> Art Direction
I've been an Art Director now for a number of years on quite a few different projects. Generally it's a process of establishing the visual needs of a game design, creating an art bible and then making sure the artists involved are on the same page, stay on track, and have everything they need to operate.
> Example: Imagiro
Torus Games decided to create an original IP for the 3DS. The idea for an origami game had been discussed and it was decided that we'd pursue that idea for our title. I was responsible for the visual direction of the game, the result you can watch above.
In honour of the subject matter I decided the visuals should incorporate a strong Japanese influence - I felt the artwork found on Japanese screens would be appropriate material to draw from. The screens had a flat bill-board style of composition that suited a world made out of paper. In fact, everything
in the world would be made out from paper.
My first job was to concept out the hero of our game, and the world he inhabited (above). I studied lots of Japanese paintings and worked out how to translate their palettes and techniques over to our game art. The backgrounds needed to be inspiring and colourful, but they couldn't overpower the main play areas. To reinforce the paper-aspect of the world, I decided that everything should have a (subtle) pattern, and fold lines in textures should be emphasised.
I wanted the main character to have strong silhouette, and have a chunky shape for better on-screen presentation. We went through a few iterations, starting quite life-like and then pushing the form further towards cartooned (check out the experimentation below).
> Principles of Direction
When I was asked to take the position of Art Director, I had no training in management, nor were there any clearly established methods for going about it. I had to make a lot of it up, learn hard lessons and glean what information I could.
Here's some of the principles I've since learned about Art Direction. It's a lot of common sense, really. I'll be filling this section out as I have time.
The Design Rules
Needs of the design always override personal style.
Collaboration, rarely dictation
Steam-rolling around like a dictator freezes artist's creative brains. I've personally experienced this while working under well-meaning AD's who enjoyed micro-managing and altering artist's work. An artist under these circumstances begins to second-guess the AD, worrying if his work is exactly what he's after. Where creativity and imagination should be flowing, it instead paralyses the artist's ability to do his job.
It's far better to collaborate with artists under a common goal. Often they have great ideas, and should be seriously considered where they don't directly contradict the original intention or goals of the artwork. This gives the artist ownership over their work. In this sense an AD acts as a filter for bad ideas. Lots of encouragement is also usually necessary with younger or less experienced artists to kick-start their confidence.
Get in the trenches
The best way to motivate a team and get their respect is to lead from the front. This means always being directly involved in their day-to-day jobs, not in a meddling way, but in a way that shows that you are there and supporting them. Making sure you talk to each artist each day is a good start. Getting stuck in your office and directing via email is a rapid way of becoming isolated and misunderstood.
When I first became an AD I had a problem with staff respect because I simply wasn't experienced at the job they were being asked to do, so when it came to communicating with them there was a natural barrier. Of course, the true professionals that time understood and helped me out, while the others tended to seethe and complain amongst themselves. Since then I've always found it necessary to be at least conversant in the technical aspects of all artists, even if I don't have working experience I've got the theory down. This means being able to do a little bit of everything.
Proactive direction, not reactive
Part of an Art Director's job is watching the art for problems with consistency, or looking for ways to make improvements. So regular reviews are the order of the day, and in a perfect world they'd occur on every single aspect of the art. This really isn't an optimal way of working, however, when one thinks about it. It's far better to supply an artist with exactly what they need before they set to work, instead of correcting mistakes later, which is really creating more work and pushing out schedules. Artists really hate being told to fix up their art, generally not because they're unprofessional or personal about their art, but because they're rarely given any great time in the schedule to do the corrections, meaning they'll be staying back to do it.
Strong direction in the form of concepts and pre-visualisation is the best way to give artists the best chance of getting the artwork right in the first place. Which suggests the next point ...
Blueprints are good
It is a far, far smarter move to spend time in pre-production planning and visualising the project rather than rushing into production (as tempting as that would seem). Skimping on pre-production is like building a house without a finished plan - you'll find your front-door on the roof at the end of the project. In a perfect world all elements of a game would be pre-visualised before production kicked off - that way the team know exactly what they're making, and this will actually speed up production in the long run (more than making up for a longer pre-production period).
Picking your battles
Dealing with other departments means being a good negotiator (and being able to empathise with their workloads). There's no point fighting every conceivable point of contention - this will rapidly lead to kind of tension and personal grudges you don't want wafting about. It's far better to understand what the major issues are, and only become reticent when those issues are breached. Often, the smaller points are things only people close to the project really care about, anyway. It's time to really put your foot down when you think the art is being seriously compromised, not because somebody thinks the character's vest should have blue buttons, not red. In fact, if you've got good reason and can explain your decisions, there's actually little to argue about.
Selling the vision
The Art Director needs to be able to sell the overall vision of the project, not only to the client/publisher (if there is one), but also internally. Having all departments on-side with the direction of the art is vital to the general harmony of the studio. This will probably require great concepts or finished illustrations, possibly pre-visualised animatics, showing what the finished look of the title will be, and the reasons for it. The real importance is in the fact this body of work becomes a goal for everyone working on the project and they all believe in it.
Artists are tools
Perhaps not the best metaphor, but you get what I mean. Each artist is an individual with specific talents and weaknesses. Even inexperienced artists, if placed well and given the right information, can make a decent contribution to your project. It seems to be a common misconception amongst management that all artists are capable of doing all types of art equally. This is why having someone who knows the department is important - they can select the right person for the job.
Middle management is uncomfortable
This is perhaps little more than a complaint about the nature of the work - you're answering to pressure above and below, and often are wedged uncomfortably in the middle and trying to please everyone. Seth Spauling of Feraxis Games compared middle management to Imperial Officers - they're the ones who tend to get choked by their own side.
Allowing room for change
A project needs time scheduled for errors, or for re-work where elements arn't working - this is true of all departments and art is no exception. This seems pretty obvious, but I'm suprised by how often I hear the term "we can't afford any mistakes in this project". Which is, of course, a ridiculous statement in a creative process.