Exploring the Games Industry

SMFA student Sam Webb and Professor Jason Wiser provided the content for this post.

Sam Webb (they/them) is a 2nd-year BFA student at SMFA, whose main focus is creating narrative through artworks. Their portfolio is available here. This summer, Sam will work for Blizzard Entertainment as an intern on the World of Warcraft Quest Design team!

Professor Wiser, what are resources you’d recommend for Tufts students interested in the games industry?

To start, check out my course site, specifically the final project pages for MassArt and Tufts and make sure you follow Boston GameDev meet-ups locally.

To prepare for work in the game industries as an artist, students need to learn how art is used in game projects: file sizes, formats, resolution, spritesheet animation, tilemap environments, and UI. Some familiarity with a game engine and coding is also important; artists should be able to implement their own assets. Most important is experience working with teams to build games– all the ways art must serve gameplay, and must change as the game evolves.

My courses at Tufts and MassArt teach all this in the context of design. For the Tufts curse, while students across Tufts are welcome, it is geared towards Computer Science students, since it is in the CS department. My course at MassArt is geared toward artists and animators. Sam chose to take that one through ProArts Registration. I would recommend this choice to any SMFA students who want:

  1. a more supportive pacing for artists (the MassArt course assumes no prior programming knowledge) and
  2. a smaller class with more individualized attention (16 students at MassArt, vs 60 at Tufts).

Sam, what are resources you’d recommend for Tufts students interested in the games industry?

For YouTube resources regarding art for games, see the following channels:

  • One of my favs, Marc Brunet has a lot of short, snappy, fun tutorials ranging from basics, how to practice, to advanced workflow tips. Oh, did I mention he used to work for Blizzard?
  •  Another Blizzard vet and a game dev himself, Trent Kaniuga is the master of concept art and illustration done well and done fast. No fluff, no BS, just concentrated useful information.

Sam, what tips do you have for Tufts students interested in the games industry?

  • Understanding the entire pipeline is important, but being a generalist can leave you without direction. Find a specific job or spot in production, and develop your skills for that path. Repeat for more versatility, but limit yourself to 2-3 paths so you’re not spread too thin. If you don’t have anything in mind, look at job listings and see what jobs require what skills and programs, and see if anything clicks.
  • If you’re applying to a specific company (i.e. Blizzard, Riot, Pixar, etc.) don’t be afraid to do studies of that studio’s work! Showing that you can fit into the genre and style of a studio off the bat is really important. You wouldn’t hire an animator for children’s cartoons to work on a gritty horror game, would you?
  • Keep it professional. My top recommendation to build a portfolio online is Wix. It’s free, the web banner is unobtrusive, and it’s pretty intuitive to use. ArtStation is another common professional platform, but their position on AI art has a lot of professionals protesting or boycotting it at the moment. Still, it’s got an algorithm that can get your work in front of recruiters. Do NOT use Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, TikTok, etc. They don’t have the right tools for professional use.
  • While you can absolutely market yourself on your socials, you have to remember that a recruiter’s impression of you will be what they see of you online and in your portfolio. Make sure your portfolio is up to date, and get yourself on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Handshake, etc. Expect that recruiters may search your name or handle in Google to see what crops up. It’s just the reality of the digital age, whether or not you agree with it, so better to have your professional and personal stuff somewhat separated.
  • FUNDAMENTALS FUNDAMENTALS FUNDAMENTALS!!! Show in a couple slides of your portfolio that you know the fundamentals and you’re good at them! These can be rendering studies, walk cycles, a page full of pose and figure drawings— WHAT you show will depend on what job you’re focusing your portfolio towards, but showing that you know, understand, and can execute on the fundamentals is super important.
  • Get creative and have fun with it! Show the stuff you are proud of from a technical standpoint, yes, but also show some personality and what you enjoy through your art! If you like characters, show characters. If you like environments, show environments. Showing things you don’t like making will only get you jobs you won’t like doing. Additionally, work process being shown through your portfolio and being able to articulate WHY you made the decisions you did is great.
  • Specify what you’ve made, the medium (if not given already), and the year (& even month, if you’ve got a LOT of work) in the captions of your portfolio! EX: “Holy Flareshot Reference Sheet 2022” 10-15 projects/pieces per portfolio, the majority or all of which being from the past 2-3 years, or preferably more recent, is the standard for professional portfolios.
  • Fanart, if executed well and befitting of the job you are aiming for, is okay! A lot of my portfolio is fanart of the games I play or a niche fandom I’m a part of and really passionate about. It only is an issue if it doesn’t fit the style, genre, and job type you’re aiming for.
  • Split your work up into portfolios based on the job you want to do! You’re totally allowed—even encouraged—to have multiple portfolios. You can absolutely have one for game art, one for animation, one for comics, etc. etc.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY, start working on projects NOW, whether it’s joining a GameJam, volunteering for a fanart project, or starting something original. Don’t just show classwork—though final and midterm projects are great for getting portfolio work done while also getting credit for class. Project experience is GOLD on a resume. It doesn’t have to be something that gets you a lot of attention, but showing you’ve gone through the process of a project from start to finish, and have worked on a team, is what recruiters look for. And you’d be surprised what you can put on your resume with the right framing.

Anything else?

  • Make the most of university resources and class time where you can! Use classes to make headway on long-term projects, or as an excuse to develop skills you might not otherwise be able to. Ask your professors questions about how you can use their class towards your own goals, or even if you could use a project you have in mind for an assignment. Pick their brains about skills or resources you might need, but not know about or how to access. The more you can double up on progressing your goals, the better!
  • Learn industry standard programs BEFORE you apply for a job. These include Adobe Suite, Maya, Blender, ZBrush, Unity, Unreal Engine, TV Paint, and many others. It may seem obvious, but when you’re enrolling for classes it’s worth taking into account what programs the class will use primarily, and whether or not that’s useful to the skills you’re aiming to develop. If you’re not sure what programs are useful, check what job listings ask of applicants for the roles you want. Alternatively, you can also make an effort outside of classes to seek out tutorials, online courses, or simply emailing a professor about programs you want to learn. Having even basic knowledge in industry standard programs gives you a huge leg up.
  • Use your student email to get deals on programs (like getting unlimited free storage on Google Drive with a .edu account) or a university license to access a whole host of expensive programs for cheap or for free. You’re going to be at school for a while, and you’re paying good money for it. Push yourself to make the most of your student status!
  • A little communication goes a long way, so NEVER sacrifice your health for your studies if you can help it. You can’t put your best self forward if you’re not taking care of your health. Many professors would rather have open and honest communication with you than see you burn out because of sheer workload. Advocate for yourself, ask for help where you need it, remember a partial effort is better than none at all, and keep yourself sane and healthy. It’s not easy, but it’s worth doing. Your future self will thank you for it.
By Katie Sullivan
Katie Sullivan Assistant Director