The Game Team 2. ART!

Art! Yes, ART! (little joke there for my old friend Les Ellis)

So, we’ve covered programming, in terms of team members. A second big entry in the team is Art. You’ll notice I left out world modeling / level design in this section. That’s because, to my mind, a lot of that is actually design. It’ll be covered in the next posting.

So lets run down some of the positions.

Lead / Management positions

1) Art Director

This is the top of the chain. He’s the one, like the lead programmer, who establishes the way that art is created at the studio. He decides if particular processes are going to be used, particular software, or outside groups (e.g., we are going to use company X, who specialize in face rigging, or group Y, to do our motion capture for us). He may also be the person who generates the style guide for a given project – what is the color palette, what kind of style is it going to be (comic book, anime, photo realistic, Lovecraftian etc).

The Art director tends to be involved with lots of projects at once.

2) Lead Artist

The Lead artist is on a specific project, and is the main person responsible for every pixel that appears on screen. He (usually) manages the artists, works out texture budgets, and assign tasks. He basically cajoles and judges the artist on their work, and is the final arbiter of what gets into the game art wise and what does not.

3) Lead Technical Artist

This can sometimes be a lead position, and sometimes not. Sometimes the lead artist is this. The Technical Artist is the one who works out _how_ things are going to be made. It’s apart from the tools creator; the tools programmer is the guy who goes to the technical artist and says “Ok, we need to have complete procedural animation going on. How are we going to do that? What does the rig on the models look like? What needs to happen here?”
He will work out potential new blend modes, talking with the shader engineer about visual effects, and generally work out the how what needs to be done from the art perspective.
Sometimes this role can ever be broken down further – lighting technical artist, animation technical artist, environmental technical artist, etc.

Team members

4) Concept Artist

A concept artist is critical at the start of a project – generating imagery (in conjunction with the art director and lead designer) that gives the style and design of characters and environments. She’s the one who helps develop the style, look and feel of what the game is going to be. She’s also the #1 thing that is pushed in pitches. Plus her stuff gets packaged up in nice coffee table books at the end of the project.

5) Texture Artist

Texture artists generate the actual visuals of what gets painted on the geometry. It’s even got to the point now where there is specialization within the texture artist genre – environmental artists, creature artists, people artists. It’s amazing how far this area has come.
They also do more than just textures  – there’s normal maps (IE making flat surfaces look bumpy when light falls on it), specular maps (making a surface look shiny), and many other aspects of added value (e.g. sub surface scattering heat maps) to a given texture to make it look “Last Of Us” good:)

6) 3D Modeler / Rigger

This person is the guy with all the Maya skills. And what’s interesting is that they don’t just build characters and enemies, but also objects and buildings for environments. They need to keep tabs on polygon counts and the like, and then they hand the models they make to the texture artist for texturing, and also to the rigger (in the case of animating models). The rigger may (or may not be) the initial modeller. The rigger creates a skeleton within the model, and attaches the individual polygons to that skeleton, and also creates handles for animators to move the model around. In the case of motion captured animations coming in, they also create a second skeleton in the model, that is mapped to the dimensions of the original actor (the actor may be 6 ft tall, but the model only 5 ft tall), with connections between the two skeletons that allow animations from a larger figure to be translates to a smaller or differently dimensioned model.

7) Animator

So this is a very “art like” job. Basically, it’s posing the model skeleton for key framing, and then creating animations from those frames. It can get more complicated than that – creating partial animations that get blended at run time with other animations already running (e.g. shooting a gun while running). This is a major artistic skill, and badly built animations are very very visible.

8) VFX Artist

This is another fun job – the creation of visual effects in a game. Particle effects, lens flares, animating backdrops, changing skyboxes, gun flares, the whole shebang. This is now a full time position at lots of the larger studios – BattleField, for example, has specialists in just gun effects, never mind the rest of the game.

9) Lighter

This is a relatively new position for video games. Movies have had it for years – a dedicated group of people who place lights and render the scene to ensure the lighting looks natural (or, in the worst case, dramatic!). I didn’t even realize that video games had this position until I was introduced to a bunch from Infinity Ward! So yeah, it exists.

10) Cinematics director

This guy! Now this guy has the fun part. He basically scripts out little cinematic events, using game assets. He decides where the camera is, where it moves to during a shot, what goes on in the shot and everything else. He’s literally a digital movie director. This has been a new thing recently, and it’s very visible with games like Last of Us, Uncharted and Halo, which are all narrative driven stories.

Next up: Design!

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