING YOURSELF A GAME DESIGNER if you really want to work as a game artist/animator.



What types of positions are there for artists in the industry?
Where's the money at, bitches?



Good question! There are many different positions an artist can hold in the game industry. Some are more competitive than others. Here are some of the most common jobs you can hold:

-2D Artist/ Concept Artist
-2D Animator
-3D Animator
-Texture Artist
-3D Character Artist
-3D Environment Artist
-Technical Artist ( FX, Rigging)
-UI Artist
-Art Director/ Art Producer



What programs are commonly used in the industry?
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Programs differ from studio to studio, and most will tell you they look for skill and knowledge of fundamental concepts rather than what program you use. Nevertheless, learning certain programs will give you a step up. Please keep in mind that many of these programs run pretty high, look for student versions of the software to lower the price, or use free software such as GIMP, Blender, Scuptris etc until you can find more professional software.

-Adobe Photoshop
-Adobe Flash
-Adobe Illustrator
-Autodesk Maya (Student Version IS FREE)
-Autodesk 3DS Max(Student Version IS FREE)
-Autodesk Mudbox(Student Version IS FREE)
-ZBrush
-DeepPaint 3D
-UV Layout
-Marmoset Toolbag
-Adobe Softimage XSI
-Game engines such as Unity 3D, UnReal, Source, etc
Etc (comment to add to this list!)




How do I "break in" to the industry?
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One word: Connections

Don't get me wrong, it'll be harder to get into the industry if you don't have the skill to do your job, but connections go a long way in the industry. Like any business, networking is extremely important to getting name out. Schools, clubs, websites, contests, conventions, friends, and family are places where you might find people who will help you into the industry... or at least pass my portfolio around. All of my job opportunities have been through connections at school and people I met at conventions. I have never been offered a position from applying alone.


Networking:

School: Usually schools with connections to the game industry will have days where companies can come and review your portfolio, or at least they will have counselors who will helpfully tell you what companies are hiring. If you are lucky enough to be able to go to a college with these resources, use them to your advantage!
Conventions:
Game conventions and conferences happen all over the US. Pax and GDC are two examples of extremely popular game industry events. Companies get to show off their new games, offer portfolio reviews, have parties, and give you time to fanboy all over them. Events like this are great for getting your name out in this small industry, especially if you can get into company parties and private events where you can get to know game developers better. Bring business cards, a portfolio, resumes, and other networking goodies (stickers, buttons, fun swag?) to these events.
Game/Drawing Clubs:
DO some research on your local game clubs, lifedrawing sessions, and drawing jams. Hanging out at one every week will most likely get you to talk to other artists and game devs. A great example of a more local game dev community would be the IGDA. There's a link to their website in the "resources" section. See if they have a chapter in your area!
Friends/Family:
Do you have a friend who works in the game industry? It's time to get back in touch with them and start inviting them to group events. If you are an art student, start building solid relationships with your peers right NOW. Go to social events, or make social events. The more your name is out there, and the more friends you have in the game industry, the better chance is that you will have job offers from them in the future! Also, if your sibling works in the game industry, you might want to visit them and ask them about their job, or if their company is looking for interns. You never know!!


Schools?
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Look for schools with connections to game companies. School gets you set up with a portfolio and contacts. However, you do not need a degree of any kind to get a job in the industry, but connections help.

See the Art School Prep Thread for more details.


What is it like to work in the game industry?
"It's not all fun and games."
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-You work long hours depending on deadlines. I've seen people sleep in their offices during "crunch time".
- Pay is low to moderate. Starting salary for artists is around 35k-40k, the average is around 50k.
-Certain jobs are easier to find if you have the skills to do them. Technical Artists, UI Artists and Environment Artists are in higher demand than concept and character artists.
-You must be able to work quickly,in the studio/game's style.
-You must understand the entire production pipeline in order to work with others to get the game working. A very basic knowledge (at least) of the 3D art pipeline is needed.

