Art director Daniel Perez on the magic of making video games

3D World editor Ian Dean reports from day one of Workroom Barcelona, the congress on art direction in film and video games.

Over the next couple of days, I'll be catching up with some talented art directors from games, films, advertising and animation and bring you the insights into improving your shorts, concepts and production art.

Day one of the Workroom Barcelona congress kicked off with a masterclass seminar from Daniel Perez, a local of Barcelona who’s also a US citizen and has 13 years experience in the CGI and video games industry. An accomplished 3D artist and art director, Perez now works for high-end mobile games developer Digital Legends Entertainment and this morning shared his insights into art direction in the games industry and the role of an art director.

3D World editor Ian Dean (right) catches up with art director Daniel Perez at Workroom Barcelona

Perez began by expressing how important it is to respect and understand the roles each individual plays in the team, and to acknowledge the value they each hold as developers. Making video games and art for games, he said, is seen as 'magic'.

Teamwork is about breaking down boundaries and accepting people

The individual roles that collaborate to create a game are often unseen but without them all, including the work of the art department and CG artists, a game will remain on the drawing board: "Teamwork is about breaking down boundaries and accepting people. As an art director I need to lead, to inspire the design team, recognise the talent around me and focus that talent into a style or goal," expressed Perez.

Design is everything

Next, Perez talked about the applied visual theories and communication techniques in gaming and interactivity, including important topics such as visual narrative and interactive storytelling. "What makes a game unique?" He asks. "It’s interactivity, not the number of polygons. Passivity is failure." As CG and game artists, bringing this to life is key, "design is everything," said Perez, adding: "good environment design is about atmospere, movement and direction… but especially direction."

Image © Digital Legends Entertainment

More practical information followed as Daniel shared his knowledge of preproduction, conceptual design and planning in video game development, "It's not the job of an artist to give the audience what they want, it's our job to give an audience what they need. Before the smartphone arrived no-one knew they wanted one - it was science fiction - now we can’t live without them."

Importantly, Daniel stresses "it's not what you want either, the audience needs are key". Finally the accomplished art director wrapped up his insights into working as an artist in the games industry with some quick tips for getting a job and making it a success:

01. Be adaptable

In a small team it helps to be adaptable and be versatile. Be Daniel Day-Lewis, not Steven Seagal - don’t be rigid.

02. Meet the audience's needs

Find out what the product demands and give the audience what they need; cartoon, realism or abstract, do it all, do what the product demands and do it all well.

03. Practice, practice, practice

Practice your pencils, draw all the time and communicate visually. Cultivate yourself as an artist, it’s not just about gaming but develop your personal art too.

04. Know your limits

Know your limits and take advantage of them. Develop a thick skin, accept and learn from criticism and be aware of others and their needs.

05. Be honest and focused

For showreels and portfolios, be honest and focus on what you love and enjoy. If you love rendering eyes and hair, put this in your portfolio, It’s better to have two great pieces than 30 that are just average, it shows you know what you want."

Words: Ian Dean

Visit Workroom Barcelona for more of what will be on offer in three days of lecturers, round table discussions and workshops.