This post comes from a conversation I had with my colleague Britt Snyder (You can see his portfolio here ) when he came to Montreal for MIGS and afterwards on Facebook. Britt teaches in a Interactive Media & Game Development program and we concerned ourselves with the perception that some students have that all they had to do was to get their degrees and all the video game company doors would open for them. It is also a follow-up of my account of the MIGS career fair. I thought this might be of use to some of you out there on the world-wide web.
For a start, I thought I’d give a brief idea of where I’m coming from. I have never gotten a studio job by sending a resume cold turkey. My first job I got because people from the company came to do interviews at the school where I was studying (NAD Center.) To be honest I was very lucky because it was long ago when there were less game schools and they were looking for 2D animators at a 3D school. I was hired because I was one of the few who knew how to draw before getting to that school. I also was one of the few who had a very cute demo with bright colors that might work for a kids game. I shouldn’t have gotten that job, I didn’t know the first thing about 2D animation! But it gave me contacts and experience and several published titles under my belt.
The other jobs I have had, people I knew who worked there referred me. Being vouched for by other people and having shipped titled and the names of big companies help a lot, but things still aren’t a breeze. Even with years of professional experience, you can’t expect to find a job just like that. There are many specialties in art and each position requires a different combo of skills. Have too many skills and someone thinks you are spread too thin. Have too few, you don’t fulfill your role. Add to that the styles of the game the company publishes and it’s even harder to find the right position. I thought that by getting my first job in a studio I had made it and everything would be easy after that. Finding that I had to keep working by myself and improve whatever the position I had reached was a rude awakening.
For freelance work, I have found that it’s all a question of having work in your portfolio that looks a lot like what the client wants. They don’t want to imagine what you could possibly do. For example, I’m unlikely to ever get a gig doing hard sci-fi, I have not a single robot or spaceship in my portfolio. A hefty client list also helps.
While no one would expect a dental hygienist to clean teeth by herself on the weekend beyond the needs of their classes to make sure they have a job upon graduation, unfortunately the same is not true for artists. Everyone can see at a glance how good you are and the competition is fierce. Art is not a protected title, anyone can give it a try to make it with enough hard work. You can’t increase scarcity by restraining training and even if you did, more non-credited schools would pop up. I did some research into art education recently because I’m considering teaching and I have found out that the number of schools in the province of Québec that teach some variation of art or design is staggering. The access to these classes in the public establishment is often limited due to limited positions available upon graduation but there are many many private schools that sell their services to students who think that what they need is a degree. Some of these programs are very intensive which means that the student gets their degree faster, but also that they have less time to practice on the side.
If you are in school, you need to get better than anyone else in your class at the thing it is you want to do. You probably won’t be better at everything but most programs teach a variety of skills. You need to find one that you are exceptionally good at. Also, compare what you do with what you see in the types of products you want to work on. No one is going to hire you to make their product look bad. Of course, art director’s will give you pointers and you will learn from your work mates, but you should be able to do SOMETHING that would fit in an existing product.
It’s not worth applying for jobs where you don’t have multiple samples of that particular specialty. I’ve seen that a lot. People with portfolios full of life drawings trying to get jobs in comics. People with portfolios of school work trying for senior jobs. It’s just a waste of everybody’s time.
You want to do concept art, you do several items that look like they belong on the same screen. You want to model, you need several models of different things. You want to animate you need several different animations. Not just walk cycles. And no 1 model, 1 animation, 1 button, 1 texture, 1 life drawing, 1 this, 1 that because that’s all homework. Everyone can tell if a portfolio is full of homework.
At the MIGS career fair there was an art show. There was no jury, as far as I could tell, if you paid, you were in. I was looking at some of the stuff asking myself what the person was thinking. It didn’t look like it belonged in a portfolio, even less on a wall at an industry event. It’s a good thing no one’s going to remember them so it won’t haunt them later, but it’s 25$ gone to waste because someone didn’t compare their work with industry level art. There is no use in promoting your work if it is sub par.
