Working at Naughty Dog is the closet dream of many aspiring game artists and developers, and Lead Character Artist Frank Tzeng gave a few pointers on what you need to do in order to make the cut in a conversation for CG Master Academy. Spoilers: it’s hard.
First of all, Tzeng confirmed that there’s an art test that you have to pass, and elaborated further:
It is not easy. It is not easy at all. Lemme give you guys some advice. When you really want to work in the game industry, right now, especially right now, it’s really competitive, especially if you want to be a character artist or a concept character artist.
I think these two fields are basically the hardest to get into the industry right now, because there are so many people and so many talented people that would just like me sacrifice all their lives to get what they want.
If you really want to work as a professional one in a triple A studio, you need to sacrifice a lot of stuff that is more than whatever you’re thinking right now. I don’t remember how many nights… countless nights I didn’t sleep at all, just spending the whole night practicing to get the result that I wanted…
But getting back to the art test. Since I was having a pretty hard crunch time at Sony San Diego, that time got extended because of the limitations to the effort I could put into finishing the art test, so for me it took around two to three months to finish the art test, which to me is a pretty long time, and I’m glad everything works well right now.
Tzeng continued by giving pointers more specific to Naughty Dog:
But, when you apply to Naughty Dog, you have to know the game that we’re doing, the type of game that we’re doing, the stuff that we’re looking for.
Since I’m the lead, I get to basically review all the people who are applying to the art test right now, so for us we’re really looking for realistic anatomies and human sculpting skill. That definitely has to be one of the most important things in your resume or your work.
It doesn’t really matter if you do pre-rendered stuff or in-game stuff. Sculpting quality and anatomy understanding is very important for us. The second one is how you texture your character. For the art test, we value how you bake your maps, how you manage your UV layout… It’s very important for us, because in order to get into this industry all the fundamentals are very important for us.
He also gave us a glimpse on how characters are created to begin with, starting from a base mesh, instead of creating everything from scratch, to save time.
Even though, let’s say if you got hired at Naughty Dog, or in all the studios around the world, if you just get hired as a character artist, most likely they won’t ask you to build a base mesh of your character. No studio has time to do that.
Basically, we will have existing mesh that is already polished, and you just start from there. All the UV is already there, but for the fondamentals, if you want to change something you still need to know how that works.
So, those are the few very important things if you want to apply specifically to Naughty Dog.
Naughty Dog has been known to be always on the look for top talent, but they have hired young developers that didn’t necessarily have enormous amounts of experience in the past. Who knows, one day you might be the one creating Drake’s successor in Uncharted 5: A New Thief.