Monday, 27 May 2013

Personal review of the second year

So now that my second year is over I have to say I can see everything in a far more, clear light. When you are in the thick of deadlines and trying to finish 3 briefs in one night because when they were set you were too busy on a YouTube binge or partaking in mindless entertainment it is hard to think about the future and where this is all leading.

Personally I think my experience was a strange one this year, when the first year began I had a very ‘this will be easy; I’ve got this’ mind state. When it ended it changed to ‘this is some serious stuff, better prepare for next year’. However that kick in the back side was clearly not strong enough for me to do that much greater this year. I admit my skills have improved, time management is increasingly showing signs, of existing… and things are moving forward, but not how I imagined. It seems I dug myself a pretty deep hole this year because I didn’t really use the Christmas or Easter holidays to ‘catch up’. I think these are key parts of the year and should be utilized but ofcourse however obvious it was then or now, it clearly wasn’t obvious enough.

Another challenge was commuting. I live 40 miles away in Peterborough and the train ride is a 1 hour to Uni and 1 hour back (not mentioning the 20 minutes to get to the station and back). After a while this becomes a burden and increasingly tiring as you find yourself waking up super early and getting back super late. Although I am not complaining as it was my choice. This is something I will be eliminating from my list of ‘burdens’ and I will be moving to Leicester for my final year. Living at home with parents and siblings (one brother) is not the most motivating either, as soon as I get home the mind state habitually resets itself from I MUST WORK to I MUST RELAX, and RELAX MORE. Overall I think I had an ok year, let a few opportunities slip (placements!), produced SOME decent work, and now I am content.  

I plan to spend a lot of time in the Labs next year and regardless of big or small our timetables are, I want to spend time around my peers and bounce feedback as I think this year was very introverted in terms of showing people what I have done and why. But, what do I do now? I have at least 4 months ahead of me which is enough time to go from ‘I can barely draw’ to Leonardo DaVinci as far as I am concerned. Right, so what I will do in these next month’s will be guided by what I want to be. I usually don’t like to label myself a ‘character’ or ‘vehicle’ or concept’ guy BUT now I can safely say I love drawing vehicles and really enjoy hard surface modelling. I have a few projects that have been started so I think it’s time to give those bad boys the green light and build a portfolio!! But first I think I’ll take a few days off, play some games, watch some films and get away from it all for at least 72 hours. At this point, however successful or unsuccessful my second year was to me is now irrelevant as it is over, I can do nothing to change it so there is no point in paying it any attention. What is important now is how a portfolio is need of building and it must be SUPER FREAKING AWSOME, no other options.

Next challenge? Go from Art student to ready for industry level Artist.      
Duration: At least 4 months       

Friday, 24 May 2013

Life changing or career building

I have always been less impressed with technical skills. Though in its entirety it is impressive, it is also something anyone can obtain with good teaching standards. But a creative individual is exactly that. Someone who cannot be copied or replaced very easily, they are unique and this I think can make them a more valuable asset to any company. These people are usually those who are very interested in the subject to begin with, they have a passion and it is what I think gives them that little bit extra. This being said, learning the technicalities is very important and is almost like a foundation as without it, the art itself (for 3D artists at least) is nonexistent.

In a degree like mine however, I think it is very important to have a foundation in drawing. In today’s secondary schools students are not taught HOW to draw, so when students get to university they are a mix of experience from drawing their favourite cartoon characters and the life studies/artist studies they did for 2 years in A levels. Because of this lack of foundation and understanding, it becomes very difficult to become a 2D artist or concept artist and 3D art becomes a more realistic option. It is something I am considering myself though I came here with concept art in mind, which I’m sure many others did. If the funding was proper and teachers were more in number it would be brilliant to have a Perspective class, or Colour Theory class or Lighting class. That being said, it is not impossible to learn the key skills without teaching. A self taught artist is not inferior to someone that went to all the classes, in some cases the self taught artist can have a wider range of understanding as he or she is not bound by a curriculum.

Student experience is another key thing to consider, they must be motivated and inspired at all times, especially in art degrees. As a student here I can say there isn’t much to complain about, we get tons of work and if you THINK you have finished everything, there is always SOMETHING to do. >_< ! However it is commonly known that outside this small world I live in, people don’t think highly of art degrees and others even consider them ‘worthless’. This is probably because it isn’t so easy to find work and as a subject it probably does not have the best employment rates. Due to this, teaching should be very critical and target each and every attribute the industry requires; these attributes must be hard wired into the students as much and as soon as possible. I think if a degree can keep students inspired so they freely explore for themselves but at the same time, push them to their potential so they learn everything they need to know, the students will be very successful. All this being said, it must be understood that students will carry on learning in their chosen industry, kind of like passing a driving test; when you get on the road by yourself in your own car, the learning really begins.