Promoting yourself is a different thing. Getting to know people before your work is of professional level might help you in the long run. Let people know that you are a nice person with a good attitude is a good thing. They might remember that when your art is better. (Note: this doesn’t mean you should stalk industry professionals, this is creepy.)
And since software and feedback is easier to come by in school it’s best to work your ass off when you are there. Because you will have to do it afterwards too, and the more you do it in school, the easier it will be after. It’s the 10 000 hours and all that.
In hope this helps!
On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week (November 13th and 14th 2012) was MIGS. MIGS stands for Montreal International Game Summit, or Sommet International du Jeu de Montréal in French. MIGS exists since 2004 and it’s now the center of a 4 days events that also includes web and mobile segments. It’s basically a big game conference with several tracks of lectures and panels, an exhibition area, a business lounge (for the suits to do deals in) and parties.
I went to MIGS in 2007 as a volunteer because I was a freelancer and couldn’t really afford the tickets. I wrote briefly about the experience here MIGS (Montreal International Game Summit) part 1 and here MIGS (Montreal International Game Summit) part 2 .
This year I only went on one afternoon because I was not a regular attendee, I was chosen to attend the Career Fair. How does that work. Well there was a large room at the conference venue (this year it was the Bonaventure Hilton) filled with booths from different companies, a small art show and at the back a stage and folding chairs. There were talks about career oriented subjects there and the seats did fill up. Regular attendees (the ones who had paying passes) could always attend the fair but to be chosen specifically for the Career Fair (for free) you had to have a suitable background and send in your resume and portfolio. A maximum of 300 people were chosen and allowed to get in there and meet the representatives of the different studios. When I got in line, I heard from the organizer that they were expecting around 250 people.
I showed up with an up-to-date portfolio, a pile of leave behinds (4″x6″ glossy photos of my art and business cards) and a stack of resumes in English and French and my confirmation letter. I was early and was lucky to be at the beginning of the line so when I entered many booths were still free of visitors.
Here are the highlights of my visit:
- I got to meet with people I know from previous studios I worked at, catch up and spread the word that I’m looking for work. Many of them have also moved on to new studios since, that makes my network wider. In fact, someone suggested I go back to work with them. I might take up that offer.
- I also scored a bunch of business cards with the name of the HR person and their direct e-mail (not email@example.com) and I left at least 8 c.v.’s and a handful of leave behind images. They are glossy and I had the HR person go WOW just in front of me. It might ring a bell when I contact them again. I have written on the backs of the cards notes about the companies including action items (contact next week, not looking now, maybe in Jan etc.)
- And last but not least I got two awesome and extended portfolio reviews, one of which was very positive (the person said I should contact them again when I have added something specific to my portfolio) and now I have very precise things I know I have to address.
I was exhausted afterwards but it was well worth it. I you plan to attend an industry event, here are my advice:
- Make sure your portfolio is up to date and features only things you want to do, and only your best pieces.
- Whether you get to talk to the head or HR or a PR person or just a random employee who volunteered to give a hand, be nice and polite and thank them for their time.
- Try to find the business card of the specific person you talked to if they are an HR professional. The second best is the card of an HR professional even if you didn’t talk to them, but with their own e-mail address.
- If you have space and time, take notes on the business cards right away. Things that will help you remember who they were, what they were looking for and the reaction they had to your work. If you can’t, do it as soon as you can after the event. You think you will remember everything. but you won’t.
- When you find someone who has the type of background to give your resume or portfolio a review, ask them politely if they can do it. Don’t argue with them and respect the fact that they don’t have to do that for you. If you think they misunderstood completely something, tell them what you were trying to accomplish and ask them what they suggest instead of what you have right now. Thank them for their time.
- Do I have to mention that you should think of the first impression you are going to give? Wear clean clothes, have unwrinkled c.v. ready to go, have a portfolio that doesn’t fall apart.
- That’s it.
Wow, remembering what I was doing at this time last year is tough. It’s been a busy busy year and it looks like the next one is going to be even more so.
Last year in January, we were still living in Quebec city. I was somewhat involved in the Art Order community, having just finished my Hurakan piece. I used to hang out with the folks at the Quebec City Drink and Draw, and coming up with activities for the Drawing club at work. I knew I wanted to do more illustration work, but I didn’t really know what to do about it. I was registered for the IMC but I didn’t know what to expect of it.
