Ukie Student Conference 2015

6 Points to take away:
· Personal development to professional development
· Maximising your potential whilst at university
· Faux pas and general friendly advice
· Things to consider as an artist hoping to enter the games industry as an indie dev
· What to expect from your first job in your first year
· How to build yourself professionally and be of benefit to the industry
· Graduated from the University of Abertay Dundee in 2014 with 1st class Hons
· Started working at The Chinese Room as a junior environment artist before leaving university
· Was featured in Develop’s 2014 30 Under 30 as rising young talent in the industry
· STE(A)M Video Games Ambassador and hope to encourage diversity in the industry
· I don’t have years of experience
· I want to bridge the gap between academia and employment
· Help to maximise YOUR potential to be employable
· Discovered I could have a career in digital and commercial art
· Enrolled at The University of Abertay Dundee on the Computer Arts course
· Specialised in realistic 3D environments in my last 2 years
· Main Goal was to GET A JOB
· Focus was (originally) on AAA, as it seemed to be the most realistic option
· Saw the junior environment artist position tweeted by The Chinese Room
· Applied, did an art test, went for an interview and landed the job
· Moved down from Scotland to Brighton after my showcase at Abertay, to begin work at The Chinese Room
· This method cannot be followed systematically or replicated
· Every person’s story/journey you hear is unique to that individual
· Because our industry is (relatively) young (40 years) and routes in are incredibly varied
· But there are some systematic approaches that can be taken from every successful persons journey into the industry, that can be applied to help you.
– Award-winning independent development studio in Brighton
– Best known for making experimental first-person games
– Creates games based on atmosphere, light, music, narrative & aesthetics
– Not mechanics based gameplay
– Gameplay based on aesthetics
– Very small company, up to roughly 16 members
– Passionate & driven individuals that want to create experiences
– The Chinese Room games ask us to reconsider what a ‘game’ is
· Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was released on PlayStation 4 on August 11, 2015
· It’s received critical acclaim from press and gaming community
· Came in mid-production and worked on it for about 1 year 6 months
· learned so much from people in the company that boosted my development quickly
· Had a lot of input in production, as I was one of about five artists overall
· I had never considered an indie company to be a viable option after university – indie companies are small and so rarely hire. It seemed realistic to consider that my route in would have been AAA.
· The reality is that 95% of games studios in the UK are micro studios (averaging at 120 staff)
Independent/The Chinese Room benefits:
· It’s studio dependent, but often you have a lot more creative input within the company, as the development team is so small. Often your voice is heard and your opinion valid, or at least is taken into consideration.
· You can offer input in many areas out with your specialisation – often inputting on things like design, level design, narrative or implementation as well as artistic choices.
· As an artist, it can be really beneficial when you have additional skills – As the team is small, you have to adapt and offer support in as many ways as possible that will benefit the game. You develop skills a lot quicker this way and can really make your mark in certain areas. This isn’t to necessarily say we are ‘generalists.’ We very much have our own specialist areas that are the constant focus for the majority of our work. However, you can have more creative input if you understand how other departments work and their dependencies, as well as offering unique abilities to production that you are strongest in. I enjoy reading up on design and level design and understand how to influence players based on spaces, so I often inputted on anything in this regard. As well as that, I’m strong with 2D and offering story through my work. Another environment artist offered incredible technical ability to their work and kept the visual fidelity at a constantly high standard. Working collaboratively like this, you can complement each other’s work and ultimately, lead to a successful outcome.
Every artist contributes in all areas. No artist is sitting idle, and no one is just a cog in a machine churning out rocks. Everyone is allowed to be a creative. There’s always tasks that are a slug to do, but this is always the case. The bonus is that there is respect for every individual, and an understanding that everyone has an important contribution to make to the project. They’ll benefit the project the most, when they are being utilised to their maximum potential, working in areas they’re most confident in.
Props that we would be making as environment artists include:
· Generic
· Tiling textures – for terrain, walls, floors, paving, grass etc.
· Foliage – grass, flowers, bushes, trees etc.
· Structural – buildings and architecture
· Storytelling/pivotal assets that tell a story or are a main feature of the gameplay. As The Chinese Room doesn’t have characters in a classic sense, often the environment has to be the character. As an environment artist, it’s important to understand how to tell a story through your work to give it more depth and ultimately make the space interesting for the audience. This gives the audience visual clues to support other aspects of the narrative that come from the music, audio and gameplay elements.
But an emphasis on creative freedom is important and being trusted to get what you’re working on right. We’re often trusted to work on our own, often picking our own work and make judgement calls based on our specialist knowledge. This requires us to think critically and analyse every decision made, the repercussions, and the benefit that the work will have on the entire project (if any).
