Sunday, October 31, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Art of Ensnaring Artists

At DigiPen, artists are a hunted variety. This is for a number of reasons, the primary being: A) We are discouraged from working with programmers. B) There are many more programmers than artists. C) We don’t get any credit (unless you’re on a senior game projects team) for it.

Addressing A: Most teams are not strong enough for artists. You may be confident in your skills, but if you've never worked with artists before you won't know the challenges that arise. (See my tech requirements) Most of the art faculty members don’t know how to gauge the raw strength of a development team. Very few artists do. I have found that you won’t know until you’ve worked with a couple teams. And that’s not all.

Sometimes, genres change second semester, libraries of art assets get thrown, you don’t have a level editor until halfway through second semester (surprisingly, devs don’t like hard coding everything, so assets don’t get in game, and play tester after play tester comment on your placeholder art). Sometimes, you don’t have lighting or shadows, so everything looks horrible in game. Sometimes, devs treat artists like artist monkeys. Sometimes, devs act like we have a magic wand and just make things happen. We have a process; just because you don’t know it doesn’t mean it’s not there. And of course, there are tons of silly tech issues that can come up (coming soon: a model clean check list; watch this blog).

You have to overcome that block by reassuring your artists everything will be okay. You can only do that if you have strong enough tech.

Addressing B: I spoke to an industry dev about this imbalance the other day. His instant solution was, “well, bribe them!" He had a good idea. Some programmers do try this, but they usually don’t follow through. Yes, artists like food and artists like praise. That’s just where you start. If you have juniors or five-year kids during second semester should be tutoring them in physics (The majority of artists dislike physics.). When they show you things, either be super positive or introduce Perfection game (, which is great for working with artists. Do.Not.Take.Your.Artists.For.Granted. And don’t be a jerk!

Just be a team that is fun to work with. During weekly work jams, invite your artists along. Try and integrate them into the team. That is how you will get the best results. Most artists will follow feelings, not tech. If you’re awesome, but a jerk to work with, you will find it hard to get artists. On the matter of food: I bring my artists food just about every week in class. Hungry artists aren’t productive artists. I know too many that forget to eat, so be sure they’re eating! I do have a skill most producers looking for artists don’t. I tap into their passions. Try to figure out what their "I wants" are and how to match them. Because I speak "artist" fluently, this is an easy task for me. It might require a longer discussion for some. Try and get informed about the artist pipeline and different specialties (maybe I’ll spell this out in a later post).

Addressing C: You have to be aware of artists' schedules. A good producer will organize around their schedules. Make sure they are passing their classes. The hammer will be slammed down on you if they start doing poorly in classes. As an Art Manager for a senior team, I get all of my artists to give me their school workload every week. When I can, I get them to give me hour estimates. Not all artists like giving hour estimates, and it’s hard for some of them to provide realistic numbers. Expect that it will take several weeks for them to be able to give realistic hours. You should always plan with padding, adding extra hours for Murphy’s sake. During hard times, I have scheduled some of my artists’ nitty-gritty: an hour to hour block schedule, day by day. Some people find having schedules made for them makes them feel very secure. Some artists I just give a queue of tasks to and they get them done. Above all, make sure the artists on your team are not burning out. The regeneration time required post burnout is seldom worth the advantage gained by crunch production.

So, go forth! Talk to people. Be kind to people. Ask for help. Bribe artists with food. Bonus bit: Flyers are mostly useless, as many artists ignore them. Talk to artists!


Mme. Art Producer Arisa Scott

What you should be able to tell me before you ask for artists.

I’m on Neko team and we have very strong tech, so it takes a lot to impress me. But, after having worked with two teams that weren’t as strong (but still, not bad); I have a decent idea of what it takes to make a power team. I should note that our score average for our engine proof was 10.3. See the video part of our engine proof:

(For those not familiar with DigiPen. Scores are 1-10 and then an 11 if they go “holy moly!” Engine proof takes place during week 5 of the semester. DigiPen engines are built from scratch.)

Here follows, like the title says, what you should be able to tell me before you ask for artists.

The basics: What is the genre? How tightly tied down is this? Do you have a prototype (even in Flash or some such) that is fun? If you weren’t going to do this, what are your fall back points? What is the smallest scope you could have and still have a fun game?

What are the main mechanics? Are they in game? Are they fun?

Will you send me the GDD and any other written assets?

Can I get a screenshot of your current game?

