Tap into a lucrative new market for digital artists

When Infinity Blade became the world's first iOS video game to run on the Unreal Engine back in 2010, it was a landmark moment for the mobile games industry – and one that continues to have a significant knock-on effect for digital artists today.

ChAIR Entertainment and Epic Games invested valuable time and artist resources into making the engine run on mobile with the high-end shaders that you find in films and next-gen games like Call of Duty.

Infinity Blade was the first iOS video game to run on the Unreal Engine

Since then, the trend for AAA-quality graphics has exploded. There are now more money and job opportunities for digital artists in mobile games than ever before.

But why is it so important to achieve this level of quality in mobile games? What skills do you need to work somewhere like ChAIR or Epic as a digital artist, and how can you get a job at a top-level mobile gaming company?

In a rare email interview, Donald Mustard, creative director of ChAIR Entertainment, explains all…

Why was it so important to achieve AAA quality with Infinity Blade?

"We had an idea for a game that we thought would appeal to gamers who were also using this new device for gaming," says Donald Mustard

Once Apple released the 3GS back in 2010 and we realised it supported programable shaders, we tried running the engine on it and quickly realised success.

Given we already had a fruitful track record of stretching Unreal Engine in new ways (for example, we made Undertow with 16 player multiplayer and co-op, cutscenes, music, etc with <50MB on XBLA back in 2007), Epic immediately saw the potential for bringing high-quality 3D experiences to mobile devices.

Why is it so important for mobile games to have such high-end artwork?

ChAIR spent the first week of development refining the gameplay concept on paper before beginning to code

Modern gaming devices are very powerful. Artists can now realise their visions and ideas more fully than ever before. It's exciting because we're now seeing huge diversity in the art direction of different games, from retro to realistic, and everything in between.

Artists can now develop sophisticated palettes and styles that truly emphasise and support the gameplay and design of the games they are developing. This results in better games that are more integrated, consistent, and cohesive.

What advice would you give an artist for getting a job at ChAIR or Epic Games?

Infinity Blade's swipe-based swordplay was based on Mustard's desire for an uncommon gameplay based on nuanced sword fighting and parrying

If your desire is to be a part of a world class studio like a ChAIR or Epic Games my advice would be:

01. Play great games
Understand what makes them amazing. Don't just limit those games to your favorite types. Try to play and understand the best in class games across multiple genres, platforms, and business models.

02. Build a strong portfolio
Show your very best and broadest work. It's better to have less that is amazing than to have more that is just okay. That said, the more you can demonstrate a range of style the better.

03. Make a game
It's not enough anymore to be a great artist – that art must be directly applied to a game. There are great tools and game engines (like Unreal Engine 4) that are free to use and readily available. Show that you know how to take your art from concept to finish within the game engine itself.

04. Be good to work with
This is the most important of all. You're going to be on a team - a highly collaborative team. You need to be nice, patient and able to appropriately take and give feedback. You need to check your ego and commit to working on a greater whole. More than anything else, we look for people who are actually able to work effectively with others.

What core skills are needed by games artists at Chair/Epic Games?

At ChAIR and Epic Games, we employ some of the most talented and experienced artists working in games. Our artists tend to be:

  • Very versatile, with skill sets that can be applied to the various needs and phases of development, as opposed to specialists who work only in one specific area
  • Passionate about creating great art and great games, and completely committed to that fusion
  • Interested in the final product as a whole, and less concerned with any individual piece of art within the game itself. This high-level macro vision helps them to focus on creating a unique and fully realised world

Most games are made up of many thousands of individual models, textures, animations, sounds, etc – the list goes on and on – and for all of that to come together in a unified way requires a tight nit team of selfless, very talented artists.

How good an option are mobile games studios for new artists entering the games industry?

Infinity Blade sold more than 270,000 copies and made over US$1.6 million in its first four days

We really feel that this is the Golden Age of gaming because there are so many great opportunities for gamers and game developers.

While the game industry of the early days was quite "closed" to outsiders, the emergence of new technologies, distribution methods, platforms, etc, has provided greater accessibility to new gamers and new opportunities for young or "new" game developers to help reach them.

And the technology that was previously only available to larger game studios can now be utilised by almost anyone. It's really amazing.

For more information on how to break into the lucrative world of mobile gaming as a digital artist, pick up a copy of Imagine FX issue 127, a game art special.

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