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Advanced degree for an artist - A road less taken.


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#1 Hamsta   Members   -  Reputation: 947

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 05:39 PM

The goal: Breaking into game development as a concept artist.
What I have right now: A BFA in illustration from Columbus College of Art & Design, as well as a Bachelor of Graphic Design from New Bulgarian University + Tiltan College of Design and Visual Communication in Israel.
I think I have a fairly sizeable network within the game industry from the 8 months I spent in Austin, TX and the 8 I spent in the SF Bay Area.
What I don't have: A work permit to work anywhere outside of Israel, industry experience, financial independence.
The plan: Find a way to get paid for completing a Master's degree in the US or Europe, bringing me closer to the big studios and hopefully closer to the coveted work permit.

Does this plan hold merit, or am I wasting my time thinking about it?
I know artists don't really need an advanced degree, as experience will make for a much better portfolio, but I've been having a hard time breaking in, and I'm not looking into an art degree anyways - someone told me I need to find something less popular too boost my chances.
If I'm on to something, what would some good choices for me, as far as degrees go?
While Computer Science may be an obvious choice, I think it's too far off from what I studied.
What would be useful 2 years down the road that isn't a hard science? Business? Does it even matter, with any degree increasing my chances?
Itamar Reiner: Self Financed Concept Artist http://www.hamsta180.com

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#2 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 10164

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 05:58 PM

1. The goal: Breaking into game development as a concept artist.
2. What I have right now: A BFA ... as well as a Bachelor of Graphic Design ...
3. I think I have a fairly sizeable network within the game industry ...
What I don't have: A work permit to work anywhere outside of Israel, industry experience, financial independence.
The plan: Find a way to get paid for completing a Master's degree ...
Does this plan hold merit,
4. or am I wasting my time thinking about it?
5. I'm not looking into an art degree anyways - someone told me I need to find something less popular too boost my chances.
If I'm on to something, what would some good choices for me, as far as degrees go?
6. What would be useful 2 years down the road that isn't a hard science? Business?
7. Does it even matter, with any degree increasing my chances?

1. Do you have a spectacular portfolio?
2. Those are nice. Do you have a spectacular portfolio?
3. Sure. It's one way of improving your chances of getting that visa.
4. No. Thinking is not a waste of time.
5. What else interests you? I think you should start there. Get a degree in something that interests you.
6. Useful, hmm. Psychology, law, literature, mythology, writing, game design... but I think you should get a degree in something that interests you. You'll find a "usefulness" for it later.
7. Sure.
-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
Making games fun and getting them done.
www.sloperama.com

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#3 L. Spiro   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 14374

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 09:04 PM

I don’t understand the logic behind #3’s “get paid to complete a Master’s”.
The point of school is to get a job.
If someone is paying you, it is because you have a job.
If you have a job, why would you continue school?


The other thing that is fishy is that you are pursuing a Master’s…in art.
The things you can learn about art don’t take 8 years to do so. It’s easy to learn about composition, color balance, etc.
When it comes to actual quality drawing, you either can or can’t, and there is no amount of education or practice that can change that.

Tom Sloper hinted at the fact that what matters most is your portfolio. If you can draw well you will get the job.
You may be surprised at how true that is. Before I was a programmer I was an artist/animator. Things may have changed by now, but 10 years ago at Disney the job application required only to draw a straight line. The interviewer literally said, “Everyone who applies here can draw cartoons. What is really hard is to draw a straight line.”
My educational background had no meaning at all. It was never even asked or mentioned, and this was Disney.


It is extremely worth noting, however, that trying to be just a concept artist might be fairly difficult.
The main barrier is that not many studios have or need one. Concept artists only belong to a select few major studios. If you can’t do “general” art then you are closing a non-trivial amount of doors. This may be why you have had little success so far.

More important than education would be to branch out and learn 3D modeling in Maya or 3D Studio Max.
And general 2D art (not just concept art but final-quality polished in-game art).

I strongly suggest you pursue this path before a Master’s. You need to make yourself more marketable.
  • He does a lot of things, and while not the best in any of those things he does what we need at an acceptable level.
  • He does one thing at an amazing level! He has a Master’s in that thing! But we don’t need that thing…
Guy #1 always gets the job before guy #2.


