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Can't find good freelance artists

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I've been working on a project that's been in dire need of some creative help for a bit now and haven't had a lot of luck finding good artists. I'm hoping for some suggestions. I'm an artist myself and have done all of the design work up to this point, but unless I want to spend the next 10 years doing everything myself, I need some help on some art assets that I'm weak at, or don't have time to do.

 

(Please note, I'm not looking for applicants/resumes/portfolios - I'm just seeking management advice here.)

 

My game's style has been dumbed down to about half my skill level - mostly for the sake of speed and a homogenous style that's easy to replicate for other artists (or so i thought). I haven't gone around the internet begging for free work. I have a budget and I'm willing to pay for help.

 

Problem is: I can't find skilled artists. I've put posts up on Deviant Art, put up ads on eLance, and a few postings on pixel-art forums for GUI assets/icons. There are plenty of very talented artists, but I can rarely find anyone with the appropriate skills. I get applicants that have breathtaking amazing landscapes applying for a "i need 50 icons" gig, or realistic comic-book artists applying for a "cartoony character concept" gig. Of course, the  "talented" pool is maybe 10-20% of the artists. A lot just have awful work.

 

The strange thing is, from my time spent as a artist, I always felt like i was surrounded by piles and piles of intimidatingly talented artists. To make things more confusing - it was difficult to find work that paid more than fast-food labor. If the pool of talent is so low, why are most projects offering such crappy wages? Is there just a general business-attitude of disrespect for artists? In the ads I've put up, I've offered generous payment, had lots of applicants, but few have the skills i need. The times I've gone out on a limb and hired someone with "almost what i need" skills, they ended up producing work that was completely incompatible with the project. Looked great, but totally wrong style and not what I asked for and the work had to be scrapped.

 

Am I being too picky? Is it just that all the good artists have in-house salary jobs, so they don't bother with the freelance stuff? Am i mistaken that someone wouldn't be able to do a specific style/genre if the rest of their art is really good, but a clearly different style/genre?

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Yes, a lot (or most) of the good artists are tied up. As a producer, what I usually do is ask other producers. And you can do something of the sort. Go on gameindustrymap and gamedevmap and see who's in the immediate vicinity - you might find artists there, but you can also find game companies of all types. You can call (yes, I mean on the phone) and ask to speak to project managers and art directors, and tell them your situation and see if they have any leads for you. Also, did you check Gamasutra's listings?

Also - after you've had some helpful conversations, you now have an expanded network. Offer to take your new contacts out for coffee. Just to chat (and strengthen your network). Edited by Tom Sloper

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Thanks for the suggestion. gamedevmap has more listed on it near me, most are garage-level companies I think though. I live in Illinois and there's like a grand total of 2 AAA studios in a 300 mile radius around here. We used to have 5-6, but the next-gen phase wiped alot out.

 

I have not tried Gamasutra's listings. I really forgot about them. That's a good resource I had forgotten about.

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1. gamedevmap has more listed on it near me, most are garage-level companies I think though.
2. I live in Illinois


1. Why did you tack on "though" to the end of that thought? Those are the people you should call and ask what they do when they need freelance art help.
2. Okay. There ought to be a lot of freelance artists in Chicago and other big cities. Even some with video game experience.

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Of the garage-indie's I've communicated with, a lot seem to be running a programmer/artist combo so don't have much need for outside help. As well, a handfull on the list seem to develop "bejeweled" style mobile games - a style which is fairly over-represented in the freelance site I've posted on.

 

There are a few that I might get ahold of though.

 

I hadn't thought of it until now, but I've had some contact in the past with some small advertising firms who occasionally do creative side-projects which may be a good source as well. Chicago is more of an advertising hub than an entertainment hub, so there graphic design and advertising companies of all sizes.

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Another possible source for you is local colleges and universities with art departments.  Most people won't cut it, some people will.

