Tag Archives: portfolios

I did an “Ask Me Anything” reddit post about getting into games!

Hi everybody! For those not familiar with reddit, it’s [essentially] a website where people post links, create discussions and comment on them. There are tens of thousands of small communities there, one of which is called “AMA” — short for “Ask Me Anything.” Sometimes they’ll have celebrities, or politicians, or people in interesting lines of work. People submit questions and the person answering them does their best to answer all they can. More often than not, it’s really interesting.

Well, I did one recently on what it takes to break into the game industry. I spent about 12 hours answering almost every single one of the 250+ questions asked. I’m going to take all that content and turn it into a big long Q&A or series of articles for my blog here, but I wanted to link to the original thread:

I AmA 10yr video game industry vet that likes helping people break into the industry. AMA!

Warning: The language can get very salty, which is wholly unsurprising to anyone that knows me. :)

Hope you guys enjoy!

Why you should blog what you know.

Artists: Having a great portfolio and blogging about what you know is gold. However, I’ve heard of people selling art critiques and trying to charge for basic information. I’ve always made everything I write 100% free, and here’s why: If your blog is for people that have the time to do what you’re teaching\explaining, it’s awesome for them and if the info is good, you’ll gain respect. However, you’re also showcasing your talent to people that don’t have the time to do it themselves, but instead have the money to pay *you* to do it.

Speaking as an art mercenary, this is the crucial principle: Don’t try to make money off the people that are trying to learn so they can make money. Try to make money from the people that have money.

User interface artist tip: Three tips for a better portfolio

Hello, UI artists! I’ve been going over a lot of UI artists’ portfolios — particularly contractors, hint hint — and I’ve noticed three things in particular that I love to see in a good UI artist portfolio.

  1. Wireframes. It helps me get a sense of your talent, planning and user experience sensibilities when I can see different treatment of UI layouts. Bonus points for explaining briefly and succinctly the requirements and constraints you were following when you created the wireframes.
  2. Multiple treatments on one idea. This helps me see your creative and overall user interface design process to see all the different angles from which you develop ideas. The closer to final these seem, the better. Coupling this with showing wireframes also shows how you weed out less effective ideas and know which ones to develop into a stage that’s closer to final.
  3. Who-did-what breakdowns. I usually see user interface artists skew in one of two directions. a) Someone that focuses on the UI design from the ground up and develops the wireframes then hands that off to a 2D artist to finish, or b) Someone who’s more of an illustrator that takes wireframes and beautifies them and takes them to final. There are certainly people that do both, but it’s not always obvious which is which when I’m looking at a portfolio. If you can clarify this simply and briefly, it makes it easier for me to understand what you did and what you do.

That’s a brief breakdown of what can turn a below-average or average user interface artist’s portfolio into one that’s much easier to view and understand. On a final note, presenting this information cleanly and efficiently is, in and of itself, an opportunity to demonstrate your ability. :)

What do you guys think?

Artist tip: First impressions matter. Buy a domain and email from there.

Something I see from a lot of artists (and even some studios) soliciting their services for artwork is people with MSN, Hotmail and Gmail addresses. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. To be honest, my primary email address is still with Gmail, but only because I’ve been using it for seven and a half years and I use it everywhere. That being said, I’m gradually moving my professional correspondence to my company email address because it does make a difference.

As a first impression, it feels markedly more professional when your email comes from your own domain or website. If you’re a professional service provider, having this form of web-based “real estate” offers an air of legitimacy and seriousness. This is your career, you are organized, you have a website, and you have an email address coming from the website which represents you professionally. Really, only GOOD can come of this.

This goes triply for an art studio. If you’re a group of artists and expect to be taken seriously, having a Gmail or Hotmail email address is going to make you seem young, moderately unprofessional and “indie” in the bad way. I want to work with companies organized enough to have a solid web presence and a “storefront” of sorts. If you don’t have that, it makes me feel like you’re less serious professionally. It sounds a bit unfair, but it makes me less confident in your ability to provide a service for me and deliver on time. You really could be awesome, but first impressions do matter. Why risk it?