L. Spiro
It is amazing how often people try to be unique, and yet they are always trying to make others be like them. - L. Spiro 2011
I spent most of my life learning the courage it takes to go out and get what I want. Now that I have it, I am not sure exactly what it is that I want. - L. Spiro 2013
I went to my local Subway once to find some guy yelling at the staff. When someone finally came to take my order and asked, “May I help you?”, I replied, “Yeah, I’ll have one asshole to go.”
L. Spiro Engine: http://lspiroengine.com
L. Spiro Engine Forums: http://lspiroengine.com/forums

#4 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 22783

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Posted 27 October 2012 - 09:11 AM

Why do you want the degree? What is your passion?


If you want the degree because you have a desire for self-actualization, then the choice is pretty clear: Get the degree to follow your passion.

If you want the degree because you want a better job, then make a decision grid. The degree is probably not your passion.



A bachelors degree is the usual hurdle for HR because it means you have been shown to meet a minimum set of standards. Get that degree.

A masters degree may help you on the job, but not because you can call down the powers of certification. It can help because you have gained more theoretical knowledge than your peers and are more likely to use those skills, you may have gained more contacts, and you may bring more to the bargaining table when it comes time to discuss salary. There are many benefits to having the degree, but if that isn't your passion then don't do it -- most people don't. It can help in your lifelong career, but won't help very much in the initial breaking in.

Check out my book, Game Development with Unity, aimed at beginners who want to build fun games fast.

Also check out my personal website at bryanwagstaff.com, where I write about assorted stuff.


#5 Hamsta   Members   -  Reputation: 947

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Posted 27 October 2012 - 12:14 PM

It seems as though my portfolio isn't spectacular enough to have an American studio go through the effort and cost of sponsoring me for a work permit.
While I am constantly working on my skills, I am also looking at other ways to make it easier to get hired.


I want a degree because I need more time. Time to work on my portfolio, time to expand my network and get more people, and maybe finally hit the person that will hire me, time for the economy to possibly improve, and if I successfully complete my degree: a year of Optional Practical Training (OPT) in which I can legally work in the US for 12 months, without the person hiring me having to worry about sponsorship.

If I can get paid to complete my Master's, wouldn't that be better than paying tuition, in every possible way? As an international student I would only be able to work on-campus in any case.
I currently do not have a job. Even if I did, it is likely that I would have to quit once I relocate across the Atlantic.

I am not considering a Master's in Art, L. Spiro nor did I ever claim concept art is the only direction I'm pursuing, it is only the end goal, and the first thing people will notice in my portfolio. Dig a little deeper and you will find I can do pixel art, vectors and 2D and 3D animation.

1.He does a lot of things, and while not the best in any of those things he does what we need at an acceptable level, and he lives near our studio.
2.He does a lot of things, and while not the best in any of those things he does what we need at an acceptable level, but he lives in Israel, and we'll need to pay a couple thousand bucks, fill out form correctly, and wait for results.

Guess who gets the job?

That's why I'm looking into the: we have a lot of decent local artists, decent local programmers, decent local designers and decent local sound engineers to choose from, but we really need a <insert super specific role here>

edit: another caveat I almost forgot about.
The OPT must be done in the field you studied. Can't go legally flipping burgers for McDonald's if you graduate from an architecture program.

Edited by Hamsta, 27 October 2012 - 01:44 PM.

Itamar Reiner: Self Financed Concept Artist http://www.hamsta180.com

#6 DaveTroyer   Members   -  Reputation: 1052

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Posted 29 October 2012 - 02:15 PM

I think I'll throw my hat into this discussion.

In my opinion, the pursuit of any degree should help to make you a more valuable asset to a company but it's something you should do for you, not for a company. A company later may recognize it and be willing to give you a chance or a better salary, but expecting or worse yet asking a company to take a chance on you could result in them remembering you for all the wrong reasons.

Thinking about it, I don't know of any major studios that would really benefit from keeping an artist on pay roll while paying them so they can demand more money or worse yet get offered more money from the competition. When the world had a bit more money to spread around, there was a chance for that, but now a days, most studios run very lean, with some exceptions for the very tip top of the stack.

So what I'm saying is that since you already have some degrees under your belt, do what you can to get into a position where you can get where you want. Most companies now don't pay for any education or at the most have some sort of reimbursement program.

Also, a Masters may be a bit higher of an education than really needed for a company especially if someone with more talent and a lower degree comes in and asks for less money, so they would be very unlikely to pony up a big chunk of change just so you might jump ship once you have that piece of paper? Are they going to hire a janitor because he has a Masters in chemical engineering? Just because the janitor knows how to make their own cleaning supplies, the cost of hiring them greatly out weighs their needs.