We’re also often trusted to:
· Build around the narrative, balancing colours, lighting & atmosphere to create a moment and impact on pivotal gameplay moments
· Making sure we stay on target with scheduling our time and using efficient processes and techniques to cut down on production times – we have to think smart and cut any corners possibly because we are such a small team with specific roles to fill and deadlines to meet
· But this is professional work made by a studio
· Made by an entire team of specialist individuals with a publisher
· …But we all started somewhere, but rarely do we ever talk about that
· Being a really good artist takes time
· We often only speak of success and achievement – but not what lead to that
· We need to talk more about failing – learning from failures and progressing
· Only 15% of students are very confident and 32% are somewhat confident in their ability to get their first job. (IGDA survey 2015)
so where does this lack of confidence come from?
A lack of confidence can come from frequently only seeing senior/lead roles represented in an inspirational way. But this falsely represents where you, as a student, should currently be with your current ability. Professional development takes time and there’s no quick way to reach the end goal.
(Whilst referring to the graph)
· (Where we all began) Clueless – You don’t know what you don’t know
· Naively confident – You think you know, but still don’t know what you don’t know
· Aware of what you don’t know – can be very overwhelming at this stage – don’t despair, give up or drop out! This is the point where it so regularly happens and students feel disheartened and overwhelmed.
· Mastery achieved – you know it – 10+ years to senior and lead roles – It’s all just about time and continuous learning to get to here.
A lot of pressure is put on to be ‘industry ready’ and at this level as a student. So what can you do currently, to maximise your potential?
As an artist, If you haven’t done it already – SPECIALISE
· Don’t be a generalist! – Specialise
· It’s good to delve into other sectors, but you’re not going to master everything in 3 – 4 years
· Use the your time wisely – It’s better to focus your time on one thing than a small amount of time on lots
· 1, 3, 5, 10 year plan – Once you have picked your specialisation, pick a career goal. Where do you want to end up in 10 years, and what do you have to start doing today that will help you towards that goal? Work backwards from where you see yourself ending up.
This is especially important for artists to have a plan.
A digital artist must be both artistically proficient & technically proficient
You must find a way to obtain a balance with your learning between the two, and not become too focused on either. Your work must be executed well technically, and optimised. But it must also have artistic consideration – silhouette, form, colour, perspective, composition, scale, shape etc.
Take influence from real life, literature, popular culture and art. Try and not focus heavily on video games as your influence. I would often only look at games as to how to achieve artwork technically and rarely artistically (as long as the art created is realistic).
For technical development, delve into current softwares and discover what is current in your sector to use and what the benefits are. Also look at different pipelines, workflows and processes that can maximise your efficiency.
But one of the most important aspects to your artwork is telling a story. Putting context into your work gives you an edge
So how do you tell a story through your artwork?
[I explained my art test on the slide] –
So this is one of about 6 props that I had to make for my art test for The Chinese Room. I wanted to ensure what I would show them my abilities as an artist to think creatively and offer depth to the work I produce. I was careful to make sure I gathered my own reference material, instead of just purely copying the sketch that was presented to me. Gathering my own reference material gives the work I was to produce a unique element only to me. I carefully chose my colours and ensured they matched to the time period, and prior to that (so that it was assumed to have been ‘used’ and has aged over time). I then added a little detail of patches to give it an ambiguous story and make you question who might be likely to own this.
Adding these sorts of elements suggested I could apply my own creative understanding to work to produce something unique, that possibly another candidate might not be able to do. I was exploiting something unique to me. Consider what are your unique selling points? What can you offer that will be beneficial to a company? And in what way can you demonstrate these abilities to them?
· Don’t just copy something that exists – anyone can do that and make it technically excellent – anyone can learn a software!
· You have to stand out to be noticed and show you can do more than copy
· Credibility & respect, comes from critical thinking/analysis
· Something that I found useful, was to find artists who were where I wished to be that inspire me, and analysed and deconstructed their work – what is successful about their work? And why is it successful? Is it quality? Is it story? Is the context intriguing?
· Aim to reach their quality – reach for the stars and you’ll hit the clouds – you will learn so much by just trying to match their technical/artistic ability. You probably won’t reach what they are producing, but it will really push your skills to that next level and ask you to consider what makes successful artwork.
· Make sure you’re always critiquing your work so you learn something! Critique! Critique! Critique! Learn to give constructive critique and think critically, and in turn you should be able to receive the same level of critique. Ensure every comment or critique or advice you give is always informed – You will be a lot more credible.
So how to prepare yourself as an artist when applying for jobs?
Preparing to apply to jobs as an artist
· Prepare your portfolio –
· Make sure you’ve specialised and it’s clear what your specialisation is on your portfolio.
· Get critique – from industry experts, peers, and lecturers. Not so much from family and friends… Family and friends are too lovely to be as honest as you need them to be to help you develop.
· Show only your best work. Even if it’s only 2 things – make sure they are of a really high quality. And that ol’ chestnut of a saying “you’re only judged by worst piece.” Heed these words!
· Companies keep your portfolios – if you are suitable, you will know
· Don’t lie – I think this is just generally good life advice! But also never lie on your CV, portfolio, etc. Be very clear about your work on your portfolio – how you achieved it, whether the work produced was done collaboratively, software used, polycounts etc. Don’t try to hide anything. If you have lied at any point – the industry is small and everyone will see straight through you. If you do happen to get a job based on lying or stretching the truth, you will be found out soon enough. So just be honest and mention if you don’t understand something, you can always learn it or you’ll be given really good advice to help you to develop.
