Tips From Industry Pros

​​What do industry professionals have to say about getting a job in game design?

Find out by clicking on the links below. Programmers, animators, lighting artists and others have shared their top tips.

 

Step 1: Develop High-Level Math Skills

Because coding is by definition the creation of a mathematical equation that directs the computer to perform in certain ways, game programmers need high-level math skills in order to be successful. Northeastern University recommends that incoming freshman seeking a degree in video game programming have high school coursework in trigonometry, physics and calculus under their belts. It is also important for game programmers to understand linear algebra and basic algorithms. If you are lacking in some of these courses, be prepared to take them early in your college years.

Step 2: Get a Bachelor's Degree

Gaming programmers may have a general background in computer science, or they may have completed a formal education program to become a video game designer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that computer programmers most often have bachelor's degrees. These degrees are often in computer science or computer engineering. A bachelor's program in video game programming will typically include classes in C++, calculus, object-oriented design, game algorithms, computer graphics and network fundamentals. Degrees in computer game programming can be earned on campus or online.

Step 3: Build a Portfolio

The most effective way to get noticed by gaming studios is to create games and put them in a portfolio. According to senior technical staff from Blitz Games Studios, a successful portfolio should include several small games that can be played to completion. The portfolio should offer the viewer links to all the installation software needed for each game to work. As a backup, there should be screenshots of crucial game scenes so the games can be evaluated even if the required support software products are not readily available at the time of the portfolio review. The portfolio should also have source code for all the games. The notes should give credit to any collaborators who might have helped with elements of the game's design, programming or presentation.

Portfolio Sites

Step 4: Find an Entry-Level Position as a Game Programmer

Entry-level programmers often have difficulty breaking into the video game industry because most major studios require experience. Some new programmers find their first professional positions at smaller studios, making short, simple games for mobile devices and social media sites. One way to gain an advantage in the competitive job market is by networking on the blogs, forums and websites most often visited by game developers. Sometimes the professional contacts gained through these sites will ask for portfolios or will advertise available positions not found on traditional job boards.

Step 5: Advance to Become a Software Developer

With enough experience, programmers may become software developers. While some duties between these two positions overlap, developers typically spend more time designing and conceptualizing games, rather than coding them.

Gaming programmers face stiff competition in the job market, so they must prepare themselves with high-level math courses, programming courses, bachelor's degrees, portfolios, and internships if they hope to land entry-level positions that will lead them to higher positions in the programming world.


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Step 1: Know the Path You Want to Take and Where to Start

Knowing the path you want to take is very important. Do you want to work on animated movies like Pixar and DreamWorks produce? Do you want to work on movies like the Transformers and Avengers franchises? Or maybe you want to get into games? Whatever the case may be, you need to know your end goal. Each industry is typically looking for a different style of animation. That being said, you also don't want to start off by only animating big fight scenes just because you want to work on Transformers movies. Instead, you should be learning the fundamentals of animation, and then you can cater your demo reel to these different types of jobs when your skills get up to that level.

Whether you want to work in movies or games, starting with the basics is the most important step. Get every book on animation you can find — "The Illusion of Life," "Timing for Animation," "The Animator's Survival Kit." These are all books created for 2D animation, but they still apply to 3D animation. Each book teaches the core fundamentals of animation from the pioneers who refined it into an amazing art form. Study these over and over, and most important, learn the 12 principles of animation, which are the core techniques for creating great animations.

Step 2: Technical Skills of an Animator

When it comes to 3D animation, it's important to have the right technical skills. Of course, the computer doesn't create great animations automatically; the animator does. That being said, you're still going to be working in a complex piece of animation software like Maya or 3DS Max, so you'll need to take the time to learn the software. Even though a 3D application is simply a tool for you to animate with, you still need to learn how to use that tool, because software like Maya is more complex than a pencil and paper. There are many places to learn and find tutorials, such as YouTube, Vimeo and even schools where they have animation programs, both 2D and 3D. With these tutorials, you'll be able to get up and running and comfortable with the software so you can spend more time animating.