As far as good domain names to buy, here are some guidelines:

  1. Try your best to get a dot com. Second best is dot net. Avoid strange TLDs (top level domains) if you can, and also avoid subdomains. Bad example: “ieatpaper.iamaprofessionalartist.co.xxx.nz.abc.123.omg”
  2. If you don’t use your real name, pick something simple. If you say the name aloud, can people find it on the first try? Bad example: “Superdeliciousartistboythatmakesart.com/portfolio/lookatmeIamcreative!!11/”
  3. Avoid internet slang. Bad example: “lolwutbesrs.net”
  4. Avoid non-standard spelling. Bad example: “imaektehthreedeemodelz.net”
  5. No hyphens. Bad example: “c-o-n-c-e-p-t-artist.com”
  6. Avoid complicated words. Bad example: “www.archaeologicalartisan.com”
  7. If it takes longer than three seconds to speak aloud or explain, it’s too long. Bad example: “It’s incompatenceingameduhvelopment.com, but ‘incompetence’ is spelled ‘i-n-c-o-m-p-a to be funny and ‘development’ is spelled ‘D U H velopment’ because — hey, where are you going?”
  8. Don’t pick something offensive. If it has to do with drugs, sex, poop, or communicable diseases, reconsider your life. This is the first impression you’re making to a prospective client or employer. Do you want to be the guy with the gross or stupid name? Bad example: “snotinmyhair.com”
  9. Short and simple is best. Examples of short, simple, REALLY good domain names: “chrisholden.net,” “autodestruct.com,” and “twotongraphics.com”

The verbal aspect of a good name is enormous, and I don’t think many people consider it. You want a name simple enough to stick in someone’s head in the shortest possible amount of time, with the least chance of misspelling.

Remember: YOU need to go out of your way to be memorable to people so they’ll come to you. It’s not up to other people to find you immediately special and earth-shatteringly compelling. Don’t assume they’ll want to remember or will try REALLY hard to track you down online, especially if you have a bad domain name or email address.

What do you guys and gals think? Anything you’d disagree with, or anything I’m missing? Feedback is welcome as always!

Presenting the CrunchCast!

Hi, everybody! I wanted to pimp out a game development video podcast my good buddy Chris Holden has put together. I’ve been a guest on it several times now and I’ve had a blast with him talking game dev, portfolios, breaking into the industry, and so on. The language can get pretty salty. I present to you…

THE CRUNCHCAST!

And here’s CrunchCast #13, the most recent episode:

I’ll be posting these weekly as they’re recorded. Hope you guys enjoy it! If you have any questions you’d like answered on the podcast, email [email protected]!

The Art of Getting Noticed – video speech and text

Hi everybody! I spoke at the IGDA Microtalks a couple months ago on the subject of job-getting, being noticed and generally how to market yourself better as an artist. I had a great time and there was a fantastic lineup of speakers, all linked from the video below and all of which are worth watching.

Here’s my ten-minute speech, and below is the text of the speech:

Here are the slides: Jon Jones – The Art of Getting Noticed presentation slides

Last time I spoke at the MicroTalks it was on the subject of how to price and value yourself as a contractor and when to fire your boss. I was going to do another talk along the same lines, but in honor and sympathy of the two layoffs Austin has had this week, I wanted to talk about how to market yourself as an artist — be you contract or full-time employed — to help give you a leg up on the competition.

(SLIDE 2 – WHAT THIS TALK IS ABOUT)

I’m going to go over some techniques for building a great portfolio, standing out in the crowd, and how to increase your chances of getting hired using some basic marketing techniques.

For the purposes of illustration, I’m going to use character artists as an example.

(SLIDE 3 – DIFFERENTIATE)

First, DIFFERENTIATE.

Most character artists I’ve seen make the same four models: Space marine, naked man, naked woman, and character from a recently released movie.

If everyone’s making the same basic character, how is anyone going to stand out? Being an artist that creates high quality assets is important, but quality should not be the only differentiator between you and another artist. You want to seem relevant, but also unique and memorable.

Consider this: If a potential employer is looking for a new artist, in a “market” where there are hundreds of space marines, how likely is it that your space marine is going to be the very best out of all of them? Not very.

I see three ways to strengthen your appeal:

(SLIDE 4 – FIND A GAME AND CHOOSE A STYLE)

1) Find a game and choose a style. Pick specific games that embody a stylistic archetype, and make art that fits it. The more successful the game, the better!

For example, the Battlefield series and all 170 Call of Duty sequels are a good baseline for war game realism.

Mass Effect or Gears of War are good examples of sci-fi — clean and Star Warsy versus gritty, beefy, neckless soldiers in an unforgiving post-apocalyptic hellscape.