YOU WILL NOT BE PLAYING GAMES ALL DAY.
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If you are a gamer, and want to get into art because you have a passion for playing games, please do not look to become an artist in the game industry. Art should come FIRST and games should come second. It's important to be in the know about the game industry, and play games to research and games you personally enjoy. HOWEVER if you play Call of Duty all day and expect to be able to keep up the gamers lifestyle, you will be in deep s**t when it comes time to pay back students loans.

That being said, there are some awesome things about being in the game industry;
(fun stuff depend on studio, this is just from my experience)

-Since there is so much work to do, studios want to keep their artists fed and caffeinated. Free food and energy drinks galore!
- You don't have to grow up (that much) in the game industry. Being silly, swearing, and wearing comfortable clothes are expected.
- You get to draw/paint/model/animate all day!!! And get paid for it!
- you can tell friends and family that you make games for a living.




Resources:


Game Dev Related:
Gamasutra
GameDevMap
IGDA
GDC

Game Art Related:
PolyCount
CGHub
CGSociety
ConceptArt
Game Artisans


Autodesk's Student Resource Center (Free s**t)



Please discuss:
The game industry
Working in the game industry
Game art
Agree, disagree, comment!!
I found this post extremely helpful. It clears up quite a few misconceptions, and even set me a little straight. According to this post, I aspire to be a 2D Artist/ Concept Artist . As an art student in college, I still find myself lost time to time and need some clarification on just what I should be doing, it's not an easy field to get into, or maintain.

Excellent post! Sticky-worthy.
theannacracker's avatar

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Asakurayami
I found this post extremely helpful. It clears up quite a few misconceptions, and even set me a little straight. According to this post, I aspire to be a 2D Artist/ Concept Artist . As an art student in college, I still find myself lost time to time and need some clarification on just what I should be doing, it's not an easy
field to get into, or maintain.

Excellent post! Sticky-worthy.


I'm glad you found this thread informative! Keep checking back, I'll definitely add more in the future, including some helpful links. smile

If you have any questions about being a 2d artist/ concept artist that I don't answer in my main post, please feel free to ask. I work as a 2D Artist/ Animator currently.
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Okay, my question isn't specifically about the games industry, but since you brought it up, I'm hoping it'll be fair game anyway.

Do you have any tips on networking? I'm notoriously bad at it, even when I know it'd be an advantage. I just don't feel comfortable name-dropping myself like that, because it always feels like it's really obvious I'm looking for extra work, like I'm pushing myself on somebody. Is there a way to be a bit more tactful about it instead of all, "Hey, I have [skills of choice] these skills! I do [insert activity of choice] with them!" Okay, maybe I'm not that bad, but you get the gist of what I'm saying.
I just want to add something. I went to a ConceptArt workshop a few years ago, and they had asked a few companies to come and give portfolio reviews to the attendees. Almost every company I talked to/evedropped, they always tell the artists that they should learn some 3D, and if the artists only have character art in their portfolio, they're always being told to include more environment, monster/animal, and vehicle/mechanic art.

A lot of artists think they can just focus on one area (character, monster, vehicle, etc) and be hired, while they can land freelance jobs that way, it'd be hard to get a full time position when all you draw is one type of things.

It's kind of like car mechanics, very few places will hire you as a full time employee if all you can do is to change oil.
The Atroxious
Do you have any tips on networking? I'm notoriously bad at it, even when I know it'd be an advantage. I just don't feel comfortable name-dropping myself like that, because it always feels like it's really obvious I'm looking for extra work, like I'm pushing myself on somebody. Is there a way to be a bit more tactful about it instead of all, "Hey, I have [skills of choice] these skills! I do [insert activity of choice] with them!" Okay, maybe I'm not that bad, but you get the gist of what I'm saying.
I find hanging out with local artists groups (figure drawing sessions are a good place for that) are a great way to network. You'll find more information from other artists. I had found out which local cafe will hang up artists works for free, and when there'll be a regional artist competition, etc. And through those, I've met even more people.

And don't be afraid to pass your business card.
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The Atroxious
Okay, my question isn't specifically about the games industry, but since you brought it up, I'm hoping it'll be fair game anyway.

