Why Game Artists Fail Their Interviews

Is an amazing portfolio enough?

Stańczyk, by Jan Matejko

As an artist looking for an opportunity, you’ve probably heard this before:

“Just let your work do the talking.”

Just focus on putting together a beautiful portfolio and a nice cover letter — if you get invited down for the interview, you’re probably already halfway to your dream job!

It’s all partly true, until one of the interviewers asks a few innocent questions like “What do you like about [our product, a film, pretty much anything]?” or “What is your favorite [random topic], and why?”.

This is where I’ve seen many very talented and experienced artists fall short.

An actual occurrence would be: “What do you like about our game and why?” and we would hear “It’s really cute and fun.” in reply.

These artists, experienced or not, could not answer our questions in a convincing way and did not provide us with any insight into why they thought the game is cute and fun or what makes it work.

But why would that be a problem?

So, what exactly is expected from an Artist?

That might come as a surprise to some, but a game artist is also expected to be a designer.

A Game Artist works based on “requirements” and their designs serve a specific objective, which is generally to find visual solutions that will contribute to crafting a specific Game Experience. Form will always follow Function.

That’s essentially the definition of a designer.

So, going back to our innocent questions during interviews, when interviewing Game Artists with prior experience working on products, we expect more in-depth answers.

An artist is expected to be able to “deconstruct” an art piece, break down what works about it, what was done to make it work, why these were the right solutions to apply and, perhaps, what could have been done differently to achieve that same goal.

Why is it so critical to be able to deconstruct and answer the “Why”?

Because, as artists, we do it all the time. Explaining the “Why” is fundamental. We need to master the abstract or technical breakdown of any art piece and communicate it.

From our perspective, as an employer, asking “Why” will tell us a few essential things about the candidate in regards to:

  • Analytical and communication skills — can they break down and explain what works?
  • Thought process applied to visual problem solving— do they approach designing in the right way?
  • General influences, interests and curiosity — how do they look at things? With what eye, what perspective?

The previous reasons are from an employer’s perspective, but as a Game Artist, you’d have many reasons to answer the “Why”, such as:

  • As I go through an interview, I can showcase my understanding of the Principles of Art and how I have applied them in my own artwork.
  • As I work with my team, I can rationally explain why a visual solution is a better fit than another, for example, using Principles of Art.
  • As I brainstorm with fellow artists about ideas, I can breakdown the pros and cons of my suggestions.
  • I can curate references effectively to start building an at direction — we apply reasoning to curate content.
  • Why I place 3 rocks together rather than 4 when designing an environment piece — I can apply composition principles in my work.
  • As I do a review of my work, I pick certain designs over others — reasons could be better thematic continuity, more diversity, reinforcement of product pillars.

In any of those situations, I need to know exactly why I am making those decisions.

A Scholar Sharpening his Quill — Gerrit Dou

How can I develop this skill?

It’s very simple, but it takes time: every single time you experience something artistic, ask yourself “Why” did it have this impact on you and on others?

  • Develop your analytical skills — analyse everything that you consume. Read reviews, especially film reviews, as you’ll learn a lot from well-written critiques.
  • Read books — eg: Point and Line to Plane, by Kandisky.
  • Practice curating content — you don’t have to create stuff, you can just curate existing content, based on guiding principles, create moodboards.
  • Listen to your favourite artists — how do they talk about their own work? Pick up on the thought process, the deconstruction, and the terms being used.
  • Research the terms you’re not familiar with — Golden Ratio? Gesture? What does Form follow Function mean?
  • Learn how to use Principles of Art to deconstruct and analyse, or plan and build an art piece — Principles of Art is a tool box, how do other artists use that toolbox to achieve great story telling and create meaning?
  • Develop a designer’s mindset — read Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon, The Design Process, by Karl Aspelund, etc…

Closing words

Whichever way you’re going to approach building your analytical skills and vocabulary, it will take time and effort.

There are no shortcuts so, make sure you nurture your curiosity and maintain the hunger to understand how and why things work. Be critical of your own work.

And if you feel ready, just drop us your application right here 🙂

Why Game Artists Fail Their Interviews was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.