Team Fortress 2 and Battlefield Heroes are good examples of carefully calculated cartoon stylization.

World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, Oblivion and so forth are good examples of the different flavors of fantasy. Which, now that I’ve said it out loud, sounds much dirtier than I meant it to.

On the Facebook and iPhone side of things, do a little Googling and peruse the App Store top ten to see what’s most popular, and imitate that. Frontierville and Angry Birds come to mind.

The goal is to be relevant and match the pattern of what an art director or hiring manager is looking for in a candidate. Let’s be honest… most games fall into those categories, and investing too much time in creating art for edge case genres and styles when you’re trying to create a well-rounded portfolio could be a waste of time.

Something that’ll give you major relevancy points is creating a series of characters or environments or objects of a consistent style within one of these styles. If you can show that your work is consistent and you can stick to a style, then great. It’ll be easier for an art director to imagine you as a good fit for an open art position for a game in that style.

Be relevant!

Another option is…

(SLIDE 5: 2) MAKE A MOD)

2) Make a mod. Or at least a new character or level that 100% fully works within a game engine along the lines of UDK \ Unreal engine. As a side note, I’ve heard designers have gotten great results — in the form of “jobs” — by creating modules for Neverwinter Nights.

The real power in creating a mod and integrating art assets into an actual engine is showing that not only can you tart it up in MAX and generate sexy renders, but you can actually tweak and iterate upon it so it works in-engine. It demonstrates you can take a piece of art to final, make it look great in an engine, and have the technical aptitude to understand the engine’s tools and technical constraints and get great results.

Again, this is another way to show you’re relevant. Honestly, maybe 1 artist in 20 actually does this, which should tell you what a great opportunity it is for you to stand out in the sweeping sea of sameness.

(SLIDE 6: MEN IN GAMES ALL LOOK THE SAME)

Now, what you have to do to balance out being relevant with being unique is to find ways to jazz up or create interesting variations on existing concepts and styles. The state of modern games — particularly action games — is as such that if you’re a male character, they all look like Ben Affleck and the dude from Avatar had a giant bald muscled baby with an angry squint developed through years of staring at the sun and grimacing stoically.

(SLIDE 7: WOMEN IN GAMES LOOK RIDICULOUS)

And if you’re a female character in games, it’s even dumber with broad strokes — no pun intended. You are white, have a 12-inch waist, sport a couple of surgically-attached pumpkins and wear no more than 8 square inches of clothing. Also, you spend a suspicious amount of time running and jumping unnecessarily.

(SLIDE 8: BE CREATIVE)

Try to make characters or environments that fit within a certain style, but have unique characteristics that make it stand out from the rest of the crowd. Design a believable modular weapon for a sci-fi game and plan out potential usage cases for it, taking into account whether it’s first-person or third-person, how and where to put detail in it based on when the player will be viewing it most often, etc. How does it reload? Can it handle multiple types of ammunition? Are there modifications you can make to it like adding a silencer, scope, or a lightsaber bayonet?

Some other ideas: Design a base character and a series of swappable armor pieces for it, taking into account how other games handle different pieces of armor intersecting. Make a convincing female version of a character race in a game that doesn’t have one. Choose a really interesting setting you haven’t seen in games before for an environment piece and plan out gameplay for it.

Let’s face it; managers hiring artists are going to look through dozens of portfolios to find a worthy artist. If you’re making exactly the same art exactly the same way as everybody else, what reason does this manager have to remember you?

Look at what other people aren’t making or focusing on, look at what games are most successful and large-scale, and tailor your portfolio and personal projects toward meeting those needs. The easier it is for them to imagine you being an artist on that project, the better your odds.

(SLIDE 9: NETWORK!)

3) NETWORK!

Were you the kid in high school who sat alone in a corner, ignored everyone and filled his sketchbook with drawings? Once upon a time, I was That Guy, and that’s one of the fastest ways to fail in this career, second only to having no talent and just above never bathing.

Maintain your focus on art but focus on breaking your shyness, anxiety, antisocial behavior, whatever it is that holds you back. Keeping completely to yourself leads to failure and ruin. Period. You HAVE to network and be social to be able to pursue opportunities. If you’re not, someone else will, because they’re willing to get out there, talk, learn, and sell.

Woody Allen once said that eighty percent of success is showing up. And if you can’t trust Woody Allen, who CAN you trust?

