The role of an Art Director is critical to the look and feel of video games and takes more than just managerial skills. An Art Director should combine vision, experience, and people skills, as well as artistic talent. Peter Freer is an Art Director at PikPok and shared some of his thoughts on his role, and the changes it has undergone as PikPok has grown and matured from console development roots.
What does an Art Director do?
The Art Director’s role is to formulate an overall vision for the visual design of a game, and to help guide the project artists toward achieving this vision.
How much of your job is oversight, and how much is working on projects yourself?
It all depends on the project, every game has its own needs and often there can be unexpected changes along the way. All our Lead Artists are super-talented, and are pretty self-sufficient and don’t require so much oversight (I see it more as collaboration). At the moment things are a bit more hands on, and I have to roll up my sleeves and help out in a more practical fashion. Usually it’s about half and half time split between working with the lead and concept artists, and the other half, actually producing pre-vis animations and UI or style concepts myself.
How has this changed over time as this studio as PikPok has evolved?
When working on console games, the time to really, deeply consider and plan the look of a game was available – I would more readily write up visual design documents, and we would have the resources to create specific graphical technology. Also, there was more of a division between the practical work I do and the final in-game execution. Having more artists on a single project meant more of my time was spent overseeing people and reviewing work.
Moving towards mobile games, timelines are tighter and team sizes smaller, often with many games in production at once. This means juggling more styles and directions at once and either dipping my toes in here and there, or jumping right into the thick of the action. More of my final art gets into the games these days (for good and bad), and I get to stretch my art muscles a little.
Do you find it difficult to avoid ending up with a homogenous art style across titles with so many in development at one time?
Hmm, that’s a tough question. It depends on if a homogenous art style is considered a good or bad thing – consistency versus variety?
With so many things, deadlines can alter the strategy for developing an art direction - less time available on a project may mean we have to find an art style which is efficient to develop and produce, and that looks good and works with our current graphic technology. Given more time we may explore different visual options and ways to technically implement them.
We try to push for new, interesting styles at every opportunity. It’s important to keep on your toes, stay relevant and keep thinking fresh while offering new challenges for our artists. Doing one thing for too long can be creatively draining. Also, trying new directions allows us to grow our graphics tech, and with each new title we have pushed to get new tools that will facilitate future projects.
In your role, what is the biggest challenge you have to face in the move from console titles to mobile gamers?
Speed of development – it’s a rocket ride on every title. The challenge of packing so much iteration into the visual design in the time available. Jumping between projects can be tricky, trying to get into the mindset required quickly to solve visual problems unique to that project.
Which PikPok title have you personally had the most creative input on, and in what way to your feelings about it vary from other PikPok games?
Extinction Squad came from a game idea of mine originally titled Suicide Defence Force. It was considered a bit... “edgy”, so we re-themed it and added the good-intentioned, yet bumbling, Chuck Darwin character.
My feelings weren’t any different from other titles that I’ve recently worked on, everyone involved invests so much into every title and it’s always a team effort.
If anything I got rather attached to Chuck Darwin – he’s such a neat character and I really hope we can explore more of his personality and adventures in the future.
Is the artistic process ever challenged by commercial objectives?
It is always challenged. Each project is an design problem to solve, and working through a design process (game art is more of a design process than an artistic process for the most) requires willingness to recognise and use the constraints of a project to positively produce a quality solution.
Having limitations is generally a good thing, and sets up boundaries for us to innovate within. Good design thrives on constraint.