Step 3: Learn the Fundamentals

Acting
Animators are essentially actors; it's up to you to create all the movements for the character. So learning to act is paramount. This doesn't mean you have to join acting classes. Of course, that would be beneficial, but you can also study acting through books and movies. As an animator, you'll typically be given a simple line of dialogue, and you must create all the actions and movements the character is going to take. You have to come up with the acting, and your own emotions will show through the character. If you have bad acting skills, it'll translate into bad animation.

Body Mechanics
Another important thing you'll need to master is body mechanics. In order to create believable animation, you need to understand how the human body moves, as well as how animals move. One of the best ways to do this is to go outside and shoot video reference. How does a person swing their arms when they walk? When do the weight shifts occur in a run? Having an understanding of these real-world principles will ensure that your animations are believable. You should build up a whole library of references you can pull from when working on your next animation.

Communication Skills
As an animator, you're going to need good communication skills, as you will work with many different departments. Creating a film, commercial or game is a very collaborative effort. You'll need to be able to communicate your concerns and ideas clearly to your peers. For instance, you might be working with a team of animators who are all tasked with the job of animating several sequences together. You'll need to communicate how each individual shot is going to translate to the next in order to make it come together and feel like it was an entire sequence animated by a single person. While creating animations is one animator's job, the production process is a team effort.

Step 4: Practicing and Pushing Yourself

In order to become a successful animator, it all really comes down to practice. As mentioned before, animation isn't something learned overnight; it's arguably one of the most difficult aspects within a 3D pipeline. It'll take lots of trial and error, and most likely some frustration. You may have heard before that it takes a thousand bad drawings to get to those good drawings. The same goes for animation. The best thing you can do is just practice — practice implementing the animation principles over and over, and always find ways to push yourself further.

As an animator, you should have a willingness to learn and an eagerness to learn new things as well. Animation is never something that's truly mastered; there are always new things to discover. It's never good to become complacent. Find new ways to enhance your skills, whether it's animating a type of creature you've never tried before or taking on a more subtle acting shot you're not use to.

Step 5: Tips for Your Demo Reel

Include only your best work, and put that work first.
This might sound obvious, but really, only include your most amazing content. Your demo reel is your “Greatest Hits” album. Only include work that is polished and highlights the skills you need for the job you’re hoping to get. Also, put your best work at the beginning. Time is money — especially in the entertainment industry. If your 3D animation demo reel doesn’t grab your audience’s attention in the first few seconds, they probably won’t stick around to see the whole thing.

Make it two minutes or less.
A good demo reel is meant to open the door for you — not stay for an extended visit. Save something for the interview. Your demo reel should be long enough to intrigue your audience and show that you have a body of work and a variety of animation skills to bring to the table. Make it two minutes or less. A longer demo reel only indicates that you don’t know how to edit yourself.

Be unique, but don’t go over the top.
It’s good to show that you have creativity, problem-solving skills and a unique way of looking at things. However, there’s a right way and a wrong way to express your individuality. Include pieces that set you apart from the competition by using unique concepts or techniques. However, don’t include pieces that might put off potential employers by addressing controversial subject matter or including music or other elements that might appeal to too narrow an audience.

Don’t make your audience work.
This is just a good overall rule of thumb. Don’t make your audience work to figure out how to contact you. Don’t make them work to understand what work you did in your pieces. Don’t make them work to get past titles that are flashy or highly stylized. Animation reels should present each shot separately to let the viewer know what he or she is looking at. Simplify. Make it as easy as possible for your future employers to figure out that you are the right candidate for the job.

Give credit where credit is due.
If you collaborated on the pieces in your demo reel, make sure to call out exactly what your part in the project was. This helps employers understand your strengths and what to look for in your work. It also shows that you’re not trying to take credit for other people’s work.

Be clear about the job you want.
It’s important to be specific. For instance, if you really want a job as a texture artist, make sure that is clearly communicated in your resume and at the beginning of your demo reel. Also make sure that your demo reel showcases your texture work. Don’t expect prospective employers to know what you’re looking for in a job. If you have a specific interest, spell it out.