To put this in perspective, every contract and every job I’ve ever gotten was the result of having known a guy that knows a guy. That has always stemmed from my involvement in the video game art community and attending all the game development parties and mixers that I can. No cold calls, no internships, no open assault of job applications. My career was created entirely through networking, though I’ll grant that I have been extraordinarily lucky at times. Still, this can work for anyone, because the more people you talk to, the more likely it is that opportunities will literally come to you.

Find a message board or website that focuses on art and start posting. Comment on other peoples’ work, give helpful advice, be friendly, and make friends. Build a network of friends and acquaintances and surround yourself with them all the time. Be social. Network. Thrive.

So get out there, make friends, and create a presence. Always be there. Always have a voice. Always have a personality. Be yourself. Never make enemies. The guy whose mom you said was so fat that even THX can’t surround her could be your boss someday. I’ve actually heard of this happening many times, so don’t shoot off at the mouth and hit yourself in the foot. And never use mixed metaphors.

I’ll say it again: If you think you can succeed by not networking, you’d better be a world class talent that lays mushroom clouds with every step, or you’re in for unnecessary difficulty scoring a job.

So that was a series of steps you can take to improve your professional standing, increase your chances of getting hired, and to make it dead easy to see what a great fit you are for a job.

Thanks very much!

The Art of Getting Noticed

Hello, all! Here’s article for artists seeking employment, contract or full-time. It focuses on using basic marketing techniques to stand out in the crowd, give hiring managers something to notice and remember, and filling out your portfolio most enticingly. This article is based loosely on my Marketing for Artists article from years back, but I’ve developed and refined my ideas vastly since I wrote that, so this is a much better article comparatively.

I gave this ten-minute talk at the IGDA Microtalks in Austin, TX on Friday, June 24, 2011.

Here’s a link to the slides. I’m not really a Powerpoint kind of guy so don’t expect anything fancy, as it’s always been about the writing for me.

The Art of Getting Noticed

In honor and sympathy of the two layoffs Austin has had this week, I wanted to talk about how to market yourself as an artist — be you contract or full-time employed — to help give you a leg up on the competition.

I’m going to go over some techniques for building a great portfolio, standing out in the crowd, and how to increase your chances of getting hired using some basic marketing techniques.

For the purposes of illustration, I’m going to use character artists as an example.

First, DIFFERENTIATE.

Most character artists I’ve seen make the same four models: Space marine, naked man, naked woman, and character from a recently released movie.

If everyone’s making the same basic character, how is anyone going to stand out? Being an artist that creates high quality assets is important, but quality should not be the only differentiator between you and another artist. You want to seem relevant, but also unique and memorable.

Consider this: If a potential employer is looking for a new artist, in a “market” where there are hundreds of space marines, how likely is it that your space marine is going to be the very best out of all of them? Not very.

I see three ways to strengthen your appeal:

1) Find a game and choose a style.

Pick specific games that embody a stylistic archetype, and make art that fits it. The more successful the game, the better!

For example:

  • War game realism – The Battlefield series and all 170 Call of Duty sequels are a good baseline.
  • Science fiction - Mass Effect or Gears of War are good examples of sci-fi — clean and Star Warsy versus gritty, beefy, neckless soldiers in an unforgiving post-apocalyptic hellscape.
  • Cartoony - Team Fortress 2 and Battlefield Heroes are good examples of carefully calculated cartoon stylization.
  • Fantasy - World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, Oblivion and so forth are good examples of the different flavors of fantasy. Which, now that I’ve said it out loud, sounds much dirtier than I meant it to.
  • Facebook \ iPhone – On the Facebook and iPhone side of things, do a little Googling and peruse the App Store top ten to see what’s most popular, and imitate that. Frontierville and Angry Birds come to mind.

The goal is to be relevant and match the pattern of what an art director or hiring manager is looking for in a candidate. Let’s be honest… most games fall into those categories, and investing too much time in creating art for edge case genres and styles when you’re trying to create a well-rounded portfolio could be a waste of time.

Something that’ll give you major relevancy points is creating a series of characters or environments or objects of a consistent style within one of these styles. If you can show that your work is consistent and you can stick to a style, then great. It’ll be easier for an art director to imagine you as a good fit for an open art position for a game in that style. Be relevant!

Another option is…

2) Make a mod.

Or at least a new character or level that 100% fully works within a game engine along the lines of UDK \ Unreal engine. As a side note, I’ve heard designers have gotten great results — in the form of “jobs” — by creating modules for Neverwinter Nights.

