What's Done In House
"Every team at Pandemic has, for example, 30 artists," Chico said. He said this size of an art department is considered to be a "healthy art staff." Those 30 or so artists tend to work on art when games are still in their prototyping and design phases. It's only in the production phase that the art becomes outsourced.
An on-staff artist at Pandemic is likely to do a lot of concept artwork, helping fulfill the artistic vision of the game. The concept art will later be sent to the outsourced artists so they have a clear frame of reference for what they need to create.
The in-house staff also stipulates precisely how all the art should be made: the relative size, the file size and polygon count, and other specifications. "We guide to the ultimate result," Chico said, adding that after the assets are delivered from the outsourced team, the internal team is tasked with asking for revisions and improvements as needed. "What we really are are masters of integration and iteration.
"It's how we put that whole package together that matters. ... For the entire project, we keep adjusting things [and] changing things," Chico said.
Outsourced people, according to Chico, are seen as "specialists" in the production pipeline because they continually work without breaking to ramp up for the next project. Using outsourced artists allow the in-house artists to focus on other things, which to Chico should be seen as a benefit for full-time staffers: less production, more creative work.
Which Artists Will the Game Industry Hire?
Chico explained that the kind of artist Pandemic is most seeking to hire is a generalist. By "generalist," he explained, he means someone who is "extremely capable at more than one task."
For example, he said Pandemic is always looking for artists who can make great characters, but the ultimate candidate is someone who can jump in and work on world-building when needed, too. Because Pandemic's games often feature large explore-able worlds, it's beneficial for the company to always hire an artist who can do something useful with environment art.
"Another thing I'm looking for are really extremely technical people," Chico mentioned. "Artists who know programming -- they're really hard to find. Any amount of you being a technical artist" makes you a more desirable candidate, he said.
As mentioned, Pandemic does not outsource animation, leaving animator positions to be filled in house. Another job title that Chico said he's always looking to fill is that of "leader." He said Pandemic needs leaders, people who set the bar and deal with the outsourced art team in an effective way. For this job, artists who have experience in management, or even project management, are highly desirable.
Finally, he said, Pandemic needs "more concept artists than ever [has] before." But most importantly, it needs concept artists who know how to create work that will make sense to an outsourced artist.
"We want you still," Chico said of aspiring game artists. "You guys set the bar for what the outsourcers are going to do."
What Does it Mean to be Technical?
Carey Chico mentioned that he's always on the lookout for technical artists; but what does that really mean? He explained that by "technical" he means artists who know what scripters are and who know who to do scripting. Knowing a programming language helps immensely, he said, even if it's just Java or Python. It's especially valuable if an artist "can generate tools to facilitate our processes," he said.
When Pandemic is hiring for a technical artist position explicitly, the candidates will all be given a technical art test. However, before they reach that stage, they ought to show they know scripting in their portfolios. Chico recommended writing a UV editor or simply showing scripts written for Maya or 3ds Max.
Another way Chico said artists can beef up the technical level of their portfolios is to build levels in Unreal engine or another readily available game engine. "Those are great for demos," he said, reiterating to the audience one last time: "Artists, all of you, learn some programming!"