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

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