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Job Roles: Art

The game industry has matured over the last 30 years as the scope of games has rapidly expanded. Game teams can now number more than 50 people, and as such, job roles have begun to fragment into more specialised areas. Read through the job role descriptions to find out exactly what each one entails. If you are looking to enter the industry there are additional guidelines on where you need to concentrate your creative efforts to increase your chances of success in our Getting the Job section.

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Art Overview

The title of Game Artist is now considered to be a very broad description of a complex creative job role, which creates the visual components of any given game. As the industry has matured, artists have become more specialised in niche areas of game art. Employers are now routinely specifying particular requirements within the art discipline, and many game artists or students specialise in one specific area in addition to the rest of the skills that encompass game art.

In general there are two main types of game artist - 3D or 2D. The definition of 3D Modeller depends heavily on each studio's structure and the individual's ability. A modeller could be asked to just model 3D objects or, more usually, to create work in most of the specialised areas listed under 3D Artist in the job roles section.

3D Modeller & Texture Artists

3D Modeller and Texture Artist As the name suggests, the 3D artist's working day consists of creating objects, characters and scenery in three dimensions. Most of this work will usually be achieved in one of the major 3D software packages, such as Maya, 3D Studio Max, Softimage XSI or Lightwave among others.

The artist usually works from a piece of concept art and creates the model (otherwise known as an art asset) from start to finish. This includes building the initial model, the creation and subsequent application of texture maps, the addition of project-specific blind data, and in some cases visual effects nodes, and even hardware graphics shaders. Though this all sounds rather daunting, the ability to model and texture well will get you through the door - after that the rest will come as you learn on the job.

Some companies make a job role separation between 3D Artist and 2D Texture Artist; however, most expect the 3D artists to complete the texturing phase as well as the modelling.

Technical Artist

Technical Artist Bridging the gap between art and programming, the Technical Artist has emerged as a new team requirement in many progressive game companies.

The role can emerge from either the art or programming disciplines and works across both the aesthetics of the game and the underlying technology of the game engine and target platforms. The exact job description of a Technical Artist does vary from company to company but includes one or more of these roles: plug-in creation / script creation / technical documentation / hardware shader creation / visual effects implementation / general art asset creation and trouble shooting.

Having the ability to write scripts and plug-ins in addition to normal artists' duties means that the Technical Artist is able to maintain and improve the production pipeline as well as the overall visual quality of the game. Most top-level Technical Artists also have an acute understanding of the target hardware and, in some cases, are able to write hardware shaders and do general programming in C or C++. This is an up-and-coming role that is currently highly desirable within the industry, due to the huge positive impact that a good Technical Artist can have on a project.

Visual Effects Artist

Visual Effects Artists Another specialist area is special effects. This artist defines, creates and refines all special visual effects for the game. Strong skills in texture creation, coupled with an acute understanding of particle systems and geometry effects are key. Visual Effects Artists often have a good understanding of the technical restrictions of the target platform and will always work very closely with a programmer to create the effects.

Having a good level of target hardware knowledge really helps this role, as finding creative ways to produce striking and efficient visual effects separates the best from the rest. Additionally, the ability to technically deconstruct visual effects from other products helps to keep the team and company at the cutting edge as far as visual acuity is concerned.

Concept Artist

Concept Artist When a new concept for a game asset or feature is required, it's the job of the Concept Artist to realise that concept in a visual form. Concept Artists usually draw a 2D image of the required asset, environment or character, which is then passed onto production and/or included in documentation.

The Concept Artist is responsible for envisioning and presenting the visual style of the game under the direction of the art or creative director. Superlative skills in draughtsmanship coupled with a vivid imagination and a range of styles are the keys to success. The best Concept Artists live to draw! Being able to draw and render well in traditional as well as digital media is a prerequisite, as well as having the ability to constantly refine your work and accept constructive criticism.

The Concept Artist has the freedom to define the look of a whole game, so accepts a great deal of the responsibility for the final look of the game. The Concept Artist role is a demanding, pressurised role that is offset by a great deal of creative freedom and reward.

GUI Artist

GUI Artist Usually found in larger developers and publishers, GUI (graphic user interface - pronounced gooey) Artists usually stem from a graphic design background. Primarily responsible for menu systems and in-game 'score' elements, the GUI Artist must have good layout, graphics design and typographical skills. Many GUI Artists also have major input into the design and flow of the game's front end (menu system) and HUD (head up display).

Because the GUI is the first interactive visual element that a gamer will see in any game, it has to be engaging, clear and artistically excellent. GUI Artists have a lot of responsibility in this respect and therefore they are usually motivated and driven by the desire to produce great graphics.

With the earned ability to influence the flow of the front end, there is considerable responsibility as a poor front end can break a game.

Texture Artist

Texture Artist Some companies separate the modelling and texturing job roles, which naturally means that some artists become experts in 2D texture creation and application.

Games rely very heavily on high quality texture mapping. The creation of these texture maps and their application has grown ever more complex as game art has steadily increased in quality. There are now so many different processes and applications available for creating and applying them that game artists can easily specialise in this area. The close relationship between model topology and texturing means that Texture Artists normally work very closely with 3D Modellers.

The increase in the use of hardware shaders on the new game platforms has also increased the demand for dedicated Texture Artists, especially those that have the technical ability to create and modify hardware shaders.


For application advice and information please see the Getting the Job: Art section.