If you want to take the route of concept artist, I would suggest going freelance for a bit. Get your name out there, work on as many projects as you can, and work toward a direction you would like to be known for and pursue your advanced education on your own. Work on side projects that show your style. Comics, storyboards, renderings, logos, fan art; whatever you can think of to show off.

The internet is a big place with lots of information on everyone if you dig just a little bit. Just looking at your profile I found this.
Last thing I want to say is maybe they're a bit turned off about how much education you have compared to experience. Taking a look at your resume on your site shows that you have just under 2 years working as an artist in some professional capacity, but you have something like 8-10 years of education? That and with a couple years missing between your military experience and the beginning of education, employers will wonder what you were doing with your life. Then your professional experience during school is very thin, showing either you didn't pursue much of anything, or that you aren't worth having on board. Activities don't count as those would be considered extra. Like how being part of a bowling league doesn't excuse you from work for that day.
That could be a reason why you aren't getting sponsored. Just some things to consider.

I hope I didn't come off as harsh; just wanted to be helpful. Posted Image

Check out my game blog - Dave's Game Blog


#7 Ashaman73   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 8001

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Posted 30 October 2012 - 01:32 AM

Just my two cents.
Concept artists are often only needed in pre-production or early stages, so a freelancer jumping from job to job is much more likely to work up the ladder. Studios which employ concept artists for multiple projects will most likely be big and have the option to choose from only the best and most experienced ones.

Do you have a spectacular portfolio?

This is the key for getting hired by a large studio. This will be more promising than getting an additional degree and keeping the same portfolio.

If you want to be spectacular you need to practise, every day at least one, better two, new concepts. Take the look at existing concept art(guild wars 2) and figure out which level is required to be very good. Once you have reached a good level start posting at forums which are known for recruiter of big studios (ie blizzard and valve are luring around at polycount), post your best and most amazing work only. Try to build up a reputation for an amazing concept artist.

Looking at your portfolio, three words come to mind: quality not quantity. There are some good pieces and some decent, remove all the decent one, nobody is interested how you started your art carree or that you are able to create sub-optimal art, you need to post your most amazing pieces only. If you don't have enough, get back at the tablet and start working.

#8 L. Spiro   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 14374

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Posted 30 October 2012 - 06:40 PM

a year of Optional Practical Training (OPT) in which I can legally work in the US for 12 months, without the person hiring me having to worry about sponsorship.

As an international student I would only be able to work on-campus in any case.

1.He does a lot of things, and while not the best in any of those things he does what we need at an acceptable level, and he lives near our studio.

Well why didn’t you say this from the beginning? Your goal in obtaining a Master’s is just to get close to the studios so that while you are there you can get a job.
Sounds like a plan.


L. Spiro
It is amazing how often people try to be unique, and yet they are always trying to make others be like them. - L. Spiro 2011
I spent most of my life learning the courage it takes to go out and get what I want. Now that I have it, I am not sure exactly what it is that I want. - L. Spiro 2013
I went to my local Subway once to find some guy yelling at the staff. When someone finally came to take my order and asked, “May I help you?”, I replied, “Yeah, I’ll have one asshole to go.”
L. Spiro Engine: http://lspiroengine.com
L. Spiro Engine Forums: http://lspiroengine.com/forums

#9 Hamsta   Members   -  Reputation: 947

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Posted 02 November 2012 - 10:14 AM

...but expecting or worse yet asking a company to take a chance on you could result in them remembering you for all the wrong reasons.

So what I'm saying is that since you already have some degrees under your belt, do what you can to get into a position where you can get where you want. Most companies now don't pay for any education or at the most have some sort of reimbursement program.

If you want to take the route of concept artist, I would suggest going freelance for a bit. Get your name out there, work on as many projects as you can, and work toward a direction you would like to be known for and pursue your advanced education on your own. Work on side projects that show your style. Comics, storyboards, renderings, logos, fan art; whatever you can think of to show off.

