So You Want To Be An Art Director!

Every now and again I’ll have an artist I’m working with come to me and tell me that they’re sick of being productive members of the team and would rather spend their days in meetings.They want to “advance their careers” and become art directors.

At this, I usually cry and beg them not to throw their lives away. If they’re insistent, I let them in on some of my trade secrets, which I’m going to share with you now, you lucky dog. This is my simple guide to all the skills you’ll need to be a successful art director. If you follow these steps, you’ll be sitting in 3 hour scheduling meetings and wondering if you can kill yourself with a whiteboard eraser, just like me!

1: Dress the Part.

If you’re going to be an art director, you need to look the part. Even if people don’t know what an art director does, they have an idea of what one looks like. By point of contrast, there are two extreme ends of the “director” roles on games:

Perfect “The Move”.

If you’re going to be an art director, you have to know The Move. The Move is employed whenever you’re asked to review a piece of art. There are no variations to the move, regardless of how off-target or amazing the art is. In fact, if the art being reviewed is incredible, hold the move for an extra 5 seconds. You don’t want your artists getting overconfident. The Move is guaranteed to earn the respect and fear of your artists. Or at least buy you some time while you try to think of some useful feedback.

Learn the Lingo. (Or Better Yet, Make It Up.)

The best feedback is nonsensical. Don’t tell an artist that their work is “good” or “too blue” or “needs the albido map adjusted to the proper saturation levels”. That’s too easy. And it’s too easy for them to trace the blame back to you if you’re wrong. “He told me to make it less blue” lays the blame at your feet. “He told me to make it more tapioca-y” is open to interpretation. Below are a few examples to get you started. Don’t stick with any word for too long, though. I recommend using the first noun that pops into your head and turning it into adjective. 

Be Batman

This is the Power Move. The best art direction employs stealth. Here’s how:

  • Approach  your artist quietly. Never let them see you coming (your Art Director wardrobe is essential here).
  • Lean in and give them something vague and essentially un-doable.
  • Get out before they can ask any questions.

And that’s it! If you follow these simple steps, you’ll be on your way to a successful career in Art Direction. Admiration and respect will be yours! (By other art directors, I mean. Not by the actual artists).

Geoff Coates14 Comments