Even when I was young I knew I wanted to create work digitally. I played video games from the early 80’s, and the artwork in these games is what initially inspired me.
Around 1987, my father brought an Apple Mac SE home from work and showed me the built in art package called Super Paint. Using a mouse seemed quite natural to me and I started to create artwork. A few years later I got an Amiga. That’s when I really began to create pixel art. I was drawing animated game sprites, backgrounds and designing my own games. Friends of my family knew a game developer and the in-house artist helped me in the early stages of my development, pushing me in the right direction. This mentorship gave me confidence that I was doing the right things and could eventually do this professionally even though I was only 15.
At this point I didn’t see myself doing anything else as a career.
During my first year of 6th form when I was 17, our school required two weeks of work experience. My career counselors tried contacting some local games companies but with no success. I ended up being a teacher’s assistant for basketball. In the first lesson, I explained to the teacher why I was there. He replied, “You should have talked to me because my brother-in-law owns a games company!”
I was in the right place at the right time. He gave me their number, I called them up explaining my position and they asked me to come in for a week. I was excited to show them my work but I had no idea what they would think. I started to show the MD and eventually the whole office was looking through my work and they seemed very impressed. I worked there for a week and then they asked me to stay for another.
During that second week they asked me to keep in touch and they would have a job for me after I left school. They also asked that I return during the school holidays to gain experience. When I returned during the holidays they called me into another meeting – but this time they offered me a job! They asked if I would leave school and start as soon as possible. I couldn’t believe it. I returned to school, arranged everything with the teachers to leave, finished my school work on the Friday before and started the next Monday as a professional artist. I released my first game when I was 18.
When I’ve worked in large companies there is always so much to do from hiring, working with junior artists, design meetings and creating artwork. The days are always different especially if you have more than one project on at the time. I’ve had the most enjoyment when I worked with smaller teams because you feel closer to the project. Many years ago I worked on the first 2 ‘Music’ (MTV Music Generator in the US) projects on PS1 which was amazing. It was something new and we won all kinds of awards and I met some amazing people. Working on really small teams is great too, but you soon learn that no artwork is produced unless you do it!
The most suprising thing about working in video games is that you don`t get to play games all day! But seriously for me the best part of making games is the development. I always thought releasing games would be the best part but its the creation and teamwork is what I find the most rewarding.
If you are starting out, I would suggest to create work as much as you can and try different styles. I try not to be precious about anything I do because if you can’t take criticism you`ve got no chance of improving or working with other artists. I`ll be the first person to say if I`ve done something that doesn`t work.
It can be difficult to find a break in the industry but you can`t give up. The best thing is to be prepared, have a good portfolio and if you can, some kind of demo. There are all sorts of tutorials these days, so make use of them. When I was starting out, you learnt on the job and built your skills from game to game. Sometimes its good to specialize in one area but for me I think you have a better chance of finding work if you can adapt your skills to any project.