Hello good friends and fine folk of the internet all around. Another Friday and another opportunity for me to tell you the world you know is a lie and life as an artist is pain; but in a good way. As with many things within our little community, the reality is often different from our perhaps idealistic view. Navigating the web and figuring out what's useful information can be tricky for the more seasoned artist, let alone beginners; not to mention the perception of the industry it forms.
One of the skills in the top five of 'Qualities you need to have' is a thick skin. Dealing with defeat and people critiquing your work is a must. As per usual there are many factors involved, it's not just all on you. You have to be ready for the feedback, it has to be done properly and with insight to how the artist communicates, it has to be necessary, etc. One of the things you can work on that makes this process is easier is understanding one thing:
Your ideas don't matter if the client doesn't like them.
Much like in the rest of the world it's not having the idea that counts it's how well you can execute it and whether or not you did it better or faster than the other guy / girl. As a concept artist you are not just paid to come up with stuff, you are paid to come up with stuff that works. It's that last part where things can get difficult as there might not just be one person telling you what to do, or how. Too many chefs in the kitchen is a far too familiar problem and it's not something that you can get used to either. So, here we are again, disillusioned once more. Do we ever catch a break?
When I started out I thought I was pretty great. My ideas were legit the best ever. I knew all there was to know about perspective so please don't talk to me about perspective. My lighting was A+. Solid 5/7 on composition and my understanding of how the engine worked was like Neo looking at the Matrix.
So, naturally, I was horribly wrong. My ego got crushed. Had about 25391 lessons in reality. Confronted myself constantly and moved on.
There are many things that only you can teach yourself through experience. Some stuff you can read about but it just won't change things, but when it comes to understanding the more business side of production art there are a few things that you should know. When I talk to beginning artists or those who want to break into the industry a common assumption I'm seeing is that many of them believe they can get in based on how good their ideas are. The belief that their ideas differentiate them enough from the pack that combined with their drawing and painting skills it will get them a job. Stephen Fry had a fantastic quote on this:
Funnily enough, the notion that originality is dead is nothing new, it does however leave people in an awkward position. We as professional concept artist keep hammering on that it's not your skill that matters but your ideas and this is simply not true. It's at best a misnomer of what is really going on. A more closely accurate statement would be; It's not just about your skills but about your ideas and how well they fit into the current project requirements. It's a lot less catchy though which is unfortunate.
The truth is that ideas are a dime a dozen. This is what you have to remember and, it poses a few problems:
- What if you can't come up with more than 1 or 2 ideas?
- What if you come up with so many you can't choose?
- How do you know how many you even need?
- How do you differentiate between a good and bad idea?
That last one might seem very self explanatory but work in the industry for a few years and that'll change - it's sometimes downright impossible to tell why any given idea got picked. The obvious outsider, the terrible fifth wheel, the nonsensical one. It will happen. Preparing yourself the best you can is a must and the road starts here!
What if you can't come up with more than 1 or 2 ideas?
Try harder! HAH! How's that for a shitty self help answer. But seriously, you need to try harder. Research is almost always the answer. The more you know the more you can draw from. I feel like I said that before... Regardless, almost every situation will have multiple solutions no matter how dumb they are.
What if you come up with so many you can't choose?
Time efficiency is a great skill to have and can help you decide how to approach this problem. How do you choose? backing up your ideas and being able to stand your ground is a incredibly useful skill to have in meetings and when talking to supervisors. This means you have to be pretty assertive, confident and have good people skills. In the beginning when I had none of these I faked it. Sometimes it worked and sometimes I got caught out and got an earful for not knowing what I was talking about. This is how I learned, learned how to read more, talk more, question more. Anything I could do to build a strong case for whatever idea I thought that worked. If you have too many ideas to choose from start valuing them based on their relevance to the subject. I'm sure you can come up with a way to do that; a point or merit system or perhaps just on how cool they sound. Whatever it is you do make sure you can back it up.
How do you know how many you need?
You don't. At least, I don't. Not very often anyway. It's mostly time that determines how many ideas you can have and how many you can execute. After a while you will develop a clear picture of how long it takes for you to complete any given task and assess it's complexity based on the brief you are given. This will drive the whole thought process and provides a base for you to build on. Some ideas will simply be too big and complex to ever fit the project requirements and as such should not be considered. This is where it goes wrong for a lot of people; they get an idea and get so attached to it regardless of it's qualities compared to the project requirements. When the idea then gets shot down it can feel really bad. Getting emotionally invested to some of the ideas you have might not be a bad thing but it can set yourself up for some bad times.
How do you differentiate between a good and bad idea?
Oh boy, this depends on a lot of things. Imagine working on the most tacky cliche game you can imagine. A refined solution to any given problem might not be what the product is after. A elegant acrobatic maneuver of a character to get in position for the ultimate assassination of the game's main bad guy might not be as good as a random bullet which ricochets off of twelve different walls, via a frying pan, hitting a fish, which scares the chef causing him to slip and accidentally stabbing the bad guy in the back. It's a terrible idea, but it can work in the context of the game. So. Good and bad are in our line of work super objective terms. The way you can tell if an idea works is to measure it's likeliness of success based on previous ideas, project requirements, how different it is from the trend of accepted ideas and feasibility. An idea can be great but if you can't get it to work or if it costs too many resources it won't get accepted, making it a bad idea.
So there you have it. Good ideas can be bad and bad ideas can be good. I prefer chaotic neutral which could be a fantastic name for a podcast on game development. You're welcome.
I can be very short on this; it's combination of not caring and not caring. It's really mostly about faking it for me. Because honestly, nobody loves hearing their ideas don't work fourteen times in a row. At some point it get's old. I've talked about mental energy before and having ideas rejected takes a big bite out of this reserve. OK, so it's not all about not caring. Experience helps. Looking at it differently - but that's easier said than done.
At the base of this skill lies the understanding that ideas are part of a collective team effort in order to make the product better; which is a compromise between a lot of different parties trying to satisfy a multitude of different needs. 'The best game' is not the one that's executed the best. It's the one that finds the best compromise between what the publishers want, the gamers want, the money people want, the game designers want and so on. If there was one clear vision this whole article would be made redundant. The more you get on the same page with the team the better - and that's where you come in. Being able to switch gears and change ideas on the fly to reach a better end product will help everyone in the pipeline behind you. Seeing it as being part of that team instead of your ideas making your part of the product better is a huge step forward. Again, easier said than done. Let's not kid ourselves, everyone has pride. Everyone has an ego of some size or another. It's a learning curve for everyone and whether it's a hill to climb or a mountain to scale it will have to happen.
One of the big things I needed to learn how to say was; "we did this" instead of "I did this".
Now go forth and not care about your ideas! How's that for a Friday message.