Friday, March 11, 2011

A guide for Freelancers (From the Clients point of view)

I will be writing some guides for the interested parties about our industry.  I receive lots of emails and questions at cons so I will try to say as much as I've learned here.  My first guide

A guide for Freelancers (From the Clients point of view)

I have noticed a lot of smaller companies are emerging and that means a lot more freelance work available for people like me.  I also know that a few people follow this blog that are thinking of starting out a company or have already.  Hopefully this guide can help shed some light on what you, as the client, can ask for along with important misnomers, word usage, and feedback guidelines freelancers and concept artists look for. 

These terms are all for Generalists and not Specialists.  Generalists have a solid foundation across the board regarding designing characters, environments, color and light, and general know how.  Specialists have more prominent foundations and sometimes excel at one defining type like a character Artist or genre specific artist (medieval, sci fi etc).  Be careful whom you choose as they may be above excellent in one area but suffer because of neglect in another.  Both directions are pertinent but when choosing your freelancer, this is good to know.

Some Definitions:

Concept Artist:  A beginning stage in pre-production.  Concept Artists (which I call Designers because that's what we really do is design)  are the most affordable and quick way to help realize a game, elevator pitch, or general idea you might have.  They develop the look and feel, establish designs for character, environments, and props.  Character turnarounds, call-outs, and color keys should be available to you by the concept artist.  Other words people relate to this are Visual Development artists.  More often than not from what I have seen, visual development artists are in the Movie/TV type and Concept Artists tend to fall into Games and Live Action.  This is in no way a "Hard rule."  Concept artists generally use pixel based art programs like Photoshop/Painter.  This will be important later down the road as a small developer.

Illustrator:  This is the person you want to make the box art and any pieces to "wow" a potential moneybag or "investor".  They make high quality finished 2D art pieces for book covers, cards, kids books, manuals, and posters.  Many concept artists are illustrators but not enough clients in this growing field are differentiating these classic groups.  Bigger images take longer time and are more intense.  More money is usually spent on these images.  Illustrators can be concept artists but I've noticed a trend of illustrators making a ton of concept art that makes no sense, no real design work, etc.  Some illustrators will not help you in your visual development from start of an idea to ready to build in game.

Game Artist:  These are 2D or 3D game artists that are production ready.  Mostly specialists in a given genre (Pixel artists, 3D artist, flash, UI designer etc)  Not a "hard rule" but I rarely see a pixel artist working in 3D o a flash animator messing ina  pixel based game.  These people know the limitations of a program, an engine, or design.  Some of the other types of artists get that but these people are used to working with constraints.  They take the vis dev art and concept artist renders and make them final assets for in game.  If you are making a flash based game make sure you look for game artists that make art you like in the means you make it.  Just asking someone to make the art they make in a completely different format does not bode well for either of you. 

Here's a good time to explain the difference: 
Pixel art is a form of digital art, created through the use of raster graphics software, where images are edited on the pixel level.
Vector graphics is the use of geometrical primitives such as points, lines, curves, and shapes or polygon(s), which are all based on mathematical equations, to represent images in computer graphics.
Vector art can be scaled with no loss while pixel art looses fidelity when manipulated.  There are always ways around this but this is just a general rule.  FYI CSI Miami you're wrong, you can't enhance a pixelated image, doesn't work and it's stupid.

Feedback:  clients tend to fall into 2 different categories.  Directors and "Wristers".  A general rule of thumb is determine who your director or feedback person is going to be.  Don't bounce around with your freelancer.  Keep it to one person to build a rapport and "language" between them.
Directors are the right way to work with freelancers.  They direct the game, pitch, idea.  They find what the strengths are of the artist and use them to the highest ability they can muster.  "The head is too big, smaller hands, punching up the contrast or adding a shadow are all within the boundaries."  They orchestrate on many different levels between disciplines.  Try to remember that even though you are paying for it, abuse is unwarranted and you will end up with art that could be better if the artist felt comfortable.  Just type the words "great, can we just add this this and this?  Looking great but this could change."  It's not a lot but I guarantee you that the artist is willing to work harder and longer for someone that didn't beat them over the head with negativity.

"Wristers"  I don't think I made up this word, I apologize to whoever told me and receives no credit but I like it.  These are clients that want you to do exactly what they want how they want it.  They don't want the artists brain or ideas, just their wrist.  Paint this like this because I can't.  Make my game like angry birds so I can sell it.  I can't pay him so you do it like them. Wristers are tiring to the freelancer and can demotivate.  If you hired them, why take away the one thing that made them desirable in the first place (the individual)?  Do not confuse this with positive feedback to make something better (Like I really like the way Cheeks does his shapes, can we push it further? or I really like bunnies, can we add a bunny?)

Prices vary and remember you get what you pay for.  I use hourly rates as well as sliding scales dependent on amount of work and length.  Every job is a snowflake so don't expect a hard answer when all you ask a freelancer is how much to make stuff for me?  Is it a complex game?  Iphone?  MMO? all these can effect the price.  Hourly should not.  Hourly is Agile as well.  Games change but if you signed a contract for Sci Fi gerbils with ninja swords and then ask them to change over to Project Gollum racing you may have issues.  With hourly you can cut losses quickly and stay in budget.  Generally speaking a breakdown can go like this.  A certain price will get you this for an image:
Thumbnail and one major revision- get approval
tightened pencils/inks and one major revision- get approval
color comp and one major revision- get approval
finished color and one major revision- finished

Design for character environment:
Thumbnails and explorations- get approval or back to start until ready
Tightened pencils or ink- get approval

color comp- get approval
finished color- finished

You want structure so there is no backtracking.  If each stage is approved with a major edit everyone should be on the same page and happy.  You don't have to get to stage 4 and then say hold up.  Wasteful on both ends.

Hopefully this helps.  I will be posting a section for the freelancers point of view in the coming days.  By all means this is not a definitive statement or a done deal.  Just observations in the industry.  Comments and civilized discussions are always welcome over email or comment section.
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