What is your present team size and strengths? (Strongest on architecture or on physics? Weak on gameplay or graphics?)

Who are the members on the team and what are they responsible for?  Is there strong organization and leadership on the team? Is there lots of scheduling or are the members mostly self-starters who take care of their own management?

What's the dedication level of the team? (Are you super ambitious or looking to be solid but not overextend yourselves?) What is the course load of the team? Do they have jobs? How many hours per week are you putting in as a team?

How many minutes of gameplay will you have? By the end of fall semester? End of spring? Do you plan on polishing over summer?

How far along are you currently?

How did your engine proof presentation go? Do you enjoy presenting or just do it to get it done? Either is acceptable, but to find the right artists I need to know the work style of the team.

What is your physics engine like? Do you have collision and resolution? Do you have stacking? If no to either of those last two, how will you avoid needing them?

What is your gameplay like? What makes your game fun? What system (physics, AI, whatever) would you say is most useful in making the game fun? Do you have a level editor? Do you need a level editor?

More questions:
Graphics? Do you have animations in? Do you have animation blending? What file format are you using? Is it easy to get stuff in game? If I handed you 20 models, how long would that take to convert and get in game? Just fbx or something better? My team converts .mb (maya) files right into binary files. What texture types are you currently supporting? Diffuse, specular, normal, glow and alpha? Do you have lighting in? Do you have shadows? Shader library? What versions of direct x do you support?

To almost impress me:
Interactive ambient occlusion? Can you project movies as textures? Any other tech you plan on having?

Are your systems (graphics & physics in particular) integrated into the engine? (Or rather, what is integrated and what is being integrated?)

Do you have AI? Do you need AI? Will there be any enemies?

Do you use sprints or waterfall? How does your organization work? If sprints: What are you trying to get done over this next sprint? How long is your next sprint? What will you have by the next milestone?

What's the desired art style?

What cartoon best represents the art style you want?

What movie?

What emotion or combo of emotions best fits the game?

Any other inspiration?

Post note for devs: Depending on where you're going and where you're at, I might be able to help you nail down an art style guide and get you some strong concept and art in general over the winter break.

I'm a senior. I want portfolio pieces. This means I want to speed artists up with their art asset creation: making gantt charts/scheduling for artists and creating style guides. I know a lot of seniors that are busy right now, but would be willing to make assets over break (and will be working on their portfolios over break). If they're going to be making stuff over break anyway, they might as well be making stuff for games; or I can try and find you juniors/sophomores right away, however they're not as skilled and they don't have a lot of time.

Post note for artists: Don't worry about everything on their end being perfect (actually, on their end or yours) unless it's your senior project. Junior year is the time to learn things, to make mistakes and figure out how best to work with programmers. Work with people you like. It's good to do this sophomore year, second semester if you can, but you won't have a ton of experience in 3d, so try and work with upperclassmen. In general, it is a good idea to have an art team of at least three -- unless you're a beast (like Jengy) who thrives on turning out everything. My artists and I wouldn't be fast enough for this super team without the experiences we have had. When picking your senior project (or if given a choice between teams), the key things you need to know are: A.) Can they presently load all art assets you would want in game and does the result not look horrible? B.) Do they have a level editor/an easy way to get your assets in game? C.) Is their game fun or do they have a fun Flash prototype? Seniors should avoid risking being held back by tech.

Mme. Art Producer Arisa Scott

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Road to Art Awesome: Neko Team Style

Recruiting artists is hard. Recruiting unpaid artists is harder. I’m a senior at DigiPen institute of Technology. I’ve worked as an art director on two different games before this one. This is the first time I’ll actually be really getting credit for it: Five credit hours, fifteen glorious hours a week expected. I have, of course, been pouring in more than that.
 I joined Neko team in May. During spring semester, Rachel Rutherford introduced me to Caleb Fisher, The producer on Neko Team. He was the producer on bLight. I was impressed with his professionalism and how far along their game was. I gave some feedback on their art and liked how they handled everything. He met up with three programmers (Fernando Silva, Travis Hince and Edgars Sturmanis) from Y-Soul. I know I had to follow that power of tech. Caleb interviewed me and, honestly, it was harder hitting than most job interviews I’ve had (for jobs like drafting for electrical engineers and homebuilders). He asked Rachel how she thought we would do together, talked to his team, and then brought me on board. 
I was given free rein to find the art team. All of my artists were interviewed by both of us.
I took a couple of classes that summer with my good friend Megan Noble ( She had bad luck with a game team in the past school year. Art assets just chucked away. Not an uncommon tale at DigiPen. I kept at her with tales of how awesome my devs are and how much potential this game has. If there was a bet to take, this team was it. It was the beginning of June when she saw the truth of it. You would have to ask her what made her decide this insanity was going to work. 
Towards the end of June I “acquired” Amanda Lien ( We had tagged emails back and forth; she was interested, just busy with life -- a common theme with most artists I spoke to. Summer is a hard time to recruit artists. Amanda was very enthusiastic. I wanted her because strong ability to conceptualize is important and I knew that was her drive. I had recruited her for Desk Wars as a concept artist. (She was one of five artists I picked up for that team.) I knew she could deliver and knew I liked working with her.

