Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Elements of game design, part two: art direction for games

Game design is a massive team effort, and while there are many leads for each aspect of design, the final decisions rest mainly on the art director. The art director is the person tasked with coordinating the flow of art in any game. Essentially, they decide what type of art should be implemented into the game, how the characters look, and how the environment blends with the overall style. The responsibilities of the art director are huge, since in the end, every approval or disapproval falls to the director, giving them control over the final product.

But what exactly is an art director? What kind of influence does he have on the game? And is he the person responsible for the whole game? The role of the art director is quite important, and though their decisions hold a great deal of weight, they must still rely on a team to make final decisions. Developing the art of a game is a process that requires a lot of people, power, and time. The first task for the art director and his crew is to brainstorm ideas for the overall art style. All of their ideas have to be incorporated in such a way that they will fit with the story and genre, and not look out of place.

A very important factor in modern games is the environment. Without a well developed environment, you end up with a potentially well-designed character that simply feels out of place in the surroundings. Deciding on a working environment concept sets the overall mood and feeling of the game, and thus a great deal of emphasis must be placed on it.

The art director for a game is quite similar to an art director for a movie. Both of them have to make important decisions about the look of a set/game level, and characters. With an art director in a film, they must coordinate with set builders, wardrobe teams, and the actors themselves, much the way a game art director deals with the lead artist, writers, and animators.

The job of the art director can be quite difficult at times. They have many responsibilities they have to keep up with, and are constantly moving about getting feedback from the various teams under them, and planning for the project’s future. Personally, I think the role of art director is amazing. There are times that I would probably hate it and the stress that comes with it, as well as the massive responsibility, but in the end, I would hold a great deal on influence over the concepts in the game. Having my own design ideas incorporated into a game is a thrilling idea.

As far as the creativity of the job goes, I’m honestly not certain how much actual designing the art director does on their own accord, since many of those tasks fall to the lead artist and their team. Simply giving orders to other artists doesn’t appeal much to me, as I’d much rather draw what I have in mind myself, instead of tasking someone else to do it. It’s much more effective than giving another designer a vague idea of what you want done. They can be creative in that they guide the other artists

In effect, the art director has many roles. They guide their team, keeping them on track with the overall style. They manage ideas, giving their input, getting feedback, and making final decisions for the product at hand. And most importantly, they ensure that every member works together and blends ideas, so that no aspect of the end product conflicts heavily with another.

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