I've just finished writing a new article / tutorial for my website, and I wanted to share it with you. Its mainly aimed at students and developers who might have lost some of their desire to improve, but hopefully everyone can find some inspiration from it.
Anyway you can either view it on my website
or view it below
Feel free to further discuss this topic within the thread and as always feedback is very much appreciated.
Over the course of my art career I feel like I have steadily improved year by year with no great change, however over the last year or two I have become more disciplined in how I approach life and my job and I feel like I've made my biggest improvement yet. I thought it might be good to document some of the methods of improvement that I try and stick by in the hope that someone else finds it useful and inspiring.
1 // Don't Be Intimidated By Talent Around You
Obviously everyone wants to be one of the most talented artists within their studio so it's easy to feel intimidated when you feel someone else is more talented. Instead of being intimidated, you should embrace this as you'll progress so much faster with talented co-workers. People that no longer have any peers to look up too, will often find that their skills will plateau as there's no one around them forcing them to go above and beyond what's expected of them.
2 // Work Hard And Get The Job Done During Core Hours
In my experience most game artists that are new to the industry will often work many more hours than veteran employees even when there's no real reason too. They'll often make a task stretch for as long as possible (you'll find this is easy in an art career as art is never truly finish :-) but this has a negative impact on both you and your co-workers. Firstly you'll get burnt out, your production will drop and you'll begin to resent your job and it affects your co-workers because management will soon start asking why all employees aren't putting in as much effort as the guy stopping back every night. The best thing to do is work hard, get your job done and leave on time. You'll feel better because you're more refreshed and your employer will be happy that your meeting all your deadlines.
3 // Do Personal Work Even If Your Employed
Once you land an industry job it's still super important to continue practicing your work in your own time. I see people coming into the industry all the time and most give up doing personal art because in their opinion they've made it and their dreams have become a reality but I've got three solid reasons why this is a bad idea. Firstly the industry is incredibly small so the amount of jobs available compared to the amount of people wanting a job means that there's always someone willing to take your place and often for half your wage. Secondly one day you'll want to move onto another company and quite frankly a portfolio of 100% professional work is unlikely to cut it (this is especially the case if the games you've worked on haven't been that great). It makes it look like you've become complacent and no employer wants this. Finally you've got to remember why you wanted a job in the games industry in the first place. Most likely it was because you loved doing art and in my experience 90 percent of the time working on your own projects is more fun than working on someone else's.
4 // Find Time To Give People Feedback
Becoming a better artist isn't exclusively about doing art all day, everyday. There are other ways to hone your skills. One of my favourite ways is to give other artists feedback, often on www.polycount.com
or other game artist forums. The reason I think giving feedback is important is that it subliminally trains you in Art Direction without really knowing it. The ability to suggest improvements to other people's artwork is an important skill in this line of work.
5 // Don't Get Lazy
This is my biggest gripe with most people in the games industry and I hate to see it. People get lazy, both with personal work and professional work. Essentially this is down to becoming complacent with their job and they start to see their role as exactly that, a job to pay the bills. Laziness results in finding every excuse under the sun to not work on your own personal projects. Do yourself a favour and treat everyday like it was your first and put in 100% effort. After all this is the job you most likely dreamed of as a kid.
6 // Find Time For Family
Being a games artist can be a pretty demanding job but don't let that affect your family life. I see people struggling all the time with relationships because they let work become more important than family. Often people don't realise this is happening but it's obvious when you take a step back and view relationships from a different perspective. Being in a healthy relationship will keep you happy and this will bleed through into your work.
7 // Don't Be Afraid To Fail
The number one issue I come across with people not reaching their full potential is the fact that their scared to fail and often hesitating to try new things for fear of failing. Everyone will fail at some point in their career and the quicker you learn to relieve that pressure and be comfortable with the thought of failing, the more free you will be to live up to your potential. Obviously making mistakes is bad but no one is perfect. What is most important for an employer is that you learn from your mistakes and don't repeat them.
