I recently read a great post by Andrew Greenberg on his blog (http://gametheoryonline.com/2010/10/28/video-game-students-college-degre) by way of Chad Moore. The cliff notes version of it is you need to not only go through the motions of school and creating art, but you need to excel at that and go above and beyond. Andrew's posting is great but it really pertains to designers and programmers mainly. For artists there are a few changes to the bullet list of things to do to.
- Your virtual self - Self-promotion is very important in the video game industry. You need to have a web presence and a active portfolio. Put up art work as you make it. Eventually start taking down the worst pieces and only leave up the best 5% or 10% of your work. You want employers to see your best work only. Do not show off mediocre work if you are actively looking to start a career.
- Hit the boards - Go to the internet art bulletin boards (polycount and game artisans are two of the best) and start posting up projects. Even if they are little objects and parts of a characters or sketches, do it. Start getting feedback from industry professionals. A decent amount of professional artists are actually active on these boards. Most of the people running these places are professional artists that want to give back to the community that helped them out at one point. Just start positive and don't make people hate you before you start out. I've had the opportunity to meet some great people through these places. Some are now great friends of mine that I have stayed in contact with for years.
- Play games too - Artists also need to play a wide range of games. Not only to see what market trends are current, but also to get inspiration and to start breaking down how things are done. Look at a character, level, effect, texture and try to reverse engineer how it was made. I know people who are brillant at doing this. Having an artistic bar set high from a game that looks amazing is a great way of developing your artistic eye before you are started in your career -- which is another thing you need to do.
- Artistic eye - Start looking at everything. Raindrops, wood planks in the hardware store, tiles at a hotel pool, just look at everything and start figuring out what elements make it up. What colors are there and not there? What other elements are there? Is it dull, shiny, etc? You need to be looking at everything with a critical eye and start learning what is good art and bad art. The best way to do this is to start looking at reality and then start looking at video game art after.
- Art entourage - Have a group of peers that you show your stuff to regularly and get constructive feedback from. I have a group of friends that I share my work with. They give me honest and insightful feedback on what areas I need to improve. Some people have a better eye at lighting or modeling than others, and some have a better knowledge of sculpting and texturing than others.
- Make stuff - Do NOT ever stop making new personal artwork. Even if you land your dream job make new art. You always want to stay current with the styles, trends, and influences that are shaping the field you plan to have a career in. Starting this on day zero is a great way to do this.
Going above and beyond is not as hard as it sounds. It just takes dedication, drive, and determination to contribute to a field that you hope to have a long and happy career in.