Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The GDC Experience [Day 3 - Fri]

This was the last day of the conference. Hearing from the seniors that the career pavilion was going to be packed, we decided to avoid the expo all together and just hit up some lectures. Before that, Kez and I just wanted to get in the expo... one last time.
Good thing we did, because we met and chatted with the guys at Frictional Games, who made Amnesia: The Dark Descent! (Best horror game ever in my opinion.) Since they were a small company, they weren't looking for anyone to hire at the moment, but they were willing to look at portfolio work as a follow up. I also got to embarrass myself by forgetting the controls to play the demo of Amnesia, which they had on display. :'D

Leaving the expo, Kez and I hit up the Art Director/Lead Artist Roundtable lead by Seth Spaulding, Art Manager at Blizzard Entertainment. This was the first time sitting in the talk for me, so the main topic of their discussion was hitting up points they went over the previous day. Here are the notes I took:


  • send in more items than your publishers require. You want to build trust.
  • for sequels, base marketing on previous projects
  • embed marketing people onto the game development team
    • involve them in the prepro
    • show them composition, style, etc. (get them involved, teach them your lingo so that everyone is on the same page)
  • consensus building --> Art Bible
    • immerse yourself in the game's art style: put reference pics everywhere around you, always look at images to inspire yourself and keep yourself in that world
    • have someone create/update a wiki
    • screencap from movies and games (build your reference library!)
  • smaller teams can do more experimentation
  • speak so that everyone can understand you (be wary of your language)
    • how can you communicate your ideas so that your team can help create this idea
    • "prove that stupid is stupid"
      • know what doesn't work and say that it doesn't!
  • internal marketing: "establish unique marketing position"
    • try to expand the art to the marketing people (get them to understand your vision)
  • need to communicate, not just within your team, but also with your publishers and developers
    • build a relationship with the publishers (good to build casual conversations)
    • be social! be cool
    • learn how other people communicate
  • the desire not to compromise?
  • identify problems
  • always remind people about your goals - Be persistent!

Art Management with Programmers
  • build trust
  • need tech artists
  • get them [programmers] involved early
  • have and maintain constant communication with them
  • make sure that your vision can work with the scope of the project/engine
  • have mini-internal meetings with designers and programmers (get everyone on the same page)
  • figure out what each side of the team can/cannot do
  • arranged seating during official team meetings
    • force animators, programmers, and artists to intermingle with the other sides of the team
      • in the end, we all want the same thing
  • Always say thank you to the people you work with :)

Time Management
  • time block/box it (time sheets)
  • show new techniques that may help teammates during meetings
  • time it takes to complete a piece
    • how do you approach?
  • give artists appropriate tasks
  • when modeling/sculpting anything in a game, ask yourself "How big is it going to be in the game?"
    • manage time to optimization of game models
    • don't waste too much time on a sculpt if it's not even going to take up a large portion of the screen

The key point I got from this talk: communication is crucial to working on a team. This point was brought up so many times during this talk, even during the Production SIG roundtable Kez and I attended on Wednesday. Always keep in touch with other people on the team: programmers, animators, everyone! Make sure everyone is on the same page because in the end, you're all making the same product. Casual conversations and praising good work also helps build relationships between people on the team, so when you get the chance, go out and have a drink with other people on the team, even the publishers. Be cool and be yourself. Cuz if you establish a good relationship with them, they'll be happy to work with you on another project in the future.

The last lecture we hit was "How Art Was Used to Create a Unique Experience in Heavy Rain", lead by Christophe Brusseaux, the Art Director/Graphic Manager at Quantic Dream. Here are the notes:

Art Direction
  • built the design team like a movie team
  • used color keys for the environments
  • environmental storytelling (key element!)
  • moodboard and placeholders
    • like a greybox but with props and materials
  • Character Design Process
    • Process chain: actor casting --> fashion design and moodboard --> final art validation
  • Character Creation
    • casting --> photo shoot --> resurface --> brought into Maya --> fix effects --> rigging --> animation
    • 20,000 polys
      • 10,000 for head
      • 10,000 for body
    • face and body animations separate from each other to achieve dynamic and spontaneous motion

The Rain
  • different rain moodboards
    • explored different types of rain and sky
  • diffusion of light
  • rain effects aren't only composed of layers or particles (you need many layers to achieve the right effect)
    • 2D layers and sprites --> atmospheric effects --> materials and spec adjustment --> secondary effects
    • had animated UVs and normals (on props)

In Conclusion...
  • the game had High Quality data
    • rain is tricky animate in real time
    • challenges avoiding the Uncanny Valley
  • communication is crucial; talk to your team! (as noted from the Art Director talk!!)

At the end of the Heavy Rain talk, we met up with a guy we saw before the lecture (at that time we were all trying to figure out where this Heavy Rain talk was). The guy ended up being an artist at Blizzard, Chaz Head! (You never know who you meet at GDC.) So we got to have a sketchbook review with the guy at the end of the lecture, which was extremely helpful. I even went back into my sketchbook and wrote down all the notes on every page he critiqued. Overall, the advice he gave me was:
  • Your characters need strong silhouettes. Artists tend to achieve this by putting weight on the top or bottom of a character. Enhance proportions and gestures. Make your characters recognizable!
  • Vary your shapes. Make your overall design interesting.
    • On this note: repetition is key. When you have interesting motifs spread well throughout your character you know you have a good design.
  • Break up character poses into (at least) 3 planes: foreground, middle ground, and background. This prevents confusion in reading the pose. For a back plane, just block in a form. You don't need to geek out on the detail for something that's heading towards the back of a composition.
  • Bring the eye back to the main focus of the character (for instance, if your character has a tail, draw the tail curving back towards the body. Control the direction of your viewer's eye.)
  • If you're constructing a concept art portfolio, you should make separate portfolios for character and environment art. The two are different fields!

At the end of the day, I hung out with more Ringling peeps, Ben, and Dawn (from the alumni party) at Japantown! WOO! But more importantly, that ends the epic GDC experience. In conclusion, GDC was amazing. Definitely the best experience I've ever had. And if I have the $$$, I will no doubt go again next year.

I end this writeup with the self-proclaimed mascot of my adventure: Jidi, the GDCat. He came from the epic adventure to Japantown on Saturday. :D

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