In March, my partner got a job offer in Montreal that he couldn’t refuse, so he moved there while I was looking for a new job. I tried transferring from Ubisoft’s Quebec studio to their Montreal studio, but they just didn’t need any artists. I sent a whole lot of resumes and ended up accepting a position with EA Mobile on their prototype/new devices team. I started in May, only our apartment wasn’t available until July. A lot of logistics ensued. In the middle of this mess, I went to the IMC, and despite almost missing out on the fact that I had an assignment to prepare and getting there with just thumbnails, I came out of there with a whole new focus and a lot of motivation.
I worked worked worked on my portfolio and went to Illuxcon 3 in November. It was great and I got the chance to meet up again with a lot of my IMC mates. I also got the chance to show my portfolio to a lot of people. Including Jeremy Cranford, Steve Prescott, Jean Scrocco and Jeremy Jarvis who all gave me great critiques. I was particularly lucky that Jeremy Jarvis was there because he had critiqued my work at the IMC and I had worked hard on the aspects that he told me about. Now he gave me new things to work on, so that’s encouraging!
I came back motivated again and kept working on my portfolio. Just like with my Hurakan piece for ArtOrder, I finished a new ambitious piece: Donjon Delve, just before the Holidays. I took a well deserved rest during the Holidays, and now I’m ready to get back in the action!
I also already registered for the 2011 IMC (only 12 places left!) and for Illuxcon 4 (and I got a showcase table, they were sold out in 30 hours!) So I’m looking forward to seeing some of you guys there.
As usual, you can see my work here: www.chantalfournier.com
My posts about Illuxcon 3:
Some other artists who made a review of 2010:
Bear with me, this is going to be a long one.
So, yeah, the IMC (Illustration Master Class) will be holding it’s forth iteration next June; again on the beautiful Amherst College campus. And I will be there, I registered the day the registration site went live. I missed the first 2 years, and I was not about to miss this one.
I could tell you that it’s awesome and that you need to get your ass there, but it wouldn’t really help. Instead I think I’ll do a recap of how it went for IMC 2010. I wanted to do that right after it but I was a bit overwhelmed and wanted to paint and not type.
So, when I saw the first iteration announced on Conceptart.org, I thought it looked cool, but I didn’t plan for it and couldn’t afford it. The second year, I missed registration and it was sold out by the time I found about it. The third year, I was determined not to miss it so I put some money aside and I registered, taking advantage of the reduction in price for people who pay early. The same is true this year, you get a 150$ break if you registered early and do just one payment. If I remember correctly, last year it was sold out in January or February, for an event happening in June. So yes it’s popular. And the proof is, a lot of the students are returning from year to year. If it sucked and was over-hyped, they would have to find new suckers every year, which is not the case here.
The class is 7 days long and food and board is included from the night before to the night after the classes. There is an assignment that you are supposed to work on before getting there so the preparatory work is done and on Day 1, they split the classes and everyone gets a very thorough critique of their preliminary drawing. I moved city just before IMC so I didn’t get my e-mails for a while and I only found out about the assignment at the last minute. So I only showed up with a handful of thumbnails and character designs. Luckily, it didn’t slow me down too much. That day was exhausting but it filled my head with more art information than what I had learned in the past few years, in just one day!
The following days we had lectures and worked on our assignments and had demos and had the faculty in class with us to guide us in our pieces. There really is something to be said for having classes small enough that the faculty can learn our names, know what we are working on. Some stayed on campus with us. Most took their meals with us, so we could chat with James and Janet Gurney at breakfast and then pick Donato’s brains during lunch, then go back to the class and have Dan Dos Santos do a paint-over on our piece and then go for a little lecture with someone else for the faculty, and then go back to work, rinse and repeat until you collapse.
Also, a surprising number of attendees are already professional illustrators and can provide valuable feedback and information. It’s also a wonderful place to make new friends who are super excited about art and just as motivated as we are.
