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Figuring Out the Recruiting Game for Gaming

Darlene Chan talks with four gaming recruiters and learns which artists and skill sets have the easiest time crossing over from more traditional forms of animation production to gaming.

The basic rule of labeling all your materials with contact info is often forgotten on reels and resumes, says Patrick Kenney of Electronic Arts.

Thinking of moving from traditional or CG animation into gaming animation? Think the skills you use everyday can apply easily to games? Is there a difference in terms of talent, skills and mindset between TV/film animation and gaming? We posed these questions to four top gaming recruitment professionals. Here is their very in-depth and thoughtful advice on how to put together resumes and reels and what skills gaming companies are looking for.

Patrick Kenney, Senior Staffing Manager of Artist Recruiting for Electronic Arts

Robin Chenoweth McShaffry, Founding Director of, Inc. is a leading entertainment software recruiting firm. Robin, the firm's self-described "art tools geek," attends SIGGRAPH every year. Her background includes graphic design, art and creative services at Origin/Electronic Arts and live professional theatre.

Game companies look for artists and animators who are very well rounded in their skill sets. A games animator must have a firm grasp on many, if not all, of the facets of the discipline, including modeling, texturing, lighting, effects and character animation. Many of the resumes I have seen seem to indicate that the traditional animation industry is much more compartmentalized. For example, a candidate from one of the Hollywood CG houses might have three to five years' experience in animation, but has only worked in lighting and effects and has never done characters, faces, motion-capture or backgrounds. An art director from the same CG house might have been responsible for a very narrowly defined department, rather than a large, unwieldy, cross-disciplinary team.

The most highly qualified animators have spent a lot of personal time ensuring that their reels show a wide range of skills, and that they also have traditional art skills as well drawing, sculpting, painting, whatever.

The presentation of a reel can take many forms. More and more game companies want artists to show their work on a Website. Others accept a Website as the first step but will also want to see a high-resolution demo on CD-ROM. Traditional animators are showing movie-quality work, and the resolution and speed of the Web is often insufficient to show really fine detail. To demonstrate this level of quality you may be asked to present your reel on VHS tape. Tapes are advantageous because they do not require a particular operating system or installed software to run just a VCR.

In terms of content, it's substance over style. The strongest reels show a variety of genres and styles, illustrating well-rounded talents. Animations should show unique moves on organic life forms; spaceships flying through space, flying logos, or a 360-degree rotation of a model are not animations. If the candidate's strengths are in modeling, he/she should show unique models (textured and lighted if possible). Strong texture artists should present a variety of textures and their uses. An environment artist will want to have a great fly-through of environments. Portraying different art styles is paramount. Candidates should show as much professional work as they can, but they should only select the best work, and never show anything they have to make excuses for. They should save 2D art and stills for the end of the reel, but show the strongest work there as well, including life drawings or pencil sketches. The reel must emphasize that the candidate can do whatever the job needs.

There are a lot of resources on the Web to help candidates put a game industry reel together. Many game companies also have very detailed descriptions of, or advice about, what they would like to see in a candidate's demo. Checking out those sites is a good way to keep current with what the audience, the game companies, are seeking.

Since so much TV/film work is collaborative, it is imperative that candidates include a shot list with complete credits with every reel. There is nothing more frustrating to a hiring manager than to discover later on that the art in a really exciting demo reel was not created solely by the candidate in question.

I can't stress enough how important it is to have a demonstrated well-rounded skill set. Only the largest game studios break up the job of animation into the same kind of steps and different jobs as many CG studios. Many great game animation jobs exist at smaller studios, but that animator has got to be able to do a lot more kinds of work.

I have not placed anyone out of TV/film into games as yet and I do not see very many resumes or reels from folks who have worked only in TV/film or other traditional animation. I am not sure, but it seems like art directors and more senior folks would transfer over easiest, because they have had more time to put together a body of work.

Crossing over from TV/film to games will one day be effortless for animators, feels Digital Artists Management's Suren Sagadevan. Photo credit: Joe O'Flaherty.

Suren Sagadevan, Recruiter, Digital Artist Management

After graduating from UC Santa Barbara, Suren Sagadevan entered the recruiting world with one of the Big Five accounting firms and focused on entry level recruiting. He merged his love for games with his profession when he became a recruiter in the videogame industry with Digital Artist Management three years ago. Suren has found it extremely enjoyable to work with such creative, and more importantly, passionate individuals in that field.

Generally speaking, there is no doubt that people from television and film are qualified to work in the games industry. However, a few concerns arise in this scenario due to the nature of each industry and because of the limitations of gaming hardware. Although the resolution of in-game artwork is quickly approaching that of film, it will still require about one or two more generations of hardware development to more fairly compare the two fields.

I wouldnt say TV/film animators are necessarily missing particular skills, but more importantly, they are working under fewer technical restrictions. However, the majority of games companies use Max, with Maya as a close second. In film, Lightwave and Maya are usually the preferred art software packages, so this difference can be a minor drawback (or a major one depending on the company).

What I like to see on an artists resume, portfolio and reel reflects what our clients, the game developers, like to see. They obviously want to see your best work, and material that is most relevant to videogames. If you were applying for an in-game artist position, theyd like to see low-poly, in-game artwork. If you are applying for a high-resolution, cinematic/cut-scene artist position, then theyd like to see relevant high-poly, cinematic or film quality material.

Sometimes a TV/film reel will work for the games industry, and sometimes it wont. This depends on the individual company, and again, on the position applied for. If the position is for a cinematic/cut-scene artist, then there is a strong chance the reel will be useful. However, if the position is for an in-game artist, then it becomes tougher and tougher, depending on what the particular company, or art director, likes to see. For example, Id advise someone applying for an in-game animator position to include short run/walk cycles, and/or other body movements (i.e., falling, fighting, etc.), where they did all the work, rather than a complete movie clip where a multitude of people had contributed to it.

There are a few simple guidelines to creating a demo reel, but surprisingly enough, they are often overlooked. First of all, keep your reel short and sweet. Two minutes is ideal, and anything over 3 minutes is pushing it. Second, put your best work FIRST, and proceed in reverse chronological order. Employers do NOT want to see a tape beginning with stick figures from grade school and ending 15 minutes later with your most recent masterpiece.

We actually have a number of studios that are requesting animators from TV/film. Games are getting closer and closer to paralleling the quality of TV/film with the introduction of each new gaming platform. Since the capabilities of each console keep growing, it creates a more comparable environment to that of film, i.e., fewer limitations in the production environment. Of anyone transferring from TV/film to games, we have more success placing 3D animators. Eventually though, videogames will be on a level playing field with TV/film, and crossing over from one industry to the other will become seamless.

Darlene Chan is managing editor of Animation World Magazine. After receiving a bachelor's degree from UCLA, Darlene happened into the motion picture business and stayed for 14 years. She served as a production executive for Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Davis Entertainment and Motown. She produced Grumpy Old Men (1993) for Warner Bros. In 2001, she joined Animation World Magazine.