Tips for the Aspiring Game Artist

I just wanted to write this and share my experience for those who are having a difficult time landing a job or need some inspiration to “stay on target”.

Like many others, when I was young I always aspired to becoming a game developer. I lived video games, breathed them and loved playing them with my friends. It’s a culture and its a lifestyle thats often categorized with lazy, nerdy geeks that hide in basements all day, but the fact of the matter is that it was a bit of both for me. While I was a successful athelete in track and field, as well as music and very much had a social life, I often disappeared at great lengths, disappearing into my room (which was the 3rd car garage of our home, converted for purpose of my sole reign) tinkering with Unreal Tournament and Quake 1.

As I grew up, I thought becoming an artist was way out of my league as I had absolutely no talent in that area other than building lego blocks in level editors and drawing dinosaurs in my sketchpad. Little did I know the areas I could focus my attention and become a skilled artist. Still, I lacked the confidence and the attitude required to push myself into this competitive industry. After high school in 2001, I joined the Marines and decided to raise money for school. Maybe it was a special education I needed to get me a degree and point me to some direction in life, and this career. Little did I know September 11 was bound to happen and my life thrown into a crazy twist.

Fast forward 5 years, after two tours in Iraq I left the Marine Corps in 2006 and decided to use my skills as an Aviation Technician. The only major problem with my job was that it was tiring, tedious and I was working in a hangar full of old grumpy men. Was this what I was destined for? For five years I had been repairing combat helicopters, saving lives and taking care of fellow Marines, to having to serve some rich fortune 500 business owner and repairing his private jet. What a pathetic life. I decided to ditch it all, and put my money on school.

I gained an education at the Art Institute of California – San Diego and basically realized how crappy I was at holding a pencil. I worked very hard and pushed C average’s to A’s and dedicated absolutely 100% of my effort and time into making kickass game art. I was never good, but I fought for it and I wasn’t afraid to ask questions. Eventually after 3 years, and a year of portfolio development I had what I thought was strong enough work to break into the industry. Little did I know how, little it was compared to the grand scope of things required of me.

I learned so many tips and advice from professionals, and wanted to share them as I applied myself to the industry. Having good portfolio work is just a part of the puzzle, but here are a list of things I find essential to embedding your career to a solid company or studio.

1. Specialize, not Generalize – This industry is packed full of generalists. The fact is that an employer or studio is seeking someone who specializes in certain tasks to help remedy their milestones or deliverables. Develop your portfolio based on that and seek to show off the absolute best in quality in the profession you are mastering. Decide between Characters, Environments, Props, or Weapons and Vehicles. Concept? Illustrations? Seek the category you’re looking for and aim to polish it.

2. Portfolio, not Blogfolio – So many portfolios are like a confused rabid wall of opinions and text. You are in an art field. Minimize the text, maximize the amount of art thumbnails. Maintain a healthy online digital portfolio as well as a physical portfolio. I high recommend leather folio from Blicks, or such art stores that carry professional portfolio’s.

3. Resume – Have it, maintain it and keep it simple. Don’t place useless experience like working Burger King or KFC. Nobody cares if you were the General Manager of SEARS or the President of PETA Pet Foundations. It is much better to have mod experience than non-related work experience with non applicable traits.

3. Networking – The Game Developers conference is a Mecca for developers. It would behoove you to save up some money, beg, borrow or steal and make your way there. DO NOT just wander around. Go and speak with people, ask for opinions, share your business card and artwork. Talk to them about games. More likely when you hit off a conversation about the art style in Mass Effect 3 or how you liked the Radiosity solutions in Mirrors Edge, you will become enveloped into a more comfortable environment with both interests.

4. Game Art Forums – Create an account and actively troll either http://game-artist.net  http://polycount.com or http://gameartisans.org A wealth of tutorials, advice, and job placement opportunities can be found here.

5. Never Give Up – Always maintain a positive attitude. I took many art tests and was denied at several places before I landed my first gig. It’s a matter of time before you are found and a lot of times, its all about the Studios style or character they seek when looking for a possible employee. Never Ever, Ever, Give Up. If you are between jobs, always maintain a portfolio and continue to work on your specialization.

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I hope that these words would find its way to those who struggle or lack direction to something they genuinely find as their passion. It is but a small step in life, and this career and maybe like me you will carry on to being a nobody, to somebody!