How Do I Get into Video Game Art?

As video games continue to evolve, there is a growth of talented game artists needed to create vivid worlds. Luckily, there are people with a passion for game art willing to step up to the challenge. Anyone who loves art and plays video games should seriously consider entering the industry. The average team size needed to create a big-budget game is only going to grow in the coming years.

So, this begs the question of what someone has to do to get into video game art. Although it sounds like a lofty goal, many people make their dreams come true each year. While there are a few things that increase someone’s chances, everyone must find their own unique way to get their foot into the door. Here is a brief overview of what getting a career in video game art entails.

Why Do People Get into Video Game Art?

There are a lot of people that find fulfillment in the role of a video game artist. They come from all backgrounds and walks of life. That being said, there are three main personality traits that most of them share.

A Passion for Art

It may go without saying that video game artists need to be passionate about what they make. Since video games are such a complex medium, nearly all game artists can carve out their niche in the industry. Animators, 3D modelers, illustrators, lighting specialists, level designers, and even filmmakers can all work on the same project together. However, players can easily tell when any of these key art forms are lacking. Video game artists need to spend each day working with their craft to create something truly amazing.

The Desire to Face Creative Challenges

Making video games is a far more challenging process than most realize. Anyone who works in the game industry must love overcoming obstacles and pushing the boundaries of their skill. This is especially true of game artists that need to make the game seem believable. Even if one image is off, the player’s immersion is instantly broken. Paying attention to all the small details is crucial to creating video game art.

A Love of Video Games

Last, but not least, video game artists need to love their medium of choice. The industry moves at a fast pace, and it requires a game enthusiast to keep up. Creators need to stay on top of what everyone else in the business is doing. Modern games are expected to look better than what was released even six months ago.

What Does a Video Game Artist Do?

Video game artists work with a vast team to create visual and auditory feedback for those playing the game. The day to day activities of each game artist varies wildly depending on their role. Some focus solely on lighting, while others animate each of the characters and objects on the screen. Regardless of the position a game artist is in, they will always work closely with multiple team members. Unless it is a one-person indie team, every game artist needs to have excellent collaboration skills.

Level Designers

The term level designer has a broad meaning that describes several different things. There can be environmental artists, 3D modelers, and even 2D illustrators lumped into this category. Essentially, they all work to create the actual worlds the player will be exploring. Each one needs to ensure the environments look as good as possible before the software releases.

Lighting Specialist

A game’s lighting is so crucial that it often requires a whole dedicated team. Lighting has a huge impact on how believable a game plays. A beautiful landscape can lose its luster if the wrong lighting is applied. Lighting specialists have an even more important role in stealth games. Light and shadows are interwoven into the mechanics of these titles. A player needs to know exactly how much they are illuminated while sneaking around.


Anyone who has ever played a game with the music turned off knows just how vital a game’s soundtrack is to the overall experience. The composer plays each level and reviews the story beat by beat. Then, they create songs that perfectly match the emotions they experienced while playing. A good game composer instills the same emotions into other players as they progress through the adventure.

Sound Designer

Some game artists work closely with a team to create a game’s sound effects. Sound is another element that can instantly take a player out of the experience if something is off. Some sound designers are Foley artists. They will use real-world objects to create realistic sound effects from scratch. They then match each sound to the appropriate phenomenon that may occur during gameplay.


Both 2D and 3D animators make the game look good while in motion. They spend time fine-tuning the movements of both players and non-playable characters. They are also in charge of how objects in the environment react to the player.

How to Get into Video Game Art?

There are a few guidelines that current video game artists would recommend when breaking into the industry. Veteran video game artists recommend choosing an area of expertise, creating as much as possible, starting a sharable portfolio and going to a creative arts college. These four things will help an aspiring video game artist get their foot in the door in the video game industry.

Choose an Area of Expertise

Since games are developed as a team, each team member needs to master their chosen craft. Aspiring game artists need to pick the area they want to focus on. Becoming the best animator, modeler, composer, or level designer requires a clear vision. Picking a favorite and sticking to it will make all the difference.

