Game artists have been around in some form since the 1970s. However, since the birth of 3D rendering techniques in the 90s, computer graphics have fundamentally changed the way game studios look at their art production process. Video games have traditionally used the two most common tools: 2D graphics tools and 3D modeling. In the past, both were text based, and although this might have been good enough for a few decades, the second language of game art is moving to the Web. This revolution in interactive art is happening in a lot of different ways. Everything from pixel art to 3D, graphics used to just define the environment and physical features. The user interacts with these 3D objects by manipulating them with a mouse or some other input device. Even though these old 2D graphics tools are still used, they are pretty limited in what they can accomplish. They have a long way to go before they are able to deliver the same quality of content as 3D applications. But this is quickly becoming mainstream.
But when only the Art with a capital A interests you, the best role is creating visuals. Illustrations in the video game industry are heavily influenced by popular culture. Game artists are not only employed to make their games look as “cute” and “attractive” as possible, but also to take license with the manner in which the characters look in popular culture. Artists can take the likenesses of pop culture figures and use them to make their characters look similar to what they are emulating. Similarly, video games often draw inspiration from famous movies, books, and TV shows, resulting in characters that closely resemble what they are emulating. Modern day video game company Ubisoft created an entire marketing campaign around Robin Hood, with advertisements and toys themed around the famous outlaw. These commercial items were reminiscent of the NES-era NES Robin Hood statue by NECA, who recently featured one of their famous Guy Fawkes statues for the upcoming movie “The Dark Knight Rises”. Other video game companies such as Dark Horse and The Dungeon Siege creators, Larian Studios, also have released comic book based video game tie-ins to their games.
In order to become an illustrator for the gaming industry, it is necessary to complete a series of graphic design courses at art schools and then one or more courses in game development. These are usually highly regarded schools, especially in Germany and America. The courses usually last 3 years, however, the “final exam” is the final piece of the course. In the case of the games industry, this final piece is known as the ‘prototype’ or “board test”. It is usually 12 to 15 pages of all-new artwork. It is usually presented to the studio for the purpose of getting the ball rolling, or of proof-of-concept. Following completion of the board test, the artist should then become a trainee illustrator in the games industry, for a minimum of three months (although many studios require six to eight weeks to allow for the completion of the requisite board test). Generally the first group to be given assignments are the artists who have no previous background in game design, development or art direction. Some artists have been able to get work in the industry by taking what they have learnt from high school art class and applying it to other mediums. In the United States, many illustrators start off at one of the major illustration studios such as Artized, where their job is to create book covers for high-profile authors. Their work is mainly book cover related. There are many media for freelance artists, who would like to work as artists. One medium is soft toys, where they often work from commercial art like templates or design patterns. These can be useful to those in the biz or education. Aspiring students often draw characters and even write up the drawings. For marketing firms, they are often used as illustrations in newspaper articles, or for advertising. Another form of career is making an independent video game. Typically the author of the game is the illustrator, but there are a number of illustrators who also are programmers and sound designers for their own projects, and as the games become more complex the illustrator would be the one to do the artwork.