How to get a job in games

Level up Re­cruiters from lead­ing video game stu­dios tell Tom May what they’re look­ing for in an artist

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Re­cruiters from top video game stu­dios re­veal what they’re look­ing for in an artist, and the er­rors ap­pli­cants of­ten make.

I’m look­ing for a very spe­cific match be­tween the role and your port­fo­lio

Want to work as an artist in video games? Then good news: the in­dus­try is boom­ing and most stu­dios are hir­ing. So how should you go about get­ting your dream job?

The first step is pretty straight­for­ward: check out ad­ver­tised jobs on your pre­ferred com­pany’s web­site. Right now, for ex­am­ple, Bri­tish games stu­dio Cre­ative As­sem­bly has five artist roles listed at www.cre­ative-as­sem­­reers. “We re­cruit in a wide range of fields,” ex­plains

Kevin McDow­ell, the art direc­tor for its To­tal War se­ries. “These in­clude con­cept art, con­cept de­sign, UI de­sign, char­ac­ter art, an­i­ma­tion, rig­ging/tech an­i­ma­tion, tech­ni­cal art, real-time VFX, en­vi­ron­ment art, cin­e­mat­ics, il­lus­tra­tion and art man­age­ment. And we will scan the globe to find the right peo­ple.”

But the ‘right peo­ple’ aren’t just tal­ented artists. More im­por­tantly, they’re the per­fect fit for the job. Which means it’s vi­tal to fa­mil­iarise your­self with the com­pany’s games and tai­lor your port­fo­lio pre­cisely.

“Make sure it’s not a big leap for the hir­ing man­ager to see you work­ing in their team,” stresses Johnny Tay­lor, who’s the direc­tor of vis­ual de­vel­op­ment at so­cial games gi­ant King. “You’d be amazed at how many artists ap­ply to work on a game like Farm He­roes Saga, but they have a hard­core AAA-style port­fo­lio and lit­tle else.”

In­stead, “each piece in your port­fo­lio should be specif­i­cally de­signed to an­swer a ques­tion about your skill set,” says Kevin. “See it from the art direc­tor’s point of view. I’m look­ing for a very spe­cific match be­tween the role and your port­fo­lio. For ex­am­ple, if I’m look­ing for a char­ac­ter artist I’ll want to see both male and fe­male char­ac­ters. But amaz­ingly, some port­fo­lios I see

fea­ture only men or only women.” An­other no-no is just in­clud­ing com­plete work. “We don’t just want to see the end re­sult, we want to see how an artist gets to the fi­nal im­age,” says Johnny. “Con­cepts, sketch books and mood­boards all re­ally help form a pic­ture of what an artist is about. Of­ten, in­ex­pe­ri­enced artists are scared of in­clud­ing this work in a port­fo­lio, but it’s so im­por­tant to see how they work through an idea.”

Get­ting your CV right is also cru­cial, stresses Amy Mad­den, lead re­cruiter, story and fran­chise de­vel­op­ment at US games de­vel­oper Bliz­zard En­ter­tain­ment. “Most of those I see are miss­ing de­tails about what the ap­pli­cant did in their cur­rent or pre­vi­ous role. Plus they’re usu­ally too brief – for ex­am­ple: ‘Cre­ated con­cept art for [insert com­pany name].’ You need to give the re­cruiter more to go on. Did you work with a team of artists? Did you draw char­ac­ters or en­vi­ron­ments? Did you work on colour keys or the light­ing?”

don’t make me google you!

And don’t for­get to link ev­ery­thing up, or you’ll end up with one cheesed-off re­cruiter. “About a third of ap­pli­ca­tions I see have no link to their port­fo­lio in ei­ther their cover let­ter or ré­sumé,” says Kevin. “I’m dumb­founded at how com­mon this is. I end up Googling the can­di­date’s name plus Art­Sta­tion, in the hope that I’ll find their work. So put your port­fo­lio link ev­ery­where: on your cover let­ter, on your CV, on the ap­pli­ca­tion form… ev­ery­where!”

What about soft­ware? Many job ads will spec­ify ex­actly which skills you need. If not, Pho­to­shop, Il­lus­tra­tor and 3D pack­ages such as Maya and ZBrush will al­ways help your cause, while a broad knowl­edge of game en­gines like Unity will cer­tainly be a bonus. That said, ev­ery role is dif­fer­ent and some com­pa­nies are even soft­ware-neu­tral, so it pays to do your home­work.

