In 2003, I worked for a very small company called Fugitive Interactive on their first game. When I started working there, there was an artist and two programmers and no design doc. All we knew what that we were working on a beach volleyball game on Pocket PC (yep, it’s that old.) Back then I had just two and half years experience in the gaming industry, but that was still more than all the others together (who had a total of 0 years of experience.)
So I started to create an art bible, wrote the specs and documentation, tried to manage the staff. It wasn’t easy and we had to let the artist go because he wanted to work on paper and have me scan everything. Imagine my surprise when I got started and he gave me the animations as a stack on index cards. Oh, and he refused to do anything other than manga style. In the end, I did all the art myself, we had to change programmers a few times but the game came out. We even worked on another game after that.
So for this Throwback Thursday, here are a few screenshots from the game that I put in my portfolio after that. I’m a bit embarrassed by them today, but it could have been worse.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
I have been in the game industry since 2000 and while most 2d art positions I have seen require knowledge of Illustrator, in these 12 years I have had to use it exactly once.
This is not to say that the ability to create vectorial assets is not important. But it happens that I have usually relied on Flash or Photoshop to do it. It’s more simple and easier to integrate in the final product (the game.) I realize that knowledge of the vector tools in Photoshop is not that widespread and that’s why I filmed this small tutorial to get you started. There are many other possibilities, and they are yours to discover.
I hope this helps. Unfortunately, my Photoshop is in French, so maybe I’m not using the exact same names as in English.