 

Depending on your needs it can make sense to invite a moderate size group to do short-term work, even a single day's work, then take the best for employment.

 

For example, if you are doing concept work, contact the schools and find out who might be interested, then personally invite them to a paid activity of creating concept art for a day. Ask the school to put up the information as well, maybe an email to the students about the opportunity, you may find some hidden gems that way. Pay them and provide lunch, have your business lawyer work out the agreement they need to sign. In the case of concept art, let them know you aren't looking for perfect finished art, you are looking for an enormous number of diverse ideas created that one day, for a quick one-day pay.

 

That would be a bit harder with what you described of trying to fit an existing thematic style. You could put that out as a drawing contest at the schools as well, instead of telling them you are looking for diverse ideas that you are looking for people who can generate concepts inside a particular style. 

 

It has a modest up front cost, perhaps a few thousand dollars, but considering the cost of finding new talent anyway this can be useful.  If you know only one in ten will work out anyway, might as well get twenty or thirty people in there all at once and discover the two or three that fit in a single one-day event.

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The idea of contacting advertising companies might work. Try everything you can think of.

Chicago is more of an advertising hub than an entertainment hub


Maybe so, but there are and have been game development (and even publishing) companies there.

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they ended up producing work that was completely incompatible with the project. Looked great, but totally wrong style and not what I asked for and the work had to be scrapped.

How detailed and specific are the work briefs that you gave them? My business partner does game art outsourcing management/direction, and seems to spend quite a bit of time sitting down with clients to get them to explain exactly what it is that they want. He then converts that info into massive art briefs and style guides to give to the contractors. I think briefs for each piece are usually about two pages long, and style gudes for a project will be much longer with a lot of example artwork in there.

Usually he takes on the cost of re-work (if a contractor turns in bad work, he'll still pay them and fix it), but, I've worked at other places in the past where a certain number of rounds feedback and rework were specified in the freelancer's contracts (so of they screw up and don't attempt fix it N times, they don't get paid).

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Hodgman:

 

Of the two i hired for some environment work(some environment/building designs), I'd say i spent a fair amount of time developing the briefs. I had visual graphics displaying the way the buildings would be assembled in-program, pixel "dead zones" that needed some sort of filling due to overlap, some info about tone/saturation tech requirements (due to shaders handling lighting) and some notes about the style. I also had full examples made - stuff that was going to be in the final.

 

They followed the technical notes perfectly, but not the style notes. My style notes were quite thin though. About 2 pages of technical specifics and graphics and maybe 1/4 of a page - just text - about style, and the examples as well.

 

I hadn't considered this issue. Both I had hired were from Ukraine, so i thought maybe they didn't understand the technical/style Jaron well enough, or were simply unable to replicate the style. It could have been that I wasn't specific enough so they just did their own thing.

 

I was paying based on an hourly rate, and the contracts were really short, so there wasn't really room for a half-way check-in. So i got the final products, weren't good, and I didn't want to spend more to fix it. I ended up doing the work myself, but it's only finished enough at the moment for an alpha build.

 

Luckily, not a lot of money was wasted, I'd say it was worth the cost to learn the lesson, but frustrating none-the-less.

 

I'm glad I wasn't a jerk about to them, even though I wanted to be. I gave them good reviews, paid them, and said that I needed to finish a few more steps before doing more work.

Edited by SirWeeble

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Another possible source for you is local colleges and universities with art departments.  Most people won't cut it, some people will.

 

Depending on your needs it can make sense to invite a moderate size group to do short-term work, even a single day's work, then take the best for employment.

 

 

Excellent suggestion. I've got the number of my former school's Job-Services department now :)

 

Suggestion #2 is a nice idea, but not entirely do-able for me as my whole budget is a couple 1000 bucks.

 

 

Thanks to all for the suggestions. Lots of ideas I hadn't considered. I spend the majority of my day in a dimly lit room working on code and art, so "people stuff" is my weakness.

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