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FreeStyle Career Tips: Part 2

More tips from the FreeStyleGames team on getting a job in the games industry

Following last week's series of tips from FreeStyleGames' technical director and producer, part two focuses on animation, design and art matters.

Tips: Neil Wigfield - Lead Designer, FreeStyleGames

I've worked on a wide range of projects from racing games to puzzle-based games in eight years as a designer. Every project was different and presented its own unique challenges. The designer is integral to the process of creating a game and a distinct skill set is required. Below are some of the most important attributes I'd be looking for in a design candidate's CV.

- Creativity. Imagination is paramount to the designer. At the start of a project you might be faced with a blank page - it's your job to take that void and create a document that maps out the path of a game. Daydreamers need apply!

- Adaptability. A designer's role can vary hugely between projects, often more so than other disciplines in the industry. On one project I designed tracks for a futuristic racing game, on the next I was masterminding mini-games for five year-olds. An ability to shift your mindset is a prerequisite.

- Communication. The designer has to work closely with both coders and artists - being able to communicate clearly in an informed manner is a must. A high level understanding of both code and art practises would also stand you in good stead.

- Pragmatism. Much of design is iteration, sometimes things that sound great when written down don't work in reality. Being objective about what works and what doesn't is vital - sometimes you have to sacrifice features you love to benefit the game as a whole! But keep a bank of ideas - you never know when they'll come in handy.

Tips: Lead Animator - Elaine Duffy

As a lead animator I look after a team of junior and senior animators and most of my time is spent on management - scheduling and organising mo-cap shoots; doing appraisals etc but I also still get to be creative. Animators spend most of their time creating short animation loops, for example walk cycles that get blended into the game.

To animate a great character we sit and discuss the attributes and personalities that a character would have. It's fascinating to see that some small animations - for example the way one character hits another over the head - can make such a big difference to the overall look and feel of a game.

We spend a fair bit of time checking out web sites, magazines and other animators - we've got to keep up to date with trends and techniques.

- Keep it Neat - an animator's CV should be nice and short, anything more than a page is fiddly. Your demo reel is there to capture the attention.

- One way to really stand out in the crowd is to have a background in classically trained 2D animation skills. Courses that specialize in this will also teach life drawing, another great asset to have. This, coupled with solid 3D computer training will really get you noticed.

- Ideally, your show reel should be striking yet concise, showcasing only your best work. Avoid cramming in every last animation you've ever done - keep it short and sweet. You want to impress the person watching it and make your talent stand out. A shot list with short descriptions on each clip explaining what you did, your responsibilities and the processes used will make a valuable addition to your reel. When rendering your show reel, remember to keep it simple: use common codecs to allow for easy viewing at the studio.

Tips: Andy Bastable - Senior Programmer

I'm one of the senior programmers at FreeStyleGames and day to day I have a pretty varied job depending on the stage of a game we are working on. At the start of the project, I'll mostly be prototyping fun gameplay ideas, or cool technology to use in our games - as the project moves on, it'll be more about building the structure of the game, and turning the game design into reality, as well as helping to support younger members of the programming team. The final stage of the game is the tough-but-rewarding bit, as it's all about hunting down bugs and getting the game finished!

The best bit about my job is the reaction my friends have when they find out what I do for a living!

- Get coding skills. We need all-rounders in C/C++ who know their pointers from their references. If you don't, you'll struggle to make it past the intercom.

- Have social skills. Gone are the days of the lone bedroom-programmers. You need to get on with your team and that means remembering to shower daily.

- Understand the market. Sometimes you can't make the kind of game that you want to play - but it doesn't mean it won't be fun!

Jolan Martinez - Artist

I've been working here for almost a year now since graduating from university and spending some time abroad. I mainly work as an environment builder, but I also get to do a lot of concept work for both worlds and characters.

The great thing about FreeStyleGames is that the company value the skills and fresh perspective that artists from different backgrounds bring. This in turn makes our team a very dynamic and exciting one to be a part of.

- Anyone trying to break into games knows that it can be tough to get on that first rung of the ladder, but my advice to those wishing to become game artists is to be persistent. Even if you are about to graduate from a games related course, chances are you won't get a job overnight. It could take months, but try not to get downhearted or negative, just keep trying and you'll eventually land a job you'll love.

- Always try to tailor your work to the company you're applying to. If they make racing games or first person shooters, model something that would fit into their franchise.

- Try to keep your portfolio varied, and while applying or waiting, identify areas that are lacking and just keep improving it. When you get your first job it will all be worthwhile.

- Working in games can be quite daunting at first. There is a lot to learn, and you'll never really stop learning. Luckily you will be working with very experienced people, so don't be afraid to ask questions. Most of all just enjoy what you do and have fun, and this will come through in your work.