Monday, 4 March 2013

Elements of game design, part two: art direction for games

Why is art direction so important in games? Well i think its important because it defines all the visual elements to a game. Human beings have 5 senses, hearing, sight , smell, taste, and touch. When you play video games only two of those senses are triggered, hearing and sight; unless of course you smell yourself after realising you haven’t left your seat for the last week playing Skyrim. I could include the vibration function on controllers but they are a poor substitute over the ability to actually hold a M-96 mattock.

You feeling lucky punk?

Now the thing about hearing and sight is that they apply to the sound and visual design of a game. Despite the two having a symbiotic relationship i find that most humans respond more to visual rather than audio stimuli. I think this is because humans are generaly lazy and lacking imagination so they have to “see it to believe it”. 
Life with no imagination , so dull.

Therefore to make something both beautiful and believable requires a lot of work. That’s probably why there are so many art departments, from concept artist to 3d modeller there is a lot to do when it comes to the visuals. That in my opinion makes it an crucial area, simply because a company would not invest so much many to pay for roles in an area which does not need it.

Now the art director’s job must entail countless different responsibilities as they are in charge of the entire art department. To get a sense of what they have to do i looked at the job posting for an art director at EA. The first responsibility bullet point read as follows:

“Explores UI Visual Style for new projects by working with the other Artists to research, develop mood boards and exploratory sketches, and pre-visualization comps.  Review options for UI Visual Style with Art Director and Production and incorporate feedback, owning responsibility for a single, clear visual style that can be documented and communicated to other members of the game team.”

Now that sound nice and simple doesn’t it...

At first glance i could feel confusion moving across my face, the amount of text for one bullet point baffled me to say the least. However when reading it again i realised a few thing,. Nowhere in that first sentence does it speak about creation. It seems more like a managerial post with things like reviewing and research as opposed to doing much arty stuff. Secondly i noticed that it says that the Art Director needs to “Review options for UI Visual Style with Art Director”. Right, review the art director’s work with the art director. Nice one EA, check before you copy and paste things.
Ea's official response : "we didint copy and paste anything?"


Anyway reading further into the job description it seems that the role of an art director isn’t as creative as i had anticipated. Sure it still has creative elements and it is in the art department but it sounds more formal, less creativity more politics. For years as a kid growing up that was the ultimate high point of my creative career, being an art director. I guess i didn’t really think of it like a military hierarchy, the fresh recruits start on the field but at some point you leave to field for deskwork. I don’t really want to leave the field work, i want to be the guy still coming up with those wicked ideas, instead of making a couple of wicked ideas and ensuring the rest of the department don’t fuck it up.

Having said that i think that its a natural progression, you put in the hours, you learn the ropes, you get good until some point you are in charge of the next set of hopefuls. Besides maybe in 40 years I’ll be old and that fresh energetic flame of imagination will have dimmed into smouldering wick.

40 years is still a long time away though, if i think what i need between here and an art director i think there is a still a lot to learn, but that why I’m on this course. After that I think the majority of work to get there will just be gaining experience and improving my knowledge of the world.

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