Sunday, 29 March 2009

Give yourself a pat on the back!

Huzzarh!!! Not to sound too enthusiastic about my first year finishing but what a whirlwind adventure it’s been.

I came here wanting to be a character artist and I’m ending my first year contemplating a life in 3D modelling. I came here all fresh-faced and na├»ve and now I’m an individual that can look after myself.

I’ve really enjoyed my first year as a Game Art student and its turned out to be better than I expected. Yes, okay, 12 weeks without labs or 3D tutoring was a huge disappointment but the projects we have been given and to see how much I have already improved has made up for that.

The biggest surprise for me was the visual design. I was expecting something far more digital but I am enjoying the tasks we have been set far more. I think the biggest highlight has been the life-drawing. Any excuse to get covered head-to-toe in charcoal (I will certainly miss my war stripes!)

But more seriously I think the traditional art side of this course has for exceeded my expectations. It has helped me develop my skills and understand how to improve and flourish as an artist.

Rumours of a more digital-art orientation has saddened me. Sure a few Photoshop tutorials will help but I have learnt far more whilst left to my own devices. I think the traditional side of things is far more important as it can be applied to just about anything. I think lectures on the technical side of games would help as I still don’t have a clue what game engines do exactly and I cant even name half of the key game developers out there.

The film lectures, although unexpected, have actually been really helpful. They have widened my artistic knowledge and increased my repertoire of genres and styles. The blog writing keeps me literacy skills in ship-shape too. A discussion after the film would prove effective as it will help me reflect what we have gained from watching the film.

My only major complaint would be about the class sizes. It’s been worse than being in school. There is so many of us that I feel we rarely get feedback or just even time to get to know the tutors and other students.

I would also love the chance to critique games. In a similar style to the film sessions, I would jump at the chance to test out a game and then discuss its strengths and flaws as it will improve our knowledge of overall gameplay.

Looking back I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first year, I’ve grown as an artist and as a person and cant wait to get my teeth stuck into the second year.

To make you want to watch and films you want to play

To be entirely honest I didn’t know much about the GDC and was kinda looking forward to finding something to write about in a kinda of rabbit-in-headlights way.

But then, there on the homepage written in a fairly big but ordinary font read the name ‘Bob Rafei’.

I had no idea he was an advisory board member of the GDC but anyways, my heart skipped a beat at the mere thought of this blog task.

I was going to write about my idol. Not only is he part of the GDC (brownie points there) but it’s a chance for you all to see where it all started for me and how my idol has got me here. But first some background information. Bob Rafei is somewhat a games industry veteran. With 15 years in the industry he is a well respected Art Director that dabs into concept design and animation. He’s famously worked for Naughty Dog inc. working on successful titles such as ‘Crash Bandicoot’ and more recently ‘Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune‘. As the Art Director he is responsible for the iconic style and animation of ‘Crash’ and his character designs are mesmerising.

But, for me, his most awe-inspiring work is his work on the award-winning ‘Jak and Daxter’ series. (yes finally I get to get this all off my chest).

As I’m sure you are all aware the ‘Jak’ games are my absolute favourite games of all time. Not only do they have fantastic gameplay but they incorporate beautiful environments with colourful characters and witty humour. Bob Rafei’s vision and development on these games was a turning point for me. It wasn’t until my Dad brought home a PS2 with ‘Jak and Daxter’ to play on, that I realised what I wanted to do with my life.

But enough about me, this blog is all about worshipping the god that is Bob Rafei. He graduated with a degree in illustration and within a lot of his concept work he primarily uses marker pens that gives ‘Jak’ his iconic style.

Another thing that I admire about him is his illustrative style. Whilst most people prefer realism, I prefer bold, cartoon-y games. The big expressive eyes and stylised ‘elf’ ears is what set Rafei’s characters in ‘Jak and Daxter’ to stand heads above the rest. Not only that but he fuses metallic shapes with organic lines to create some beautiful vehicles and creature designs that really made the world of ‘Jak’ a thrilling experience to explore.

But sadly with the rumours of a fourth game in the series fading fast I have turned my attention to Rafei’s latest venture.

In 2008 he co-founded Big Red Button Entertainment. The aim of this was to have a mission of creating a base of original characters with the intent of (in Rafei’s words himself)
“to make games you want to watch and films you want to play”

I will definatly be watching this space…

When I grow up i want to be a cucumber???

We’ve all been there. Ask a room of 6 year olds what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll get some pretty standard answers.

“A Cowboy”
“An Astronaut”
“A Cucumber”

No the last one isn’t a joke, a kid really did say that to me.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always chirped that I wanted to be an Artist. Little did I realise that the industry of Artists is actually quite varied and specialised. For example when I went to college I was faced with a choice of fine art, graphic art, art and design, the list went on.

But then for a while I didn’t really want to dedicated myself to a particular area. I do remember a phase where I wanted to be a Zookeeper but seeing as I wouldn’t go anywhere near my guinea pigs’ hutch, I decided to leave that fantasy behind and moved on to ponder a career in science. Unlike some unfortunate people I was never really forced down path in my education. I was an all-rounded student, encouraged to do well in every area but Art was always my true calling.

