Who Needs An Art Bible? Game Art Direction From Indie To AAA

Whether you aim your game to stand out art-wise or want to maintain a consistent art style while scaling or outsourcing, art direction and visual development are the core competencies that are needed.
In this interview, Room 8 Studio Art Director Evgeniy Goncharov talks about judging the recent Indie Cup contest, comments on the three games he liked most and elaborates on how judging helps to deliver out-of-the-ordinary art to the studio’s clients in the context of art direction service, which may be interesting for producers and art directors in game studios, who want to streamline the effectiveness of their internal art direction process and external game art production.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to the contest jury?
I’m an Art Director and Visual Development Team Lead at Room 8 Studio’s Art Division. Last year, I was invited to judge Indie Cup, loved it, and continued in 2019. This contest is the largest one for indie game developers in Eastern Europe and is held twice a year, completely online—and in 2019, I was in charge of the Art nomination.

Is it similar to your daily routine? I mean, comparing judging to art direction.
I mostly lead the team during work hours and control and assess all visual assets they produce. That part is similar to judging the contestants. However, the most important thing that I’m doing as an Art Director is getting inside the client’s mind, aiming to draw a clear picture of what they want the future game to look and feel, and translating that snapshot into an art bible for the team.
I’ve been involved in over 30 games of various genres within the last year, from mobile casual match-threes to AAA shooters. That helps. I have to have the whole spectrum of possible visual solutions to offer the client a visual answer to the game’s needs, whatever the style might be, from hypercasual to photoreal.

Is it easy to tell good art from bad and ensure the proper style is consistent?
Game art is a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces, from UI and UX to animation and VFX. So, here at Room 8 Studio, we try to look at each game as a finished product, the sum of all its parts. Of course, there is some subjectiveness to judging, whether someone personally likes the style or not, but I always try to find the underlying reasons for my decisions. Like, how original the idea is, does it match well the narrative, and so on.
Some games have core aspects of their design that stand out so strongly that they deserve their category—for example, those with solid national flavor. Or textual games, where the narrative is breathtaking, but there’s not much art whatsoever.

And why do you judge indie games? Does it help the art director’s work?
Indie games don’t have the large staff or outrageous budgets of AAA. But with that comes freedom. They don’t focus on what sells; they want to create something unique and pour all their creativity into the game. You don’t find these types of unusual, sometimes bizarre stories and art you don’t find in AAA games; they’re too vulnerable. That’s fine. Games shouldn’t be forced to fit a single pattern.
So, everybody is struggling to find the next great discovery. Access to lots of highly creative indie games gives me the industry’s big picture, where people dare to create with imagination and emotion. It inspires and helps a lot.

What is the usual art direction process in the Studio, and how does it all gets set up?
It depends. Art direction may be a standalone service, or a project may include an art director’s supervision.
When we provide end-to-end art support, our team goes from gathering high-level requirements and mood boarding to delivering the art bible, concept art, environment, 3D, illustrations, animation, VFX, and, ultimately, ready-to-use visual part of the game, integrated into the engine. In this case, the art director is responsible for the consistency of the art style at all stages and makes sure the delivery matches the client’s vision and the overall idea of the game.
Sometimes clients require art direction and visual development, such: for example, restyling a game, making it more appealing to the target audience, assessing how well art pieces fit each other, and creating an art bible on the approved style.
Art bible is also necessary when scaling up or outsourcing art production, and we help with that as well. In any case, we start with a brief or a discussion on current issues that have to be addressed and develop an appropriate solution.

What inspires you? Any tips?
The best ideas stem from observing nature, art, and someone else’s work. Here at Room 8 Studio, we have drawing sessions, and everyone has some creative tricks of their own that we are happy to share with the team.
Judging Indie cup is a big inspiration for me, too. Contestants value our assessment because we work with big titles, and our experience in commercial gaming allows us to judge such things. Seeing so many new games generates fresh ideas in my day-to-day work and helps deliver consistency in art style for our clients when they decide to scale up or outsource art production.

So what role art direction plays in studios of various sizes? Is it mandatory for any gaming project?
Indie teams usually don’t have an art director as part of their team, nor the budget to get such service from an external provider. So for them, such contests are good options to calibrate their art ideas and get a professional assessment.
But for larger teams, involving an art director is crucial in several ways, especially if they plan on scaling up or outsourcing their art production—to ensure consistent art style and vision laid out in the art bible, and then consistently embodied in a game.

Have a project in mind? Let’s talk!

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    Elena Natsvlishvili
    Head of production
    Vadim Krayevoy