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  • Game Art and Animation, An Introduction

    - Jill Duffy
    What is art and animation, as it relates to video games?

    Art and animation in video games refers to how things physically look, which includes everything from the packaging on a retail video game, to the texture of the skin on each character, to the graphical user interface, to the way a character rolls her ankle when she walks. It does not include how the game-playing device or controller (the hardware) looks.

    Although programmers are responsible for where and why characters move, animators are responsible for how they move. And while designers may be responsible for the curves of a roadway in a racing game, the artists give the asphalt its texture and its shiny gloss when it becomes slick with oil or rain.

    What do artists do?

    Artists and animators create the 2D and 3D visible elements of a game. They decide how everything will look: characters, objects, the environment, and the lighting. The look and movements of characters in their environments is what gives them a sense of life and emotion.

    Artists build these things using art software applications; some common ones in the game industry include Photoshop, 3ds Max, Maya, Softimage XSI, Blender, Houdini, Modo, and Zbrush. If an application is particularly comprehensive in what it allows an artist to do, it will sometimes simply be called an "art package." Animators, whose focus is on movement, use many of these same applications but might also use motion-capture equipment.

    Other industries that closely relate to game art and animation are computer graphics (in film, it's sometimes referred to as CGI or computer-generated imagery) and industrial design (many designers in the automobile industry, for example, use the same software as game artists). There also is a little kinship between 2D game artists and comic book illustrators.

    What does an artist need to know?

    A video game artist or animator should study the basics of fine art: art theory, art history, composition, color, form, space, and light. Just because video game artists compose their work on computers does not exempt them from having to understand traditional art.

    Artists who want to work in the video game industry should know Photoshop well enough to create a few pieces of original artwork with the program that can be included in their professional portfolio. Aspiring game artists do not necessarily need to know any other major software application relevant to the job, though it does help to have a proficiency in at least one.

    How much money do artists make?

    The average salary for a video game artist, across all levels of experience, is $65,107. The average salary for an artist with three or fewer years experience is $42,672. Both of these statistics are taken from the Game Developer Salary Survey, reflecting salaries reported at year-end 2006.

    What job titles can an artist have?

    • Game artist
    • 3D animator
    • 3D modeler
    • Character artist
    • Cinematic animator
    • Concept artist
    • Texture artist
    • User interface artist
    • World or environment artist
    • 2D background artist
    • Art director
    • Effects artist
    • Lead artist
    • Art director
    • Technical artist

    What types of people or personality traits make good artists?

    Artists are typically known for being creative types, but in the game industry, they need to be able to balance their left and right brains in order to complete everyday tasks. Video game artists who go far in the game industry tend to be the people who can balance their creative and analytical sides. They might by nature by expressive, imaginative, and disorganized, but for the sake of the team, they learn to adopt other necessarily traits, like an organized mindset (or at the very least, an organized desktop) and good time management skills. The single biggest setback to almost all game development studios is time, and if an artist can do his or her part in keeping a project on schedule, everyone benefits.

    A video game artist must also have a team-player attitude, which can be difficult to master in an environment that thrives on personal creativity. Knowing what's best for the project and the target audience is more important than proving to others that you have impeccable taste. Similarly, game artists must develop a thick skin seeing as the fruits of their imagination are critiqued on a regular basis.

    What other resources does have for me if I want to know more about art and animation?

    "Becoming a Game Concept Artist," by Brenda Brathwaite

    "Entering Art School," by Samuel Crowe

    "Game Industry for Entry Level Artists: The Job," by Samuel Crowe

    "Game Industry for Entry Level Artists: The Portfolio," by Samuel Crowe

    "Ask the Experts: Animation Show Reels," by Jill Duffy

    "An Artist Grown: Reflections on Being a Video Game Art Director," by Robert Chang

    Art section on our community forum


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