The internet is a big place with lots of information on everyone if you dig just a little bit. Just looking at your profile I found this.
Last thing I want to say is maybe they're a bit turned off about how much education you have compared to experience. Taking a look at your resume on your site shows that you have just under 2 years working as an artist in some professional capacity, but you have something like 8-10 years of education? That and with a couple years missing between your military experience and the beginning of education, employers will wonder what you were doing with your life. Then your professional experience during school is very thin, showing either you didn't pursue much of anything, or that you aren't worth having on board. Activities don't count as those would be considered extra. Like how being part of a bowling league doesn't excuse you from work for that day.
That could be a reason why you aren't getting sponsored. Just some things to consider.

I hope I didn't come off as harsh; just wanted to be helpful. Posted Image


Let's start from the top:
I don't expect nor will I ask a company to pay me more because I have a Master's, I'll be studying so that I can get a starting position at a studio, say at IT, and by doing what I was hired to do to the best of my ability, networking and learning, move within the studio to a position I would like better, in much the same way a QA tester may become an environment artist, then a character artist and maybe into a game designer.
I studied for 7 years, which I started as soon as possible after I left the Israel air force. I admit, I was a lazy on the first 4, but working in Israel never appealed to me much, there was also some time I had to wait between my graphic design certificate and the degree I got from Bulgaria, since we didn't have enough student sign up for the program.
Before I left for the US, I worked as a silk screener for 9 months. Hard work, minimum wage, my fingers may never heal.
During the 3 years I spent in Ohio, I could only work on-campus, a maximum of 15 hours a week, and I came close to that the first two, had a summer internship, and returned to school to find they had no room for an IT work study anymore, so I worked less hours at the lab.
I would have loved to work during the OPT, even as customer service or QA testing, but was limited to working at my field of study - visual communication, and nothing ever panned out, even outside the game industry. At least I found opportunities to volunteer.
I'm trying to find a job here in Israel. No luck so far.

Just my two cents.
Concept artists are often only needed in pre-production or early stages, so a freelancer jumping from job to job is much more likely to work up the ladder. Studios which employ concept artists for multiple projects will most likely be big and have the option to choose from only the best and most experienced ones.

Do you have a spectacular portfolio?

This is the key for getting hired by a large studio. This will be more promising than getting an additional degree and keeping the same portfolio.

If you want to be spectacular you need to practise, every day at least one, better two, new concepts. Take the look at existing concept art(guild wars 2) and figure out which level is required to be very good. Once you have reached a good level start posting at forums which are known for recruiter of big studios (ie blizzard and valve are luring around at polycount), post your best and most amazing work only. Try to build up a reputation for an amazing concept artist.

Looking at your portfolio, three words come to mind: quality not quantity. There are some good pieces and some decent, remove all the decent one, nobody is interested how you started your art carree or that you are able to create sub-optimal art, you need to post your most amazing pieces only. If you don't have enough, get back at the tablet and start working.


If you have more specific portfolio advice I'd love to hear it (What do you think my best piece is? what's the worst?)
I'm currently using the advice of people who told me concept artists should show concepts - sketches, iterations, designs - and not just the highly polished end result, which sounds like what you are suggesting.

I currently have a board game design (of my mine) I'm creating art for, and I'm doing daily speed paints, but it feels like it's never as much as I would have liked.
My portfolio is the last thing I update, blog is next, and the fastest updates go on facebook, deviantart and Tumblr, for those searching for more.
I work far better in a professional setting, without the distractions. That's one of the big reasons I'm avoiding freelance work.
Itamar Reiner: Self Financed Concept Artist http://www.hamsta180.com

#10 Wyrek   Members   -  Reputation: 101

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Posted 06 November 2012 - 10:41 PM

If your passion is to be a concept artist, then I would say you need to forget about a Masters degree (unless you intend to teach, which is a good back-up plan) and concentrate on refining your skills.

Your portfolio is okay, but you need to improve your life-drawing skills, your understanding of anatomy, colour theory and painting, as well as environmental design and architecture, and industrial design - if you want to compete with 'entry-level concept artists'. The role of the concept artist is a extremely competitive in the industry, and your portfolio needs to stand head-and-shoulders above your peers. Studios will sponsor you if you're what they want. Save your money and attend the GDC career fairs.

I've never brought in an artist based on what level of degree they have - it all boils down to their portfolio (all of the Art Directors I've spoken to feel the same).

Try to find an atelier school near you - a school that teaches classical drawing and painting skills. A lot of the other skills you can learn through self-study and material available online.

Good luck, it's a hard road, but remember it's a life-long journey. If you're passionate about it, let nothing stop you from reaching your goal!

Edited by Wyrek, 06 November 2012 - 10:45 PM.





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