How Do I Make Art For Video Games?

Picture of Eliott wearing a printed floral button up and a baseball cap, his hands are placed relaxed behind his head. He stands in front of a pink wall, closing his eyes as the sun hits him.

A self-described mix between a puppy dog and an old man, Eliott Le Calvé and I sat down via Zoom Meet and chatted about how the heck one gets into making video game art, what makes you right to work in video games, if you’re better off for triple A studios or indie, and if art school even worth it for those trying to ~break into the industry~.

Syd: Let’s start it off big and broad: what’s a nice piece of advice for those trying to enter the field of video games? How do they figure out what section to zone in/what’s their niche?

Eliott: When people want to start in game development/making art for games they should ask themselves why they want to. Is it to support your art? Or do you want to make games to make games? To make experiences to help players enjoy things? Or maybe, ask yourself: should I make art for me or to make games a better experience overall? All are acceptable answers. But I’m in games because I want to make games that allow players to have new and interesting experiences.

So it’s not about your art style/art dreams?

The process of making art isn't my favorite part in games, though I still enjoy it quite a lot. I tend to focus on the big picture, the final result, the player's experience.

How did you learn to make excellent results?

I went to an art school in France for 3 years and studied video game art. I learned a lot, learned how to do 3D things, Unity, etc. It was good practice but it felt like I only half belonged, like I wanted to not just make assets all the time. The program wasn’t challenging the designer in me!

How so?

There was a lot of pressure, and in general, pressure from artists in games for strong technicality and execution. I had to do things “correctly”, but what is the right way? I felt pressure from other students and artists from the industry too. Even seeing other peoples’ art online. But in the end, you can do things your way, as long as it communicates your intention. Although, if you want to work in triple A studios that may be hard.

Is it hard to be creative in triple A?

In triple A it feels like you won’t have a big impact. If you want to make visuals, grind for perfection, model, paint, there is lots of room for you in the industry. But, if you want to be a creator, make games for people, leave your touch and even start accepting that you don’t need perfection, that you can take short cuts and your shit can suck, then indie games are for you. It’s about thriving just to finish the thing and putting it in the game.

Do you think art school is necessary for any of these paths?

School helps you get the right contacts for learning, it structures you, and it gives you time to learn. Dedicating time to learn allows you to get into the mindset of learning and being a student. Which is overall great! Being surrounded by similar people, and professionals is great. However, most of the learning is through you.

How much you engage with the program, I find.

Yeah.

A picture split into three panels of a Mini watching you build a creation, mess up, then make the imperfection look good.

When did you know you wanted to be in art?

There were a few steps… I went through a designer phase as a kid. When I was 10--well, my mother was a painter--but I was a creative kid, and I started being interested in furniture design. I was lucky to be surrounded by nice things in the house. My dad had a few nice designer furniture pieces. Those pieces allowed me to go “this thing is different than this thing”, and I applied creative thinking to that and started making up my own stuff.

What about video games specifically? 

I started being more serious around 12 or 13. I would make up games in my head. But I started getting into a French game called Dofus at 16, I think. It was a flash game, a tactical RPG, that was extremely creative. I had no idea you could make games. The creators were just 3 guys, very accessible. You could message them, they had a stream of sorts, you could interact with them.  I played it for years. It had a huge impact on me, like wow, you can make these and change peoples’ lives.

Follow Eliott on twitter here for more art and puppy/old man musings

Follow Casa Rara for more weird and wonderful content!