Mike Swanson opened his session with a very cute memory: he had dreams of becoming an insurance underwriter! (I couldn’t help but think of the Monty Python skit for the Vocational Guidance Counselor).
Thankfully he got pulled into Games through a golf game and 18 years later here we are. Got his first introduction into managing artists at EA in Canada, and later learned more as an art department manager at LucasArts. LucasArts had the unique vision to train all their artists in managing.
What does Next Gen mean to an artist?
- Prettier graphics (normal mapped geometry, bloom, dynamic lights, complex shaders)
- Speed (push huge amounts of polygons, complex simulations on animations, physics)
Who should manage artists?
- Experienced managers vs. experienced artists: itâ€™s really about combining the analytical management skills with understanding artists and the â€œart processâ€
- Specialization of management: studio art managers, art managers, art outsourcing managers, art production managers, etc.
How should you manage artists?
- Junior artists tend to over-identify with their art â€“ wrap their ego/validation into their art
- Next gen assets take longer to create â€“ giving artists more time to get attached to their art-in-progress. Example: 5 years ago it took 2 hours to make a cup (texture map and cup), now it takes 8 (texture map, physical properties, opacity, specular map, normal map, fluid dynamics if you can drop it off a table, water shader, etc.).
- Communications is key (just like the communications breakdown presentation yesterday). Acknowledge their creative process and training, different levels of passion by discipline, and establish a common understanding of what we are viewing and what the limitations and expectations and when â€œgoodâ€ is â€œgood enoughâ€. (quote from George Lucas: “my films are never finished, just abandonedâ€- you can noodle for ever but at some point you say â€œstopâ€).
- Manage the process â€“ not the art.
- Artists fear outsourcing will jeapordize jobs, but the opposite is true: it frees up resources to work on more projects and focus on higher-value-added activities
- Artists worry about maintaining quality â€“ response is incorporate testing into the RPF or QA
- Artists worry about the added management and workload â€“ fair concern, hence the creation of art manager role.
- Artists worry about losing control â€“ set expectations that you wonâ€™t get to stand over their shoulder, that it is a different way to work.
- Management is worried about cost, quality and schedule. Learn from
Hollywood, where special effects and animation have been outsourced for a long time.
- 40+ game outsourcing studios in
China, with over $35M in revenues this year
- studios all over the globe including
He also covered why and how you would outsource art but that was also covered in the outsourcing presentation yesterday.
(blogger aside: I suddenly feel very oldâ€¦the entire presentation I had to push my glasses down low over my nose, so I use them when Iâ€™m typing but looking over them when Iâ€™m watching Mike on the podium or his charts.)
Listed art management roles â€“ do you see the need for art directors who are hard-core asthetes as well as managers? A: yes, a lot to learn from
Hollywood in that respect.
We experience problems with cross-discipline managing, but havenâ€™t outsourced â€“ does that dialog continue within an outsourced environment? A: when you outsourced be really focused; have your concept art and model done and they can work on the realization of the concept, not concept creation. Unexpected benefit: forces you to focus on getting that concept done and not be fuzzy about it.
Roadblock to outsourcing seems to be cultural differences â€“ how do you deal with art thatâ€™s being created that might not resonate with your core audience? A: many outsourcing studios are hiring people from
North America to help bridge the gap. The other is donâ€™t use cultural references anecdotally â€“ must be clear. If youâ€™re going to use a movie or film reference, you have to make them WATCH the movie.
Have you had a bad experience with outsourcing and if so how did you solve it? A: no, not yet, but Iâ€™ve been quick to pull the plug honestly and forthrightly if the level of quality wansnâ€™t there. Work into contracts how you can back out, keep lines of communication open.