Ever wondered how to become a video game artist? Combining your love for video games and talent in art to get a job as a video game artist can lead to a rewarding career in the video game industry thanks to the wide range of game design jobs out there. Besides using every bit of your natural talent, becoming a video game artist requires being trained on the latest graphic tools the industry has to offer. Before that, however, may want to explore which of the many jobs you’re most interested in, as you may have to learn different sets of programs.
Video game artists are often broken up into various roles, starting with those involved in concept art. Beginning with a blank sheet of paper, the job of a video game concept artist is to visually map out and inspire the direction of a project. Creativity and imagination will go a long way if you’re interested in this trailblazing position - it’s a job that truly defines the word “developer.”
Once a concept artist influences the studio, the rest of the artists handle the environments, focus on the characters and simply commit themselves to textures. This segmented structure of the art department means that video game artists aren’t designing games the same way that you and I play them, from start to finish. They harness their time and effort to a specific job, allowing them to remain dedicated to a portion of the game. Most recently, UI artists have been added to the list of jobs that deal with video game art thanks to the industry’s ever-increasing focus on dynamic menus and HUD screens.
High-end 3D programs such as Autodesk Maya and ZBrush are essential for animators and they often appear as a requirement in recruitment posts for game artists. You should also know the ins and outs of various video game engines, from Unreal to Source to CryEngine. Even if you intend to make art for console games, the ideal way to break into video game artistry on a budget is with royalty-free PC, mobile and flash-based development. Case in point, games like Half-Life 2, Counter-Strike: Source and Left 4 Dead give you access to Valve’s ubiquitous Source engine, making it a great place to start.
Concept artists, luckily, can get by using lower-end tools; a simple pencil and paper are their primary resources. For any of these roles, however, it doesn’t hurt to know Photoshop from top to bottom. Not every position explicitly requires a degree in graphic art, but having it or at least taking some technical courses is the best way to get proper hands-on training with these expensive programs.
An education in graphic design will be even more of a boon when you graduate with a strong portfolio of art work. How important is a portfolio or demo reel to a video game artist? Browse YouTube for “video game demo reel” and you’ll see thousands - they’re your competition, future collaborators and the next generation of AAA video game designers. Starting your own portfolio or demo reel is the best way to show that you’re the right artist for the job.
But if you talk to artists in any medium, they will always tell you the same thing: keep drawing. It's much the same for writers. People who talk about careers in writing talk about how much they used to write before they even got published. It's exercising all the time. You can't expect to just suddenly hit the ground and run a marathon if you've never run before. Get out your sketchbooks, your doodle pads, your class notebooks and start filling those pages with your imagination. Keep at it, study art that you love, and work hard at improving your line.
Or, if you're more computer minded, fire up one of the many freeware art programs and start some pixelated doodles. You never know where they're going to lead. Samwise Didier, the art director at Blizzard Entertainment, is constantly drawing things, even in his free time. Check out this gallery of some of his art, and start sketching, mousing, painting, or tableting. It's the first step on this rewarding career path.
Keep your browser tuned to G4 all week as we keep bringing you G4 University, and at the end of the week we'll have a guide for you that rounds up all of the information, and gives you the perfect places to start looking, along with some helpful tips.
Matt Swider has been writing about video games for 12 years and received his degree is journalism from Pennsylvania State University. Now based in Los Angeles, he is actively expanding GamingTarget.com and his freelance opportunities.