Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Website review and Q & A w/ another games industry hopeful

From: Delano Taylor
Sent: Saturday, August 09, 2008 7:16 AM
To: Ian Christy
Subject: RE: portfolio critique

I was wondering if you could give my portfolio a critique if you have some time. I could really use some direction as to what I could be doing wrong or focusing on. What I should concentrate on showing, what my strengths are and what companies look for in a portfolio. I would also like to know what is the difference between what a graphic designer does and a graphic artist does in the gaming industry. I continue to get mixed information. I have attached my resume and it has my portfolio link. One more thing, could you also look at my résumé and give me some helpful hints. Since I don't have any direct gaming experience other than beta testing, could you help me make it look a bit more appealing until I get some experience.

My website is  
Please be brutally honest because that is the only way I will learn and get better.


From: Ian Christy
Sent: Monday, August 11, 2008 2:49 PM
To: 'Delano Taylor'
Subject: RE: portfolio critique

Hi Delano,

I'm going to roll through the site and offer feedback by link and tab, and remember to take what notes I jot with a grain of salt, because it's totally subjective. That said, before we get started I'm going to include a link to a couple sites I think do a really good job of being clean, fast, and efficient.

Brit comedian Alice Low: Although would be good if her front page loaded faster, or didn't refresh every time you back up to it, also needs fly out text to tell you what each area is, on the whole, love how succinct each sub section is, basically, how each area is blogger simple, clean, no ads or tiles, just navigation menu, content, and when needed descriptions.

Speaking of Blogger, this is fine, although white on black is a bit grim, perhaps pick something lighter like or subdued color like . Any rate, what's good about these is they're fast to update, you can keep an on-going account of what you've learned or are exploring, and you can have one that is your professional one, as in static, while another is more casual and gets frequent updates.

I also really, really like Flickr for this, as it's awesome for networking with other artist types, without dealing with the networking BS of sites like facebook or myspace. Flickr is clean, friendly, and simple. Plus, you can uploads batches of content all at once and organize it into whatever sets you want, awesome. Mine for example or another great one

Or, if you want to really push your abilities, make a simple front page that affords people the option for the LITE or HEAVY site. Lite then could link to a blog that's straight up text and images, while heavy would launch a stand along flash player that could have a  far more elaborate presentation like this one with all the artistic flourish you might want to do. It's heavy handed, but good is you intend to promote yourself as a someone able to build and maintain interactive menus and such, like front end and marketing artists tend too.

On to your site...
Main page feels like a gamer's page, which might sound good until you realize most gamer's pages are fans, not developers. To point, fan pages tend to look like Gamespot, while people that make the content in the games at most will look like Gamasutra, though most tend to go even simpler. This might be a product of having limited time or patience for maintaining complex websites, I dunno. True for me, at least. I have this for professional, and I almost never get around to updating it because it's a hassle dealing with Dreamweaver while flicker and blogger are SO much faster and easier. Also, did you do the drawing on the main page? If yes, you should be posting tons more of your illustrations up here. If not, it's not appropriate to have someone else's illustrations up on your portfolio page, especially without proper credits for whom drew the image.

Your navigation is clear and easy to find, but sitting on top wastes screen real-estate, consider side loading it like Blogger does by default. Most people are moving to flat monitors that have a higher resolution and widescreen composition, so OK to make use of the sides for menus and support links. Also, you're reloading your menus between pages, which is fine if they are different, but if they are the same, as they appear to be, break your page into frames and bind the navigation components into one of the framed areas.

Also, to be REALLY nitpicky, the text in the navigation box is all in caps, except for the word "Home". Consistency is a good thing, go all caps or not, unless everything is mix and match like a ransom note. Also, the TAYLORMADE text looks great in BLUE so why not use the same color for the rest of the menu text bits, since that color looks great on the warm gray you've chosen otherwise.

The drawing is awesome, and appears to promise more art to come. I felt disappointed when I didn't find loads of art right away, but more on that later.

Background tiles are gaudy, and sorry if that seems harsh, let me explain: nothing wrong with trying to spice up your page, however that tile means there's just one more element that has to load into cache to be rendered, and as game making is all about economy, unless your art is interactive, resist the temptation to throw in cheap bells and whistle flourishes, as they unfortunately just look scrapbook-ish. Same for the metallic frames.

Top blue bar is a nice graphic, did you make it? If yes, consider turning the blue into your default background color and slicing the reflective swirls up into your menu objects. If it's a "found" or "liberated" graphic, dump it, everything on your page should be by your hand, and yours alone as much as possible, because prospective employers will assume you did everything short of coding the pages, at least, they'll expect all non-host artwork (on Flickr of course the Flickr logos weren't by you) is by you.

