How to Become a Professional Video Game Artist Panel – SMASH! 2016

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Today at the Sydney Manga and Anime Show!, or SMASH!, convention, there was a panel at the mini-stage about becoming a video game artist and get some work in the industry. The panel was hosted by Katie Huang who has been working for 7 years as an artist and has vast experience making games in many games and currently works with Blowfish Studios. The panel showcased a lot of her work and advice for convention-goers to take in and use to help get their start in the industry. Apologies if this article is a bit weird to read, I was trying to get as much info out as easily as possible while she was talking.

Katie Huang started her work as an artist selling art at the Artist Alley in conventions, such as both SMASH! and the now dead (yay) Animania convention. There was talk about there being a lot of work in gaming both here in Sydney and in Taiwan. She joked about how her Animania artwork was terrible, but because there was a lack of artists, she was able to get a job doing art for them.

Her friend started making a 2D fighting game, Chaos Code, and was hired as an artist because she knew them. The studio then moved on to Taiwan and remade the game from scratch. The game was released by SEGA in Japan was put into arcades in 2011.

There was an emphasis that when she was working, that people want to see a certain thing and so she would have to try and find out what people want. As a professional this is important because what people want is what will sell. And so you would need to analyse why you like certain artists. Follow trends as well, while having a unique artstyle is good, if you don’t follow trends you eventually fade out. Newer audiences tend to want newer artstyles and most doujin artists don’t survive after five years if they don’t adapt to trends.

Pixiv is a really good source for learning new things and keeping on top of trends. But there was also talks about other sources like Tumblr (though she doesn’t post on this cancer, she finds it a good place to find trends), Facebook, Artstation and etc. There was an emphasis on knowing how to do the clean low poly journey style artworks which are currently the trends in gaming.

She is a JoJo fan. I like her. She recommended looking at the artwork from Araki for influence on unique styles that are also trendy. She also recommended checking out JoJo artists on Pixiv, as it also trending there. Also try to understand why some peoples art is selling, try to talk to them about things.

The next section was producing commercial value art. She put on a slide that showcased what she thinks is a good roadmap to creating one with a picture of a cake. The icing is the trend, the Core is the foundations, the Width is the Range of styles, and, the Depth is the Master Studies. She mentioned that you need to adapt somewhat if you’re not already at a commercial value because of changing audiences tastes.

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Industry pay for colourists is pretty underpaid. But she believes it gives a good foundation because redoing the shading over and over will give a good foundation. This seemed important. She then joked that while she worked with SMASH! she didn’t do any other artwork for that year.

She says that doing watercolour stuff won’t really help in getting with games. This is because as a games artist, you need to find a generic style that will fit in with a bunch of different artists and you don’t know how they will work together. This is why video game art is really generic. It’s important to have an in-trend style with a small twist.

Manga is apparently dying. More people playing games instead of reading. This sucks. More manga please. She also says that if you’re unemployed for longer than six months, to treat it as an opportunity to practice hard and produce something, solid advice for anyone I think, not just artists.

iOS and mobile market is shit-house and like a gold-rush. A top selling game is around 12k units apparently, which isn’t enough to to pay even one persons salary. She used the studio she worked for, Mobili, as an example of this.

She emphasised that it is important to be a logical thinker to produce game art. She says that unlogical artists don’t make it far. This is because you are making art to sell. She used Absolute Instant as an example of problem solving where she had to added a light orb around the player character to make them obvious as the game was a bullet-hell studio. She also added an orb to the PC to make it obvious where to not get hit. Logical artists probably wont make it to that level.

You need to use effects to create a sense of reward in players. Sometimes making it shake and red will work, but other times it wont work. Gotta try different things to make sure it works.

Mismanagement of art teams creates huge waste. The game Trio Bird was an example of this, where the artstyle changed and she needed to recreate a tonne of frames on each unit in the game. To get around this, get it right in the prototype, rather than changing on the fly during development. Take a week or two to really find a style that works. Try at least three times, because even if you think you got it right the first time, but try three anyway.

Overall, this was a rather interesting panel and definitely a huge help to anyone looking to get into the industry. I welcome more of these kinds of panels!

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