The Interactive Gaming Industry Needs Art Majors

interactive game design
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Life-like gaming experiences require an impressive roster of people. Designers, lighters, programmers and artists all play integral roles. However, our interactive office in Seattle has been experiencing, first-hand, this exploding recent need for “environment” or “world artists.”

As a recruiter in the interactive gaming field, I work with a lot of clients who are responsible for creating some of the hottest games on the market. From Halo to Forza Motorsport and Gears of War, I’ve directly recruited and staffed a lot of behind-the-scenes people who make these virtual projects a reality. However, one recent job in particular that has been getting a lot of play is environment or world artists.

Simply put, there aren’t enough interactive gaming designers to go around. This high-demand industry is now a very lucrative one.

Art in Games: Why Art & Gaming Go Hand-And-Hand

Art and animation in games refers to the way in which things physically appear. This includes everything from the texture of the skin on each character, to the graphical user interface, to the way a character rolls her ankle when she walks.

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. 

A Day in the Life of an Environmental Artist

Artists and animators create the 2D and 3D visible elements of a game. They determine the appearance of everything: characters, objects, the environment, and the lighting. Artists and animators accomplish these tasks by using a number of art software applications. Some of the most common interactive gaming industry applications include:

  • Photoshop
  • 3ds Max
  • Maya
  • Softimage XSI
  • Blender, Houdini
  • Modo
  • Zbrush

If an application is particularly comprehensive in what it allows an artist to do, it will sometimes be called an “art package.” This happens when an animator’s focus is on movement. They may use many of these same applications, but might also use motion-capture equipment in addition to the one of the software programs mentioned above.

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. 

Transferrable Skills

Surprisingly, some of the most successful or talented game artists or animators don’t come from traditional schools or institutions. Many of the artists I’ve placed, as a recruiter, have a fine art background that ranges from one or more of the following: art theory, art history, composition, color, form, space, and light.

While artists are typically known for being creative types, in the interactive gaming industry they need to be able to balance their left and right brains in order to complete everyday tasks. Game artists who go far in the game industry tend to be the people who are able to equally tab into both creative and analytical sides. They might by nature be expressive, imaginative, and disorganized, but for the sake of the team, they learn to adopt other necessary 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.

Jobs to Look for

Yes, game artists compose their work on computers, but this does not exempt them from having to understand traditional art. If you are a struggling artist and looking for full-time or even contract work, I would strongly suggest looking into jobs in the gaming industry. To help guide you down the right path, here are some of the most common gaming artist job titles I have come across.

  • 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

About the author: Trudi Sheridan-Lewis is the Lead recruiter for the Interactive Division at Yoh’s Bellevue, WA branch. She is passionate about expanding Yoh’s interactive footprint in Seattle and nationally. In her spare time, she loves to spend time with her family, travel off the beaten path and sample some of the fine wines that the Pacific Northwest is famous for.  

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