First thing is while I like your bio, I think it should live on a page called "Bio" or "About" or some such. Strikes me as weird as well that the text content is a larger font size than the menu, and in bold, which makes the menu header text seem diminutive by contrast. One way to help, make the header menu text blue as mentioned before. Then tone down the body text to not be bold, or so big that it seems to be screaming at the reader rather than maintaining a casually conversational tone.

Next thing is that I think you could get away with having the content you'd like to show visible on this same page instead of a bunch of subordinate pages. Especially when there isn't a lot of work to see on each page. If this page is your portfolio, it would include many of the elements currently clogging up your head menu bar. Portfolio is an all encompassing term, basically.

What I would suggest for your header toolbar:
Home. About the Artist. Portfolio. Contact.
Under Portfolio you could take subdivide a little, perhaps have a list in a frame that shows a box of thumbnails to the relevant work for each. I'll try to find a site example to show you in a bit. Would be something like this.

Title of page:
Portfolio. This would be in blue possibly. Eventually this will depend on what ends up being most legible and apt for your revised UI, per the encouragements and challenges to follow.

With a navigation list something like below:
Illustration. Here you should have sketches, inked work, paintings, live model drawings; anything to demonstrate your competence with foundational art skills. And only you can decide how far to take this aspect, though I can safely tell you that at 38 I've barely gone through the door of realizing my potential as an illustrator, and I've been getting paid for my craft for a while now. Just have to challenge yourself, be compelled to keep learning, and eternally strive to never go stagnant or complacent. Some fun links: and and

Photographic Manipulation. photo edits, except these aren't really photo edits exactly. This is what photo manipulation is: while fixing photos is called photo restoration, which long ago is a gig I had to first learn how to use and paint with photoshop, similar to this: check out their gallery to see what I mean, as each is example there is EXACTLY the sort of exercise you should be challenging yourself with to learn the tools.

Graphic Design. The cd / dvd box stuff, text FX, flyers, what you have now under photoshop designs. You have a good start here, however you've one scratched the tip of the iceberg, and it's a big and robust iceberg indeed. Start here for a good sampling of what's what in the current world of print graphic design. Don't stop there though, he's just a heavyweight for book jacket design. is one of my staple blogs check ins, that and Boing Boing. Inspiration a go-go, and still, there are a thousand more great sites besides. Or at least three. Basically, dig into the foundational skills, then you'll find your style and voice and then you can begin to apply that voice to your UI or graphic design or posters or what have you. More and and

Interface Design // UI // HUD // Front End (FE). What you have is a start with King of the Streets. Unfortunately, with the exception of a handful of flash applet and DS games, UI and FE and HUD for consoles have gotten far more elaborate and require a clever mix of design skills. On one end of the spectrum, there is legibility, which you have, keeping things iconic and clear while appreciating preexisting contexts players of a genre of games likely already know, like health bars of collectible coins. Other end of the spectrum, making the UI come to life and feel fresh and new and be as eye candy as possible. EA commits MASSIVE resources to this with each face lift they afford their staple franchises, and that'd be a good place to start researching. Look at the commonalities, the differences, and frame your own perceptions of what does, what doesn't, and would could possibly work better than does. I liked Burnout: Paradise City for example, although I've heard their recent hockey titles have been great for UI. DS games do a great job since they have too, not as much screen real estate or rendering power on hand held machines. Rockstar has a good look for their stuff, kudos to cats like Brian Wood for that.

That's about all I have for ya. You have a good start, hopefully I've helped shed some light on where you can push forward to develop and hone your skills into the titan I'm sure you can someday be!


PS -
By the way, respect to you for putting yourself out there for review. That takes a lot of balls. And while I tend to be pretty direct and brutal with reviews, I intend to try to help you step up as much as possible, and I wouldn't have bothered if I didn't see telltale signs that you have potential.
Keep after this and if I left you reeling a bit, remember that I'm not trying to tear you down or dis you, nothing personal at all. I'm just hoping to encourage you to step you game up, simple as that.