Portfolio Sites


Extra Tips and Websites

Step 1: Make Yourself Presentable

First and foremost, have a clean and easily navigable website with a clear path to your demo reel. This is the most important thing. The website doesn’t have to be fancy or high tech, just something that looks professional and clean, with contact information provided. In regards to the demo reel, a shot breakdown is also a nice inclusion, or at least something which explains what you did throughout the demo reel. Your website and demo reel is what is going to get you into interviews, so spend as much time on it as you would a project — don't just slap it together in a few hours.

Step 2: Stay up to Date on Software

In regards to VFX software, the key is to keep learning as much as possible. VFX software is constantly changing and being upgraded, and what is popular to use now may not be popular in a year or two. So always try to at least stay familiar and up to date with current programs. You don’t have to know everything about everything, but knowing a little bit of a lot will go a long way.

Step 3: Stay Persistent and Persevere

As far as getting a job, just keep applying. The worst a company will say is, “No, not right now, but please try again later.” Even if it’s a triple A studio or a small indie studio, keep applying until you're hired. Also stay in contact with your classmates, because you never know who may help you find a job in the future.


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Step 1: Learn Python and Maya API

Learn Python
Since Autodesk introduced the scripting language Python as a way to script and write plugins for Maya, the level of quality and sophistication of technical art and rigs has increased considerably. So in order to stay ahead of the curve, one must learn to program with Python. The greatest aspect of Python is that it’s been around for a long time in many industries. So it’s very well documented, and you can find modules that are very helpful.

Learn the Maya API
As mentioned above, the sophistication of technical art and rigging has increased, and learning the Maya API is probably the best way to stand out. If you learned Python, it’s relatively easy to pick up the API. Using APIs, you can create plugins to really improve your rigs.

Step 2: Document What You Master

The industry is changing rapidly, and more and more studios are looking for people who can be versatile and who know how to do different things. A rigger might be asked to do scripting or programming of pipeline tools, or modeling, or even VFX compositing. In order to always be ready to switch gears and do something you are less familiar with, you should always document what you’ve mastered.

For example, if you’ve mastered how to set up a cloth simulation, make sure to write down the steps required, or even create a video where you explain the process to yourself. In the long run, you will amass a good collection of notes that you can use when you need them.

Step 3: Give Your Rig to an Animator ASAP

It is very easy to get tunnel vision when you work on a rig, especially if it’s a complicated one. So make sure you put your rig in front of an animator as soon as it’s ready to be animated. Doing this early in the process, when the rig is not complete, is helpful. This way you can get feedback early on. It becomes difficult to be willing to make changes if you spent a lot of time on something. Instead, let the process of rigging be something you share with an animator.

If you don’t have an animator available, post the rig online and ask for honest opinions.

Step 4: Learn Web Technologies

As you can tell, most of these tips involve learning. That is because a technical animator/artist should always learn the latest technology available. One that may be the next big thing is web technology. Learning HTML, CSS, Java Script, etc. is already becoming a reality in the game world. If you haven’t thought about learning those, give it serious thought. And, last but not least, pick up an API or the most popular cloud provider, and learn that as well. Boto, which is the Python library for Amazon Web Services (AWS), is good.


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Step 1: Path of a Lighting Artist

Whether its animation, live action or a video game, lighting is where everything comes together. After all the modeling, texturing and animation work happens, lighting artist are the ones who compile everything to produce a final look, setting the mood, atmosphere and tone of a scene. Lighting artists use various lighting effects and techniques, including CGI, lights and rendering software. They also use compositing software to further enhance a scene's look. If you want to create art through the use of lighting, you must have a keen eye for cinematography and the right technical skills.

Fundamentals of Lighting
One of the key aspects of becoming a lighting artist is understanding composition, color theory, design theory and cinematography, especially. Take some time and study films that use color and cinematography to push their stories. As lighting artists, we have to make audiences feel the emotion of scenes through lighting.

Step 2: Software and Skills

Software
After studying and learning the fundamentals of lighting, artists must use their knowledge in technical applications. There are many software programs that are used for lighting. Maya is the most widely used program, as is Unreal for video games. However, it is the actual rendering software that is the most important, from Mental Ray and V-Ray to the more commonly used programs like Arnold, and even Pixar's Renderman. Nuke has become the industry standard for compositing software, as it is node-based, giving the user more controls. Other programs like After Effects and Flame also work fine.

