7 tips for getting into the game art industry

WildTangent Studios' art director Rick Schmitz distils 20 years of game art experience.

7 steps to get into the game art industry

Rick worked on Massively Multiplayer Online game Everquest during his time at Sony.

With 20 years as a creative in the games industry, Rick Schmitz has worked on all types of games – from Genesis, flip phone, PC to iOS and Android games – over titles as broad as Everquest and Plants vs. Zombies.

Here he reveals some lessons he's learnt from his career in the industry – a top 20 to do list worth checking out...

We artists are an odd breed. There's nothing in our formal training that teaches us to collaborate with other artists, let alone with engineers, marketers, producers and players.

Everything I have learned about being an art director has been on the job. I may not have done it all, but I've certainly done a lot.

I've worn a lot of different hats, from animator to character designer to texture artist to background artist. Today, I'm the art director at WildTangent Studios, and though it's impossible to achieve total mastery of art direction, I've learned a few tips along the way. Here they are!

01. Perfect your portfolio

Only put really good stuff in your portfolio. Honestly assess your work and compare it to the pros; if a piece isn't that good, then don't put it in your portfolio.

Your portfolio is only as strong as the weakest piece in it. If you are making a demo reel, don't save your best stuff for last.

I have a lot to do on any given day and I won't watch the whole reel if I'm not wowed in the first 15 seconds.

7 steps to get into the game art industry

The mobile version of Plants vs. Zombies was a massive hit for Rick and his team.

02. Know what's appropriate

Is the work in your portfolio appropriate for the job you are applying to? Don't expect to get an interview if you are applying to make art for a super-realistic FPS and only have cartoony stuff in your portfolio.

Art Directors can't afford to assume that you can do a job if you don't have specific samples of it in your portfolio.

03. What the hell is UI/UX design

Learn about UI/UX design and note examples in your portfolio and on your resume. Practice making UI designs.

Most of the art jobs in the industry right now are UI jobs or at least require UI experience along with other art abilities.

7 steps to get into the game art industry

Rick's work at WildTangent varies from the family friendly Polar Bowler to puzzle games like Swipe 3 and Poker PLAY!

04. Get linked

If you aren't already on LinkedIn, get on it. I have found many artists on LinkedIn who I have ended up hiring.

If you don't have a lot of game jobs under your belt, be sure to list your non-game jobs, particularly if you are working as part of a team.

In my book, team experience is a critical component of any candidate.

7 steps to get into the game art industry

Some of Rick's art work for Polar Bowler.

05. Join the club

Look for game art groups/sketch clubs in your area, as this is a good way to make connections. If there isn't one, then start one yourself.

7 steps to get into the game art industry

As well as traditional games, Rick has worked on the Fate Steam trading card game.

06. Be realistic.

Don't assume that you are going to start out making cool character art in your first game art job. Those tasks are usually for the more advanced and experienced people with seniority.

7 steps to get into the game art industry

Rick was mobile art director on the game Swipe the Gold.

07. Take crits in your stride

If you get a job, be prepared to take criticism, particularly from non-artists. The whole team has a vested interest in how the game looks, so you are going to get critiques from all corners of the team.

Listen to them. If a non-artist is telling you that something doesn't look right then there's a good chance that the players will have the same experience.

Words: Rick Schmitz