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  • The Artistic Pursuit: Which Artists Will Game Companies Hire?

    [03.13.08]
    - Jill Duffy
  •  Carey Chico is the executive art director at Pandemic Studios. He oversees and maintains the quality of art over the whole studio. He also manages production and oversees research and development on new technologies. His multi-faceted position gives him a view into video game development that deep and rich with insight for beginners.

    But really, he's an artist at heart. Last month, shared his wisdom about what it means to be a video game artist with about 250 aspiring artists and other industry newcomers.

    He was speaking at the Game Career Seminar (held in conjunction with the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco), and gave a talk called "All About Art." GameCareerGuide.com was in attendance, taking notes for all you readers who couldn't be there.

    Where the Art Really Comes From
    Pandemic Studios is about 400 employees strong with two locations, one in Los Angeles and one in Brisbane, Australia. You'd think a company this size would have no trouble generating its own art, when in fact most of what's used in Pandemic's games comes from outsourced art studios in developing countries, such as Romania, India, and China.

    Outsourcing, as it relates to game development, is the process of hiring people in foreign countries who work for lower wages than in the company's home country, to complete discrete pieces of work, which are sent to the game studio upon completion and integrated back into the pipeline. Because of the way games are developed, there are only a few pieces of the product that can be treated as discrete parts, and therefore outsourced. Art assets lend themselves well to this process. Code, on the other hand, does not.

    During his talk, Carey Chico showed some images from the game Mercenaries 2. The game world is filled with detailed weaponry in a rich world of grit and flames. "The surprise about the art work [is] all of [what's shown here]  was outsourced to Romania," Chico said. According to the art director, roughly 60 percent of all the artwork used by Pandemic in games -- meaning models, texture, and the like, but not animation -- is outsourced. 

    When aspiring game artists learn the extent to which game art is outsourced, they often worry or assume that there won't be any jobs available for them in North America, Europe, and Australia. "Have no fear," Chico said, "there is a place in this industry for you."

    To understand how a modern day game artist can still have a job in the field, it's important to look at how art is produced and managed, as well as how games are produced. (Pandemic, it should be noted, develops large and medium sized console games and was recently acquired by mega-million publisher Electronic Arts. How Pandemic creates and manages art is not necessarily the same as how smaller or independent game studios do it.)

    Industry Trends
    Before 1998, a typical product budget for a PC game was about $1.5 million, according to Chico. Today, a full-scale game budget is more likely to fall in the $15 million to $30 million range. The internal development team probably has around 80 full-time staff, whereas 10 years ago it might have only had 15 or 20 people. However, the amount of time scheduled to make the game can be exactly the same as it was in 1998. So game studios are making massively bigger games, with a budget 10 times as large, and a team only four times larger, in the same amount of time.

    To boot, "With $30 million budgets, we want to keep more of that money internal," Chico said. Outsourcing is one easy way to save a whole lot of money by keeping the internal headcount low.

    The real trick to outsourcing art is managing it, which involves a whole lot more than just giving the offshore company a list of things to create and then getting the finished pieces back. This is where full-time employed, in-house game artists come into the picture.

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