From: Delano Taylor 
Sent: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 10:31 AM
To: Ian Christy
Subject: RE: portfolio critique

Well I really appreciate the honesty, being that I am not working in any type of graphic industry or doing anything remotely related to my field of study, I have only been able to create things that might appeal to me. I think I asked you at GDC about what companies look for in graphic design portfolio. What I learned in school was that I should have letter heads and business cards, general graphic design stuff, but I know that is different for gaming. I am willing to take any criticism and do what ever it takes so that I can pursue my dream and get my foot in the door anyway that I can. Since I am unable to relocate without a job now I am trying to really use this time to perfect my portfolio. I do however have a question for you, I recently found a gaming company here in Memphis that is just starting out. I have sent my resume and my portfolio to the CEO. I have informed him that I am looking for a graphic design position and he recently gave me a task to create a character sketch, but I told him that I am not an artist. Could you tell me the difference in graphic design versus graphic artist when it pertains to the gaming industry? The CEO puts them in the same category. Thanks again.

From: Ian Christy
Sent: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 1:03 PM
To: Delano Taylor
Subject: RE: portfolio critique

The CEO is right, sort of. For games, graphic art and graphic illustration are synonymous.
Games have several veins for artists:
Concept artist - fine artists responsible for painting textures, character designs, background plates, and general concept art all around - these are essentially fine artists like drawing and painting sorts of people
Graphic artist - logos, HUD, front end, interface, up to and including programs like flash, photoshop, premier, after effects, and 3D applications like Maya and Max - these cats are digital and have backgrounds with web design, film / tv post production, etc. \Some of our guys come from TV, for example, and used to do interface and special FX compositing for shows like Stargate and BSG, while others come from advertising, doing ads and commercials for companies like Pepsi or Microsoft. Make stuff for in game as well as materials for marketing and sales, which is where box art, doctored screen captures, letter heads and identity kits come into it.
  • 3D artist - world builder - architecture backgrounds abound here, these cats build the environments, as well as texture and otherwise empower the environments to work painting in things like collisions, surface properties, atmospheric FX, etc
  • 3D artist - props
  • 3D artist - SFX - special FX like hits, squibs, explosions, etc.
  • 3D artist - character modeler - animation and modeling backgrounds, these cats build characters for the games
  • 3D animator - may or may not build or tweak the models, may or may not rig the models, but for sure will animate them, whether for in-game functional animations or for cut scenes or non-interactive sequences.
  • 3D lighting - the cats that bring drama and vibrancy and atmosphere to the environments and characters
I appreciate that you have a full time gig, however would you be able to take some classes for art, design, and web work? That would be a great asset for you, I think. Even better if you start getting confident with programs like AfterEffects and Premier, and even more again with Maya.
And I knew your drawing was familiar, right GDC! Noice, sorry I didn't recognize you sooner, right on. met a lot of cats on that trip, please forgive me.

From: Delano Taylor
Sent: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 11:21 AM
To: Ian Christy
Subject: RE: portfolio critique

Oh that's no problem, I know its hard to remember everyone that you talked to, I just appreciate the help. With my work schedule I cannot take classes but I am looking into I got a lot of useful info at this year GDC that I didn't know or was prepared for the first time I went. I had previously been going to E3 to try and network and get direction since GDC was always around midterm time. I will say it is hard to stay in contact with people in the industry and I do tend to get discouraged not hearing back from people for 5 months or longer. I want to be persistent but not to the point of being annoying. I would have to say I am leaning more to a user interface type of graphic designer/artist. I really think that my portfolio shows some of those things;user interface, box art, and doctored screen shots, but maybe just not flashy enough I guess. So are you saying that graphic artist should also know how to model and render with 3d software? I guess what I was hoping for was more detailed direction as to what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong. Maybe it isn't that simple though. I know I have the passion, creativity, imagination and drive for this industry, but I guess I just have to get my talent to match all those qualities.

From: Ian Christy
Sent: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 3:06 PM
To: Delano Taylor
Subject: RE: portfolio critique

A graphic artist is a hybrid of a lot of things, and able to scratch together mixed mediums to create something appealing, functional, legible, and economic. One I like a lot is the variety here:|0
You aren't doing anything wrong, you just need to do a lot more, if that makes sense. Instead of borrowing images, construct your own. Instead of accepting the fonts or typefaces in a program, scratch build your own. Instead of copying someone else-s layout, unless you're deliberately trying to parody it, devise your own. One of the key mottos of graphic design, AKA visual design, is "Fuck it up!" which means take all you know and reinvent it, or top it and come up with something better, by any and all means available, possible, or otherwise manageable. There is no hard and fast solution except whatever works to best serve to communicate for, or on the behalf of, the product you're supporting.
And beware of the baggage using "found" content brings with it. As long as you're aware of and ok with that baggage, ok. But just using something because it was convenient is never good enough, and will often undermine the intentions of what you're trying to accomplish.
BTW, skim // browse // traipse through ample loads of art books and magazines on occasion, stuff unrelated to games, because typically last year's art, film, and design vibes are next year's game interface flavors.
And don't get hung up on tools. Learn a diversity of them, yes, because tools is what they are. The more ways you know how to build a bird house, the more sorts of experimentation you can do getting crazy with the birdhouse action. However, tools are a means to an end. A well stocked cupboard of inspiration and historical precedent is far more key towards conceptualizing creative content.

