Category Archives: Artist Career Tips

Environment Artist Portfolio Tips

Here’s an edited excerpt of an email I wrote for someone asking me for tips on putting together an environment artist portfolio.

Focusing on environments but keeping your skillset broad is a good idea. Environment artists will always be needed, more so now that next gen games are getting crazy huge and complex. While this will generate a lot more competition for you, it also creates more opportunities to get hired.

I haven’t dealt much yet with environment artists, but I think the same basic rules apply to them as to any other artist… show all your work. By that I mean, show wireframes of the model, the high poly object, and the flat textures (spec, bump, diff, glow). When you do this, I don’t have to wonder if you understand how to paint a good texture or make a good normal map, because you show me every step of the process.

Another tip is to show your work in an actual ingame environment when you can. Drop your assets into Half-Life 2 and make them look like they belong there, and actually function.

Your goal is to make stuff that’s competent and game-ready. It’s a very powerful statement if you can put things into games on your own and make them work. It’s one less step of abstraction for hiring managers to make… by that I mean, I don’t have to look at a render, and imagine what it’d look like in a game, because you already PUT it into a game.

Show me what you CAN do, and minimize how much I have to IMAGINE you being able to do.

Don’t just put little single assets into the game, if you can help it. Make areas. Rooms. Set pieces. Show you know not only how to make individual objects but put them together into a scene, and make them look good. The simpler and clearer you can illustrate all these, the better your chances of getting hired. πŸ™‚

That’s a pretty tall order and not a lot of people do these things, but that ought to help.

I’d love to hear more tips and suggestions if you guys have any. πŸ™‚ Am I missing anything?

link: 19 Things NOT To Do When Building a Website

My friend Nate sent me a fantastic article that was right up my alley: 19 Things NOT To Do When Building a Website.

The whole thing is so good I’d just paste the whole thing here if I told you which parts were worth reading. Instead I’ll touch on my favorite points:

3. If your website asks the user which version theyÒ€ℒd like, high bandwidth or low, HTML or Flash, you ALSO LOSE.
5. DO NOT try to reinvent the website navigation.
11. Text navigations are better than images
12. A well thought out site map with logical sub sections is better than using Ò€œdrop downsÒ€.

The whole thing is a fantastic read. Go look at it and commit it to heart!

Advice for aspiring game developers

I expanded a bit more upon the questions I was asked by and had a few more bits of helpful advice to entry level game developers. Check it out:

What are some of the qualities it takes to succeed and thrive in the games industry?

Passion, persistence, and adaptability.

Passion is a given. You have to love making games or you will never make it. Part of the reason the game industry is this popular is because if it ever comes down to choosing a candidate based on his degree or his level of passion, passion wins. Passion shows itself through the quality of your work and your attitude, and games are a great way of bringing that out of people.

Persistence is just as important because the game industry is definitely a place you can succeed in if you can bring the quality of your work up to par and simply “show up” consistently. Just be there, keep trying, and you’ll make it. The game industry really isn’t for everyone and a lot of people end up leaving it because they just can’t maintain that passion for it. If you can keep showing up, keep trying and hang in there, you’ll succeed.

Adaptability. Game developers often switch companies every two to three years, and it’s normal to do. Technology also develops at an incredible rate so you have to reinvent your skillset constantly. It’s very much a survival of the fittest type of environment. Studios open, studios close, and the industry moves at a nearly breakneck pace. You have to adapt constantly and be willing to ride the waves of change or you’ll get left behind. But hey… if you’ve got passion and persistence, adaptability takes care of itself.

The industry has a reputation for requiring long hours from coders, designers, and others. Do you think that reputation is deserved? And if so, why is that?

It’s absolutely deserved. Crunch time is a reality in many studios and I have done it. Technology is advancing at an unbelievable rate and the complexity of video games increases every year, and the sole purpose of a game is to deliver fun — but how do you schedule fun? Game developers have traditionally been exempt from being paid overtime, although in some studios run by Electronic Arts and THQ, this is starting to change for some of their employees. I’m hopeful that this will inspire developers to have a financial incentive to schedule more effectively instead of throwing bodies at scheduling

Given the demands, what are the rewards of working in the games industry?

Fun. If you can find the right company and the right team, you will be in heaven. Awesome coworkers, good money, company outings, practical jokes, free video games, beer Fridays, Nerf fights, no dress code, and a totally fun, lighthearted environment you can be completely relaxed in. You don’t need an education, either, which is terrific. You are as good as the quality of your work, not the school you went to.

We’re all a bunch of big kids that LOVE what we do, and we try to harness that passion and excitement for our craft and give gamers the games they want to play.

What are the top two or three tips or pieces of advice you would offer to someone interested in getting into the industry?

