Category Archives: smArt Management

3 reasons never to use in-line images for art feedback

Hi all! Quick tip — don’t use in-line images for art feedback! Ever. Seriously. This shows the correct way to Attach images instead of embedding them as inline images. Again, this applies to art feedback, not general emails. The primary reason is that they’re annoying to save and they make searching for attached images later very difficult, when they really don’t need to be. Think of this in the context of working on a project with thousands of emails spanning hundreds of contacts. Being able to come back to an attached image later becomes a hell of a lot more important when you’re operating at scale. Fortunately, this is an incredibly simple process tweak anyone can do. :)

Here are three reasons why you should never use in-line images for art feedback:

  1. It makes Gmail’s search vastly less effective. It prevents searching by filename\keyword\attachment in Gmail.

    Example: If I’m looking for Art_Pasta_paintover_14.jpg and it’s an Attachment, I can search Gmail for it. However, if it’s embedded as an in-line image, it cannot be searched for, so I have to remember who was on the email, what the subject was, what some of the key words were, etc. I get ~150 emails a day and I can’t expect myself to remember absolutely everything.

  2. It strips filenames. If you have to use the images, it requires manually saving them. Since it doesn’t store the original filename, it’s dependent on the end user to adhere to naming conventions and place the file appropriately. If you save the file and ever need to find it again, now it only exists as whatever you thought to name it, or in an email you can’t easily search for.
  3. It breaks formatting. Large images completely obliterate formatting by stretching out the horizontal scroll bar, which makes ALL email replies span multiple pages. This makes emails unreadable and is a great way to kill a thread, if that’s what you’re trying to do.

I’d initially considered JPG artifacting and re-saving images degrading image quality, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in my limited testing. Here’s an interesting tutorial on checking for JPG artifacting in Photoshop.

Thoughts? Agree\disagree? I’d like to hear your comments!

Worklog — how to create an art wall.

Art management time! Has anyone created a wall grid full of printed art assets for basic tracking and visualization? How did you do it and what did you track? I decided to design a system for that today.

I do all my project tracking in Shotgun (www.shotgunsoftware.com) but I like the idea of a wall to visualize relationships between sets, with really limited tracking indications that map to asset-specific tasks.

Let’s choose a standard 8.5 x 11 piece of paper to print on. That’s 2550 x 3300 pixels at 300dpi. Let’s see how many figures (characters in this case) we can fit onto a sheet. The practical considerations here are:

1) Scale. How many can I fit onto one sheet and still be meaningful? If it’s too few it’ll take up too much wall space. If it’s too many it’ll make looking at it difficult. We can also use either portrait or landscape mode, depending on the proportions of the image. Additionally, if there are too many and you’re printing updates, if you update more than one asset in a sheet you’ll be printing up new pages all the time.

portrait:
5×4 grid: 510×825
3×3 grid: 850×1100
2×3 grid: 1275×1100
2×2 grid: 1275×1650

2) Buffer room at the edges in case you’re using a paper cutter. Do EVERYTHING you can to size it correctly so you don’t have to use a paper cutter to correct it. Trust me, I’ve been down that road.

3) Buffer room at either the top center (for magnets) or in the corners (for push-pins) so you’re not covering up information.

4) Clearly labeled asset name with stroke around text, for easier visibility in all conditions. I like white text in Impact with a black border, or inverted colors if necessary.

5) Limited colors so we don’t waste printer ink.

6) Character is on a neutral RGB 128 grey background, but outside of those bounds it’s white. This saves ink, and prevents the painful contrast of looking at a character with a bright white background. That’ll distort your perception of color and values. (note: I’m using a placeholder since I can’t show any of my game’s assets.)

7) Stroked inside edges of the image. This’ll aid in snapping them correctly (although you should be using Guides) and cutting them out, if you absolutely have to.

8) When you print, make sure to Scale to Fit Media otherwise it’ll clip the edges by default.

9) Clear indications of asset status at the bottom that you can mark with a ballpoint pen or Sharpie. I have “R C B S T I,” which stands for “Ref – Concept – Blockout – Sculpt – Texture – Ingame.”

After several experiments, this is what I ended up with:

charsheet

This is what 4 of them on an 8.5×11 sheet looks like:

charsheet_final

And this is what all my experiments look like on the wall:

charsheet_photo

Bottom right is the winner. :) Obviously this is just the start of a LOT of effort, but I feel like I have the design down and have avoided a LOT of pitfalls I’ve subjected myself to in the past.

