With a return back to "aspiring to the be in the game industry" and another soul search, I just want some advice or recommendations on todays focus. My previous venture of sending out resumes and portfolios was about 3-5yrs ago so I'm giving myself a 2nd chance at things and going to put in the time and effort to get there this time. The quick question is: "What seems to be the foot in the door" or the "preferred skillset that seems to be the trend of recently hired" video game artists & designers?
I have a BA in Game Art from many years back - end of 03. At that time there was a decent seperation from high-poly and low poly work. The animation guys had the higher poly stuff and the game art guys were always trying to do as much as possible (artistically) with as little as possible (poly count wise and such). I remember the guys that got hired straight out of school and I'm sure things haven't changed in that regard. They had the skills and the portfolio to show for it but the bottom line was they worked their asses off to raise their skills to a level that couldn't be ignored by the game studios art directors and hiring people.
I've recently (meaning years) came to a huge realization that to get better at something and possibly make a living at it you simply have to do just that. I wanted to run a marathon someday so I stopped asking "how to run", or reading articles on "how to run a marathon" and simply started RUNNING. To do it, you just do it. I understand this would be the case with art. Just draw, just model, just push 3d stuff around, animate it, design things and layout levels and good things will come. I'm not asking for the golden ticket or the be all end all of "how to get into the game industry as an artist" because the simple answer of "just work your ass off" would suffice. If that is my only answer, then I am content with that. I'm going to ramble a bit but hopefully this can, if not be stickied lead to some great discussion from those "already there" and those "that want to get there". My main question was shortened up top but I will list my many questions at the bottom, after typing out all of my jabber to put it in context.
Hopefully someone else can shed some light and wouldn't mind sharing some thoughts a bit more in depth. Ya see, for my first run through I simply didn't work hard enough. I learned a ton and to this day understand things about the industry that I would have never learned without that first journey. Now, years later I've had a great run of other design related things but never really put my foot into that door of a game studio. Its something I said I always wanted and now I do...so, I'm gonna get it. Back in 03 or early 2004, World of Warcraft wasn't even out yet and I don't think the 360 or PS3 was either. A lot of stuff was in house and you didn't have big outside guys like Massive Black that could have an entire sort of "art house" of amazing talent willing to help a studio "complete their project". You were either in or you weren't. The gap to film was a lot more prevalent as well. Sure amazing talent crosses many boundaries but even high poly models, in game cutscenes, pre-rendered stuff and cinematics didn't blur the line like they do today. Sales of GTA4, visuals like Gears of War series, the mammoth marketing and cash stream of something like World of Warcraft and the depth of a game like Mass Effect or the intensity of a game like Call of Duty:Modern Warfare had not reared its head yet.
I was in school and even afterwards leaning towards 3dsMax over Maya, Lord of the Rings and all that brilliance of Weta was just coming to reality and if you could make some hot looking levels in the Unreal 2k3 editor then you were on the right track to getting noticed as a possible entry level artist in the game industry.
Today, so much has crossed over. Top end animators at a Pixar level are working on games, top end designers and artists from games are working on film, comics and graphic novels seem to be the 800lb gorilla of the summer blockbuster movies and even the small nuances of "voice acting" in a video game is drawing in some major talent. Because of that crossover Zbrush is highly talked about (or at least was) a year or so ago because high poly and the ability to render that stuff and the ease and efficiency was there. A top end high poly modeler that made a Gears of War2 character or Blizzard cinematic could step into that role at ILM or Weta for a movie. It may not be exact (I wouldn't pretend to know) but the idea I'm going for seems to indicate that. You could have been strictly a comic book writer, but now that is enough to land you the role of creative director or the main visionairy for a 100 million dollar movie. Likewise, writing a science fiction novel and only that could land you the role in a major game studio now as the 'Lead Writer'. Writing, plot and story in games is that important now. Just ask Bioware.
My point in all this is, does the tried and true "learn 3dsMax or Maya", know how to texture paint in Photoshop, model either characters or environments and try and put that thing into a playable UnrealEd level still work as the best way to get in the industry? At best, get on some mod team for a major game (Valve stuff, CoDuty, etc) and stand out with your work and you could land a gig. I always remember "the ability to draw and show strong life drawing skills" went a long way. Is this still the case? I know that a strong level of art basis helps EVERYTHING as the programs are just tools but I mean - what is that seperation now as opposed to 5yrs ago.
Now if you are a Joe Mad, or some badass comic artist you could be the lead artist on a video game. Guys like McFarlane can be brought on board as Lead Creative guys for a video game company. Even the roleplaying (D&D) world seems to have guys that cross that borders.
Does it matter anymore from an art point of view what I work on? Do you think I should just keep drawing and keep at the pencil and sketchbook? Are there any programs that are the staples of the industry. Are there certain tried and true consistencies that almost all art directors look at. I know, one can always just call it TALENT but is it more advisable to be the best at one thing or show diversity (I can model + do level layouts + do scripting in a game engine + texture well + draw my own concepts) OR just (I'm a bad ass animator and thats it)?
I've always like the job of Game Designer but 5yrs ago it wasn't the way to get in. You earned that. You got in through QA or Associate Artist or random Character or Environment Artist. Producers weren't going to put their millions of dollars on the line for someone like you that pretended to be the next Sid Meier or Will Wright. Now however, have things changed? 5 years ago I couldn't for the life of me figure how "writing well" was going to get me into the industry. I needed a strong portfolio. I had to have cool shit to LOOK at. It didn't sound right to go to some convention and hand the employer a stapled word document and say "read my shit - I'm amazing right?". Now however, is it different? Writing is so important that an elite writer like a Stephen King would certainly have a place in the game industry.
Talent and hard work always pays off. I know that and understand that. What would you say is the foot in the door? In the end, like million others in the world I want my name on the box as the guy that came up with the idea for the video game. The lead guy, creative director, writer or just game designer. However, more than that, since I've never been there before, I want to wake up each day and go to work and say I had some part in creating the video game that is on the shelf in Gamestop. I don't care what that part is so I'm open to suggestion and options. Are the options so much more diverse and open ended now than they were 5yrs ago?
Sorry so long, but thanks for any and all input.