We didn’t have an animator. I kept talking to people and keeping my ear to the ground. Eventually, I got directed to Sarah “Chip” Nixon ( an artist who really, really wanted a game team to animate for. She joined us at the beginning of August. Chip meshes well with our team. She’s “only” a junior, but we help her with her classes by sharing our own experience of having been there, and she animates for us! In the summer before she had any Maya classes, we started teaching her how to animate in Maya, so she would be ready for us. 
Ryan “the Sandman” Sand ( ) is a rockstar all-rounder. He decided to specialize in environment and that’s what he spent his summer focusing on. I knew I had the character people I needed, but you need so many environment assets for a game. Ryan had a team he had already agreed to. He liked the people he was working with and didn’t want to break that obligation. However, they weren’t working over summer and we charging through it. They were being flakey with him. He joined us at the end of August. He’s been my DM since freshmen year (we’re currently playing Pathfinder), so I knew I liked being around him. I also knew he could slam out assets. He did an obscene amount of work for a game that didn’t do his effort justice. Every time I came over to D&D, I would drop a line or two in about how awesome my team is. And that paid off.
One of the first people I had tried to grab was Jengy “The beast” Gomez ( I was very impressed with the work (quality and quantity) she did on her last game. She was very positive and energetic every time I talked to her. She had turned me down because she wanted to do an independent study and pursue another project. Thankfully for me, the teachers wanted her to be on a team project. She got in touch with me at the beginning of the semester and I pumped my fist. She brings a lot to my team.

It’s the end of week 7. We have 15 weeks in a semester and a long way to go with Neko Team. It’s going to be a fun journey.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Just another day of awesome!

I got the opportunity to go to Smashing Ideas studio in Seattle and talk to Jarrett Lanfear, a producer over there about his process. It was super informative and also, comforting to know that organization for 2d games is a lot like it is for 3d. I kept in contact with him and we set up a time for my team to present what we've worked on.

That was yesterday and I'm still high off the happy. Smashing Ideas is an awesome studio, with a great atmosphere and lots of cool people!

Because there were more people than we expected (10 or so) Caleb made the call that we should show them our engine proof presentation. He and I went went to the front, tossing things to other team members as needed. It is awesome how organic presenting with him is becoming! I love this team and the experience that it is. Being able to go to a studio and be in sync made me appreciate how fantastic things are!

It's a people!

More like a person than my last painting! I dislike how photos lose color and flatten things out (being a cell camera also doesn't help). But, eh. I'm getting somewhere. Just wish I could get there faster!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Brand thy self!

I adore design. It's a lot of fun trying to figure out what will read best. The top image is the current version of my business card (which I need to get printed) and the bottom image is my exciting resume (here have a pdf). Versions 4 or 5 of both of them. I've been going back and forth with the instructor for my portfolio class (Monte, who is awesome).

This idea of branding and marketing one's self, strikes me as a funny one. I also find it to be a bit of a conundrum. Just because of my skill set. What am I? What do I label myself as? Recently, I've flippantly been saying that I'm a project manager stuck in an art degree. I love being an artist but, when I graduate I don't want an art heavy job. I want a people heavy job. I want a job that uses these skills I have and have been taking for granted. 

It's made harder by the fact that the video game industry isn't exactly consistent from company to company about what a job title means. Am I a producer? An art manager? An art director? Maybe an art producer? That one sounds close but, not a job title you see around. So, right now my tag is "artist who fell in love with excel". It usually makes people smile and I like that. But, the stuff I do is so much more about people time than organizational time. Yes, I need to have my time with my spreadsheets (but, seriously I can do that to relax). But, the larger chunk of time is on invisible tasks. It's about unblocking people, keeping people in communication with each other and just making sure it all gets done.

