Outside the Box:
By Paul "Villam" Steed
Anything I say comes from me and represents my personal opinions, views and subtle plans for influencing society. Read, ruminate over and remember at your own risk. If I teach you something and it helps, teach someone else.
n the world of software development there are three kinds of artists. It's not anything like 'texture artist', 'modeler' or 'animator' either (although there are valid reasons to specialize in areas like that). No, the three types of artists in our industry are Keyboard Jocks, Artists, and Artistes.
I'll explain. Keyboard Jocks (KBJ) are basically technophiles who have an artistic bent. They are of the same species and breed of computeri geekus that can conquer virtually any game in a matter of hours or days at most. They normally can't draw an expressive stick figure to save their life, but they sure can whip out a procedural explosion that draws envious 'oohs' and 'ahs' from even the most stoic of peers. They treat today's art creation software like the latest cartridge for the N64. It's something to be beaten. Conquered. Unfortunately a pervasive problem with KBJs is that they fail to completely get or grasp art fundamentals like 'weight', 'balance', 'contrast', 'flow' or 'tension'. In other words they have the mechanical skills but they lack 'it'.
Like 'they', 'it' is another one of those ephemeral words everyone refers to and doesn't really know how to quantify, grab or contain. When you have 'it' you see everything the right way and can readily point to a flaw in any given scene or animation as well as appreciate a really, really well-done piece of CG art.
Which brings us to the other extreme in our artistic trilogy (trinity is too reverent) - 'Artiste'. This species of homo artisticus is the most interesting and in a production environment the most frustrating to deal with. Artistes in our industry are basically the real deal. The true artists. Artiste could eventually be another Michelangelo, DaVinci or whatever classic, awesomely-talented famous artist you can think of. This breed of computer game artist might wear black exclusively and favor the current Goth trends. They are usually possessing of at least some formal art training or maybe none at all. Gifted, to them their work is a statement…an evolution in process…a well, Work Of Art. Prying a texture map from the hands of these amazingly talented members of our caste is like pulling away that bone Fido is lovingly gnawing on. "Damn it, it's not done yet" is heard frequently when in the presence of Artiste.
Now of course there are rarely pure KBJs and pure Artistes. Good and bad artists alike always have a little of both in their makeup. Above are the cases that inevitably lead to problems during a game's development (and it's not because they're more likely than not socially and hygienically challenged). KBJs who don't recognize their weak areas and work extra hard on improving their traditional art skills either become part a lump of mediocrity that makes up a big portion of any career field, crank out shitty or sloppy work that has to be re-done or deleted, or as in the case of people I've had working for me, deleted from the company all together. The extreme cases of our Artiste brethren simply get shoved from project to project in larger companies because although they can't meet a deadline or are hard to get along with, they're too good to be fired. Usually in smaller companies they're let go more quickly or kept around for their occasional contribution and basic iconic value.
So now we know the extreme left and extreme right, let's examine the middle - Artists. Artists in our industry are essentially a balanced hybrid of the two aforementioned species. They have that hard to find left brain/right brain combination where the technophile meets the creative. They keep up to date on current art tools as they come out with their endlessly numbered revisions like the latest Unreal or even Quake 2 update. (Unfortunately, the line dividing the individual merits and plethora of new and improved features amongst the current batch of tools is quickly fading).
Artists have an insatiable desire to learn because failure to keep up allows some eighteen-year old with raw talent and an appetite the size of the moon to blow past you at mach three. Not only do they look forward to the next upgrade or version, in the case of some art tools some of them graduate to even being on the (gasp) Beta Test Program! However, as technically proficient as they try to be, Artists also have 'it'. They have the eye to distinguish 'cool' from 'not so cool' computer graphics. Their grasp of art fundamentals is solid but they're continually reading about things like radiosity and shadow depth and other terms that are behind the curtain behind other curtains.
So I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you want to get a job in this industry pushing pixels, vertices or objects around then ditch the primadonna act, crack the books and try to be humble until you've got enough experience to risk otherwise. There's a lot to learn in this career field and unfortunately most of it's OJT (On the Job Training). Don't let that stop you, though. There's plenty of people occupying a chair somewhere supposedly creating art for games lamenting for the days when times and color palettes were simpler.
They're just keeping the seat warm for someone hungry and someone wanting to be an Artist.
That's it for now but tune in next week as I update the modeling tutorial I did for Game Developer magazine and prep you for some useful character modeling action down the road.
- Paul Steed is an incredibly opinionated 3D artist at id Software.
Credits: Thinking Outside the Box logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Thinking Outside the Box is © 1998 Paul Steed. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't even try it. We've got really big guns, and we're ripped, baby.