Monday, June 13, 2016

How to blow away an Art Director with your Art Test and why they don't realize the effort.

Did you ever feel you don't get the Job because the Art Director missed the point in your art test? Do you have to do tests as often as I do? I have to do it all the time even as a freelancer and often times I don't do it because it does not seem to be worth it.  I already had to spend a week of work for a company that turned out couldn't even afford me... so I pick the ones I want to work with. Also passing the test still doesn't mean they get the job.

Let me show you some Art Tests I did for companies recently and try to learn from that.

First of all some nice pictures for a huge company and a test still in progress so I have no idea if I passed it or not. They gave me a week but I could only use 6 days due to a business trip. I will later get back to that in this post.

And here an older test for Inno Games:

Inno Games is a Browser Game Company and they created Games like Forge of Empires an Elvenar here in Hamburg. I applied to them a couple of times before and I already worked with them here in Hamburg where I live.

In fact I think they are my favorite company here.

So in this case the test situation was kind like create a mill and make two versions out of it. They sent me a photo of a mill with the tasks to make a nice candy version and a evil version, plus an upgraded version of each.

They also sent a sketch with outlines only of an asset exactly like what you would see in the media section from FOE.

Notice the details around the actual building.

The HR person told me to look at their games when I asked if they have a specific style in mind so I looked at Elvenar.

So I looked into that and I looked up the only concept art piece for Elvenar I could find online. Check it out here:

I felt really confident I could do better than that.

I gathered a lot of references for different architectural styles candy houses, mills etc. and I created mood boards of it like this one.

Then I created a lot of sketches with different architectural styles like the following. For me this was the part where I tried to be most creative because I thought the design part is what is actually most important so I spent a lot of time into creating different shapes and different architectures.

From the different styles I picked some ideas and made bigger versions of them

I then placed small and big next to each other all in A3 for print so one can zoom in nicely for presentation like these. Pay attention to the notes, detail drawings, surroundings and backgrounds. This will be important when it comes to the feedback part. The good version produces stars and the bad version some some kind of black ooze.

I colored and detailed them all simultaneously. so they were all equaly polished. While I did use custom brushes for the details on the evil version I tried to use a hand painted style for the nice one. i created some background mountains cause I thought  if we want to make a mill at a river it might come from somewhere.. if they are not a good idea it wouldn't matter which is why I placed the mill part on the back side... For the upgraded version I added extra wind mills which wasn't part of the instructions but I thought it looks cool..

I felt really good about it and thought they all look way better than the art I found online so in the end I took some sketches and made extra upgraded versions for them to show my creativity. My students who showed interest in my art confirmed that.  Unfortunately Inno Games did not seem to like it.

I did not pass the test and all I got was a standard email with a no reply address. It felt like a punch in the face.


I do have a few friends working at Inno. One of them is Denis Löbner who tried to come up with a reason for it.

The first and main reason was probably the style. It did not look enough like Elvenar which was probably not so bad cause they did not specify that in the test however it also did not look like Elvenar Concept Art which means i should have sent in the artworks not like a presentation but each hous on a plain background like the one I linked above.

I think that was a misunderstanding cause i sent it in A3 at 300 DPI and you can zoom in a lot.

However I think this is almost the most important aspect.

He showed me an artwork which I may show to my students but i don't know if i can publish it online...just look at the link in the beginning.

I decided to make another version together with Denis and send that in with my next application.

Later I talked to the Head of Art Alexander Raphelt who did give some portfolio reviews at the "The Art of Inno Games" event which was really interesting. Rest assured there is nothing confidential about this as we talked it all through at a big networking event. Here is what he said.

It worked like that. We went into a room (we means me, a number of artists and Alex). However came first and had the guts to show his folio could show it on the beamer and Alex tried to give some feedback.

I was the only one who prepared for it with this very specific question. Why did he not like it? And how does he like the one I made with Denis?

Unfortunately he did not say anything about the last one but he tried to criticise the other ones.

He totally seemed to dislike the candy version style. I loved it and it looked a lot like the references and i felt it was a good mix of them...

He said the mountains around it are too much (not noticing that I put a note for optional on it)

Too much other stuff around the houses. (check the sketch from FOE I linked on top)

On the good version he did not like it that I placed the wheel on the back side. Fair enough but I mentioned my reason for that... and I have a bunch of sketches with different options which he did not see.

Then there was the same thing Denis mentioned with the zoomed in "bigger" image of the house. Both only saw the online version I gave them. I believe here you should have access to the bigger files.

And now here is the most important part and his most helpful comment:
It did not wow the Art Director who looked at it and there mus have been someone who impressed him more than I did.

Also he did not like the rendering and did not really know why and I told him that I felt confident that I made it better than in the art I found (link on top).

That is it.

I simply did not wow them enough and it had to visit the Inno Games event to realize why not. Not just because of the review but because I could see some big printouts of the 3D renders and I saw some nice ideas and lots of details there. Not of mills but generally some nice stuff for random details.

So here is my learning:

It is really hard to wow someone and I really have to get to know the art from the studio I want to work at and I should think less and paint some more random good looking stuff because most directors won't see the actual effort behind that image if they don't know it.

And here is another example of  how that happens:

When I get to review my students art I experience the same thing but this time it is me who doesn't see all the effort and stuff the artist is particularly proud od.

In this case my former student showed me a rework of his old motorcycle and I did see his progress in better linework and I did see that he added color to it but then he got confused because I did not see that his motor engine is now much more realistic and works now much better and that he put a lot of effort into that.

So that is how it happened. I simply did not realize it. I looked at his lines and the colors and i did not even see the difference because I did not pay any attention to that. Maybe if I would have known beforehand. Maybe ...

And what did change based on that?

I did move on and I made art tests for other companies where I just focused on making some awesome art. I still put the effort in it to gather references and incorporate micro details the art directors will probably never know but I focused on making the final art look great and did this time not even bother sending in thumbnails and explanations.... The best part is that other companies liked my buildings and I had a few interviews where I already had the chance to explain how I worked and what no one will see from outside. I did spend the actual research time on the background of this character and the logo on his chest is actually a real "logo" from a clan that conquered the town where he lived etc. Nobody will know that unless he reads it here. I am sure of that. But it is still excellent research that I did and I think it contributes in a way to the awesomeness of the work and it was the other companies that got so impressed that I must point out the an art test for one company may be useful for another company as well sometimes even if you did not get the first job. :-)

Good Luck