Take This Job and Love It! – Artist – Lorne Lanning

Take This Job and Love It! - Artist - Lorne Lanning [Hosted by GamePro]
Date: 6 September, 2002
Interviewer: Dan Elektro
Interviewee: Lorne Lanning

Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20030626002408/http://gamepro.com/sony/ps2/games/features/26026.shtml

GamePro: Salary Range for your title (not necessarily what you specifically make)?

Lorne Lanning: A competent Art Director can pull anywhere from 70-120K annually. If this person is also a capable Animation Director, then that salary can rise to the range of 150K. If this same person is also a capable script writer as well as solid game designer, then their ability to negotiate will determine the cap of their potential salary.

GamePro: How many people are in your department/team?

Lorne Lanning: If you are a manager, how many people do you oversee? The Art Director will oversee a production designer department that usually staffs three key production designers. These guys are on the drawing board and also working with Photoshop, but they are not using 3D tools and are not getting their hands into the game engine. This is the team he primarily manages. (NOTE: This is the reverse of the film business, where the standard is that a Production Designer has a staff of Art Directors reporting to him.)

The Art Director must also work with the Computer Graphics department and the Real Time Art Department. CG will usually have about 8 artists while Real Time will usually have about 3 artists. All of these people will be getting their aesthetic direction from the Art Director. The AD is not directly responsible for managing these artists, but is responsible for managing and giving direction to their work and making sure that their work is consistent as it defines the overall look of the project. Ultimately, directing a team of artists is about making one cohesive and consistent look for the project.

GamePro: What was the most valuable bit of knowledge or experience you brought with you to the job?

Lorne Lanning: Before being an Art Director, I was a Technical Director of computer animation for a film company. I had extensive experience in 3D modelling, animation, choreography, lighting, and visual effects in general. This helped me to undestand fully the nature of 3D tools and all the related troubles that animators and technical directors will run into when confronting technical vs aesthetic issues. There is no better Art Director than one that can help to solve an artists technical problems. There is no more frustrating Art Director than one who is demanding something from an artist that the tools cannot achieve.

In many ways, working in 3D is an excersize in skillful compromise and reactionary problem solving.

GamePro: What was the first major lesson you learned once you started working in the industry?

Lorne Lanning: You better understand the tools and you better undetstand them thoroughly. If you don’t, then you’d better be honest that certain problems are over your head and skill capacity. You don’t want to tell someone (like a director) that something can’t be done, and then be shown up by the guy next to you who bangs the problem out successfully in one day. You will instantly look like a know-it-all who, in actuality, doesn’t know much. This is a bad position to be in because you will quickly lose credibility. Ultimately, you want to be trusted. You need people to trust that what you claim is true. Otherwise, your word will always be questioned, which also means that you will never make as much money. If you look like your resistant to finding solutions and comfortable with finding sub-par visual compromises, your stock value will drop very quickly. If you work with a great team, they will probably begin looking for ways to get rid of you.

GamePro: What academic focuses would you recommend for someone who wants to do your job someday?

Lorne Lanning: The basics are critical. You need to understand form, which means strong drawing skills. You need to undestand design, which means not only the ability to draw and render solidly (in efforts to communicate your intentions to others), but also have the cerebral tools that a designer needs to solve problems. You need to understand lighting, and also lighting in a 3D virtual world. All of this means going to a great art or design school, majoring in illustration, entertainment design, graphic design, anination, or set design… and also study photography and cinematography on the side.

Always remember that if you can’t solve the problems of the artists that work for you, if you can’t direct them to create stronger work, then they will not respect you (if they are any good). Your role is to inspire them to create stronger work and to push them to create work they feel is making them grow and work that will make them proud. Poor artists can give a shit about the quality of their work. They’ll work for lame companies and continue to push out schlock for their entire careers. However, good artists will not be happy if they do not see their work growing stronger. As an Art Director, you need to be a mechanism for good artists to always strive to be better. When they hit the wall and can’t figure out a solution, it’s your job to direct them towards it.

GamePro: Common misconceptions about your job?

Lorne Lanning: That you don’t have to know how to do the job of all of those under you and that you don’t have to solve their problems for them when they can’t pull it off. If you don’t and if you can’t, then your role is probably cooking up a classic recipe for mediocrity. You will also be the target of resentment for those that have talent that work beneath you.

GamePro: Is college a necessity, a really good idea, or not required for your line of work?

Lorne Lanning: You should absolutely go to a great art school. It happens that some people are able to achieve great skills without going to school, but these are extremely rare, hard working, fanatically driven people. They have basically brought the school to them by way of their intense passion to learn and be better. This is not most people, and I would never recommend that someone not go to art school unless someone was truly brilliant and had the personal strengths that perpetuated them towards continual learning on their own and a dedication towards mastering their skills.

GamePro: What tools and software do you use on a regular basis?

Lorne Lanning:
Pencil and paper are a must. Photoshop is a must. 3D tools for visualizing (like Max or Maya) are growing more and more important for the role of an art director.

GamePro: What’s your advice for breaking into your line of work?

Lorne Lanning: Build an incredible portforlio of work that is geared towards the type of job you want to have. Don’t show up with life drawings if you want to work on futurist type of material. Your abilities are demonstrated in your work, so your work needs to demonstrate that your a serious problem solver and that you understand the basics of design, lighting, animation, etc. A lot of guys can draw, but there are a lot less that can actually design well.

From the personal perspective, be humble. Treat people with respect and don’t over inflate your value. I’ve seen many talented individuals seriously dent their careers because they thought they deserved too much money too fast. Don’t be too eager to take on management responsibilities or seek out flashy titles. You really need to know what your doing before you can learn to juggle a lot of tasks and problems at the same time successfully. Typically, the artist gets overloaded and stressed out very easily. Take your time, focus and care about creating great work, and don’t be too concerned about how “valuable” you are. If you do great work, eventually everyone will be knocking on your door and offering you more money.