· Don’t pigeon hole yourself –
· don’t take the first job you’re offered just because you’re desperate to be involved and starting your career. I was offered several other jobs before applying for the role at The Chinese Room. But the other jobs just weren’t quite right for me, or for them. When the job came along for the position at The Chinese Room, it felt like a good fit for both parties. If you pigeon hole yourself, it just means you might end up doing work that isn’t your specialisation and ending up with work you can’t use for your portfolio and you will have possibly lost ability with what you truly want to do, so you’ll no longer be learning and developing key skills.
· If you take a job knowing that it’s not a right fit for you, and it’s just ‘temporary.’ When something more suited for you comes along and you leave that other job, you could appear unreliable and unpredictable/impulsive, when on your CV it says you worked in “X Company – 2 months.”
· Professionalism – be careful of your digital footprint – Just as some general advice – ensure you aren’t alienating individuals and imposing negative attitudes within the industry. This could mean using male only pronouns instead of gender neutral. Or this could mean imposing negativity and hateful/offensive comments towards individuals you disagree with. Make sure to represent the company well that you could possibly be hired for. By challenging the people working towards making the industry more inclusive and diverse, you’re just regressing an industry that’s striving for positive change.· The industry appears showbiz/celebrity & elusive- it’s not when you’re in it. Everyone is nice and are willing to help! Contacting people within your specialisation that work in games, is a great way to engage with industry experts and get helpful advice. Whether that’s portfolio feedback, or just to ask general questions on how to get into the indsutry. Don’t worry if they don’t reply straight away – often people aren’t trying to be rude, they’re just busy.
· Sad fact – once you get a job, you will get a lot more offers – Because someone/a company has seen your potential and hired you, now you’re credible and other companies will probably contact you.

But companies have responsibility too…
Give a student a break –
So often we hear that it’s up to the students to be the best possible candidate, but rarely do we hear the responsibility that lies with games companies and industry professionals. We can offer students help in so many different ways to help boost their potential that will ultimately help to progressively change the industry with diverse thinking individuals.
· Offering work placements – 21% in games industry jobs, undertook work experience prior to entering the sector. Of every other creative industry jobs, the average is 41% (Develop magazine #164, September 2015)
· There is often a lot of red tape that stops companies from being able to offer work experience. And often it’s felt it isn’t worth the time lost from staff to help them out. The reality is that everyone will ultimately benefit, and there is other ways to help students be involved in projects or to engage with them
· Help get their foot in the door –
· The Chinese Room recently gave some students a chance to make a couple of props for Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. This gave them hands on experience working to technical requirements and simulating a real outsource working environment for them. This gives them hands on experience to understand what it’s like to work for a client/company, and allows them to mention they did experience for a well-known independent company.
· Abertay University gives out professional project briefs to teams of students in their 3rd year, and asks companies to participate as the ‘client’ that the students will build a game for. This simulates real work scenarios and gets the students engaging in a collaborative effort to make a game. I’m mentoring two teams as The Chinese Room, and offer the students advice and ask for deliverables. They pitch to me and send me weekly reports on their progress. This helps them to engage in a professional manner.
Other benefits of work experience from a company point of view –
· Discovering fresh talent – enthusiasm
· Cost-effective
Advice for Students: Networking & involvement is a huge part of development –
· Networking – attend events, conferences, discussions
· Be informed on trends & politics within games – stay up to date
· Stay connected – LinkedIn, Twitter
· Collaboration with others – great experience – game jams, Dare to be Digital –  all are great for a CV and show a possible employer your dedication, enthusiasm and involvement in games as well as your willingness to work with others collaboratively
· Work placements & experience – invaluable industry placements
You have to work hard, be proactive, but don’t get overwhelmed by stress…
University and difficult job prospects lead to high stress levels. But it can be incredibly detrimental and ultimately leads to less productivity. It’s important to strike a balance. Make sure you are putting enough pressure on yourself so you don’t become idle, but don’t push yourself too hard either. It can have very serious repercussions, which I’ve seen first-hand. It’s never worth it. Obtain a balance.
· [lack of stress] Lazy, no pressure, unaware – lack of creativity
· [stress overload] anxiety, panic, breakdown, burn out, the ‘fear’ – lack of creativity
· Just enough stress and pressure leads to productivity
· You are awesome – you will be awesome and do awesome things
· Don’t stress now as you have no control
· Don’t burn out before you enter the industry
· Don’t be too hard on yourself
· Don’t be too hard on your classmates
· It’s not a competition – even though it feels as though you’re competing for the same job, you’re really not. You will only develop if you continue to help each other develop, offer and share ideas.
· It’s important to surround yourself with like-minded, progressive, diverse-thinking individuals
· Because you are all going to contribute to changing the industry
· Thank you

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