Very often while trolling message boards and forums for jobs I’ll come across an ad that promises “a lot of artistic freedom!” for the applying artist. While this always sounds great, I’ve come to find out that “artistic freedom” usually means “I’m a client who has no fricking idea what I want so you figure it out for me.”. That’s all fine and dandy when you’re working for a company or this client is so rich that he doesn’t mind paying for your time conceptualizing, but for the most part these “artistic freedom” clients are skinflints. They see advertising the job as having a lot of artistic freedom as a good thing, bonus for freelance artists. Well let me tell you something, artistic freedom is only useful for people who submerge animal carcasses into golden containers of formaldehyde and call it art.
Since maximizing the returns on your time is as important as it is when you’re a freelancer, this is not a good situation to find yourself in. Basically, if you’re being paid to be an art contractor, you shouldn’t be doing an art director’s work, but that often turns out to be the case. An art director is usually the person who looks at the design document or brief, digests what needs to be produced on the artistic end, then spits it out to the production artists, usually in the form of an art asset list, with a timeline possibly attached. He also provides artistic direction, something that’s sorely unappreciated, as far as I can tell with the clients I’ve been getting lately. One recent design brief had this particular phrase “…avatars can be any race, species, etc.” which made me wonder, if I drew a female badger, then a black widow spider, would they accept these avatars? I wasn’t even given a plot or storyline so there was absolutely no basis for me to even begin thinking about what might be useful as avatars. When you have no point of reference, creating production art (ie any art that you’ll see in-game) can be a nightmare of redoing images over and over again until your client finally sees something that hits him. Then asks you to tweak it some more, ad nauseum.
These days I’ve learned to ask clients for a lot more information before giving an estimate, in order to avoid situations like these. At the end of the day production art for games is functional. It may be pretty to look at, but it serves a purpose, and the more context you have about that purpose, the better an artist will be able to make that piece of art work for your game.