Career Feature: ‘An Artist Grown’

Artists in the game industry risk a short career path if they don’t learn where and how to grow. One tactic is to become an art director. Robert Chang, studio art director at iWin, explains
February 26, 2008
Artists in the game industry risk a short career path if they don’t learn where and how to grow. One tactic is to aspire to become an art director, though it’s certainly not a job for everyone. Robert Chang, studio art director at iWin, explains what art direction is on Gamasutra’s sister web site for career education, His article, “An Artist Grown: Reflections on Being a Video Game Art Director,” explains not only what art directors do, but who among the ranks of artists is most likely to succeed at this higher-level job. He also reviews, step by step, the art director’s role in both pre-production and production of a game, as this excerpt shows: “When a game is in its infancy, it’s usually just an idea, and it has to evolve into a fully completed game design document, detailing everything about how the game is to be played: control layout, game rules, user interface, game mechanics, story, content, level design, and everything else that can be written down or diagrammed. As a senior manager, I’m invited to all review meetings, and my involvement in a game starts at roughly the point when the initial idea is pitched to the senior managers. … Once a producer is assigned, I work closely with him or her and the designer to determine the game’s visual style. Often the designer already has an idea for what it should be. If his idea is good, I use it as a starting point and then refine it, add to it, evolve it. If I don’t feel the designer’s idea will work, then I have to come up with something new and try to sell it to the producer and designer, usually with references, mock-ups, sketches, and other visual tools. They either like what I come up with or we powwow back and forth until we reach common ground. Whatever the case, anything visual is my responsibility, so I’m the driving force behind the visual development. But as part of a team, I also respect the input and opinions of co-workers, no matter what their position. After determining the visual style, I sit down with the producer and help her budget and schedule the art production by going through the entire art assets list. I weigh the pros and cons of using expensive art resources that are very good, or cheap ones that are not as reliable. Our internal art team is quite small, so the bulk of our art production is done externally. I’m in charge of picking which art house or freelance artists to use, and that usually means I have to give them art tests to make sure they can nail the style we’ve defined. Sometimes I will have already done some preproduction work, such as concept art or mock-ups, and will use them as the benchmark to judge the art tests. Whom we decide to use is always determined by a mix of factors: How good is the result? How long did it take? How much will it cost? Where are the artists located? How well do they communicate?” Read Chang’s full advice about art directing on

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