The real power in creating a mod and integrating art assets into an actual engine is showing that not only can you tart it up in MAX and generate sexy renders, but you can actually tweak and iterate upon it so it works in-engine. It demonstrates you can take a piece of art to final, make it look great in an engine, and have the technical aptitude to understand the engine’s tools and technical constraints and get great results.

Again, this is another way to show you’re relevant. Honestly, maybe 1 artist in 20 actually does this, which should tell you what a great opportunity it is for you to stand out in the sweeping sea of sameness.

Now, what you have to do to balance out being relevant with being unique is to find ways to jazz up or create interesting variations on existing concepts and styles. The state of modern games — particularly action games — is as such that if you’re a male character, they all look like Ben Affleck and the dude from Avatar had a giant bald muscled baby with an angry squint developed through years of staring at the sun and grimacing stoically.

And if you’re a female character in games, it’s even dumber with broad strokes — no pun intended. You are white, have a 12-inch waist, sport a couple of surgically-attached pumpkins and wear no more than 8 square inches of clothing. Also, you spend a suspicious amount of time running and jumping unnecessarily.

Try to make characters or environments that fit within a certain style, but have unique characteristics that make it stand out from the rest of the crowd. Design a believable modular weapon for a sci-fi game and plan out potential usage cases for it, taking into account whether it’s first-person or third-person, how and where to put detail in it based on when the player will be viewing it most often, etc. How does it reload? Can it handle multiple types of ammunition? Are there modifications you can make to it like adding a silencer, scope, or a lightsaber bayonet?

Some other ideas: Design a base character and a series of swappable armor pieces for it, taking into account how other games handle different pieces of armor intersecting. Make a convincing female version of a character race in a game that doesn’t have one. Choose a really interesting setting you haven’t seen in games before for an environment piece and plan out gameplay for it.

Let’s face it; managers hiring artists are going to look through dozens of portfolios to find a worthy artist. If you’re making exactly the same art exactly the same way as everybody else, what reason does this manager have to remember you?

Look at what other people aren’t making or focusing on, look at what games are most successful and large-scale, and tailor your portfolio and personal projects toward meeting those needs. The easier it is for them to imagine you being an artist on that project, the better your odds.

3) NETWORK!

Were you the kid in high school who sat alone in a corner, ignored everyone and filled his sketchbook with drawings? Once upon a time, I was That Guy. Hopelessly shy, didn’t understand the importance of networking \ relationship-building, and just kind of schlepped along thinking my talent is all that I needed. Sadly, that’s one of the fastest ways to fail in this career, second only to having no talent and just above never bathing.

Maintain your focus on art but focus on breaking your shyness, anxiety, antisocial behavior, whatever it is that holds you back. Keeping completely to yourself leads to failure and ruin. Period. You HAVE to network and be social to be able to pursue opportunities. If you’re not, someone else will, because they’re willing to get out there, talk, learn, and sell.

Woody Allen once said that eighty percent of success is showing up. And if you can’t trust Woody Allen, who CAN you trust?

To put this in perspective, every contract and every job I’ve ever gotten was the result of having known a guy that knows a guy. That has always stemmed from my involvement in the video game art community and attending all the game development parties and mixers that I can. No cold calls, no internships, no open assault of job applications. My career was created entirely through networking, though I’ll grant that I have been extraordinarily lucky at times. I don’t say this to brag, just that your chances of getting what you want and succeeding are MUCH easier if you learn to value networking. This can work for anyone, because the more people you talk to, the more likely it is that opportunities will literally come to you.

Find a message board or website that focuses on art and start posting. Comment on other peoples’ work, give helpful advice, be friendly, and make friends. Build a network of friends and acquaintances and surround yourself with them all the time. Be social. Network. Thrive.

So get out there, make friends, and create a presence. Always be there. Always have a voice. Always have a personality. Be yourself. Never make enemies. The guy whose mom you said was so fat that even THX can’t surround her could be your boss someday. I’ve actually heard of this happening many times, so don’t shoot off at the mouth and hit yourself in the foot. And never use mixed metaphors.

I’ll say it again: If you think you can succeed by not networking, you’d better be a world class talent that lays mushroom clouds with every step, or you’re in for unnecessary difficulty scoring a job.

So, that was a series of steps you can take to improve your professional standing, increase your chances of getting hired, and to make it dead easy to see what a great fit you are for a job.

Cheers!