Next year promises to be even more intense with more instructors and guests. I can’t wait to see the friends I made last year and to make new ones.
This is an answer to Conceptart user Keckhs
Job Title: 2D artist
Name: Chantal Fournier
Company of Employment:Ubisoft
Work Address: Quebec City
Why did you choose this career? I have a degree in fashion design and decided I didn’t want to do thatall my life. When I came across an ad for a 3D school, I decided THAT is what I wanted to do. I always wanted to do design or art.
What does this job entail? Mostly, I draw and animate 2D assets for videogames. Usually for DS games lately, but I have worked on retail PC, Flash and mobile games in the past. I also sometimes get involved in evaluating the amount of work in some projects and planning work pipelines. This is because we work in very small teams. Most artists in large teams don’t get so involved in planning. I have also done some project and team management in previous jobs.
What do you generally do in a typical work day? Can you explain your typical day-to-day work routine? Are there ever any exceptions to this routine? Well, it can vary but most of the time, I draw, animate, then I test my stuff and then put it on the central server. We have days where we plan ahead, usually a few days every 2 or 3 weeks. Sometimes I do test new possibilities and prototypes instead of doing final art.
What range of salary or income do you make, and who does that money come from? What is the typical income range for someone in this career? You might want to have a look at the Gamasutra salary Survey.
What would you say are your favorite things about this job? The possibility to come up with solutions. Since we are in small teams, we do a lot of different things and we get to come up with our own solutions to problems. We aren’t parked in a corner doing always the same work.
What are the challenging or difficult aspects of this job? Sometimes, we do things no one has done before (at least that we know of) so, while it’s fun to come up with solutions, some problems are tougher than others.
Skills and Education
What skills do you think are needed for this job? The ability to communicate verbally and textually. The ability to draw. Understanding of how art assets are made and different image formats. Knowledge of Photoshop is important.
What high school classes should a student interested in the career make sure that they have in order to get into said education? Art, language, math (yes yes, you will need your high school level math to do art.)
What higher (after high school) education is needed to get into this career? An art degree, or a video game art degree, or an animation degree, or no degree. But in all cases, a killer portfolio.
Are there any institutions that you would particularly recommend? I don’t know many of them. And I don’t even work in the field I studied (went to 3D school and I worked in 2D since then.)
Is the prestige of the institution important? Most often, your future emplyer won’t even ask if you went to school if your art is good enough.
What skills and/ or education do you have that you think helped you get into this career? I have management and leadership skills, I always end up with more responsibility than I signed up for. I can easily express myself.
Getting a Job
How did you specifically get into this career? My school had interviews at the end of my education and I was hired right out of school. So this helped with connections I might not have had otherwise.
How does one typically go about getting a job in this career? By building an swesome portfolio and sending it around, by networking (IGDA and CA.org are good places.) By being nice to people and letting them know they are looking for work.
Are there any particular methods that you would recommend? Make sure your website is up to date with your best stuff. Circulate it. If you have friends in the industry, being recommended is the best way.
What is your opinion of the job market for this career today? Is it easy or difficult to get into? How do you see it changing in the future? I think it depends on the location, and on your specialty. There are way more 3D people than 2D because it is taught more in schools. Some cities have more artists than jobs and others have more jobs than artists. It might be easier to get in smaller unknown studios than in large glamourous ones.
How does a person generally progress in this career? Artists often become leads, then art director or concept artist. Then they might move to technical art directors or assistant producer.
Are internships usually available for this job? If so, where would you suggest someone look for them? Do you know of any opportunities you would recommend? I saw some companies that had art internships and some that only had more technical (IT) internships. I have to say that I never had an internship and I know little about that.
Do you have any other advice for those looking into this career? Draw as much as you can. The stuff you put in your portfolio should be the stuff you want to be doing. If you want to do videogames, do mock up GUI, isometric tiles and units, character sprites. If you want to do concept art, do turn arounds and renders in many different styles (not just space marines!) Don’t forget the enviros and props.
Have a clean portfolio site with your best stuff in it. Never miss deadline. Be nice to your coworkers and classmates, you never know where your next job will come from.