Video game graphics have evolved tremendously from the roving, pixelated yellow dot to the sophisticated 3-D characters in Modern Warfare. Studios rely on the artistic talents of character artists to drive the visual quality of the game, whether specializing in realistic human characters or amorphous creatures from another planet. The modern gamer is not satisfied with a good story and entertaining functionality alone—today’s player expects stunning art.
The character artist takes a concept to fruition; this person works under the supervision of the art director and lead character artist to create character assets for use in games and marketing materials. Based on the concept artist’s sketches, this person creates initial 2D illustrations. Those designs are presented to the art and design teams, tweaked, and revised. Next the artist will model a 3D computer image, gradually adding definition, weight, and color. Enhancements like shading and texture may be the task of the character artist, or can be handed off to specialists. During the modeling process, he or she must take into account the technical constraints of the game (like poly count and storage capacity) and the concerns of the animators. As the character progresses through the pipeline to rigging and animation, the artist will work closely with those departments to ensure consistent character style.
In a large studio, the character artist may work on only one or two characters for each game. Smaller studios tend to heap greater responsibility for multiple characters onto a single person. The demands on this person depend on the scope of the project and the deadline. To create a fully realized 3D character can take weeks—longer, if several revisions are required.
Skills & Education
In the highly competitive field of video game art, a bachelor’s degree is imperative. Majors in fine art, game art, and graphic design are applicable; most important are artistic ability and solid skills in 2-D illustration and 3-D modeling. An aspiring game artist should be well-versed in the use of Maya, 3ds Max, Mudbox, Zbrush, and Photoshop. Coursework in anatomy and zoology is also invaluable to a character artist; studying the human form and that of animals can give the artist an enhanced ability to create lifelike models. This person needs be an effective communicator and a great listener; the artist must to be just as adept at conveying a vision as he or she is at interpreting one.
What to Expect
Ten-hour workdays are typical across the industry; crunch time when a deadline is looming might force you to sacrifice weekends and dinner at home. If you are not passionate about this industry, you will hate life. Most of your time will be spent agonizing over a nose or eyebrow, the other half in meetings about the chin. The job of a character artist can be tedious and stressful, but it’s mega-rewarding to see your finished product on the shelf. Art is subjective, and your work will be subjected to constant critique—be humble. You will not survive in this career field if you cannot take constructive criticism with grace and apply it. Remember that everyone on your team is working toward the same goal. You will be given all of the tools to succeed; it’s up to you to use them. With at least three years of experience as an artist on two or more shipped games, this role can lead to advancement as a lead artist, associate art director, or character technical director.
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