  1. Specialize. Decide what you want to do, be it art, programming or design, and focus solely on that. Once you decide specifically what you want to do, it’s a much easier target to hit both in terms of focusing your goals as well as in marketing yourself.
  2. Live games. When you’re not at work, live, eat, breathe and play games. Make stuff for games. Buy Doom 3 or Half-Life 2 and make user modifications for it. Make your own new weapons, or levels, or program a mod, or design a new singleplayer campaign. Pretend you’re actually working on the game yourself professionally to get yourself into the game developer mindset. These are learning experiences as well as valuable portfolio pieces!
  3. Socialize. Find game developer groups online, like the International Game Developer’s Association (, (, and GamaSutra ( Make friends there that also aspire to be game developers! Befriend real professional game developers and learn what you can from them. Getting into the industry is very much about who you know, and there’s a goldmine of online resources for helping make that happen.

What are your guys’ thoughts on that? πŸ™‚

7 Tips for Writing smArter Emails

Ever wished you were better at writing emails you want a response to? Here are a few handy tips:

  1. Get to the point. No one likes reading rambling emails. Respect my time and my attention span by staying on-topic. Keep it short because I’m not interested in reading a novel.
  2. HAVE a point. When I’m done reading an email, I want to have a clear Next Action. If you don’t give me one, you shouldn’t rely on me to come up with one. The best way to do this in my experience is to ask a direct question. If you don’t have a question, I’ll probably look at the email and think “Hmm. Okay. Next.” But if you ask a question, I have something to do.
  3. Answer my question. If I’ve asked you a question, answer it early in the email and directly. Don’t make me dig to find it.
  4. Regulate your paragraphs. Keep your language simple and your paragraphs orderly. Too few paragraphs that are long result in a sea of text I won’t want to read. Too many paragraphs that are short turn into a broken-up jumble of text I won’t want to read. 3 to 5 lines per paragraph, and 2 to 4 paragraphs is reasonable. Separate your ideas in a meaningful way and if you change the subject, start a new paragraph for it.
  5. Have an active voice. Don’t say “I could do this” when you could say “I am doing this.” Speak to show you’re taking action and doing stuff instead of sounding passive. Using exclamation points conservatively can also liven up an email. Finally, a strategically placed smiley face to add personality. Have an active voice! πŸ™‚
  6. Heed the rule of 3, 4, 5. If you’re itemizing something, or listing things, or organizing thoughts, try to keep them in threes, fours, or fives. People like these numbers and they’re easier to remember and understand than arbitrarily huge numbers that won’t fit in your head. 7 is a good number, too, but usually only for articles and not emails.
  7. Sign your name. This seems obvious but a lot of people don’t do this. Sign with your full name to help make it stick in my head. This is subtle, but important. Professionals sign their name. πŸ™‚

Does anyone else have any useful emailing tips?

The Freelancer’s Toolset

I found something awesome on LifeHacker a moment ago that smArtists may appreciate. It’s called The Freelancer’s Toolset. It’s a list of 100 web applications to enhance freelancers’ productivity.

It looks like a fantastic list! Here’s a few highlights from it:

  • Stikkit is a central sticky note repository that interfaces with apps like Outlook. It stores names, addresses, birthdays and other snippets of information. It’s also open for collaboration even for people that don’t have or use Stikkit… and you can email it notes, too, which is pretty cool.
  • NetVibes which I use. Basically it’s the ultimate customizable homepage, much like My Yahoo, except more flexible. You can turn any RSS feed into its own window, as well as drop all sorts of kickass productivity applications onto one page. It even has separate tabs you can load up with different categories of information. For example, I have a tab that contains a calendar, my personal life todo list, upcoming holidays and weather. On another tab, I have a series of small boxes that contain RSS feeds to every major news site I visit. On another tab, I have useless crap I waste time with. πŸ™‚ There’s a huge, thriving community of amateur developers that make modules and custom applications for it to make it infinitely extendable. I highly recommend checking out NetVibes.
  • Google Calendar – I use this as an embedded window in NetVibes. It’s simple, straightforward and fun to use. I also set it up to email and text message me on my phone anytime I have an upcoming appointment so I never forget. It’s indispensible!
  • FreshBooks – The Fastest Way to Invoice! This is a really cool and well-positioned company. Invoicing can be a bit of a bitch and this can help you keep track of it more easily. You can manage a huge series of invoices, send them by snail mail through the website, track the time spent on the job, accept payment online, manage work orders and generate reports. What a kickass idea!
  • ConceptShare – An online visual collaboration tool. Basically, add notes or paintovers to anything you need to, and have small sticky notes that can turn into miniature discussion threads that float on top of the image and have pointers everywhere. This is so damn cool, I may try using it myself with my contractors.
  • Meebo – Gain access to every single IM app on the planet through their website without downloading or installing anything. This is such a mind-bogglingly great idea. smArtists, listen up — IM communication is incredibly useful, and offering it can often be a good thing. Whenever possible, offer it as a quicker alternative for email for smaller, quicker questions. Even if you don’t use that app normally, Meebo can help. πŸ™‚
  • K7 – A terrible name but an awesome service. This will set up a temporary phone number for you to receive faxes and voicemail messages, which are emailed to you. What a great idea!
  • Nolo – Got a legal question that pertains to contracting? Have it answered here and check out their articles and how-tos.