Right now, I'm trying to find somewhere to work part time starting in January. That job title will hopefully be "Assistant Producer" I think that's one I can realistically aim for. I just need to finish making my producer's portfolio! And finishing figuring out what that is.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's a building!

I know, exciting right? I really enjoy doing line work but, rarely have the patience to just go for it. I'll probably take this into photoshop and spend some more time on it. Crtl+Z is awesome.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Drawing trees on dead tree

Just some trees for a class.The bottom one I did first, the top one I did last. It was fun figuring out how to draw trees and I'm definitely going to do another version of these guys! The bottom one looks way too scribbly!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Starting off Week 7 "it's like tuning up a ferrari"

We had an artist team-on-one with Rachel Rutherford (a game faculty member at Digipen). It was good, it really energized the artists. It was hard for me to hear where the breakdowns in communication are happening. It was great to realize that while things aren't perfect, I know how to improve things. It was a very honest and direct gathering. I thought to myself "jeeze, we've got such a long way to go!" and Rachel was "You guys are such a high functioning team <3 !!" Which surprised me! It seems our willingness to confront our problems is part of what makes us a good team.

We hadn't been very structured in our weekly sprints start/end dates. I wanted this last one to run Sunday to Sunday, to make it easier to schedule with classes. I found out this confused some of my artists because they were expecting Wednesday to Wednesday (when we meet in class). I didn't communicated this strongly enough (silly me, expecting artists to read emails). And it turns out everyone wants to have weekly artist jams, it's just been hard to organize because of other classes. I wish I could just focus on working with my artists, removing their blocks, pushing their skills and just make their lives easier. Dumb other classes, that aren't what I want to do with my life!

This Wednesday will be the start of a new sprint and we'll have a jam from 6-10pm. I also bought a bunch of pumpkins so we can carve them!

I love my artists and I love my team. We just have some pain to get through right now. Our level editor is being made right now, once that's done we'll be able to charge a lot faster.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Week 6 oil paintings!

It's a hat! Just my pink fedora. It was fun to paint but, I was a bit stressed and in a hurry so I didn't take the time I should have with it. Still, it amuses me at least. I think next time I'll get more a intense lighting set up and go for a more intense composition.

Ack, in class painting! It was upstairs in our main lab, a guy in a suit (with a vest under his suit). People kept talking to me and distracting me. (Not to mention it was a very loud area.) It's really hard for me to not talk to people when I'm in a sociable mood, people are fun! Next time I'll go outside and paint trees so I can focus.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Week 6 game team sprint!

Woosh, time is flying! I currently am not listed on this sprint chart (I'm listed in the excel). My sprint is organizational and actualizing a super secret project we've been floating in our heads.

We're currently redoing out main character rig. We don't have support for IKs within the engine so we were baking them in. By that we found out that our linking wasn't done in a game friendly manner. We had a reverse foot on our main character which lead to a chain that wasn't upstream (connecting an upstream to a downstream doesn't work for out engine). Our new rig is being called the Gundam rig. This is because we're building a super rig that is everything we want and constraining our basic game rig to it. We're letting our wimpy rig be driven by the super rig and will then just bake simulation on it (deleting the gundam rig and just giving our engine the basic one).

It's interesting seeing the current look in game, it's just not quite there. By this time next week I really want to have our main character's textures actually in game. Over the next two weeks we're pushing to get a small room that will be the high level of polish we want for our overall game--have to see what it takes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

That was week 5

Woo, today is the first day of week 6 and I have so much to get done! Here's what I painted last week:

This was an interior, I accidentally turned my blue into green in the last five minutes of class. This made me very sad, but it was pointed out to me that my value was spot on! Yay, value! Maybe I'll get that color thing down someday but, progress!

I did this one before that one and didn't have the value thing down yet. Mostly I fought with making my colors. I had very soft light and decided I'm not going to paint in soft light until I get a lot stronger.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Week four of oil painting!

In class painting! I realized I need to spend time making color swatches because I don't know how to make colors in a precise manner.

People seem to tease me for throwing myself into my work. I never really notice until it's pointed out to me. My favorite bit is the "scar" I have on my left temple.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I've been working on my personal logo. I went with two fedoras! I like wearing fedoras. But more than that, I have two hats I wear. My handy dandy artist hat (that of creation) and my newly shined art manager hat (that of organization). Once I have a site up different band colors will represent different things. Haven't decided yet!