Skills
The skills of a lighting artist can vary from color theory skills to advanced technical skills, such as character lighting; key, rim and fill (three point) lighting; and understanding color spaces, including sRGB, HSV and Alpha channels. A lighting artist's skills also include the ability to take color keys and direction; knowledge of shaders and textures; compositing; layering; and color grading.

Step 3: Getting into the Industry

From live-action visual effects, to 3D animation, to video games, lighting artist have broad opportunities to get into studios. Students getting into a lighting discipline must build a strong portfolio. Lighting some shots that have animation and are fully textured is a good idea. Most lighters find employment through entry-level positions. Some start out as render wranglers or continuity/finaling compositors and then work their way up.


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Step 1: Path of a 3D Artist

3D Artist
The role of a 3D artist can span across many disciplines in the game and animation industry, but a 3D artist is able to create fully realized and accurate 3D representations of any given concept art, or a design of their own. It is the 3D artist who will create practically everything that the audience will physically see and/or interact with, including environments, props, vehicles and more. This requires the artist to have a well rounded creative and technical background, along with a keen eye for details and design.

Learn from the Masters
Any average Joe can splash some paint on a canvas without a second thought and call it a day, but a master painter will know that every stroke they put down is for a reason. They know this because they are trained in the fundamentals of art and design. For centuries, artists have been creating and mastering techniques that trigger our emotions, draw our attention, shift our focus, make a character more appealing and so much more. It can only benefit you to study and learn from the art and artists that have come before you. Study — or even practice — multiple forms of art and design, from classical to modern, in both traditional and digital mediums. Line, value, color, texture, shape, form, space, balance, rhythm, proportion, etc. — these are only some of the art and design principles that you can use to elevate your 3D art.

Challenge Your 3D Art Chops
While it may be fun to model and texture mechs all day every day, you are pigeonholing your skills by doing this. In the real world, you may be asked to create a realistic mech one day and then a backpack the next, a flower the next, a war torn city the next ... and so on. All of these objects are very different in nature. Keep challenging yourself by creating a wide variety of 3D art, whether it's something inorganic, organic, realistic, cartoony, an environment, a building, a vehicle, a prop, etc. Doing this will make you a better 3D artist and more valuable to a company.

Step 2: The Learning Never Stops

Technology continues to change at a fast pace. Updates and new software to help you create assets faster and more efficiently are always around the corner. Keep a finger on the pulse of the industry, and learn the tools the pros are using, even at just a basic level. Most software companies provide either trials, discounts for students or monthly subscriptions, so utilize these options and try out new tools that may help you up your game. A few specific tools useful to a 3D artist are Maya or Max, Zbrush, Photoshop, Substance Painter and Designer, 3D Coat, Mari, Marvelous Designer and Marmoset.

Seek feedback and critiques
As a student, putting your work in front of others for feedback — whether it be fellow students, instructors or a 3D community forum like Polycount or ZbrushCentral — can be a great way to learn and get outside perspectives. It's easy to work on something for a long time and get artistic tunnel vision to a point where you can't see the things that might be holding your art back. Don't be afraid of critiques from others, and don't take it personally if there is some criticism. Being able to take criticism in this industry is key to being successful. The more popular 3D communities are friendly and inviting, and members support each other to get better. There may be a few bad apples in there along the way that don't give you proper constructive criticism, but they are swiftly moderated.

Step 3: Portfolio Creation

You’ve created all this amazing work, and now it’s time to show it off. Your portfolio is the first impression a recruiter or hiring manager will have of you, and it can easily harm you just as much as help you if created without care. Here are the most important aspects to consider when creating your portfolio:

  • Use high quality images of your best and completed work. Animations or videos aren't needed.
  • Keep your site simple and easy to navigate. Recruiters or supervisors are busy people and don’t have time to click through pages and pages of unorganized art. This may cause them to pass on you because of the inconvenience, even if you are amazing!
  • Always have your contact info in plain sight.
  • Avoid including any school projects or homework. This obviously will take much time and effort, but at this point, it is time to use your newly acquired skills to create new work that you are passionate about, and not something that you were practicing on.
  • Take advantage of artist-friendly sites like Artstation that allow you to create your portfolio with ease, without having to design it yourself.

