Getting into the Video Game industry
by Annie Gray
I wanna get into the games industry!!, but how??
The question posed in the title is probably one of the most frequent we get here at Animation Arena (send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org) and one you could write pages and pages about, but i'll try and keep things fairly succinct >:^).
First off you shouldn't try starting up your own game development team. Game development is no longer the kind of thing that you can just do in your bedroom with a few friends, it's a big money industry run by professional people who demand quality or the heat will rain down on you and you'll be lumped with a mass of debt. If you want to make your own game development group that makes games you might see on a store shelf then you should get a few years experience in the industry at least. If you want to do it on a hobbyist level to get some practice in i'd suggest looking for mod teams to join. There are hundreds of mods out there and most are always on the look-out for fresh talent.
So that leaves getting a job with an existing developer...
In order to be a video game artist you have to have a good mix of traditional art skills and modern computer based art skills, the balance of which will depend on the eventual specialization you go for. Within the title "games artist" are many sub-categories of artist including animators, texture artists, character modelers, object modelers, concept artists, etc etc. While it's ok for now to look at your target career simply as a games artist or game designer, the eventual specialization you do will have an impact on what you should be learning in the mean time, so you should start out by sampling everything and then concentrating on the bit/bits that you enjoy doing the most. For example, a concept artist will do purely traditional art, so they won't need to know much at all about computer based art. You can find out more about what each specialization of artist should be learning in the Animation Arena Video Game Design section, which is pretty much dedicated to answering the question posed in this title.
So once you've got in mind what you need to be learning you need to go about doing it. Unfortunately with all art the only way you're going to get better at it is through practice. Some people maintain that people that are good at art are "naturally artistic", like artistic ability is somehow genetic, but ask any good artist how they got good and they'll tell you how they got where they are by practicing their asses off.
Traditional art wise you should be drawing at least one thing every day. Whether it's a cartoon or a still life or whatever, it doesn't matter, but making sure you draw at least one thing a day will improve your drawing dramatically. Doing an art night class would help alot too. Considering this is for games, you need to be drawing lots of people, so learning to draw anatomy will be greatly beneficial too. One thing I would suggest is steering clear of anime. Looking at the portfolio work of other aspiring games artists just goes to show where this generations art influences are coming from, and learning the anime style won't help you stand out from the crowd at all when it comes to getting a job.
For 3D you should worry less about learning a wide variety of programs and more about learning the general concepts of modeling. All the 3D packages work differently but the core concepts are all the same, so it's best to choose one program and get to the point where you can be creative within that, than trying to learn all the different programs at once. There are tons of books now on each package, or they typically have decent tutorials in the help files. As for which program you should go for, that used to be simple, but it's getting a trickier choice by the day. It used to be that everyone used 3D Studio Max, because it was powerful, reasonably easy to use (as 3D programs go), was well suited to games, and yet it didn't cost the earth. Recently however Discreet who make 3D Studio Max have started aiming their product at the movie industry, while Alias|Wavefront that make Maya and Avid that make SoftImage have recently switched their focus from the movie industry to the games industry. If it was me personally I'd still recommend you start by learning 3D Studio Max.
For 2D computer based work, such as textures, you should be learning Photoshop. Photoshop is like the mack daddy of industry standard 2D art, and absolutely everyone uses it. Again, it's best to just get a book on it.
If you want to be an Animator then it's important not to get too carried away with what the computer can do. Motion capture is getting bigger by the day, and games are now beginning to really take on stuff like physics simulation, but while games still require stuff like monsters and big robots there will always be a need for animators, since you can't motion capture say... a dragon. You should be learning the principles of animation first and foremost, things like squash and stretch and the wave principle, and some traditional animation will always help with that. For animation principles The Animator's Survival Kit by Richard Williams is the absolute best animation book you can lay your hands on, although be warned that it has nothing in there about animating with computers (books about 3D programs will have that).
For all of these there are a number of courses at universities and vocational schools that you might look at (see Animation Arena's list of Video Game Schools in your area). While some game developers are particular about their artist having a degree, most places are more concerned that you can demonstrate ability through a portfolio rather than a piece of paper, so a degree isn't needed if you have the talent. That said art schools and vocational schools are a good place to spend time working on developing your skills and creating a portfolio, and most people with the talent are the kind of people that could have got a degree fairly easily anyway. The Animation Arena Video Game Design section also has a section on how to get into the industry, which includes a list of all the universities and vocational schools in the country that do games development degrees.
So once you've actually learnt all this and you start apply for jobs, what next. Well you need to be able to demonstrate your abilities. When you apply to places you should send copies of your traditional work, and more importantly your reel. This is a video cassette which has 3D model turnarounds and animations on it. These days even better is a CD containing examples of your work.
I said I'd try and be succinct and I've not been, so I should probably finish off and any more questions you might have then feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer them. Hope this has all been of help and good luck with the whole getting into the industry thing.
Please send any questions or comments to ArenaMaster.