(interesting article on art degrees and their worth)

A really good example of a 2D art school is FengZhu’s School of Design. The students are much like us in the sense that most do not have any foundation in design or drawing. They come with portfolios of amateurish work and within a year or two are producing professional concept art. They are taught perspective, colour, and lighting and are encouraged to learn and do as much as possible. Another great is Art Centre. Today’s very popular concept artists that are working on the biggest games and films obtained degrees from here, although I know little about their teaching, the institution always creeps up in my favourite artist’s bios like Neville Page and Scott Robertson. I think what students can also do whilst at a games design or game art degree is to purchase online courses and content to facilitate their learning. The Gnomon School of Design is one of many places where you can do courses online as well as buy DVD’s with tutorials straight from artists in the industry.

Creativity, the talent myth and craft

What is Creativity? ‘Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others’. In my personal opinion it is not something you are born with. I think it can only truly be obtained with practise, discipline and in our case, constant problem solving and design briefs. The reason I believe that it is not something you can inherit is because anyone who has truly been great has put their hours in. And for me, it is as simple as that. There was a time when I could not draw anything, now I am able to generate strong ideas and can finalise a piece work in a matter of days. But is their more to creativity than that? Ofcourse! Being creative is not completing a task but the approach, the perception and route taken to complete it. You do not need a certain IQ score or Grade to be creative; it simply cannot be measured in that sense. It is spontaneous and for me occurs best when I am most relaxed, for this reason I believe tight deadlines and time constraints can hinder creativity; though they are great for getting people to practise.

Let’s be more specific, what does creativity look like? Being creative is a result of innovation or simply using something that already exists and improving it; this is seen in video games all the time though rip offs seem to be made twice as often. You can clearly tell when a game, film or any form of media for that matter has either been improved or reinvented the same way you can tell when carbon copies are formed. A distant example would be Michael Jackson’s Thriller, telling a story through the music video, almost like a short film. You could argue that he was the ‘first’ to do this thus the innovator. But Charlie Chaplin was making videos with music and narratives 50 years before. However, this idea was reinvented for the pop genre of music. So it is not simply creating something out of nothing that is important, but also the understanding of what is possible and to make connections where others do not.

With this way of thinking has to come confidence. In today’s society we have a voice bigger than before with social media and the internet; however it seems we are also far too concerned with what others think of us. It seems that seeing ourselves in a particular light can highly fluctuate our creative output. For example, if you are too afraid to progress with your own ideas because of others around you, how can you even begin to be creative? I think as game artists we have to be confident in our ideas but at the same time understand the importance of the subject matter so we too, do not end up with tits and guns. On a serious note, I think research can also help with this confidence to articulate ideas for the more you know, the more you can understand and apply.

So to be creative in my field you must practise at your craft, mastering it is a necessity and not an option. You must also look deep into any subject matter you are working on to obtain a clear understanding of it. This in turn should give you the confidence to begin working at your highest potential. This is also why I personally don’t like working ‘from my head’ nor do I praise anyone for saying they made something JUST from their imagination.

An introduction to the Game Industry

Right. The Games Industry. This young and very quickly developing industry has materialised itself in only the last 30 or so years. From a game art student’s perspective it seems like an exclusive and very secret club that the ‘chosen ones’ have reached and is very far out of bounds for us mere mortals, though we one day hope to become a part of it, when we are ‘worthy’. Not only has the industry evolved, today’s gamer is not under 18 anymore, in fact so many users interact with video games on a daily and weekly basis they must be grouped into well defined demographics. Marketing and Publishing has also taking large interests in this industry because reports show that the global market for video games will grow to $82 billion by 2017. This means the big guys want in, and will do anything to get their hands of a piece of the pie, like THIS! 

(Expansion of games industry)  

Ok but seriously, what does this mean for me? The industry has vast roles across the board but if we break down the Art roles, we still are left with a large list of jobs. It is key to note that many roles have been ‘specialised’ and the days of 5 people in the basement making a game are over, they have been for quite some time. If you are good at characters, you will work on characters. You will not touch any other assets in the game as that job will be acquired by someone else. A past graduate (now character artist) game in to give us a lecture around a month ago talking about next gen character design; whilst he was mentioning 60k tri counts and 4k texture maps (ZOMG) he also did mention that some artist only do retopolgy, and others only work on textures. So roles are becoming VERY specific and if you do for example apply and land a character artist job, you shouldn’t expect to do be working on the whole character from modelling, texturing, and rigging, although ofcourse this is not always the case.
(list of various roles in the games industry)

(transformations of the games industry)

So with this all in mind, how will this affect my portfolio? Is it not better to be a jack of all trades than to specialise in one key role? Let’s be honest. Instead of putting time in to be amazing at everything, if you can focus on one role and get extremely good at that ONE role. No jack of all trades will able to beat you at it because he will be spending more of his time learning or working on other crafts whilst you spend that same amount of time on your chosen role. It is not logical to think that a portfolio with so many different skills can land a specialised role as everything else would simply confuse the employer. That being said, having personal work seems to be a bonus as it shows you are working on other projects and it shows that you enjoy this kind of work outside the working or student hours. 