When applying for jobs, be sure to familiarize yourself with the company and the content they create. This will be necessary to tailor your work and portfolio to the company's needs. Don't confuse or turn off recruiters by applying with an overwhelmingly cartoon style-heavy portfolio when they only make realistic, gritty war games. You may find that you need to tailor your portfolio to have several different styles if you are applying to multiple places. Also, many companies will send an art test for you to complete within a certain time and under certain technical restrictions and criteria. This may be a simple prop, environment or any other specific concept. This gives the company an idea of how you work under a simulated studio environment where quality, time and hardware restrictions all go hand in hand.

Lastly, as you create more art, be sure to continue to update your portfolio with your new work and cull out your older work. This keeps your portfolio fresh and highlights your current skills. As with anything in life, the more effort you put into it, the greater the reward!


Extra Tips and Websites

Seek that feedback: Check out Polycount and Zbrush Central!

Step 1: Build Your Palette

Play games. Study them. When playing, listen closely. Wear headphones, and really take in the audio, paying it close attention. Pay attention to what sounds you hear besides music. Notice when sounds are triggered and when they go away. Notice the combination of literal sounds and non-literal sounds that enhance each moment. Play many different styles of games and notice the differences. Some are more cinematic and epic, while others are more playful and fun. Take down a list of all of those sounds, and learn how to make them as you master the tools below.

Step 2: The Tools

Sound Creation
Game sound effects are created two ways: by something that is recorded or by something that is synthesized.

Learn how to use studio recording tools and location recording tools. This includes microphones, preamplifiers, mixers, digital audio workstations (Pro Tools, Logic, Audition) and battery-powered multichannel audio recorders (Sound Devices, Tascam). Record things, and then listen to them to find out how to make the best recordings with a high signal-to-noise ratio and reduced background/environmental noise.

You should also learn how to use either hardware synthesizers or virtual instrument synthesizers to make sounds. This is a whole new world of fun and experimentation, but the more you get comfortable with synthesis techniques and software, the more you will understand how to make amazing sounds from nothing. Popular software companies like Native Instruments, Arturia, and Spectrasonics are making awesome professional stuff, but starting from basic, even free, downloadable VST instruments that model the different types of synthesis (Subtractive, Additive, Granular, etc.) is a great option.

Sound Processing
Once you have figured out how to create sounds, you can then learn how to further enhance them with digital processing. Basic sound shaping plug-ins like compressors, limiters, reverb, chorus, delay, etc., are a great introduction to the fundamentals, and they come free with most digital audio workstations. Then you can take it further with wild multifunction plugins like Sound Toys, Native Instruments and more. Experiment and try to match the sounds you hear in games. Start creating a library of cool sounds to use in future games.

Game Sound Implementation
The other side of game sound design is programming and implementation. You need to learn how sounds work in games behind the scenes. Learning to think about sounds from a programmer's point of view will help you create more useful sounds and make you a better overall designer. Often times, game sound software is proprietary and designed by a game production company for a specific game, but popular game sound implementation software suites like Wwise and FMOD are attainable and used on many top games. Research the tutorials that are out there and see what you can learn from them. It's well worth your time.

Step 3: Get an Internship or Entry-Level Job

Make a simple resume summarizing your knowledge and/or education. Research and reach out to gaming companies with in-house sound departments, or separate studios that do game sound design. Be humble, and just express that you are a hard worker and ready to prove yourself. Be clear that your hopeful path is to design sound for games, even if it might not be what you do right away. Be patient; you often have to work hard and wait for the right opportunity. If you can’t find a job right away, keep yourself busy by mastering all of the techniques above. Reach out to colleges with game design departments, and try to work on student games. This will help you get a lot of your mistakes out of the way and build your resume. You probably will work for free on these projects, but you are building your skills too, so it will be worth it.


Extra Tips and Websites