Types of Artists in the game industry
Kamal Aittah

Types of Artists in the game industry

Hi, Dee here!

Last time we talked about the importance of concept art, this episode I’m going to talk about the Types of artists in the game industry to complement the previous episode Types of programmers in the game industry and hopefully complete the entire image of the industry.

As you already may know, the game industry has a lot of specialization when it comes to, well, everything. This is why it is considered one of the hardest industries to work in. But fear not, we’re going to list down all the major roles to give you a wider look that may help you in your journey.


Concept Artists

In my last episode, we talked thoroughly about The Importance of concept art. In short, a concept artist is responsible to build the visual identity and unify the art style used throughout the game. They usually start sketching different concepts of various elements in the game with a lot of different styles. They further polish the best-nominated sketches into concept sheets and splash arts. They are involved in making promotional materials and directly influence the looks and theme of the game. Concept Art, however, has many more specialized roles such as character artist, environment artist, item artist, etc. They all usually follow the same framework.


3D Artists

3D artists are obviously responsible for creating all the 3D assets you see in the game. All the great visuals and beautiful sceneries are done by those heroes. However, 3D artists aren’t only 1 type; There are at least 5 sub-categories of a 3D artist and we’ll discuss them in short.

  1. 3D Modelers
    This artist takes concept sheets produced by concept artists and uses programs such as Maya, 3Ds MAX, or Blender to turn those 2D images into a 3D model. Much like concept artists, 3D Modelers can either specialize in environment models or character models, however, it’s a great feat to be good at both. 3D Modelers, however, don’t only turn something into 3D. They have to make their models look as good as possible with the least amount of performance needed. This makes things a little complicated as Modelers often Model on the highest quality usually one that cannot be used in games, then start scaling this quality down until they meet the right target. This also often means that some trickery must be done with textures to make a model look and feels like the highest quality version when it’s actually a downscaled version that can be integrated into games.
    There are a lot of other challenges as well, for example, producing models for cross platforms games and providing reusable assets. Overall, it’s a really interesting field with lots to learn.

  2. 3D Riggers
    In order to animate a 3D model, you have to rig it. Rigging is the process of developing a bone-like system that controls different parts of the model and is used by an animator to produce different animations. Rigging is a very specialized field and is very needed in the industry. Of course, the easiest model to rig is a humanoid model since it’s been done to death. But other models require complicated rigging techniques like mythical creatures, monsters, deformed creatures, etc. Becoming a good Rigger needs lots of practice and can be only achieved by experience.

  3. 3D Animators
    Finally, the model is ready for animation after the rigging process. Animators do all sorts of animations from humanoid to fantastical animations. Traditional animations still exist for smaller games, mobile games, cartoony games. But recently, animation using Motion capture has dominated the scene when it comes to producing realistic-looking games. Animation is a very big subject so the best thing is to try and tackle it step by step, don’t aim for realism, in the beginning, start with simple animations and move on from there. Use Mixamo to download pre-modeled and rigged characters to test your animations on.



Technical artists

These are the rarest artist in the industry. Technical artists are the bridge between the art team and the development team. They usually integrate art with the systems of the game and test for performance, behavior, quality, and much more. The reason they are rare is because they need to have skill in both fields (programming and art) and they need to be masters of whatever engine they are asked to work with. It’s a hard job and the best way to become a technical artist, in my opinion, is to make a solo game where you do both the art and the programming from A-Z without using any helping tools (other than the engine itself). This will enable you to dive into both worlds enough to become a technical artist and develop yourself from there.



VFX artists

These artists, as the name suggests, produce all the VFX in the game. It can be very simple VFX like a coin grab in Mario which probably any digital artist can do, or very complicated VFX like waterfalls or lava floors. VFX artists usually are not bound to the game industry, they also work in the animation industry and the movie industry since all of these media forms often require VFX. Becoming a VFX artist is hard and it isn’t about talent as much as it is about practice. But pursuing this specialization will enable you to find work in three of the top industries worldwide which means high paid jobs and fulfilling careers. So, In the end, it’s really worth it.



Level Designers

Although they usually don’t produce art assets, level designers are still considered game artist since they use all the art assets done by the 3D Modelers / 2D digital artists and put them together in a coherent environment that looks beautiful, convey the theme and aesthetics of the place, and most importantly, cost as little performance as possible. They often use software that produces 3D terrains from heightmaps and engine tools (or custom tools) to build these levels and organize assets inside of them. Recently, procedural generation is being used extensively in level design so that it can give designers a head start before they go in and fix any areas that is glitching or looks bad.



Light Artists

Lighting is one, if not the most important asset in any game be it a 3D or a 2D. Without proper lighting, even the best-looking art assets can look pale and awful. But with good lighting, even bad-looking art assets can look mildly better. This is why a light artist is very needed in the game industry as well as the movie and animation industries. And they are paid pretty high salaries compared to other artists and that gives you an idea of how important this role is. There is no easy way to be a good light artist. You just need to produce a lot of lighting projects of scenes both for movies and games with different engines and different tools until it ticks with you. Mastering one engine/tool to provide lighting is a great feat. Mastering multiple tools is only done by the very best. But don’t feel overwhelmed, even a mid-level light artist will find a job fairly easier than most other artists. The only advice I can give you is to read books on that matter as you really need to understand the basics of lighting theoretically before applying it if you’re aiming to be one of the greats.



And that's it for today's episode. I hope it was informative and fun :) Don't forget to subscribe to our email list and I'll see you next time.