Create as Much as Possible

Now that a favorite skill is identified, the game artist should practice creating every single day. This consistent level of practice leads to substantially better performance. It is easy to tell when a game artist has had years of experience honing their craft.

Start a Sharable Portfolio

Once a game artist is confident in their art, they need to create a portfolio to show to the public. Everyone has to prove their talent in game art. Having a website to show potential employers is one of the best ways to land that first assignment.

Go to a Creative Arts College

Video games have become such a big industry that art schools are taking notice. It is easier than ever to find a college offering a degree program concentrated on video game art. These programs give students firsthand experience creating game art with many different types of software. It also gives aspiring game artists a much clearer picture of what will be expected of them. Finally, it gives graduates a leg up when applying for their first position within the video game industry.

What Software and Tools do Video Game Artists Use Regularly?

Creating video games is an almost entirely digital process. While there will always be room for hand-drawn art in video games, creators need to use a wide array of software to bring each world to life. Here are some of the most common tools game artists use regularly.

Adobe Photoshop

Professional artists from across many industries still view Photoshop as the king of image editing software. Video game artists are no exception as they often use this graphic design tool. Photoshop is used to craft paintings, alter marketing material, create backgrounds, and design menus.


GIMP is very similar to Photoshop in many ways. The key difference is that GIMP is completely free. Smaller indie studios often use it to get their first few games finished. Although it has fewer features than photoshop, it has more than enough functionality to create engaging visuals. Game artists who have experience with GIMP can edit complex images in only a few minutes.


Vectr is a tool that allows a game artist to create beautiful vector images. Vector images are often used by game design teams to test out various features early in development. Vectr can also be used to create stunning 2D graphics such as logos, icons, map prototypes, and anything else required for a game title. It is another free program that is great for smaller game development teams.

Autodesk Maya

Maya is widely considered to be the best 3D modeling program on the market. Video games have been created in Maya ever since games first became 3D. Artists can easily craft and mold unique 3D renderings with a vast toolset. Mockups are easy to alter and edit with just a few clicks.

Adobe Illustrator

This is another solution for vector-based graphics. Illustrator provides an unparalleled set of tools for 2D development. Large studios will use this program almost exclusively for their 2D art assets. As with Maya, aspiring video game artists should start learning this program to get a jump start on their competition.

Unreal Engine

This game engine is licensed to numerous studios around the industry. In addition to offering many options for level designers, it also provides a suite of creative tools for the other game artists on the team. Stunning environments and smooth animations are easy with this game engine. Since so many teams use Unreal, it is vital that future game artists become familiar with it.


Unity is another game engine that has exploded into popularity recently. Much like Unreal, it gives artists an array of tools. Unity is a bit easier to learn and manage than other game engines. Anyone just getting into the industry will appreciate the abundance of tutorials, pre-made assets, and resources available online.

Final Thoughts

With the increase in video game usage by both younger and older generations, anyone who loves both art and video games should consider a career that combines the two. There has never been an easier time to create and share game art that inspires the masses.

Did learning about how to get into video game art interest you? As the video game industry continuously grows, employers are zeroed in on game design and development program students who understand both the creative and technical sides of the industry. Nowhere is University of Silicon Valley’s unique ability to combine specializations better demonstrated than in our Game Design & Development Department.

In the Game Design Art degree concentration, your studies will include the foundation of game design mechanics, gameplay principles, interactivity, and the means for creating and refining game content. Building on that foundation, as well as the technical aspects of 3D animation software and game engines, you will create visually impressive gaming environments that tell meaningful stories, convey thoughtfulness, create emotion and are just all around fun to play. The Game Art degree concentration is all about designing, creating, and bringing to life the visual components of games in a highly-collaborative teaching environment that simulates a working studio.

University of Silicon Valley is uniquely poised to offer a meaningful and valuable education for 21st century students. We believe in an education that directly correlates with the work you’ll be doing after you graduate. Interested in learning more? Contact Us today.

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