Elements of game design part two: Art direction for games

The art director is the creative visionary, responsible for defining the visual direction of the project. An art director really needs an array of qualities technically and personally. The role requires a director to be quick with ideas, constantly thinking and planning what needs to be done and how. There is obviously a huge need for a quick creative mind coming up with solutions to artistic decisions such as; what colours will define the mood of the environment? What level of detail should the textures convey? What are the buildings in a city supposed to look like? How does the terrain look on this level? What kind of ambient characters populate this world? How red should the blood be? Yet the director needs to be socially adept to dealing with other creative people and their ideas making decisions based upon work he/she is provided. The art director works closely with the game designer to shape the game world. The art director constantly carries the difficult burden of communicating his or her vision of the game design to a diverse team of artists.
An art director ideally has time to examine the game design document in advance of the assembling the artists in the team. The art director and lead artist need to work together to define the Art Specifications. In this document the lead identifies the requirements for producing the art assets and the risks associated with uncertain areas. The game design document needs to be used as a method of tracking original plans and staying focused. It is very important that the art director strive to outline the artistic direction of the product in as much detail as is possible. The art director needs to have an open communication with the decision makers until the end of the games production.

Some successful art directors in the games industry have started moving into film making and direction. This is a movement that has surprisingly produced a large amount of hype and debate. It initially seems quite a simple transition as some of the cinematic in new games are very impressive, but bringing techniques used in games and even the programmes and technologies might be pushing the boundaries too far?

“Yeah... no. I have nothing against this concept in theory, but there's just so much wrong with it in practice - the current Unreal tech is capable of some nice results, but it's not even close to high-end CG”

One film that did impress me with clear artistic direction visible on the screen was Final Fantasy VII Advent Children. A film based on the iconic Final Fantasy games. There's something almost admirable about a movie as focused and single-minded as "Advent Children". It is unashamedly constructed with a niche audience in mind. It's focused on looking good above all else, and if you catch it at the right time, that may be reason enough to forgive its confusing, barely-accessible plot. It's a pretty spectacular virtual camera work, especially in one long continuous shot that would not be possible with live action. It doesn't have a whole ton of emotional heft, but it's not completely empty, either. I may not have been totally invested, but I wasn't disconnected. I think the film might actually benefit from having a smaller budget as befits a direct to video release. Directors Tetsuya Nomura and Takeshi Nozue are able to draw upon anime conventions and styles for their film's look translated to 3D, of course, and rendered with astonishing detail, but still with the bold character design and physics-defying action.