Do you have any tips on networking? I'm notoriously bad at it, even when I know it'd be an advantage. I just don't feel comfortable name-dropping myself like that, because it always feels like it's really obvious I'm looking for extra work, like I'm pushing myself on somebody. Is there a way to be a bit more tactful about it instead of all, "Hey, I have [skills of choice] these skills! I do [insert activity of choice] with them!" Okay, maybe I'm not that bad, but you get the gist of what I'm saying.
It's a bit of socialization and just being a bit more audacious. Obviously, don't be obnoxious, but you don't get anywhere by being shy. Having someone introduce you to someone else is really helpful too. Some people carry around a mini-version of their portfolio around with their sketchbook for this sole reason. I don't think you have to go that far, but yes, as Look suggested, make business cards and give them to people. You can have some of your art on the front with your name and website, and some more art on the back.

I found that taking workshops and extra classes have helped considerably expand my connections. Impressing working professionals is a double bonus.
theannacracker's avatar

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The Atroxious
Okay, my question isn't specifically about the games industry, but since you brought it up, I'm hoping it'll be fair game anyway.

Do you have any tips on networking? I'm notoriously bad at it, even when I know it'd be an advantage. I just don't feel comfortable name-dropping myself like that, because it always feels like it's really obvious I'm looking for extra work, like I'm pushing myself on somebody. Is there a way to be a bit more tactful about it instead of all, "Hey, I have [skills of choice] these skills! I do [insert activity of choice] with them!" Okay, maybe I'm not that bad, but you get the gist of what I'm saying.


How you network depends on where you are networking.
It might be more appropriate to say upfront "I'm interested in working with your company" while at a career fair, convention where companies are looking for fresh blood, or when a company goes to your school. However, when going to a game club, and talking to game devs in an informal setting, it's usually better to ask them what THEY do, rather than toot your own horn. Keep business cards at the ready, and make sure you have a linkedin account and look them up afterward. People enjoy talking about themselves, ask questions like you would do in any party/ social event, and be sure to follow up afterward.
The Atroxious's avatar

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Look
I find hanging out with local artists groups (figure drawing sessions are a good place for that) are a great way to network. You'll find more information from other artists. I had found out which local cafe will hang up artists works for free, and when there'll be a regional artist competition, etc. And through those, I've met even more people.

And don't be afraid to pass your business card.


These are actually really good suggestions. I never thought of asking the cafes about this. I always assumed there was some sort of catch. Thanks!

Kupocake
It's a bit of socialization and just being a bit more audacious. Obviously, don't be obnoxious, but you don't get anywhere by being shy. Having someone introduce you to someone else is really helpful too. Some people carry around a mini-version of their portfolio around with their sketchbook for this sole reason. I don't think you have to go that far, but yes, as Look suggested, make business cards and give them to people. You can have some of your art on the front with your name and website, and some more art on the back.

I found that taking workshops and extra classes have helped considerably expand my connections. Impressing working professionals is a double bonus.


Being shy isn't the problem here. It's more along the lines of never having been in a situation where I found myself having to network (a friend of mine got me referrals most of the time,) so I'm kind of dreadfully inexperienced at this sort of thing, but sometimes I just want the extra money without having to wait for someone to do the networking for me.

Workshops seem like a good idea, definitely. Thanks!

theannacracker
How you network depends on where you are networking.
It might be more appropriate to say upfront "I'm interested in working with your company" while at a career fair, convention where companies are looking for fresh blood, or when a company goes to your school. However, when going to a game club, and talking to game devs in an informal setting, it's usually better to ask them what THEY do, rather than toot your own horn. Keep business cards at the ready, and make sure you have a linkedin account and look them up afterward. People enjoy talking about themselves, ask questions like you would do in any party/ social event, and be sure to follow up afterward.


Hm, when asking questions at a game club (or convention, or the like) should I wait for them to ask me about my own work, or should I just bring it up myself, only after I've asked them about theirs?

