How to Survive as an Artist in GDD?

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Game design has always been another type of artwork for me. Every once in a while when I am introduced to a new game, my very first instinct is to search up their art structure and models. If the art passes my expectation, I will likely download and test it out.

Yes, the very first thing I look at for any game is art. I didn’t know anything more than “oh they are pretty” before my senior year high school. Because of an art project, I got to understand game art much better. Concept design, environment design, character design, level design, creature design... with all of these, I was like “wow this is so cool” and “I wanna do this in the future”. That was why I chose to apply for RIT’s Game Design and Development (GDD) program. I thought I was to do art and design; however, things turned out to be a little different.

GDD is an intensive programming major. According to Kathleen (my lovely academic adviser), it is about 95% programming and 5% design. I came into GDD with no idea what Python is, what a loop is, what a console is, what a command line is. I have absolutely zero knowledge on coding. “Am I gonna be fine?” That was a question I asked myself every day during the first semester of my first year.

The answer for that question is “yes”. After I got into programming a little bit more, I started to like it. But, what about art? One thing I came here for is game art. My original thought was to come here to learn and hope to graduate as a game artist. Do I have to change it now? Am I going to give up what I came here for? Programming is not bad, but is that it? No, I don’t want to give up.

So here is the question: how do I survive as an artist in this programming heavy major? Here are a couple pieces of advice:

1. Be passionate/Be better

As you heard (and it is the truth!) the game industry is a passion driven industry. You need to love what you do. You need to get better every day using every resource you can find. Because GDD is a programming heavy major, there are limited chances where you can get better at art in classes. In your curriculum, maybe IGME-119 (2D Animation) and 219 (3D Animation) are the most art oriented classes. So you need to be passionate and self-driven about art, about getting better at art on your own. That means when your friends are watching netflix, playing games, hanging out, partying after they finish their school work, you are doing art. I’m not saying you need give up all your free time to just do art. But you need to give up some. Being an artist in a programming major can be tough. Because not only are you packed with class work, you also need to do extra work on your own. If you want to become a game artist, you are going to compete with people coming from art majors who do tons of art in class already. If no extra work is done to boost up your skills, you will not be able to compete with them.

2.Make Connections

All games need art which means all games need artists. There are countless games in development as we speak, so get involved! You may say “I know that, but how exactly?” Get to know your professors, go to the main lab, talk to your Teaching Assistants (TAs)... There are so many ways that you can make connections. I can’t stress enough how important this is! I have had the honor of working on a side project with 12 other upperclassmen, once named as Project Orion, as concept and texture artist. This game is a 2-player same screen cooperative 3D puzzle game developed in PlayStation 4. Many of my team members got their co-op opportunities working on this project. I learned so much by doing this project, and also I got a PS4 game project on my resume. Isn’t that great? So, how did I get involved in something great like Project Orion? By talking to my professor. One day after class I approached my 2D Animation professor saying that I am interested in game art and showed him some art work I did. The next class, he asked me if I would be willing to work on a game outside class. Just on our campus, there are numerous games being developed every year, there will always be someone looking for artists! So be brave, talk to people, and make connections!

Surviving as artists in this major can be tough, but it is not impossible. Believe in yourself, push yourself to the limit, work hard, and you will make it! Finally, good luck!