To progress as an artist you need to be undertaking projects and tasks that are outside of your comfort zone, tasks that you're scared of failing. The type of tasks that have you nervous because you've never done it before or last time you tried the task, it didn't go to plan. This is the fastest way to progress because when you successfully complete a task, everything you've learnt gets stored in your brain and that knowledge will be with you for the rest of your life.
8 // Make Sure You Finish The Projects You Start
There comes a time in every projects lifespan where you're sick of the sight of it, normally it's because it looks quite bare and you feel like you could do better, however constantly restarting projects is bad. You'll start getting a reputation of never finishing anything and you won't have anything in your portfolio. Always put in the effort to finish projects. I guarantee you'll be surprised at the end result and you'll be happy you stuck with it. After all an average piece of finished art is 100% times better than an amazing piece of unfinished art.
9 // Experience Different Types of Studios
Obviously most students straight out of university almost exclusively apply for AAA Studios because they are the studios that make the cool games. However I recommend that people be more open minded about what studios they work for. Ideally you should try a bit of everything throughout your career such as small independent studios or large publisher based studios because they all have their own set of advantages and its not necessarily obvious which one you'd prefer. For example independent studios are normally much smaller teams so you'll often feel like you can play more of an important role where as at a publisher based studio it's easy to feel like just another cog in the machine.
10 // Try Some Different Roles
If you're employed at quite a small studio chances are you'll be encouraged to help out in other roles that you're not necessarily specialised in. I would advise everyone to embrace this as it will keep you're job feeling fresh, you'll expand your knowledge of the different teams and because your not doing your main job at work, you'll more than likely undertake more personal projects at home. While I specialise in environment art I've had several chances to takes on different roles (Particle Artist, Level Designer), it was during these periods that I've done my most successful personal projects.
11 // Compare Yourself To Artwork In Commercial Games
While it's human nature to compare your artwork to that of other artists around you, You will get much more benefit by comparing your artwork to the artwork released in commercial products (especially those products that are released by companies that you aspire to work for). The reason for this is that the artwork in these games are essentially showing you how good you have to be to work for that company and you can also be sure that it runs on the platform it was designed for. I often see people doing some incredible personal art but technically it would never be viable in a commercial product.
12 // Learn How To Accept Feedback
One of the most important things for an aspiring artist to learn is learning how to accept feedback. The first time you receive some negative feedback it can be disheartened and it can take a strong personality to handle it well but it's important to realise that receiving feedback is a positive thing, even if it's not necessarily positive feedback. The reason for this being that if someone takes the time to give you feedback they obviously think you're worth the time investment and they want to see you reach your full potential.
13 // Learn To Manage Your Time More Effectively
This point is a super important one to me because if I'm honest I used to feel like I had no time to do personal artwork so therefore I didn't put in the effort to get my personal projects off the ground. However that all changed after reading a selection of great articles on productivity by Alex Galuzin over at www.worldofleveldesign.com
. I recommend that you read them all but one of the most important points I took away from them is to try and find time for 30 minutes of uninterrupted work per day and after 30 days you'll be surprised at how much work you've produced. I started with this and now I find I'm always inspired to do work and find much more time than 30 minutes a day. Now I find that I get annoyed when people say they have no time. I have a full time job, two children to look after, a house to keep clean and a fianc� to keep happy. If I can find time for artwork then anyone can.
14 // Network With Other Like Minded Artists
One of the best things I've done as an artist is start posting my work on websites such as www.polycount.com
and other similar websites. It can be pretty daunting at first but I've had some amazing experiences and met some amazing friends and that would have never happened had I never posted. Having had these experiences, its kept me constantly inspired because you never know what experience might be next.
15 // Try To Be One Step Ahead Technically
One thing that's always worked pretty favourable for me throughout my career is to try and be one step ahead technically. What I mean by this is try and soak in as much technical knowledge as possible, whether that be getting familiar with a game engine, learning next gen techniques, learning a new program such as Quixel DDO or Handplane or even keeping up to date with GDC talks etc. If you're the guy constantly keeping the rest of the team knowledgeable, you'll find yourself becoming much more indispensable and your showing your employer that you have leadership qualities.