From: Delano Taylor
Sent: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 4:05 PM
To: Ian Christy
Subject: RE: portfolio critique

Thanks, is really refreshing to hear. I have been on so many forums graphic design and game development only to hear that my work isnt good, which doesnt bother me at all, but if that is all they are saying and not offering any words of wisdom or tips on what i should do to improve, i tend to take it as just personal opinion. I have been told by someone in the graphic design industry that I am a techinal designer. I know how to push buttons to make things happen and add effects and things like that to art, but i dont have anything that shows my talent or personal style. I am constantly online looking for tutorials and I have plenty of books on software. Its just frustrating when you are trying to learn on your own and there is noone around you that can offer assistance. I sincerely hope that I am able to get my foot in the door, I have to know if this is really that path for me. I honestly cant think of anything else I want to do but be a part of creating games. Thanks again.

From: Ian Christy []
Sent: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 6:10 PM
To: Delano Taylor
Subject: RE: portfolio critique

No problem, and best luck, definitely keep after it! I have been through that frustration, and took a long time before I figured enough stuff out to get a foot in the door. Art school helped, but most of the photoshop and related stuff I learned on my own doing independent studies. helped that I set goals for myself and plugged away at it until I figured out some half-assed way to get mostly there, and that in turn began opening doors to getting others to share tips and tricks. There is no better recipe than to mess around, experiment, burn down the kitchen a few times so to speak, and then suddenly you get it, and when you do, people will see that and help you all the more. Crazy, huh?

From: Delano Taylor 
Sent: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 7:49 AM

Thanks I will definitely keep trying. I feel that I am getting closer to realizing my dream and I just need to stay determined and focused to achieve them. I do have some other questions to ask. I was also told at GDC that you should use your best strength to focus on when trying to get a foot in the door, so is it better to know a little about alot of software or just be really good at one particular program or talent. Also when considering a candidate for a position that is out of town, does a company usually do a phone interview or fly/bus/train them in for a face to face interview? And do they usually help with relocation, meaing helping to find decent housing or even offer relocationg bonuses?

From: Ian Christy
Sent: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 10:20 AM

You should develop your best talents, for sure, though you should also explore your general abilities, you might be surprised to find you're good at more than one thing. having a basic familiarity with the breadth of tools used in the trade is a good thing, gives you a sense of what other people would be doing if nothing else, which is also good to have. Collaboration with other people also helps with this, like cats in the independent game developers group, or modders, communities like that.

Second questions, phone interviews first, then if you're what they're looking for they'll fly you in, or sometimes come see you in person if they're on a recruiting drive, less common but happens. If they make an offer, you negotiate for the rest of that stuff, like salary, possible hiring bonus, relocation amount. Their HR may also be able to help with finding accommodations, or temporary ones until you locate permanent ones. The leg work though for finding a crib it typically up to you, as finding something suitable is so subjective. health insurance packages are also a key thing to find out about.
That said, generally entry level into games, unless you're entering games laterally from a related industry like film or television, will not relocate hires, as wouldn't be cost effective. Entry level positions have a high competition rate for the positions, and it's thus up to applicants to avail themselves for the positions. An illusion propagated by a lot of the so called professional schools is that finishing their expensive one or two year programs will have studios clambering to pay heaps of money and relocate kids all around the globe is unfortunate, inaccurate, and bloody unlikely. Why import unproven talent when there is invariable hungry, cheap, and willing talent right here at home? With the exception maybe being Edmonton, because it's very, very cold and miserable to live there, ha ha. I'm kidding, Bioware is very selective about the talent they make offers to as well. Edmonton is still very cold, though, that part is true. Gotta like wearing animal pelts on your head to live in an ice bound burg like that.
Hey, I'm going to post this Q & A on my blog, will that be OK with you? Think some of this advice might be helpful for other cats out in the intra-web. I can disguise your name and website if you'd like, or you can have the free publicity.

Last time I posted advice, Gamasutra picked up coverage of it:
Crazy, huh?