Any other gems I might have missed?

Little Thoughts #2: Stick to filename conventions!

If I’m your art director and you see that I’ve named files a specific way, that is for a reason. I’ve already sent you the file naming conventions… stick to them. If you still don’t know what to do, just ask me.

File naming conventions MATTER.

I will like you so much more if you make an attempt to save me work by naming files properly. But almost no one ever even tries, and you make me have to do it. This is why I write the file naming conventions in the first place. This is one small way to show excellence that will put you head and shoulders above your competition. I respect attention to detail and quality customer service.

Little Thoughts #1: Everyone likes to get involved.

Here’s the introduction of a new series of little thoughts that won’t really fill out a full post.

Everyone likes to get involved.

If you have people in your pipeline that have to approve your work, at any level, they’ll probably want to get involved with your work. To make their mark. To make a difference. To take some form of action to justify the fact that they’re “doing their job.” Even if your work is absolutely perfect, they’ll have something to say about it.

This is often a pain in the ass, and it’s inevitable. More often than not, they’ll pick out something that’s a nightmare to change.

But hey, what can you do?

I’ll tell you. πŸ™‚

What I suggest to you — whether you’re a manager looking at your boss, an artist looking at your AD, or an AD managing an artist — is find ways to leave your work looking about 95% complete. Make the final 5% it needs obvious.

People WILL meddle and want to have a hand in whatever you’re doing. Position your work in such a way that the final 5% that needs doing just immediately jumps out at them. They’ll point it out and suggest a change. You’ll say “Oh, shit! You’re right! I’ll do that!” then go in and fix it, show it to them again, get their approval now that they feel they’ve done their job, and the asset is done.

Everyone, everyone, everyone wants to feel involved. To have their say. To feel like they made their mark. Anticipate this! Simply define the boundaries in which people can be involved freely without severely affecting what you’re doing.

This requires a soft touch. Doing stupid, insulting, obvious shit like leaving a head off of a character or forgetting to color a concept is a slap in the face. It will make you look stupid and prove you don’t follow directions. Be subtle, be smart, and be respectful of peoples’ need to participate, and you’ll go far.

What Would A Game Developer Do?

I just found a great post by Gianfranco over at GBGames that’s called What Would A Game Developer Do?

Gianfranco starts out detailing focus problems we all relate to, then drops some knowledge in the form of solid tips on surrounding yourself with things that motivate you. Then he breathlessly goes straight into conditioning your mind to think more like a game developer and to help stay focused. A choice quote:

Would a game developer come home from a day job and watch television? Would a game developer feel much anxiety about sitting at the computer to work on a game? Would a game developer procrastinate on game development in favor of chatting online with friends or reading random articles online?

No. A game developer would BE a game developer.

A simple mantra like “WWAGDD?” is a fantastic way to focus your mind on what’s important by asking a tough, no-nonsense question you can’t shy away from. This is good stuff! Go read the post!

4 Tips on Making More Money as a Contractor

Want to know how to make more money as a contractor? Here are some tips.

  1. Be fast. Show me you can produce good work quickly. Don’t drag your heels and always make sure to underpromise and overdeliver. If you think it’ll take a day, tell me two and get it to me sooner than that. I’ll think, “Wow, this guy is fast!” It’s vitally important to manage the perception of you and your work speed. Other ways you can do this is by immediately addressing concerns, changes and assignments and finishing them as quickly as you can. Who doesn’t like speedy service?

  2. Show me what I’m getting for my money. Make everything look as polished as possible whenever you can, even if it’s an early WIP. If it’s concept art, a cool and stylish background will do wonders for presentation. Even if it’s ugly, make it look like it’s not. Find a way to add style and flair to everything you send me. Small coats of polish lend a feel of professionalism and value. Don’t expect to be paid more just because you want to be paid more. Show me where my money’s going. Make me feel like I’m getting a bargain for what you have to offer and the cool-as-hell way you offer it. Who doesn’t like being dazzled?

  3. Remember that I am a CUSTOMER and you are a BUSINESS. Deal with me accordingly and focus on the kind of customer service YOU like to get out of a business. Act professionally, be responsive, meet or exceed my expectations and make me feel valued. Just because I work for a company bigger than yours (you) doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate or deserve that kind of treatment. Treat me right and I’ll reward you for it. I do give raises. Who wouldn’t reward a company that treats them well with more business?

  4. Do something special, just for me. Nothing I can use, necessarily, just bait. If you think I’m interested, or you want me to be interested, make a test asset in the style of my game. This will show that not only can you do the work, but that you WANT to. You’re so motivated to work for me that you’re ALREADY making stuff that I’d like! Never, ever spend too much time on this, and don’t give it away for free. When done correctly and intelligently, this is a VERY strong message to send to a potential employer. It’s worked on me before. πŸ™‚ Who wouldn’t be flattered?