Hope that was helpful, or at least interesting! I’d really like to hear how your studios do it and if you have any suggestions on a simpler format, or if there’s anything I haven’t covered.

Cheers!

How to get answers faster!

One of the most important concepts I’ve learned as an art producer\manager is this: If you want to get a specific answer from someone, make your best guess — ANY guess — and invite their feedback on it. It’s 10x faster than asking them to start from nothing, even if your guess is horrible. It’s a starting point *you* create, and it works because it’s easier to critique an existing idea than conceive and commit to a new one.

Developing a standardized directory naming system for art drops

Hi, everybody! I’ve been using a system of directory naming for years for tracking all incoming\outgoing files with outsourcers I use, and I’m tweaking it and trying to standardize it. The goal is to be easy to understand and simple to sort. I’d love to get input and feedback on this. Here’s the way I do it now:

/(2012-03-22) INCOMING – SUBMISSION – STUDIONAME (character art for milestone 002)/
/(2012-03-22) OUTGOING – FEEDBACK – STUDIONAME (feedback on characters)/

The syntax is [date] [droptype] [studio] [description]

Date always comes first for easier sorting. The date is written year-month-day to adhere to the ISO 8601 information interchange standard. It sorts perfectly alphabetically so months don’t get mixed up between years. For example, you could write March 22, 2012 two different ways:

2012-03-22
or
03-22-2012

What if, a year from now, I make another directory with the date?

2012-03-22
2013-03-22
or
03-22-2012
03-22-2013

The more directories get dumped in there, the more confusing it’ll be trying to sort out which year which drop came from since it’s not sorted well.

Droptype comes second so I can easily sort out what kind of drop it is. Is it something I sent to the contractor? Is it something they sent me? Or is it a reference or information drop of some kind that doesn’t really count as incoming\outgoing?

There are the different droptypes and subtypes I’ve set up so far:

INFORMATION
    ASSET DUMP
    TECH DOCS
    REFERENCE
INCOMING
    ESTIMATE
    SUBMISSION
OUTGOING
    RFP
    ASSIGNMENT
    FEEDBACK
    REFERENCE

RFP means “Request for Proposal,” by the way. This means I’ve sent the studio a batch of work, reference and tech docs so I can get the work priced and scheduled out so we can decide whether or not to sign a contract.

I have everything capitalized for easier readability. I don’t like lower-case or mixed-case for important information. And I think all of these droptypes and subtypes encompass pretty much every type of standard communication I have with outsourcers. It’s a short list.

After that I include the studio name, which helps a lot with filtering alphabetically if I’m working with a lot of art studios or artists for a single client. I used to include the studio name in the description, but I prefer this for sorting, especially as projects scale.

From there, I include a short written description of what’s in the drop. It’s a lot more casual than the rest of the naming conventions. I don’t care about capitalization as much and I don’t have a very standard syntax for it. It’s just a brief description of what’s in the directory and why it exists.

That’s the best system I have so far. I’d love for people to pick it apart, though, to see if there’s anything I could be overlooking or doing better. I’ve gone back and forth before on whether or not to put STUDIONAME before DROPTYPE as a means of sorting more easily. It came down to being purely a matter of preference, as I’m personally more focused on seeing at a glance the actual inflow and outflow of information on a daily basis, and the ratio of in vs out. That’s more important to me than sorting first by how many times I interacted with an individual studio on a certain day.

Because of this, I’m better able to assess how productive my artists are and how productive I am, and helps me see relationships with regards to the amount of time I’ve invested on art drops and feedback and how quickly it comes back and from which studios. Again, that’s just a matter of preference.

Seriously though, any and all feedback is appreciated! :)

smArtist hardware! AKA How I manage my business from everywhere.

Hi, guys! I’ve been spending the last few months really digging into the most efficient ways to manage my business from wherever I happen to be while having plenty of backup options for staying communicative even if everything starts exploding. First off, I’d like to showcase my hardware!

