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I want to work as a designer of videogame characters and backgrounds, but I don't know if there is such a job, or what it is called (illustration, graphic design, concept design?).

I am about to go to college, but I don't know what I need to learn or study to do this job. Is there a specific major or subject that is going to help me in this?

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Have you spoken to the college guidance office? –  Scott Jul 26 '13 at 3:08
    
To distill all the (correct) answers a little: what you are asking about is more illustration than graphic design. GD as a term is more of container than a technical specialty. Any work-for-hire art can be placed in the GD bin. When you learn Illustration, you will learn about business technical requirements, as well as how and what to submit, and how to deal with clients--defend your work and capitulate to ideas which are not your own. "Visual Communications" mentioned below is more a management track, where you need the skills but will be pointing and telling rather than doing. –  horatio Jul 26 '13 at 14:11

4 Answers 4

Short answer: Yes, there is such a job (2D Concept Artist/ Illustrator, although the title varies), and the only thing you need to get into it is probably a good portfolio of illustrations. A degree in Arts or Design helps too.

Long answer: Ask yourself why exactly you want to be a video game designer. What is it about it, compared to other areas, that you particularly enjoy?

Graphic Design is a very broad field. From the group of people that work as designers, some have a degree in design, others have a degree in something else (like development, or any other area) and a few just don't have one at all.

Game development/design is a small(ish) field, although apps make it easier for almost anyone to create a game and put it up in a store. But until you can work as a game designer (and nothing else but a game designer) you will have to work as a lot of other related things. And I think this is why you need to figure out what you like about this particular field.

Do you like drawing? Do you enjoy learning about illustration? If so, then the best thing you can do to get started is... practice practice practice. Get a tablet (a small one should do) and start creating things, get together a portfolio to showcase your work. An art degree would be better in this case (but think of what you would like, what would motivate you).

Do you like design? Do you find typography, web, print and so, interesting? If so, you might really enjoy a degree in Graphic Design. In both cases, the best part will not only be the techniques you will learn, but the people with similar interests you will meet.

It's important to know what the industry wants, but it's more important to know what you want. I think Uni is great, it just changes your vision of the world, if you can study, DO IT. But keep in mind that a degree doesn't necessarily get you a job. Ideas, projects and initiative open more doors. Find a developer friend, or a group of people with ideas and energy, and create a game together. You don't need to wait until you have graduated, the best thing you can do (IMO) is start right now. That way, when you have graduated, you can say: This is what I like, and this is what I've done.

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I would ultimately aim for a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in “Visual Communications” (also known as “Graphic Design”).

That's what instantly got me some nice positions as a designer in the gaming industry as I started out and (from some friends still working in the gaming industry) I know that a BA-VC will give you a perfect base. Although, you'll also need talent… yet I assume that's not something to worry about in your case.

Generally, a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communications provides a broad base for anything “graphic” and “design”… and later you can decide if you want to work self-employed as a well educated, artistic 2D-ninja, or if you want to go “the path of the art director” and end up being a creative director of a worldwide operating advertising agency. A Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communications can even lift you towards LA's filming industry as a digital artist in special-effects, or towards publishing houses like EA games or Ubisoft/BlueByte as a game designer.

In the end, your success will depend on two things: education and motivation. The better the education in visual communication, the more choice you'll have when you start working. A Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communications will perfectly take care of your “creative” education part. The motivation is up to you… ;)

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Designing video game characters seems to be a whole college major of its own now. Designing backgrounds could be broken into by going to school for illustration, graphic design, etc, but still more on the lines of illustration/digital illustration.

Many of these specialized fields can be entered through different digital art / media backgrounds. Unless you wind up really lucking out with the school you go to, and you can't really know this sort of thing for sure until you dive in, you're going to have to learn a lot of things on your own, and from friends or colleagues in related fields if you plan on doing much outside of print design when majoring in graphic design. Some schools might focus more than others on digital platforms, but a lot of that overlaps web design, and development majors, so schools tend to filter out most things outside of print and brand development from their graphic design programs. Side affect of new platforms in which graphic design can be applied I guess.

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In the (3D) gaming industry, here are some common task-title pairings.

  • Concept work, illustrations, designing the look - Concept Artist
  • Textures, images, illustrations that get mapped to 3D objects or used as sprites in 2D games - Texture Artist
  • 3D environments/characters - 3D Artist
  • Designing the levels and gameplay - Level Designer
  • Telling the story, overall gameplay - Producer

Many game development companies like to find people who can wear multiple hats. Often 3D Artist can be inclusive of Texture Artist, and if strong at illustration, Texture Artist can be inclusive of Concept Artist. Most 3D character artists do their own textures (they are usually senior guys), but often a pool of environment artists will share a few texture artists to maintain a consistent look across the game.

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