Hi, I’m Junxue, CEO and general manager of Novtilus. Our company is an 2D art house, many great mobile developers outsource their art production to us. It’s a tough business, too many competitors, and due to the precarious nature of the industry, many clients couldn’t give us steady order. Any way, after much headache, we still manage to run our business. Here I have some tips to share, of how to manage an art team.
We do outsourcing work, and I think if your art team is a developer’s internal team, it doesn’t make much difference.
The Goals of managing the team:
Short term goal:
To complete certain amount of work before certain deadline, and you would have to deliver them in good quality.
What you have is, artists, equipments and limited funds.
Long term goal:
To build a business which is valuable to our clients and the industry, to offer the employees a career and a home.
The goals are simple enough, huh? Indeed, to meet the goals, lots of management job needs to be done:
The make up of the team:
What type of artists to hire? That depends on what types of job your team usually take over. Do you do lots of concept art for AAA console games? Or do you do a lot of background art for Match 3 games?
And another consideration is like this: generally, there are two types of artists: Type A artists like to take challenges, they always want to take something new, something need lots of design and investment of mental power; And Type B artists more like to have a steady job.
Today the trend of 2D games is that they need lots of details for graphics, you can see the background and characters are lavishly rich. Which means we need lots of manpower to polish up the artworks. It’s inevitable that you need an army of artists to do the same tedious work over months and years. So you should consider the orientation of your team: is your team a design type team, or your team needs to do a lot of polish-up job? If your team tends to do lots of polish-up job, you would need to hire lots of Type B artists, for Type A artists wouldn’t wish to stay long for this type of job; And if your studio needs to deliver superb, original work, you need to hire some great Type A artists.
In conclusion, you need to think over the composition of two types of artists, that would save you lots of efforts afterward.
It’s human nature to want to be part of something great. When a game your team take part in is released, let them download it and play, and tell them how popular this game is in the market. Every time I pass the news of a game’s release to the team, everyone is excited to play, and some people even beat to hundreds of levels, -because the game is their mind child. They often share the game with their friends and tell them “I’m doing great job!”
And if there’s a chance to dramatize your work, don’t let go of it.
We’re handling graphics for retina displays, we often deal with pictures of 4000+ pixels size, with hundreds of layers. So it’s essential to prepare PC or Mac which can run smoothly. Slow machines are killers of efficiency. We had made a test, for a background art work, on fast machine it would take 4 days for an artist to complete, a general machine, 5 days. You can calculate how much money is in that! And psychologically, slow machines makes the artists blue, which in turn reduces efficiency.
Of course you don’t have limitless budget for computers. So my suggestion is to buy assembled PC of $1000 mark (Monitor is not included).
And for tablets, there are generally two types, traditional ones and that you can paint directly on the screen. Find out your artists would work more efficiently on which type of tablets. It would only be a few hour’s difference for a picture, but over years, wow, that is a lot of money!
Our every project has clear quality definition, and reference pictures. By default, every artist agree to deliver work at this level. And when a work is completed, our AD and PM would double check the work. If the work can’t meet the standard, the artist would have to fix it. Only after the work is internally approved, it’s deem done, and would enter the Performance Assessment account of the artist.
It’s simple to control the quality in this way, we don’t really spend much efforts to this issue.
In our studio, we keep a clear account of jobs each artist has done each month. And by the end of the month, we take the sum of each artist. The passing line is 17 man/days, if some one does less than 17 man/days’ work, she/he will be penalized. More that 17, there would be bonus for each additional day’s work.
Some teams would invest lots of efforts to monitor the progress and completion of each picture, while we use this method, the artists would monitor themselves.
After the amount of work and deadline of a certain project are decided, we first need to do some planning. First, we would see how many man/days’ work is that in total, and delivery stages. Then we need to think how to assemble a team for it: how many artists are needed, who are suitable for this work. And by our timeline, we can even calculate how much bonus each artist could expect to have, according to our Performance Assessment policy.
While we have the plan, and a Performance Assessment policy that artists would monitor themselves, that we can let the team run itself like a machine, and reap fruits at due time? By no means! Our PM still need to track the progress from time to time. Over a short interval, the PM would check if the works are progressed as expected, if not, find the problem and fix it.
When something goes wrong...
If our PM spots certain artist slow in working, or deliver bad works over a short period of time, she knows this is something need to be fixed asap. She would talk to the artists gently, ask what is the problem: Does she/he feel sick, or something at home is wrong. We would try to find solutions.
Over years of dealing with artists, I feel that all people are sincere, and wish to deliver good work. If something goes wrong, it is often not because of laziness or ill intent. So initially, you can’t think people as less men and throw company policy at their face. Instead, be kind and nice to them.
Assign able AD and PM
The responsibility of Art director and Project manager in our studio:
Guide creative work;
Teach the team member how to achieve certain style and art quality;
Finished work check up.
Pass down clients’ feedback and gather fixed work;
Keep Performance Assessment account;
Not everyone can make a good AD and PM, for example, you need a meticulous and blood type A person for the PM position. Don’t waste time to train unfitting people for these positions.
It’s important to have relaxing activities regularly: invite the team to dinner, drink, have a party, barbecue, go traveling. It would make the team more like a family and inspire good team spirit.