Sam Coates on Game Art

3 01 2007

“People are becoming more specialized at art; people are becoming very very good at doing one particular thing,” says Coates, although he doesn’t necessary promote specialization as a way to move forward in the industry. “It’s becoming more of a machine, more of compartmentalized process.” What Coates recommends is learning a good deal about all of these compartmentalized areas to understand who works in them, how they work, whom they answer to, and what their priorities are.

Experience, too, plays a vital role for game developers bent on putting their creative foot forward. “If you want to be a creative person, if you want to work in ideas, spend some time doing something else. Spend some time outside of your field and push yourself to do more—although it may be along pay-back period,” Coates says.

As for what happens to creative people who learn a bit about the world elsewhere before diving into game creation or other people who have an intangible talent, Coates recognizes that these people require competitive salaries. “Talent demands a premium, really. We compete really hard to get good people in our jobs. The kind of people we’re looking for are people with passion, people who want to take new risks and explore and try new things with us.”

When hiring concept artists, for example, Coates says he wants “…to see a piece of art that puts me in a position I wasn’t in before I saw [it].”

Other qualities Sony looks for in its new hires are people who put high quality into their own work and people with experience working effectively in teams. “Put yourself on as many group projects as you can,” Coates advises. “Get yourself some experience now while you can. I can’t suggest more strongly to get out there and work with other people.” He adds that whatever teamwork experiences you can put on your resume, you should, not shying away from collaborative work that you might feel is imperfect. “The experience that comes from team work is the most valuable.”

Coates says he becomes distrustful of people who don’t show group projects on their demo reel or portfolio. If a team project isn’t up to snuff, Coates says to not make it one of the first pieces shown, but to show it later and point out what did work and didn’t work in the interview.

“It’s not that I don’t value specialists, but [what’s important about team work is] seeing the connections and understanding what other people are trying to do without getting bogged down by your specialty,” Coates says.

As for other tips, Coates recommends the portfolio be extremely clean and organized. Range, or showing more than one unique or developed skill, is also helpful. “Don’t show anything bad. Put some extra time into everything you show,” Coates says. If a candidate has one outstanding image on his or her reel, Coates suggests replicating that image on the paper resume to trigger the hiring person’s memory about the unique skills or style of the candidate.

As for software skills, Coates maintains that human skills, like the ability to communicate well, work in a team, and manage time, are more important than computer training. Software training, he says, “is not a big issue in a big studio.” Coates adds, “Learning how to make games is more difficult than learning how to use software.”

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