I had the chance to interview Stone Perales on the topic of breaking into the video game industry. He has worked at companies like Sony, EA, 4Kids Entertainment, and Interplay serving as an Art Director or Art Lead on various console and PC titles and is currently employed as a freelance digital artist and part-time instructor at Laguna College of Art and Design. Here are a few valuable tips he shared for anyone wishing to go into the game industry.
AB: What set of skills are required for your field?
SP: Short answer is-as many as you can master. Some very important skills in my field are: conceptual art skills, modeling, texturing, special effects, animation, and technical art skills (which can include anything from writing shaders to the optimizing and implementation of all art assets, as well as R&D work).
With that being said, there is no one particular skill that I have found is best to learn in the video game field. A lot of where I think a person should focus their studies really depends on what their own natural tendencies and aptitudes are. Personally I would recommend learning at least two complimentary skill sets to increase the odds that you will be employed for the duration of a project. An example could be becoming good at concept art (for the pre-production stage) and then moving into texturing 3D models (during production).
AB: Is a degree from an accredited school necessary?
SP: Short answer is a reluctant no…as more and more people enter the video game field, it is becoming harder and harder to compete for jobs without the advantages that school provides. Many years ago when I started in games it seemed like very few people had a good understanding of 2D and 3D software. Good digital artists were rare in my area, and that scarcity in trained talent contributed to your chances of getting hired at a lot of startups. Now, with so many great blogs, forums, software companies, and art sites sharing knowledge of the game development process (as well as the advances of technology in hardware) the bar on entry level knowledge has been raised a lot.
It’s much more common now for a person to invest several years in the study of their craft to be eligible for a good paying position.
As for me, at the time I entered the field there were no accredited schools offering video game degrees in my area. Acquiring the software skills I needed was a real challenge. I managed to get hired at a startup studio on the basis of my traditional art and design skills and given 4 weeks to teach myself 3DSMax and Photoshop. While it was admittedly one of the hardest 4 weeks of my career, the thought of missing my chance at making games and going hungry was a great motivator. After reading a few thousand pages of technical manuals and books, going through all of the tutorials from 3DSmax, and many late nights of frustration and failed attempts at modeling and texturing, I managed to acclimate to my new job as a game developer. That experience taught me a very valuable lesson and it was this: while my talent and aptitudes as an artist were common in my industry, it was my tenacity and dedication to my craft that was going to set me apart from others.
AB: How did you handle the transition from working in traditional media to digital media?
SP: Overall I found that the computer was similar to other media. With some practice and study, all of my foundational art knowledge of composition, color, anatomy, etc. transferred over pretty easily. It took me a few days to get used to not looking at my hands and staring at the monitor while I drew with a Wacom tablet, and about a week to get used to looking at 3D wireframes without getting lost, but overall, the process was pretty good.
One challenge that was unique to my transition to digital media was drawing smooth lines on a tablet. When I was 14 I was injured in a prank that severed all of the flexor muscles in my right forearm (my drawing hand). Drawing on a digital tablet was a little tricky because I simply could not feel much of my fingers while I drew and easily lost control of my lines due to the slippery surface of the tablet. I was used to drawing on very toothy paper which made it much easier to “feel” the paper and guide my hand. Soon after going digital I became great friends with a scanner for my preliminary sketch work, but eventually, with practice, I acclimated to going paperless.
AB: When working on a contract basis for a studio, how is your contract structured?
SP: Normally, if it’s a small contract I will take a 50 percent deposit of pay up front, and 50 percent on completion. If it’s for an ongoing basis on a bigger project (like with trading cards for example) I will usually agree to whatever the terms are if the studio is reliably paying their staff. That being said, I don’t like to go longer than net 30 for payment.
AB: How did you figure out your personal time management style, especially when working with multiple projects at once?
SP: The hard way, by being overworked and learning to adapt. After repeatedly being over worked and given heavy deadlines, I had to really be careful with how I spent my time to get the most out of it. Every minute seemed to matter at times, not just at work but in my personal life too. My free time became very valuable to me during crunch cycles at various jobs, so, I took better and better care to be more precise with my time commitments and this is how it evolved for me.
AB: Did you have to make adjustments to your workflow?
SP: Yes. There were times when the workload was just not possible for me to finish in the scheduled time frame. During these times I realized that if I approached my work like everyone else did, I would have the same result in completion times, so, I started to experiment more and more with my process to find shortcuts in order to save time.
An example of this approach to adjusting my workflow would be while I worked on trading cards. Each card was on a strict schedule. One day to do pencils, a half day to do inks, and a day or two (depending on the complexity of the design) to do colors. This was often a 3 day turnaround including revisions. I was given enough work to keep me busy 7 days a week all month long but only getting paid for 5. After a lot of late nights I found a way to skip the pencils and inks stage and go straight to color on the first shot. This enabled me to cut out a massive amount of time from my process, and was a good way to solve my time management problems. I also started doing a large number of cards at the same time so that every time I got stuck on one illustration I could just go to another one and keep moving forward till all of them were completed early. This workflow adjustment literally saved my job, not to mention, it changed my efficiency in production in a great way.
You can see more works by Stone Perales at www.stonewurks.com or his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stone-Perales/240620555981965.