Becoming a Computer Graphic Artist
At some time or another most of us have thought about a fantasy world. Some of us live in a fantasy world while others wish they did. Not Steve Ogden. He creates them for a living. "I make what you might consider virtual environments, pretend worlds that people can explore in computer games."
Og has been a computer graphic artist for about 18 years (he's 35 now.) Right now he works for Cyan Worlds, Inc. Cyan is the company behind the computer games Myst and Riven - both puzzle solving and exploration games. But Og hasn't always worked for his dream company. "When I was starting out as an artist I did just about anything to pay the bills. I painted signs, drew art on T-shirts, magazines and newspapers," says Og. "I even did some hand-drawn cel animation for some TV commercials. Mostly, though, I've done games." Before Cyan, Og worked for Leaping Lizard Software and released two games there - Bally Game Magic and Centipede 3D.
Thinking of becoming a CG artist? "In order to become a successful CG Artist you should have some formal training in art," suggest Og. "Personally, I think you should know how to draw but it's not absolutely necessary. You do, however, need an eye for detail. You should have some familiarity with 3D graphics and the basics of the main tools out there (3D Studio Max, Maya, Lightwave and Softimage are a few.)" Og says those are the basics to begin your career but warns that companies like Cyan don't have entry-level positions. They want the best. It took Og five years and a really impressive portfolio before he got in. "I have a degree in Art and Film from a four year university, as I believe it's important to the growth of an artist (anyone, really) to be as well-rounded as possible. You should have a broad range of experience and education because that's the pool you draw from when you create."
Not interested in creating games? Well, there are several other special areas to go into. "Architects use CG artists to help visualize buildings," says Og. Then there are special effects people (Hollywood just isn't about acting), animation film studios, TV commercial companies (Og says there are hundreds of artists who help out) and 'Industrial film' companies, who spice up videos for employees with graphics. These are just a few but it gives you an idea.
Wondering how much CG artist bring home for rent? Most game copanies pay around $30,000 to $50,000 a year. Senior or Lead Artist get a bit more. CG artists in special effects, film and TV industries can bring home up to a $150,000 or more.
If you seriously want to pursue a CG artist job, here's what Og has to say, "Study. Get as much education as possible. Develop and eye for detail. Go outside. Count the leaves on a tree. Watch the way water swirls in the pool at the bottom of a waterfall. Learn to draw." Og also advises you to "find someone who's done what you want and see if they have any advice for you... maybe they can help." But most importantly, don't forget to have fun along the way."