Take, for ex­am­ple, on­line gam­ing com­pany Yg­gdrasil, which is open­ing a stu­dio in Barcelona next year. “We’re al­ways on the look­out for il­lus­tra­tors, con­cept de­sign­ers, 3D artists, an­i­ma­tors, UI de­sign­ers and graphic de­sign­ers,” says cre­ative direc­tor

Hen­drik Blaauw. “I don’t mind which soft­ware they choose to use – or in­deed, whether they pre­fer PCs, Macs or Wa­coms – as long as they de­liver the qual­ity that we’re known for.”

If you’ve hav­ing no luck with ad­ver­tised jobs, most games stu­dios do re­cruit­ment through other chan­nels, too. “Re­cruit­ment fairs, con­ven­tions, port­fo­lio re­views, email sub­mis­sions and Art­Sta­tion are all chan­nels through which we find artists,” says Amy. “I’ve

Con­cepts, sketch books and mood­boards all re­ally help form a pic­ture of what an artist is about

met some amaz­ing ta­lent at events such as Comic-Con, SIGGRAPH, CTN and Game De­vel­op­ers Con­fer­ence, not to men­tion cof­fee shops, LinkedIn and Game De­vel­op­ers Monthly Mee­tups.

“So my ad­vice is to get your­self out there! Be vis­i­ble in the artis­tic com­mu­ni­ties and to re­cruiters, and make it easy for re­cruiters to re­view your work, such as on your web­site, In­sta­gram, Art­Sta­tion or YouTube.”

All those we spoke to for this ar­ti­cle told a sim­i­lar story. “When I set up the Yg­gdrasil art de­part­ment, I turned to Art­Sta­tion and hand-picked all the artists I felt we needed,” says Hen­drik.

ta­lent spot­ting

“We’ve started at­tend­ing con­ven­tions in Eu­rope and the US, where we had port­fo­lio re­views and that’s worked well for us,” Hen­drik con­tin­ues. “But I’m al­ways on the look­out for ta­lent, so I still check Art­Sta­tion daily.”

Many artists hold back from post­ing on­line, be­cause they don’t want to en­gage in a pop­u­lar­ity con­test. But by and large, re­cruiters don’t re­ally care how many likes or fol­low­ers you have.

“So­cial me­dia is help­ful for be­ing spot­ted by art di­rec­tors and other hir­ing man­agers, but that’s all we’re re­ally in­ter­ested in,” says Kevin. “We’re look­ing for artists who pro­duce the sort of work that we can use – that’s it. So make sure it’s vis­i­ble to us, and don’t worry about the num­bers.”

And if you do get an in­ter­view, here’s one fi­nal piece of ad­vice from Kevin. “Please be fa­mil­iar with our games,” he urges. “Play them if you can. If you can’t, then watch game­play videos and trail­ers on YouTube. If you’ve not both­ered to do this ba­sic level of prepa­ra­tion, then it’s a huge red flag to us.”

And fi­nally he says, “At an in­ter­view it’s okay to be ner­vous or ex­cited, to be an in­tro­vert or ex­tro­vert – but be en­gaged, pos­i­tive and cu­ri­ous.”

“We’re hir­ing for a wide ranges of roles at King, from art in­tern­ships to art di­rec­tors,” says Johnny Tay­lor.

Land­scape art for Bliz­zard’s World of War­craft. “It’s a com­pany where cre­ative ta­lent can thrive,” says Amy Mad­den.

“The games we make at King re­quire artists to be flex­i­ble and adapt­able with their tech­nique and styles,” says Johnny.

“I don’t care if you have a de­gree – a strong port­fo­lio is what I’m look­ing for,” says Hen­drik Blaauw. Amy warns against “ap­ply­ing for as many jobs as pos­si­ble. Re­cruiters know this as the se­rial ap­plier.”

“You need to show you have a han­dle on the pro­duc­tion and craft of cre­at­ing game art,” says Johnny.

Art for Di­ablo III. “Be­fore ap­ply­ing, I’d rec­om­mend re­search­ing port­fo­lios of artists work­ing at Bliz­zard,” says Amy.

“In your port­fo­lio, show­case the art you’re proud­est of, and as you im­prove, re­move the old work,” says Hen­drik. “At King, we find that a lot of artists ap­ply for roles they’re not suited to,” says Johnny.

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