I have been playing games for as long as I can remember but strangely most of the time I was more interested in the art-work in the instruction booklet than in the actual game itself. It wasn’t until I played ‘Jak and Daxter’ in about 2005 when I realised that I wanted to work within games. I was truly inspired by Bob Rafei’s work and after some helpful research, I discovered that my dream could come true. Game Artists existed and better yet, I could study it at university.

But now I’m here, I have to ponder the next stage in my life, what do I want after university?

Well to aim high, for starters, being an Art Director would be the ultimate achievement of all my hard work. But to be a tad more realistic I’ll have to start lower down.

When I first started I wanted to be a character artist but that’s all changed now. Weeks of drawing landscapes and buildings have made me appreciate environment artists more as I like creating and capturing both a vision and atmosphere in an image. I have yet to find the passion to become a 3D artist. I mean I love texturing and watching Ben Mathis really inspired and awed me, but first I need to click with the actual model building. But I have a feeling that 3D art is a serious possibility for me and I had never even considered that before coming here.

So when I consider what I want out of university, I’m going to approach it the same way I approached school and college, instead of forcing myself down a specific path, I’ll embrace and strive to do my best in every aspect of this course and when I ‘click’ with a certain module or find a hidden passion for modelling, then I will grab the opportunity with both hands and enjoy the ride.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Thinking outside the box or just playing inside it?

In a previous post about creativity, I got very philosophic about defining creativity but after watching a video of Ken Robinson, I have been inspired to tackle the issue from a different angle.

A point made in his speech was that we don’t grow into creativity but we grow out of it and I feel that this is a very justified argument.

As children we are ALL very imaginative, using our minds to create pretend situations that only we can see. Children have the ability to turn a cardboard box into a realm of spells and dragons. We’ve all been there. Everyone can turn around and proudly say that one Christmas they spent longer sat in the box the present came in than playing with the present itself. Surely this ability to dream up scenarios is a defining aspect of creativity. Everyone can or has done it meaning that everyone is creative, it is something we are born with.

It’s just our journey through life that causes some people to lose touch with their creative thinking.

Within the industry creativity is a must. The ability and requirements needed to develop a unique and interesting game requires the creative flair or artists and designers as they have been encouraged to continue grasping onto their creativity throughout their education.

Which brings me onto a comment made to me this week.

What if we weren’t bound by the paths of education? What if we were all allowed to be creative and live life doing what we enjoy?

Well for starters we wouldn’t have much of a life to live as we all slowly descend into anarchy and chaos. Can you really imagine a conference room of dancers heading the Tesco corporation or the Houses of Parliament filled with expressionist painters. Sure it would be nice and everyone would be happy, but sometimes the job needs doing. Why else do people work in jobs they don’t like. It’s so they can earn money to do the things that they do enjoy in life.

But luckily for me I am doing something that I enjoy and I get to be creative as a result of it.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Life Changing or Career Building?

Picture yourself as an Art Director. You’ve been given a major new game title to work on and you’re trawling through hundreds of applicants trying to build you’re perfect team.
You pause.
Do you judge them by their art or their qualifications? Is a degree in Game Art more desirable than a portfolio?

Well for my sake I hope they consider both.

University is a stepping stone, a bridge between our compulsory education and a hard working life. The majority of people go to university for it’s career prospects. After all, we are constantly promised and tempted with the prospects of a good life and a well paid job if we sit tight and behave through school, if we pour thousands of pounds into the governments pockets to achieve a degree that no longer carries the pride and recognition they once did.

From a sociological view, education and university aren’t just about focusing on a career. They help us build key life skills such s interaction and communication. Going to university is the branch beyond the nest, a chance to ruffle our feathers, puff out our chests before leaping into the world beyond. Outside lecture hours we learn how to look after ourselves, how to cook and clean and manage finances, how to balance a social life with a working one.
No longer do we clutch our laundry staring daunted at the strange contraption in front of us, wondering how our mothers’ manage it. No longer do we open the cupboards and fridge and find them magically restocked by our loving fathers.

Now I’m an odd case. I came to university because I enjoy having an education. I enjoy learning new things and expanding my knowledge. So what if I never use the Pythagoras theorem, given the choice I would probably have wanted to learn it anyways. But in saying all that, I was a lucky one. Never in my compulsory education have I been forced down a path I didn’t want to go down. I was encouraged to do well in all my subjects and when I decided to pursue an artistic career I was supported by both teachers and parents.

So came round the end of my college years and I was faced with the choice of staying home or venturing off to university. It had never been an option for me not to go to university, both my parents went and I’d been brought up listening to their tales. I wanted to go to university because it would be the next stage of my life. I wanted the lifestyle and individuality, I wanted the knowledge and skills, but most of all I wanted a specified career.

I’ve always been under the assumption that going to university would get me further in life, I had the grades and the attitude and I wanted to push myself further.

So here I am.