How to Get Started in Game Art and Animation
Written by: Reese Coulter
Edited by: Mary Joaquin
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Last July 2nd, we welcomed Edwin Vargas Cortes and Erwan Davisseau for our How to Get Started in Game Art and Animation panel. Before we hear their insights, let’s first get to know our speakers.
Edwin Vargas Cortés is the Senior Tech Artist at Teravision Games and is the CEO of Include Technologies as well as the founder of 12 Hit Combo!
He has 15 years of experience in the video game industry, specifically with “...developing and designing environment art, vfx, shaders and materials for video games and apps on all types of platforms…”
Erwan Davisseau is a professor at UQAT Montréal and a former Lead Artist for Ubisoft, where he worked on games such as Enter the Matrix, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, and Far Cry.
His field of research concerns “...video game semiotics and how 3D environments communicate to the player how to play without the need of overlaid information like HUD”.
Without any more delay, continue reading for some professional insight into the video game art and animation industry.
Our moderator, Raphy Andaya, is our Tech SIG leader!
Raphy Andaya: Beginners in the games industry can find it confusing. Could you talk about the struggles you had when you started out?
Both Edwin and Erwan brought up the difficulties that came from the nonexistence of the Internet at the time, how they overcame that and how they found their way into the video game industry.
Edwin Vargas Cortes: There was a scarcity of resources to learn. The first thing was that: the difficulty of accessing knowledge. Most of the time I was self-taught. Then the Internet came around, and that changed everything.
Another super important struggle was trying to find a niche and trying to specialize in one thing. You can be good in several areas, but you cannot be excellent in all of them. For me, it was trying to find what I was more passionate about. It turns out there is one kind of artist that is a jack of all trades—a technical artist.
Erwan Davisseau: Someone asked me a question I asked myself before. I answered him—this guy was working at Ubisoft—he told me, 'If you want to come to Paris, and show me what you do, I will give you some advice'.
Erwan then discussed the difference in the manpower and time it took to create a game. Back then, it had been around twenty or forty people and maybe nine months or a year. Now, at Ubisoft at least, there are around one thousand people working on a game for three or four years at a time. He emphasizes, “...If you are not able to play along with people for that amount of time, it’s a big problem…"
There is a lot of specialization now… If you go to a small company, they’re going to ask you to do a lot of stuff. If you go to a big company, make sure you look at what they are looking for.
Edwin: If you’re doing sci-fi, don’t go into studios doing fantasy games, for example. Try to tailor the things that you do—your portfolio—to the needs of the company and the projects and products they produce.
Erwan: The thing is, they want to be sure you are at a certain level. Like, you can do environments, you can do characters. Usually, it’s environments. You have to be realistic about that. 80% and more are environment artists. You have to show that you can either create characters or environments.
Raphy: A common misconception among many is that you get to do the job that you want. What are your misconceptions about your fields in the gaming industry?
Edwin: You’re definitely not going to have the job that you want right away. First, you’re going to have to learn things. Starting with learning how to use a source control software, learning naming conventions, just on the operative side of things. In regards to money, you’re going to be at the entry level, so don’t expect to be making big figures.
Erwan: I would say that there is no bad way to enter the industry. The biggest problem—the hardest problem—is to get in. When you have an opportunity, don’t say no, ever.
Edwin: Yeah. Even if in the end they don’t hire you, they’re going to remember you. Coming from Latin America, we didn’t have big studios.
One other way to go and to be part of the industry was to actually create the industry. So, many of us, what we did, was try to go to GDC to travel to conventions and to learn whatever we could. And then founded our own studios.
Edwin says that getting into the game industry is important, because he would rather hire someone with working experience than no experience at all.
Raphy: What separates those who struggle and those who thrive being a creative in the game industry?
Erwan warns that the biggest problem with artists is their ego. He states that, “It is important to take criticism well, and to understand that it is not a personal thing, or you won’t last a year”. He continues to say that, “Linking people together is important. Being good socially is very important”.
Edwin follows up in regards to taking criticism well by saying that, “Maybe what you did didn’t align with the principles of the game. It’s not about you doing the wrong job, it just wasn’t on par with the direction of the game”, and that “It’s good to have pride as an artist, but don’t let it get in the way of being objective of your own work”.
Edwin shares a phrase that helps him, which is: “Climb your own mountain. Don’t compare yourself to everyone”. Aside from those pieces of advice, he also brings up that money was a big concern for him when he was starting out.
Raphy: Do you find that students focus on certain things too much?
Edwin suggests that students should focus less on the software that they use, such as Unreal or Unity, and think more about their thought process behind their decisions and what they were trying to communicate.
You can learn software, but the basics require experience.
“You may be the best software operator in the world, but if you can’t translate what you have in your head to an actual 3D model… it’s for nothing”.
You need to focus on the foundations; software is secondary.
Erwan recommends looking at what you are doing from an objective point of view, and to not go directly into 3D.
Raphy: What is one project you are particularly proud of?
Erwan comments that the workflow of Enter the Matrix really impressed him. The project he enjoyed the most was MySims Racing, because there was no crunch, he could trust his team, and the producer always listened to the team.
Edwin talks about his first game, which he directed. He had to make the game work on the Playstation Vita, Playstation 3, and Playstation 4, which was difficult to manage, but was a huge milestone for him.
Another project that he was very proud of was one he made for a client who had many accidents at his workplace. Edwin designed a simulation to help solve that problem, and cut the number of accidents in half. Edwin also mentions that he was proud of the game he is currently working on, praising his great team and lack of crunch.
Raphy: Can you give some insight into the differences between indie studios versus AAA?
Erwan points out that when it comes to AAA studios, at first, “You’re going to be just a number, which can be good and bad”.
He says it is good because you can just do your stuff and go home, or you can try your best and be rewarded. He cautions that if you keep getting promoted, you may eventually stop doing 3D art altogether, and just focus on management.
While that is not necessarily a bad thing, he recommends that you know exactly where you want to stop. He then praises AAA studios for always pushing the technology to the limits.
Edwin focuses more on the indie studios, stating they provide a lot of creative freedom, and your ideas are taken into account. He compares indie studios to a family, and says that any single person’s role will be more general since the team is smaller, which he says is a great way to discover your passion. He finds it rewarding that he learns something new every day.
Edwin also briefly mentions he had to market his game and look for a publisher, because he lacked the money to do so.
They begin to discuss how long it takes to polish a game.
Erwan gives the example that if it took one year to make the game, it should take at least six months to polish the game. They also discuss the problems that occur when porting games to different consoles, such as shaders breaking, difficulties with optimization, and fixing bugs on one platform without creating new ones on another platform.
Erwan: If you don’t know all the steps to create the house, don’t do it. You have to know how you’re going to do it, and the order that you are going to do it.
Edwin: It’s never been harder to make a game. It’s never been easier to have the tools to be able to make a game.
Both Erwan and Edwin are on Discord and are open to questions! Find them through their tags: Air0ne#8591 (Erwan) and EdwinVG#8474 (Edwin).
This panel has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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