The art director at a game studio is responsible for reviewing all art assets for quality and continuity with the creative director’s vision. This person supervises teams of artists, animators, and designers from concept to ship date. He or she is ultimately responsible for the aesthetics of the finished game.
From the first pitch meeting, the art director is heavily involved in every stage of a game’s development. If the project gets the green light, the art director will give input on the scope of the game, make a budget, and cooperate with senior staff to assign the development to a particular producer. Every studio has a different development process, but at the concept stage the art director collaborates with the producer and creative director to establish the visual style of the game; they put forth rough concept art, draw from external examples, and revise. When all members of the senior development team have agreed on a direction, the art director helps plan the milestone schedule and operating budget. This person must consider the art assets list, poly count expense, and necessary personnel.
Through preproduction, the art director leads the creation of storyboards, logos, user interfaces, character design, environments, and all other visual material. He or she also directs the research and development of new pipelines. When the programmers have an engine prototype in place, the art director oversees the insertion of placeholder art. Once production kicks in, he or she keeps a close eye on the pipeline, constantly checking in with the team to monitor asset creation. The art director tracks milestones and ensures that the team stays on schedule, critiques and reviews art when it comes in, gives notes for revision, provides mock-ups, and lights the fire under the staff. The hectic schedule of meetings, material review, revision, and porting to the engine continues until the final product is approved.
Skills & Education
It’s not a uniform requirement across the industry, but a college degree in game art, game design, or fine art is desirable; it’s a necessity at some studios. You should have strong artistic ability—drawing, painting, and 3-D modeling are expected. An art director must have significant expertise in software like Maya and 3ds Max, and some scripting experience is also helpful. Courses in finance and business management are also useful in this senior-level role. You must have a firm understanding of anatomy, color theory, texture, light, and architecture.
What to Expect
Prior experience as a lead environment or character artist is applicable to this role, as is work as a lead game designer. To be considered for a position as an art director, you must have a proven record of effective management and superior artistic talent. On the job you will be expected to motivate your team, keep everyone on task, and quickly devise solutions to the daily crisis. The art director is both manager and mentor, so you’ll need the ability to identify the strengths and weaknesses in your team and to draw out the hidden potential in an employee. The day-to-day business is meetings, phone calls, and e-mail, but somewhere between reviewing level designs and character art, you will be actively involved in creating the next Rapture or Solid Snake.
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