With the industry growing and skill sets quickly becoming specialised, another action is increasing in the games industry as it has been seen to occur in many other large manufacturing industries, outsourcing. This is simply because abroad is cheaper and as everything is fuelled by financial profit this is a no brainer for developers. This also makes me and my fellow students some of the most expensive artists to employ. Say What?! This means we will have to bring more than a standard skill set to the table when looking for work, our work must impress employers the way our favourite artists work impress and inspire us.

(outsourcing on the increase)

Elements of game technology, part three: interaction design

Interaction within video games is a very important and diverse topic. I remember as a kid playing the Super Nintendo and its box like square controller as well as the Sega Megadrive which I had a very large controller for (almost size of the console). Then came the Nintendo 64 with its central joystick and trigger design. I also remember going on Time Splitters in the cinema arcade, picking up those guns and having a great time. However, controllers back then very difficult to use and not very ergonomic which seems to have evolved a whole lot since then. This ofcourse also applies to handhelds, interestingly though variations of things like tamagochis and mini games have come and gone, the game boy design from Nintendo has not changed a whole lot, still very square with a D pad, start and select. I also remember buying a steering wheel for my PS2, though it was not great in terms of articulation and sensitivity, it dramatically enhanced the driving experience in games like Gran Turismo 3 and GTA San Andreas. So what has changed and how? And is it for the better?

One thing I have seen a large increase in is touch screen. This is not solely based on gaming either, mobile devices, pc monitors and other technology seem to have embraced this attribute. Users can guide cursors in consoles like the Nintendo DS and PS Vita using pens/hands, this allows for far greater interaction and when done correctly the player can have more control in the game or application. I think this evolution in technology is a big step because we can see larger screen sizes as buttons are no longer required (Samsung Galaxy series and iPads for example). Voice recognition is another key element, though I have not personally used this, I recently noticed that Xbox One’s presentation had a few hiccups whilst it was demonstrating the Kinect system, it actually affected users whilst watching and this resulted in their live streams shutting off. Hah OOPS! A technology called ‘Dragon’ or ‘Dragon Speech Recognition has also been developed, though I’m not sure it if it’s on the market, here is a video of a gamer utilising it. Personally I am not sure if it will improve reaction times but it is definitely impressive.
(children with iPads)

(xbox one)

Now, ofcourse we have consoles like the Wii. A very smart evolution in technology that lets the player interact with games directly, the controller becomes a sword, golf club, tennis racket as well as many other things; Sony and Microsoft have ofcourse made their own variations, Kinect and Playstaiton Move. Whilst Nintendo have gone for a motion sensitive controller, Microsoft has chosen camera censoring with voice recognition. Sony has developed something that is a mix of both. These technologies enhance gaming in many ways; for example, players can now feel like they are a part of the game itself and are no longer sitting on the couch. It also can be a fun alternative when using the multiplayer functions, similar to arcade dancing machines but in the house. However, if I am playing something like Assasin’s Creed I would rather be sitting in one place and using a controller for obvious reasons. On a serious note, this technology does have a gimmicky aspect to it, kind of like 3D is for films, its great and CAN enhance the experience, but there is nothing wrong with with 2D cinema, as the controller is gerat already. Sony did come up with something similar on their previous console (PS2) called the Eyetoy which would sense players using a camera, though it was not much of a success.
(motion sensitive tech on console’s)   
(eyetoy reviews)

Ergonomics in design have developed very nicely, the PS3 and 360 controller’s are very nice to handle and seem to be specifically built for long term use. Removing wires is also a great touch so users can wonder with the controller in hand and not have to worry about tripping every 30 seconds. Gaming mice are also something that can enhance the experience, with custom sensitivity and macro keys; they can help you do things in game far quicker than with a regular mouse. Simulator’s are also can be a great experience, racing wheels with clutch and manual gear compatibility, gaming chairs, and multiple monitor set ups such as Eyefinity (3 or more monitor setup) can all be purchased today. So what is my conclusion? I think it is still about the game itself, the technology should not be relied upon to make great video games. If the art direction is great, the gameplay is brilliant and the narrative is solid, it will not matter how many screens I have or if I am sitting or standing. Although I would love to get my hands on one of those racing wheels!    

(Racing simulator using G27 wheel)