These are the main tools I use for smArtist! Detailed below:

My command center! HP Pavilion dv6t quad core. Intel i7 Q 820, 8gb RAM, 500gb HD, etc. This is my primary laptop where I do all the heavy lifting, be it art, mass file storage, syncing data everywhere, etc. It’s heavy, but can handle anything I can throw at it. I take this laptop to client sites, set it up wherever there’s room, sync the data to my local HD and mirror onto an external HD then do all my work on this. This helps me work remotely and have everything at my disposal and help save my clients time and money trying to get a new system set up for me.

My Google Chromebook! I got this for free in Google’s very first round of beta hardware, and a year later, I still use it extensively. I use this for responding to email, dealing with documentation and spreadsheets, etc. I’m an ENORMOUS fan of Google and actively use most of their products, especially Gmail and Docs.

For the most part, everything I ever need to manage my business with exists in Google’s cloud — securely passworded a hundred ways, of course — and it’s all automatically accessible from this Chromebook. All I have to do is log into my Google account, and all of Chrome’s browser settings and Chrome web store applications and their relevant data are instantly accessible to me. The best part is that the Chromebook comes with 3G data plan through Verizon, so I can access the internet and all my data from wherever I am, at any time.

My Motorola Atrix laptop dock! This is the most awesome cel phone accessory ever devised. I have the Motorola Atrix phone with Android, which is an absolute beast of a phone. One of its most notable features is the laptop dock accessory.

It’s basically an entire netbook with a dock for my phone, and it’s powered by my phone’s hardware. The lapdock’s OS is actually Ubuntu, but the Android OS runs in its own window as a separate app. That window is everything on my phone. All my settings, apps, everything, 100% exact copy except I can use the lapdock’s mouse and keyboard to click on and run everything. I even unlock my phone and entire my PIN from the lapdock’s keyboard. :)

The way it works it that I dock my phone into the lapdock, then boots into Ubuntu and has a virtualized window of my phone’s Android OS as a running app. It’s incredible. It’s a fully functional netbook with 3G access through my AT&T data plan using my phone, and for no extra charge. The best part? The laptop dock has its own battery that automatically charges my phone when it’s docked, even if the laptop dock is closed.

My first-generation 64gb 3G iPad! This is the best piece of consumer electronics I’ve ever purchased. Except for the graphics work I can only do on my primary laptop, I can do EVERYTHING I need to do for my business through my iPad and with its keyboard dock. Emails, spreadsheets, reviewing portfolios, Dropbox, FTP, reading PDF docs, everything. I have apps to do basically anything I’d ever need to do, and since it’s 3G, I can do it from anywhere. :) I’m writing up an article on how I use my iPad to manage my business, and I’ll be posting that at some point in the near future.

The net effect of having all this hardware is that I can pack as light or as heavy as I need and use any of these devices to access the internet and my data through a) direct ethernet connection, b) wifi, or c) two different cellular networks. I can do face-to-face calls through Skype or various VoIP solutions on basically any of these devices if I need to. Since all my tools are based online and backed up every which way, I can be on the highway in the middle of the desert and have full access to my entire business if I even have a single bar of cel reception on either AT&T or Verizon. I’m always on.

In addition to this, I actually have a really amazing laptop \ messenger bag from Timbuk2 that’s always loaded with all the cables and peripherals I need to work remotely. This enables me to simply toss my laptop in the bag and go where I need to immediately instead of having to wrap\pack everything and make sure I didn’t leave anything behind. Among the items in my bag are my earbuds, external speakers, extra mouse, extra USB cables and AC adaptors to charge my phone and iPad, a portable three-port surge protector with two USB outlets so I can split power in busy coffee shops, and so on.

Two of my next purchases are a keyed laptop lock for security and a spare AC adaptor \ power brick for my laptop so I don’t even need to pack my primary when I need to pack up and go work somewhere without wasting a moment’s time. It may not seem like a big deal at first, but I’m out and about working from a wide variety of locations all the time, and it sucks to spend a ton of time packing\unpacking and forgetting something important as I go.

So, in a nutshell, that’s how I run my business from anywhere I am. What kind of cool tech and tools do you guys and gals use for remote work? I’d love to hear!

LinkedIn for research and business intelligence.

People underestimate LinkedIn as a business intelligence tool. If you’re interviewing, ask for names of who’s interviewing you. If you’re looking to contract with someone, look them up. Research, make notes, ask around, develop questions for the first conversation. MobyGames too. Know your goal, take aim, be prepared, then have fun! Be a smArtist.