Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 21, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 21, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Skills Needed to Become a Game Artist
by Brice Morrison on 07/15/13 05:20:00 am   Expert Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Photo Credit: ronnieb

This article is cross-posted from The Game Prodigy, a site for students and parents interested in careers in games. Visit for resources and a free 29-page Complete Toolkit.

Great game artists are supremely talented. Whether they are doing the artwork for the latest first person shooter, the world in an MMO or a simple iPhone app, they are they ones who make the stunning visuals that players see when they look at a game title. But how do they do it? What are the skills that artists use in order to do their jobs? And as my students in our career advising sessions often ask, what does their day look like?

Like engineers obviously needing to know how to code, artists of course need to be able to create art. They should be able to work in the medium that they have specialized in, be it Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop or Autodesk Maya, and use it to create stunning visuals. While it's important to specialize as a concept artist, modeler or animator, and then further specialize into user-interface, characters, or environments, within their specialty an artist should be able to draw everything. If you are an environment modeler then you should be able to create enchanted forests, barren deserts, futuristic space scenes, ancient ruins, and entirely new worlds that haven't been thought of yet. This goes for all the other specialties as well - you should have enough variety and hours under your belt that anything someone else can describe, you can bring it to life visually.

The next skill is around working as a team: game artists need to be able to match a particular style from a style guide. Every game has a particular look that goes along with it. A game like Assassin's Creed is going to look very dark and gritty, while a title like Words with Friends is much brighter and simpler. These differences are often set by the Art Director for a game, who creates a style guide to help the rest of the art team know what's allowed and what isn't. Are the shapes blocky or round? Are colors warm or cold? How about lines or shading? Characters and silhouettes? The game has a certain look and feel it's going for, so a game artist has to be able to internalize this and use it in their art for the game.

The next important skills is being able to take direction and feedback. Often when working with designers there is a lot of discussion around what the game could look like. They might discuss the evil villain of the game and have some general guidelines, such as how he should have a cape and look scary. This is direction that they are giving so that the artist has some ideas of what the game needs. The artist may then take this direction and do a few sketches or concept art and then take it back to the design team for feedback. They may love it, hate it, or ask for some changes, and a good game artist needs to be able to understand the feedback and work it into piece. The final product should be something that is exactly what the designers and the game needs. Some artists get defensive when they are given feedback or they aren't able to really listen to their teammates to understand what they are asking for. Being able to listen well is an important skill.

Being able to produce stunning artwork that fits the game, fitting in a specific style, and working with teammates are the keys to being a successful game artist. This is the source of the excitement and challenges of game artists every day. Without these skills it will be difficult to get into a studio, but with them it becomes a choice of where you want to go.

Best of luck!

This article is cross-posted from The Game Prodigy, a site for students and parents interested in careers in games. Visit for resources and a free 29-page Complete Toolkit. 

Related Jobs

Zynga — Chicago, Illinois, United States

Senior Software Engineer (Front End)
Petroglyph Games
Petroglyph Games — Las Vegas, Nevada, United States

Illustrator / Concept Artist
Harmonix Music Systems
Harmonix Music Systems — Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Software Engineer - Animation
DoubleDown Interactive
DoubleDown Interactive — Seattle, Washington, United States

Game Designer


Abdullah Kadamani
profile image
Sooooo basically, practice makes perfect and learn to listen. Got it.

Christie Shinn
profile image
I have no issue getting feedback, but some places are terrible at giving it. I will ask them specifics and they will give it to me, then say it's great, only to much later on state that it wasn't what they are looking for. However, if you get someone that can accurately say what they want that's a bonus. I understand that it's an artist's job to do the creating - but it's like a relationship, not one person can run it all.

Alex Covic
profile image
"Soft skills" are nice to have, I guess.

To me - who tried and failed early in life, to become a "real" artist - "game art" is hard work, not necessarily in combination with "talent" or "genius".

Knowing to use the digital tools, playing nice with others - nothing particularly attached to 'game artist'?

It is nice to start by being "talented", as in "better than everyone else you know". Then comes the hard part: improve, learn additional skills. Learn techniques. Learn as many trades and crafts as you can in the 'real' world. Learn about pigments, materials, colors and theory, incl. physics and chemistry.

Learn to paint with oil! Learn how to make your own colors! Understand how to mix colors to match what you wanted it to look like. Paint with watercolors, etc, learn to sculpt, carve real, physical things. Learn to draw technical drawings, learn to draw cartography (maps) and learn calligraphy. Learn industrial design.

Learn Anatomy! The first year in med-school is very much what an artist needs to know about physiology and anatomy. On top, YOU need to know the anatomy of animals and the physiology of plants!

Copy a Van Gogh or a Vermeer - first with oil, than with Adobe or any other digital tool.

Learn about history. World history. Art history. Learn about sociology, fashion, political systems (how clothes are a sign of ones social standing in public, how old cities, have a way of evolving, how physical things are build not to "look" a certain way, but have a practical root to their form and shape, etc).

Copy every painting, drawing, doodle you can find by Frank Frazetta.

(Freehand! Don't trace!) His original work is the root, the source, the never-ending fountain, from which all 'Game Artists' sip. I see it in everyone's work, every day. Even, if they don't know him, they copy him.

And ... if you mastered ALL THAT - to a certain degree and depth - you can start diving into the world of "digital art" and "game art"?

Of course, my recommendation, is only for the serious kind. I failed myself, twenty plus years ago.

Julie Larson
profile image
sounds like a great curriculum - where do I sign up for this school!

Brice Morrison
profile image
@Abdullah and Solmaz, thanks for the feedback, Alex has a great list started with some more detailed techniques. A site I would add to his list is - going there and studying the pieces of work and see if you can reproduce them, which will help to learn different styles.

Being able to imagine a complete world is a great project to do as well. Make up a fantasy kingdom or a sci fi realm, and then do a collection of artwork around that. Make characters, environments, gadgets, items, and more. This is great practice for your skills and also good practice for a portfolio.