Sunday, 22 April 2012

Elements of game design, part two: art direction for games

Art direction is something I think as game artists me and every other student on my course are greatly interested in.  The creative process of video games comes across as a very unique environment that branches into other mediums such as film and traditional artistry but again holds an exclusive outcome. Concepts are churned out by the art team following a brief or description that is given through the Art Directors who keep the team on the right path. Artists will typically do tons of work that will never make the final cut, thumbnails and designs that are simply used to push a concept as far as possible may never be seen again once a focal point is chosen.

The role of an Art Director is someone that takes a managerial stance upon the art team, in charge of how the content produced visually communicates to the audience. This involves colour theory, stylisation, environment moods, atmosphere, variations of concepts and it his his/her role to get this out of the team as efficiently as possible. Art Directors will typically keep everything moving so no time is wasted on work that could be irrelevant and it stops the team going through ideas in a circular or looping fashion. During the Wednesday lecture on art direction we were shown a behind the scenes of the film Black Hawk Down to get us thinking in terms of industry and to get an idea on the working process behind films. Ridley Scott being an artist himself has clearly perfected this role of directing his art teams through to exactly what he wants and this becomes more obvious when you watch his films, the attention to detail, heavy referencing and environment set ups merge into a very captivating atmosphere and narrative. This applies directly to games, if the art director does not do a consistent job of housing everything from the early concepts to marketing the finished product then it could be harmful to the later success of the game. 

Looking at what companies want in an art director is actually quite overwhelming. It seems most people that land these jobs have previously worked as artists for a great deal of time or even had previous jobs as art directors; definitely not something you should be aiming for straight out of your degree. This great deal of responsibility has to come from experience, sometimes decades of it. The level of leadership in ensuring stability in content creation is very high and this role holds all responsibility for hitting deadlines, making decisions and networking for the company or project. This means presentation and communication skills have to be highly developed and demanding the best from your team must take confidence as well as belief in the work itself. In other words, if you are lazy or have little personal attachment to making some amazing stuff by pushing the talent of your team to its limits, then you should stick to modelling rocks and bins. 

Having a quick look at Naughtydogs art department section of their website, I browsed the requirements for employing an Art Director and the results are quite overwhelming. Straight off the bat you must ‘fundamental knowledge of art history, art styles, and artistic principles, as well as an intimate knowledge of photography, film and cinematic principles.’ For someone to claim to understand all this has to take some hands on experience, some of the responsibilities include ‘Acting as a bridge between the technical staff and art staff’, ‘Providing technical and aesthetic guidance to artists and programmers throughout the product development process’ and ‘Reviewing work and make informed decisions regarding priorities based on current milestones’. All this takes someone who is able to articulate themselves very confidently, not sure if this would be something I would go for myself but it does seem like a career expanding challenge for any artist. Finally, even though the Art Director does not do much of the artwork here are some of the Requirements and Skills needed, ‘At least 3 years experience as a Lead Artist or Art Director’, ‘Working knowledge of 3DStudioMax, Maya or an equivalent 3D package’ and ‘At least one published game holding the role of Lead Artist or Art Director’. I knew it!! This role clearly is one for the experienced ‘been there and done that’ artist who is confident enough to lead a team of talented artists through the content creation process and beyond.       

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