Monday, 7 February 2011

Art Directors

Being, as I am, an aspiring game artist, my interest in the visual style and execution of video games won’t be too surprising. While many games hum the well-rehearsed rhythm of ever-improving photorealistic visuals, others adopt an entirely unique style, or even whistle their own tune for what is expected of photorealism. 

Madworld's very distinctive visual style is not just skin deep:
the musculature of characters and weapons as well as the
environments is all highly stylised, but consistant.

However, when you consider that each game has a single art style, despite a swathe of different independent artists (working in a team), one might wonder how the skills and tastes of this team of artists is unified into a single creative vision… that’s where the Art Director comes in.
It is the Art Director’s responsibility that the visual style is coherent and consistent, and projects the correct feeling onto the player. The Art Director will be responsible for overseeing concepts for the visual elements, requesting refinements and steering the course of all the visual elements’ designs in a single direction. 
While a single artist toils over a handful of assets with utmost care, it is the Art Director’s responsibility that that artist’s body of work fits seamlessly into the game and does not result in a visually inconsistent environment, character or other asset.
The role should not be confused with that of Lead Artist. While the role may, in smaller companies be embodied by the Art Director, it is still a different set of responsibilities.
A Lead Artist would be responsible not as style consultant or visual consistency advisor, but take on a more technical and perhaps even managerial role. The Lead Artist will be concerned with ensuring artists’ work flows through the pipeline with maximum efficiency: their work should be meeting a clear technical brief concerning budget, scale and other factors. They may be responsible for delegating art tasks, and ensuring artists are meeting deadlines.

Not like that, like this!

So while a Lead Artist’s skillset is likely to focus on proficiency as a 3d artist coupled with managerial skills, an Art Director’s requirements differ somewhat. The art director must understand holistically the visual aesthetic required of the game. They must be able to communicate this vision with all artists and must be able to identify when created content does not fit this brief. It will not be enough to simply request changes to each asset which does not fit – the existence of poorly-matched assets represent a communication failure either by the art director in expressing the aesthetic, or the artist in understanding it.

It takes a very special type of artist to become a director – one who is able to step back from a single isolated piece and see the entire body of work, often well before it has been created. Their communication skills must be able to match with every member of the art team. They must be willing and able to be less hands-on with the work since they are unlikely to be able revise every asset themselves.


One might argue that the Art Director has very limited creative freedom – simply steering other artists and often producing little work themselves. However, it is their hand guiding the entire visual design for the game. Much as an conductor lifts baton and not instrument, so too does the Art Director orchestrate the visual performance of the artists, and assist in the composition of the visual score for the game. No easy feat.
So take a bow, Art Directors.

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