Gaming art careers

I've been teaching an evening Maya class for the past few months, and it has made me realize that would-be 3D artists don't have much of a clue what the industry looks like. The industry has evolved enough, that it looks nothing like it did ten years ago, and will likely look much different ten years from now. How do you teach someone for that sort of situation?

Education programs offer generalist tutoring of tools like Maya, but there are few generalist jobs out there. The degree of specialization has increased dramatically, and will likely continue to do so for years to come. No one models, textures, rigs, animates, and renders their own work, cradle to grave, anymore: at least, not for big companies. Most of those jobs are done by separate individuals, and there are even more folks involved: someone may be writing shaders, someone may be writing MEL scripts to support other artists, someone may be dealing with integration tools for a game engine.

You see this in the portfolios these days: animations not showing off artistic skill in modeling and texturing, but showing off rig controls, or Maya UI scripts. Look, I can make a rig with powerful controls and good constraints, provides good solutions for gimbal lock, and which generally makes the jobs (and thus lives) of animators easier. These people are very valuable.

The art part of computer art is ever more dependent on technically-minded people who can enable the art to function. The art part is getting smaller and smaller, ever more specialized, as the art part from the player perspective gets ever more prominent. I have no conclusions or anything about this; just making some observations.

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IEEE Spectrum’s gaming blog was retired in 2010, but it is preserved here for archival reference.

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