Multimedia Artists and Animators
Exploring this Job
If you are interested in becoming a multimedia artist or an animator, you can start quite simply by drawing characters and landscapes. You can try copying images from games that you know or create your own characters and settings. Remember, you don't have to be high-tech right away. It's also important to familiarize yourself with the industry, so read publications such as Game Developer (https://www.gamasutra.com/topic/game-developer) and Animation World Magazine (https://www.awn.com/animationworld). You also might want to look for career resources at the International Game Developers Association's Web site, https://igda.org. The association also offers student membership. If you have friends who are interested in gaming, try creating your own game or add to a game that exists already. Local museums often offer summer art classes, and community colleges often have computer courses—check these out.
One thing many industry experts recommend is to attend conferences such as SIGGRAPH and the Game Developers Conference, both of which are annual events. There you will be able to meet people in the business and other enthusiasts, see new games and technologies, and even attend workshops of interest to you. This is a terrific opportunity for networking and, if you are in college, you may hear of internship or job opportunities. Of course, this event can be expensive, but if your funds are limited, you may want to work as a student volunteer and pay much less. Information on the conference and volunteer opportunities is available at https://www.gdconf.com. Information on the SIGGRAPH conference is available at https://www.siggraph.org.
Multimedia artists and animators work on the creation of games, which can fall into several categories, including sports, action/adventure, simulation, and education. Today, games are also played in a variety of environments, such as on personal computers, in arcades, on smartphones and tablet computers, over the Internet, and on consoles at home. Additionally, games are typically created to appeal to a certain audience, for example, boys, girls, teens, men in their 20s, or everyone. As they do their work, artists and animators must always keep these factors in mind to ensure that the look they produce will meet the game's requirements.
Artists and animators may work at small, start-up companies that are trying to produce their first big hit game, or they may work at established companies, producing new games for an already successful series. Because of factors such as company size, personal skills and experience, type of game worked on, and developing technologies, not all game artists and animators have the same responsibilities—or even the same job titles—throughout the industry. Some may specialize in a particular aspect of the game, such as creating the game's environments (for example, a forest, a city, the surface of another planet), while others may work on multiple aspects of a game, such as building a character, animating it, and creating other objects in the game. No matter what their job title or the type of game they work on, however, artists and animators must be able to work as part of a team because several groups, or teams, of people usually work together to produce a game. In addition to the artists and animators, these include people who come up with the game idea and its rules, computer programmers who create the software for the game, and game testers who make sure the game works properly.
Game designers begin the process of developing a video game by considering the intended audience, the type of equipment on which the game will be played, and the number of players to be involved. They collaborate to come up with a workable game idea, game rules, and levels of play. Conceptual artists sometimes create storyboards, which sketch out elements of the game, such as characters and action, and set a visual tone that the final product should have. This sketch work does not typically become part of the finished product's "in-game" art. It does, though, give the other artists a visual direction on which to base their work.
Video games are made to look two-dimensional (2D), three-dimensional (3D), or combine both 2D and 3D features. Artists who create in-game art with a 2D look do this by drawing on paper and then scanning the work into a computer. Artists who create in-game art that has a 3D look use special computer software to make the artwork inside a computer. Some artists may also build models or sculptures of objects, and then use a 3D scanner to scan the model into the computer. The artist may then use software to touch-up the image until it has the desired look.
Character artists, also called character builders, create the characters in a game. They may draw a variety of sketches to plan out the character, whether it is 2D or 3D. Then, to create a 3D character, character artists work on a computer and begin building the character from the inside out. To do this, they use software that generates basic shapes, which they manipulate to create a "skeleton" for the character. The artists then add skin, fur, scales or other type of covering to the skeleton as well as colors and details, such as the eyes.
Background artists, sometimes known as environmental modelers or modelers, create the game's settings. For example, they may need to create realistic city scenes with various buildings, parking ramps, and streets for different levels of play in the game. They may also need to build backgrounds for imaginary places, such as a planet in another galaxy. Background artists are responsible for providing the right setting for the game, and they must make sure their artwork is in correct proportion to other game elements. To do this for 3D environments, they sketch out their designs on paper, consult with other artists, and use the computer to build the backgrounds. In some cases, the background artist will create objects that are part of the scene, such as the furniture in a room, or items a character might use, like a sword or magic stone. In other cases, another artist—a 3D object specialist or object builder—will create such items. Once again, this artist must make sure his or her work is in proportion to the other artwork and matches the game's visual style.
Texture artists add detail to all the game's artwork so that the surface of each element appears as it should. Texture artists, for example, make a brick wall in a background look rough and brick-like, make a character in the rain look wet, or make a treasure of jewels sparkle and shine. They work fairly closely with the background artists to ensure that the textures they create match what those artists had envisioned. To build textures, texture artists may draw, paint, or photograph surfaces, then scan the images into the computer. They use software to manipulate the texture image and "wrap" it around the object on which they are working.
Animators are responsible for giving movement to the game's characters. They must have an understanding of human anatomy and often model game characters' movements on actual human or animal movement. After all, even if the character is a green, three-eyed alien with wings, it still needs to move smoothly and believably through a scene. In one method of animation, the artist builds a model or sculpture of a character, scans it into the computer, and then uses software to animate the character in the computer. In another method, which is typically used with sports games to create the realistic movements of athletes, actual people are used as models. In this method, called "motion capture," a person wearing body sensors goes through whatever motions the game character will be doing—jumping, throwing a football, running, dribbling a basketball, and so on. The motion sensors send information to a computer and the computer creates a "skeleton" of the person in motion. The animator then builds on this skeleton, adding skin, clothing, and other details.
Animators are also responsible for getting characters' personalities to show through. They must use their artistic skills to convey feelings, such as anger, fear, and happiness, through a character's facial expressions and body language. Animators may work closely with the character artists and the game designers to get an understanding of each character's personality and goals. This way, animators can determine, for example, if a character's smile should be wide and friendly, small and meek, or more like a sneer than a real smile.
All artists and animators must keep practical information in mind as they do their work. The type of equipment a game is designed for, for example, will impose limitations on such elements as the speed of play and the details that will be visible. Artists and animators must also be able to work on schedule, meeting the deadlines set for their stage in the game development process. If an artist comes up with great work but is always missing deadlines, he or she will be delaying the production of the game and perhaps putting the project in jeopardy. Few team members will want to work with someone like that. Additionally, artists and animators need to know how to use available technologies and techniques. Because this work is part of the dynamic computer industry, new equipment and processes are always being developed and refined. Artists and animators must want to keep learning throughout their careers so that their skills are up to date.