I’m Robert – a Character Artist in the video game industry – currently I’m working at Electronic Arts. In this article I’m going to be sharing some of my personal experiences, growth, lessons learnt with the intention and goal of giving you some extra honest thoughts on your art journey. There are a few things I’d really like to drive home in this article but as the title suggests, I want the main focus to be about having an awesome study habit as I wholeheartedly believe that it contributed the most to my artistic and career progression. I’m very aware that a lot of students out there (or even people in the industry) don’t do personal art and I hope that by me sharing some of my growth helps push people to do their own studies. A lot of the article is catered to students and has a focus on Character Art, but I hope it’s at least an interesting read for anyone curious in an art related field.
To really emphasise some of the topics I’ll be discussing, I’m going to give a little background info on myself. I’m a 23-year-old Australian guy. In November 2016 I finished my Bachelor’s degree (3-year program) at a college, where I studied “3D Art and Animation” for films, I hadn’t touched 3D before then. February 2018 I moved from Australia alone to the other side of the world to work at EA Vancouver in Canada as a Character Artist, I have been working there since (March 2019). I’ve now worked on three AAA titles and have been in the game industry for nearly two years.
I want to chalk up the majority of my own growth to a few very specific things.
- Personal Art/Studying
- Understanding the Industry & Disciplines
Jonathan Ingram – my latest personal project. A next-gen real-time game character.
Easily the single most important thing an artist can do in my opinion. Having a great study habit and putting in the time is the only real way to improve. I want to give a number of examples to really drive this home. Once I realised I wanted to be a character artist, I picked up Zbrush and spent an hour a day sculpting, gradually increasing this to several hours a day the more I got involved in the program. The beauty of studying and doing personal art is you really can achieve so much even when limiting yourself to an hour a day over a long period of time (more the better of course). The sooner you start regularly doing personal art, especially while studying at college, the sooner you can systematically ingrain it into your brain as just another standard activity. I believe this is where a lot of people struggle with doing personal art and studying to improve.
The brutal reality is that doing this extremely sought-after career path means being a character artist (or really, any artist in the game/film industry) becomes your lifestyle instead of just your job. I know the guys at FlippedNormals have spoken a bit about this topic too, but it’s probably the most shocking aspect of this career path that a lot of people don’t really recognise.
To give some perspective on my own study habits, during college I spent roughly 1-5 hours every day doing personal art, weekends would be 10+ hours. During my one year gap after college I treated my personal studying like a full-time job, spending 8-15 hours a day doing personal art. The last 1.5 years I have spent every night after working at EA doing personal art for further 4-9 hours. Specifically working on my latest personal art project – Jonathan Ingram. I honestly cannot for the life of me count how many times I turned social events to spend an extra night on the 3D art grind. Am I a little extreme? It’s very possible, but hopefully, my example sheds some light on how dedicated you can potentially be, or rather – how consuming this career path can be if you want to constantly improve.
To me, having a structured personal art/study attack plan is (nearly) as important as the studying itself, especially when you’re in or fresh out of college. Briefly put, for character artists making an emphasis on studying anatomy is incredibly important. For this I’d highly recommend Scott Eaton’s Anatomy for Artists. The knowledge you’ll get from this course is insane and it’ll really stick with you so long as you spend the effort to sculpt studies as you learn. As part of my personal art study schedule in college I went through a lot of parts of the human body, learning the anatomy and doing several study attempts per part of the body. I managed to keep a few of the screenshots of each piece which I’ll show below for context. I highly recommend the same approach to new artists interested in making character art their thing. FlippedNormals once again has a great list here with really sweet tutorial sites, including but not limited to FlippedNormals which truthfully has a great variety of tutorials. My favourite of which being Creating Characters for Games by Gavin Goulden.
Despite these studies not being particularly good, I learnt a ton from doing them. You could easily apply this same methodology to any type of studying, at the end of the day it’s just a matter of repetition and patience.
Understanding the Industry & Disciplines
During my time studying at college, I quickly realised I wanted to be a character artist and I wanted to focus on video game art. My college was entirely focused on the film side of 3D at the time. That first year of college I went out of my way to learn about 3D programs – the main beast being Zbrush. At the very base level, the film and video game industry are still quite different when it comes to character art. This is why I strongly recommend deciding which industry and art discipline you want to work in as soon as possible.
The sooner you decide those two things, the sooner you’ll be able to cater your studies to that specific field. You don’t want to be in a position where you spent 3 years of your life learning 3D animation at college then realise you want to be an environment artist on the 4th year once you graduate. FlippedNormals has a ton of great articles which I’ll link throughout this blog post but to echo his words – play around with programs to get a feel for what discipline interests you. This ties directly into personal art/studying. I almost entirely refocused my efforts on personal art while studying at college as the school itself didn’t teach character art and you just can’t for someone else to try and teach you everything. I really took the time to try and understand the industry (as much as a student can) and familiarise myself with the skills and quality of work most people in the industry have. FlippedNormals has a fantastic video about art schools and their worth, so I highly recommend watching that, as each school a total case-by-case situation.
Mentors tie into understanding the industry, the quality of the artists currently in it and doing personal art, which is why I left this one for last. This topic also means a lot to me because having mentors in this field is so advantageous and at the same time extremely overlooked by students and juniors. There are so many reasons for having art mentors, to name a big one, having someone more experienced than you in the field expose you to art skills, techniques is crucial to the growth of an artist. For example, when I decided I wanted to do character art during college, I reached out to Henning Sanden online and started talking to him, he was kind enough to point me in the right direction for sculpting. Gestures like that go a long way and in such a complicated industry/field, having people to point you in the right direction helps a lot. Finding mentors can be super hard though, especially if you don’t have much personal art done yet. With that in mind just involve yourself in art communities helps and honestly, just seeking critique from other artists on as much of your personal art possible will boost your growth. Look outside your usual group of college mates for feedback and make friends with artists online. I guarantee once you’re in the industry you’ll meet those people down the line.
This concludes my article, I really hope it helped you find more value in doing personal art! We can’t rely on anyone but ourselves to improve and in an industry that’s constantly evolving, we really owe it to ourselves to stay on top of it. Thanks for reading!