What is Art Direction?
Despite the fact that you might imagine this is a fairly straight forward question, I have been asked it several times especially in the field of Computer Games. Different people would probably answer it in their own way, but for me Art Direction has several straight forward levels or stages. When these are in place and stage gated correctly, the process can be surprisingly simple….even fun!
Firstly I think the position requires a firm understanding of the stages of development. If you know where you’re going it’s far easier, faster and produces a better quality of work than driving blindfold and seeing where you end up. Holding the artistic vision in accordance with Stakeholders and IP requirements at this primary level gives you a solid foundation to build on.
Next, once the high-level creative vision is approved across disciplines and/or creative team members, Art Direction needs to be clearly and succinctly distilled into its most effectively communicable form. This can be done with imagery in addition to written and/or spoken word, but however this is done the clarity of the direction that will go under development should have some form of “pillar” or “rules” structure that can be checked against each stage of the production process and across all disciplines.
With a clear creative vision in place along side a structure that it can sit and be developed in, work can be broken down into the required deliverables. This will be slightly different from project to project but will usually consist of a basic pre-production, production and post production process, An ongoing QA process should run parallel the majority of the production, assuring alongside production that our vision is consistent.
Art Direction should be involved wherever and whenever it is required across the full range of disciplines (ie: Builds, animation, lighting, texturing, narrative, UI etc) nurturing and supporting the development process with timely stages of review and feedback being feed back into the developmental loop.
In addition, I personally like to be as hands on as possible in the creative process. Quite a few Art Directors can talk the talk and point to other existing pictures for reference, which is fine if that is adequate, but I prefer to communicate in self-created imagery in addition to creative conversation. I don’t think it’s enough to create and discuss a Bible and then wait until you see something you like amongst a tonne of images and tick it off as approved. This approach can hemorrhage time and money especially when you are trying to create something genuinely new and fresh. For me hands on guidance is a far better way to work.
An Art Director should be fully confident in the creative vision that has been generated and be able to develop the project through creative dialogue, progressive ideas and innovation. Encouraging a similar mindset within a creative team being overseen is also a must. For me, mentoring by example is so reassuring to team members, especially in a new team with differing levels of ability and experience. A team should be comfortable to give their input and feel genuinely heard, even if certain ideas don’t get developed any further.
If these basic stages are carried through to mastering, then there is no reason why a finished product shouldn’t hit the targets it has been set and I see an Art Director’s role as one that straddles the length of that journey.