Lead Character Artist

  • Lead Character Artist

The lead character artist works under the supervision of the creative director and art director to lead the team of character artists in the creation of art assets and maintains the established aesthetic of the characters through the production process. The lead is both the artistic foreman and the technical master of the department. This person sets the tone for character creation and guides his or her staff in the continued development of their techniques.


Duties

In the pre-production phase of a game’s development, the lead character artist works closely with senior staff to conceptualize the artistic style and themes of the brand, and to define specific characters to populate the virtual world. After approval of initial concept drawings, the character lead assigns tasks to the team of artists; this includes creation of hero characters, bosses, and non-playable, background creatures and humanoids. Through the production process, the lead must monitor the needs of rigging, animation, and design to ensure an efficient delivery of art that meets technical specifications. He or she will communicate with tools and engine programmers to develop or improve upon existing pipeline systems and proprietary art software.

As a manager of staff, the lead character artist is tasked with typical administrative duties such as establishing the department’s production timeline in consultation with the project manager and producer. Other common responsibilities will include interviewing and hiring new employees, appraising performance, and solving production or staff problems as they arise. An intangible core concern of this manager must also be to be an advocate for artistic integrity and the efforts of his or her subordinates. The lead in any department should seek to promote a healthy work-life balance among the team by insisting on attainable milestones that do not compromise quality for efficiency.

Skills & Education

A bachelor’s degree in fine arts, game art, or computer animation—or equivalent professional experience—is required. Coursework should include study of human and animal anatomy. The lead character artist must have superior traditional drawing and painting skills, as well as a proficiency with 3-D art software. Necessary competencies include Photoshop, Maya, ZBrush, or similar tools; generation of normal maps from high-polygon models; and advanced knowledge of complex node-based shader networks, including those used in Unreal Editor 3, Mental Mill, or equivalent application.

What to Expect

Let’s be clear: The lead character artist does more than order a member of the staff to draw a pretty picture of a dragon or Roman warrior; this individual monitors the creation of stable, high-quality art assets to be ported to rigging and animation. Those characters will (hopefully) be duplicated on millions of units and played obsessively for hours by a very discerning and critical consumer. By the time your title ships, the technology you built it on is already obsolete and another studio has figured out an ingenious way to maximize storage capacity and render time to squeeze another 5,000 polys into the hero character. Tough gig. The lead character artist must have at least five years of art experience in a game development studio and understand the concepts of frame budgets, production dependencies, programming, animation, lighting basics, and quality assurance.

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