The casual games market is booming! Jobs, particularly for 2D artists, are on the rise as the social and mobile game markets expand. While studios may seem to have a laundry list of requirements for potential art candidates, it isn’t too difficult to make an excellent impression on a prospective employer with these basic guidelines. Some of my points may seem simple or obvious, but having them covered will definitely give you a leg up on the competition.
First and foremost, a clean, professional online portfolio is crucial to getting a studio’s attention. It should contain a fair amount of material related to the position you’re applying for. Does the studio need a character designer? Perhaps they’re hiring a environment artist or a 3D modeler? Most of your portfolio should show your potential employer that you can execute exactly what they’re looking for. Study their existing products and attempt to create original work that would easily fit within those properties. Most importantly, make sure your portfolio is clean, easy to navigate, and organized. An employer typically looks at dozens of portfolios when searching for candidates and a disorganized or confusing portfolio will get tossed aside quickly, sometimes before your art is even seen. A succinct portfolio also shows employers that you pay attention to design and presentation. For more information on making a professional online portfolio, consult this article. It is also wise to have a copy of your portfolio on-hand when going into an interview. A printed “hard” version is fine, but showing it on an iPad or laptop is even better as you’ll be demonstrating some technological finesse.
The ability to use current computer software is imperative to working in games. Proficiency or working knowledge of one or more of the major art programs is preferred. Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, Maya, and 3DS Max are the most commonly used programs in the industry today. While proficiency is a huge plus, rudimentary skills in these applications can still get your foot in the door. When I got my first full-time art job I was very familiar with Photoshop, but knew little beyond basics when it came to Illustrator and Flash. With guidance and practice, after the first six months of starting that job I learned almost everything I needed to know about creating assets and animation for casual games. On-the-job training is usually quite effective, but there are many other ways to learn pertinent programs. Local community colleges may offer courses in Flash and other art-related software. Online schools, such as Schoolism.com and AnimationMentor.com, have spectacular classes taught by some of the best artists in the entire entertainment industry. If you’re on a budget, there are many step-by-step tutorials online (just Google “Photoshop beginner’s tutorials” or anything similar) for almost every technique imaginable in any of these programs, which can help get your toes warm as you take a dip into uncharted waters. Trial period and student versions of these programs are typically available at a lesser cost than the professional-grade products. At the very least, you should just jump in and start experimenting! The process of learning a new program can be frustrating at first, but patience and an open mind will only contribute to your skill set and overall value as a candidate.
The more skills you have, the better, as artistic versatility is coveted. Artistic versatility can come in many forms: being able to draw in 2D and model in 3D, work in many different art styles, knowing how to code... these are just a few examples. Casual game studios are usually start-ups with less money and resources than larger, more established companies. Therefore, employees are expected to “wear many hats” and step up to take care of tasks that may be out of their main skill set. It’s important to keep an open mind and not pigeonhole yourself into one ability, but realize what your limitations are as well. For instance, I specialize in illustrative 2D character art, but have often been asked to draft environments, user interface assets, even logo designs! However, I would not agree to create a complex 3D model in one work day when I can barely model a simple rock in a week’s time. Be honest about your abilities, but know that an artist who can take an asset from concept to final code implementation will often be more valuable than one who can only complete one step of that process. A good employer will always appreciate an artist who is willing to branch out of their comfort zone and help the team however they’re able.
Speaking of leaving comfort zones, growth should always be a priority for artists. Any decent studio who cares for its employees, particularly when it comes to art directors and lead artists, will want to see a candidate who cares about art and self-improvement. Even if you have a Master’s Degree in Fine Art and you’re considered the best painter in the world doesn’t mean you’re finished learning! Keeping your skills sharp is crucial to having an edge on your competition. If you get rejected by your “dream” studio, you don’t want to apply to them again after a few years with a bulk of the same work they saw previously. Practice every day however you can. For many artists, life drawing is essential. Art models may not be readily available to you on a daily basis, but websites like ArtsyPoses.com (Contains nudity, NSFW) provide a multitude of photographs that are perfect for drawing from life. Thirty minutes of life drawing a day can make a huge impact on an artist’s ability. Even sketching people in a coffee shop several times a week is better than nothing! Employers love an artist who is passionate and willing to hone their abilities and may even assist you in the form of monetary compensation or in-office seminars. Not only that, but you’ll feel great about your work and abilities as you grow!
A can-do attitude with little ego will go a long way in an employer’s eyes. Confidence in yourself is important but so is humility. A willingness to learn, “wear many hats”, work extra hours, and taking criticism graciously are all part of being a professional. Most of all, avoid complaining and negativity! I have seen haughty, self-important artists erode morale and even destroy teams. One particular artist I worked with (let’s call him Jim) often sung his own praises loudly in front of the other artists on my team. Sometimes, he’d take it upon himself to “rework” assets other artists had created; even going over the art director’s head to implement his work into our product without giving anyone notice or asking for permission. Jim simply assumed his ways were better. The other artists began to grow uneasy and feel inadequate while the art director felt undermined. Basically, no one wanted to come to work and not before long our team was disbanded due to “our dysfunction.” It’s true what they say: one bad apple can spoil the bunch! On the flip side, I once hired a young woman (let’s call her Sam) to create simple 3D models for a social game. Sam was amiable, collaborative, and often finished tasks faster than I could assign them to her. Her efficiency and positive attitude paid off; before long she was making much grander contributions to the team and product, both of which prospered. While it’s good to have a realistic grip on your strengths and weaknesses, a high-spirited candidate with the right amount of confidence will leave a lasting impression and go far in their career.
These basic requirements are typically what most casual game companies look for in their artistic candidates, particularly ones who are fresh out of school. A clean portfolio, skills in modern software and a great attitude will do wonders when applying and interviewing with any company. Above all else, stay persistent! An artist will encounter many barriers and rejections on the road to the casual games industry, but with the right skills and positivity, you’ll land your dream job in no time.