Last time I wrote about hiring an artist, I was extremely optimistic and content with my situation. Nearly 6 weeks later, I’m working with different contractors and have learned a ton of hard lessons.
The illustrator I was working with was an awesome guy. I still hope to find a way to work with him one day. Unfortunately, there was a major problem. I couldn’t find a way to make characters feel natural with his “painterly” design style. Have a look at this image:
The idea of silhouettes is often seen in this style of art, so that is was the inspiration for character direction. And while not horrible, it definitely doesn’t feel right. To take things a step further, the more details you add, the more this art style starts to feel off.
A second problem, which I didn’t realize then, but I recognize as a problem now, is time zone differences. I think time zone issues can be overcome, but beware that anything over 5 hours is a challenge.
Quick sidebar about my thoughts on time zones. If you have an artist that you are brainstorming with, try and find someone +/- 3 hours from you so that your work days overlap. Concepts, trials, and debates all require discussion and quick iteration. In my experience, communicating that solely through email is tough. Now, for other roles that have specific deliverables, I’ve found timezone to not be an issue at all. As I’ll discuss later, I’m working with an animator from Israel. Given the assets and a specific description of work, a dedicated and disciplined contractor can work out perfectly regardless of timezone.
If changing illustrators wasn’t enough, I also had to change animators. Before entering a contract with me, the animator I was working with got offered a job he could not refuse. He is a great and ambitious worker, and I would happily work with him in the future.
At this point, I was feeling pretty bummed. To top it off, criticism of my judgement was hard to swallow. That said, it was a necessary eye opener and learning experience.
My Brother to the Rescue
Chris had a fresh start looking for artists. A different perspective. Luckily, he came across Scott Pellico. Not only is Scott an eager and talented illustrator, he was willing to take both of us on as clients for a price that we could afford. A quick trial run with Scott produced the art above, and I couldn’t have been happier. Honestly, I tripped my way into this, so there is no lesson to teach. I got a lucky break, and it gave me the needed encouragement to start my search for an animator over again.
Frustration with Animation
With a style in place, it became time to find a new animator. Also remember that I had already spent 3 weeks on art related tasks, which meant I was not programming. I was frustrated, and this turned out the be a discouraging and expensive process. I went in with the following criteria:
- Available to work between now and January.
- Excited about a project of my scope.
- Talented enough to complete a project of my scope.
Also, I originally asked for only 4 frames to keep this budget friendly. I now believe 8 is a minimum for this style of art. See the 4 frame animation as a reference. With that in mind, I hunted portfolios and Twitter accounts endlessly to try to find a handful of animators to run paid trials with. As the paid trials began, I was anxious to see the results.
So, here I am with 4 animations. One referral from an industry contact, two Twitter referrals, and one found from Google. If I’m being honest, I didn’t love any of them. I recall liking the first one the most as it achieved the isometric perspective, but that artist was not able to take on a project of my scope. The work done by the third artist felt close, and with a couple of tweaks it could get where it needs to be. Top top it off, the guy was super friendly and excited about the work.
At this point, I made a poor decision. Instead of trying to fix what I didn’t like about the third animation, I had the animator draw a brand new character to see if he could match the art style. I was happy with the new character, so I entered into a large contract with the animator.
So at this point I’ve got an animator and an illustrator under contract. Two huge events happen that made me want to give up on game development.
- I discovered that my idea of a unique tower defense game just doesn’t work when the real art is applied. I wrote about specifics earlier. While I did learn quite a bit about game programming in the 4 months leading up to that, I still had to throw away over 50% of the code, and nearly 40 hours of paid artist work.
- I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the animator. After the long search, the thought of breaking a contract with a really nice guy and trying to find another animator really bothered me.
After a week of soul-searching, I put together a plan to fix things. I realized that this may be my only shot at making a game, so everything had to feel right. First, I took about a month to prototype a new game that would work with my existing illustrations. Because that process took so long, the animator would have been sitting around waiting for me, and not able to fulfill the existing contract. In addition to that, I did not love the animations. For those reasons, I decided to break the contract with the animator. While I feel like he was treated fairly in a business sense, I personally feel bad for dragging him along throughout the process.
Frustrated with art, I programmed for a while. I actually had planned on programming for months, and just working with the illustrator. I wanted to collect my thoughts, and revisit animations around the new year. After about a 3 week break from thinking about art, I stumbled across a Liron Peer, a 2d animator. While most of her work is not game art, her animations and story telling were great. Also, I could tell from her profile text that she had a ton of contracting experience. I figured I would do one last paid trial with her. Why not.
I was impressed. Especially with the isometric aspects. I also learned from my mistakes with the previous contract, and went on to do an extended trial. After seeing the extended work, I entered into a full contract.
Summary and Lessons
So here I am. Happy with my game, illustrator, and animator. It cost approximately $3,500 to get to this point. I made some expensive mistakes. Hopefully, those of you reading this can learn a bit from what I did wrong. These are my takes:
- Working with contractors can be a long, winding road. I’m sure that everything will be easier once I establish relationships that can be used again on future projects. Coming in with no contacts can be rough, so prepare for a bumpy ride.
- Try not to be too eager, and to remain objective. A nice person, the right price, or a “good enough” animation are all tempting when you’re stressed to find a solution. If you feel like you’re settling, you probably are.
- Some animators are great, but not at your style. Look for work they have done in your style.
- After a small trial run (1 sprite walking), do a slightly larger trial run (walk and attack in every direction for that sprite). Don’t just jump into a contract for your entire game. This is more important for animators than illustrators.
- Figure out as much as you can about your game before working with artists. Easier said than done because art can sometimes dictate what’s possible.
- On that note, prepare to spend less time programming when you’re establishing and working with artists. Makes it even more important to be ahead of them, and have work ready for them.
- Try not to lead people on. I eagerly jumped into work with an animator and illustrator. One under contract, and one about to enter contract. I’m no longer working with either. And while I don’t think I did anything shady or sleazy, I still feel bad because they’re good people.
- Get public feedback on your trial runs. I became emotionally attached to everything at first sight, so the bias shows through.
- Figure out how many frames your animations need to be. From what I’ve seen, 4 frames is not enough.
- I’ve found it easier to have the illustrator draw everything, and the animator just animate. Trying to get two artists to match styles has been a time sink in my limited experience.