This is really helpful. Obviously different settings mean different approaches, but I wasn't really sure of the details. The most I've done was small designs for people I met at parties.
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The Atroxious


Hm, when asking questions at a game club (or convention, or the like) should I wait for them to ask me about my own work, or should I just bring it up myself, only after I've asked them about theirs?

This is really helpful. Obviously different settings mean different approaches, but I wasn't really sure of the details. The most I've done was small designs for people I met at parties.


Each situation will be different, and you should take a step back and try to figure out how to go about a situation. During conventions, I will usually introduce myself with an "elevator speech" if I am talking to someone at a booth representing a company, or someone I know is an art director or HR person at a game studio I know is hiring. This is the time to pull out your portfolio, and try to seem like you are the best artist for their company.

If you are not sure who you are speaking to, introduce yourself like you would to anyone. Ask who they are, work for, what they do, and how they enjoy their work. Most people (and here I say most, not all... since there are many socially awkward people in the game industry) will ask you the same questions about yourself as to move the conversation forward. Be ready to show off your portfolio if you have it, but don't force it on them if they don't seem interested. Just keep it in plain sight so they might ask to see it. After the conversation you can ask if they have a business card, and make sure to give them yours. You shouldn't bring up that you are looking for work unless they ask, because they might not be at a company that is hiring or know about the job available at their company.

It takes SOME practice, but it's pretty easy to get to if you are in an event that is basically for networking. Most people are open to opening their network as well. I hope that helps!! 3nodding
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Look
I just want to add something. I went to a ConceptArt workshop a few years ago, and they had asked a few companies to come and give portfolio reviews to the attendees. Almost every company I talked to/evedropped, they always tell the artists that they should learn some 3D, and if the artists only have character art in their portfolio, they're always being told to include more environment, monster/animal, and vehicle/mechanic art.

A lot of artists think they can just focus on one area (character, monster, vehicle, etc) and be hired, while they can land freelance jobs that way, it'd be hard to get a full time position when all you draw is one type of things.

It's kind of like car mechanics, very few places will hire you as a full time employee if all you can do is to change oil.


Very true!

On the opposite end though, artists should put lots of time into what they want to do. It is very much needed for an artist to understand the whole production, but if they spend too much time trying to do everything, they will master nothing.

I also see some artists who learn environment modeling just because they want to "break into" the industry and move to a character modeling position afterward. This does not work, especially if you do a good job modeling environments. I've heard about lots of artists getting "stuck" in a position because their company doesn't want to move them from a position they NEED people in. This then gives less time for the artist to get better at character modeling, and their dream falls down the toilet.


SO I guess my point is, learn a little bit of everything, and then master what you are PASSIONATE about. whee
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Good, solid advice, and much of it applies to other art fields as well.

You guys are really coming up with some valuable threads lately, and it's making AD enjoyable again. Thanks for that. whee
theannacracker

SO I guess my point is, learn a little bit of everything, and then master what you are PASSIONATE about. whee
That's very true. The artist should have their specialty, but not a one-trick phony.
Annie Felis's avatar

Aged Codger

I'm glad you made this, because scam/worthless schools like The Art Institutes or DeVry rope in people with their "video game design/development" degrees, which are generic crap that don't teach you much useful. They grab the gamers that want to make games, instead of properly teaching that if you want to get into the gaming industry you need to pick a particular facet of game production to aim for (illustration, 3D rendering, storyboarding, writing, sound design, music design, level design....the list goes on).

My sister was one of the people nabbed by the shiny "make video games!" majors from an AI school. Now my parents are paying out the nose for a degree she'll do very little with. Hopefully this topic will explain to young'ns that making video games is nothing like enjoying or playing video games. It's work. Making a game isn't the same as putzing around with RPGMaker for a few days, and it often takes a lot of people working together doing specific jobs to make a game. Not much different than a play or a movie, really.
I just wanna repeat myself, this post is a godsend for myself. I found myself re-inspired, and am whipping a portfolio into shape. (Which is a hellish nerve-rack in itself.)

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