Monday, May 1, 2017

GDC 2017 - Art Leadership Roundtable - Day 3

Despite being the final day of the conference, the room was packed once more with attendees.  Since Day 2 had been successful with audience-sourced topics, we did the same thing on Day 3.

The first question touched on aligning vision.  Specifically, how do you align the vision between different people who have different interpretations of a vision.  The attendees offered the following suggestions:

  • The first and most obvious suggestion was documentation.  The creation of clear style guides and/or reference material is the quickest way to communicate intent.  While some flexibility may yet remain, the style guide should establish the boundaries in which to operate.
  • Beyond the style guide, it was also suggested to create and document benchmark assets for visual style.  In addition to showing successful examples, there should also be benchmark examples which show why particular examples do NOT work.
    • It was also suggested that benchmark assets not be presented as solely screenshots but rather also the asset files (models, textures and animation) should be archived and openly available.
    • Furthermore, it was commented that visual style examples do evolve over a longer production cycle.  As such, it is worthwhile to update the benchmark assets and documentation as needed.
  • From a technical standpoint, there should also be reasonably clear specifications and limitations so that all content fits within the performance threshold.
  • Training videos was also another strong recommendation.  These should focus on how content is made and, equally important, how crafting choices are made.
  • Outside of documentation, there are several strategies that can be employed to address divergent interpretations or conflicting visions.
    • Organize group critique sessions.  These should be moderated by a Lead, but foster an environment of open discussion.
    • As an early-stage exercise, establish the goals and then have the individuals assemble reference.  After a time, have the group reform and compare reference.  What choices were similar?  What choices were different and why?  Use this as a springboard for dialog, but don't forget to narrow and align the vision.
  • There were also a few production recommendations offered.
    • During pre-production, create a small subset of atlas materials that adhere to the color script.  This allows the team to focus on modeling and world building without getting lost too soon on material definitions.  A cohesive material/color library will help to identify modeling inconsistencies.
    • As a director, don't get stuck micromanaging individual content.  Where specific assets run astray, delegate to the Lead or Senior artists to identify and resolve.  Instead, as the director, puts lots of images on the wall (concept, production assets, etc.) to build a library of visual style that everyone can see while walking through the office.
    • Take the time to ensure that the pipelines are capable of achieving the desired visual style.

The second question focused on team organization.  How do you assemble your teams?  Do you localize groups based on similar skills (ex. concept artists all in one room) or do you organize around goals?  Or something completely different?  The following comments and criteria were expressed.
  • Generally speaking, artists do want to work together.  They want the opportunity to inspire, motivate and learn from one another.  Related to the previous topic, this is also the best environment for creating unity around a vision/style.
  • It depends largely on the attitude of the group and how communicative they are.  A high-performing group which makes a conscientious effort to interact with peers in other departments would work fine in a more isolated work space.  However, an insular group who possesses a more withdrawn attitude are better integrated directly with their client group(s).  Seniority and maturity are likely to be a factor here as well.
  • Another criteria is the number of artists as well as the number of projects.  In some cases, scale of the organization may limit your options.
  • Regarding layout, it was recommended that you consider the spatial impact.  Organizing groups by job type can sometimes have the unintended consequence of creating silos and expectations that run contrary to collaboration.
  • In addition, there was a warning against the development of a "ticketing system" approach to development.  When groups are isolated, there's a risk that lose an understanding of the context that drives their work.  Development may take on an assembly line mentality where one is not desired.
  • Speaking in favor of organizing by craft, the quality of the individuals of the group are likely to grow at an accelerated rate.  Being surrounded by similar developers, the individual is far more likely to ask questions and pick up new skills in this environment.
  • One suggestion was to organize based on which communication is more valuable to the organization.  Do you desire/expect to see more communication within groups or across groups?  Choose your spatial organization based on the goals.
  • It is also important to consider the stage of the project.  For example, organizing by craft may make the most sense during pre-production when there's a lot of prototyping and testing.  However, production stage may require a reorganization into cross-discipline work groups.
  • It was also suggested that you not approach this with a binary mindset.  Different structures may be more or less effective based on different groups.  Take the time to identify the goals and develop a strategy; don't get in the habit of changing and over-correcting based on tactical needs.  Moreover, consider getting the groups impacted involved in the discussions around these decisions.
  • Is there a middle ground here?  A few people suggested that groups be organized around feature or product, but that other strategies be employed to preserve the type of culture you would desire from a group that was organized by craft.
    • Preserve and promote regular critique sessions within a project or across projects.
    • Invest in art-centric mixers to promote visibility and the opportunity to ask questions/explore.  Drawing clubs or art challenges.
    • Look for cross-discipline culture activities - game jams, rapid prototyping, experimentation
  • Ultimately, the leaders of the project/organization are the ones responsible for building the community and bridging communication.  Regardless of spatial organization, the way the leaders interact and behave sets the tone for communication.  In short, lead by example.
The final question of the day was asking how do leaders/directors want to grow?  What can managers do to assist you?

  • One response was that the leader often gets bogged down in non-critical meetings.  Having a manager stand in would free them up for more time creating or reviewing art.
    • Another attendee countered that they wished their art director would send leads or senior artists to meetings more frequently.  They would appreciate both the perspective as well as the higher-level visibility into development.
  • One lead expressed a desire to periodically step out of the lead role.  They would appreciate having time set aside where they can focus on content creation so that they don't lose their perspective or craft skills.
  • Lastly, one attendee mentioned that they value the mentorship they've received, but that almost all of it had been about leadership.  They would value having the opportunity to receive mentorship centered around different artistic craft skills.

That concludes the notes from Day 3 of the Art Leadership Roundtable.  Thank you again to everyone who attended.  I hope you found the sessions valuable and that these notes are useful.  Hope to see you all again next year!

Speaker Evaluation

Art Leadership Roundtable: Day 3

Thursday, March 3 at 10:00 AM

Room 120, North Hall
Total Headcount: 90

Roundtable Session Ranking within Visual Arts Track: your session is ranked 4 of 12

Roundtable Session Ranking within GDC 2017: your session ranked 43 of 421

Session Totals (This Session)
Percentage of Responses


Loved these sessions!
Great host! So valuable!!
I wish these were longer! Ideally we timebox topics and, at times, contributors.
Great facilitation, esp. when picking people who haven't spoken as much. Also, I recommend to never pick more than the first 3 answers and then re-eval who wants to add something new to the table.
Please, more art related roundtables. Lots of valuable information on these talks. Would be great if the elaboration time was cut in half for each question though, because it sometimes felt like we were going in loops and would have been nice to address more issues with the time we had.
Like a AA meeting for different types of leaders. Love it!
I love Keith. He creates a safe space to speak and encourages lively conversations. He's great at summarizing points when the main thread is getting lost.
More facilitation is needed. We had some one sort of hijack the last question and change it to a question that severed mostly themselves.
We spent too much time on the first question about aligning artists when it felt answered in the first 4-5 responses.
Excellent conversation I think I will go to more round tables in the future
Love this session- best part of GDC for me. Super helpful to see how other studios/art leaders approach problems.
I got a lot of information and connections I needed from GDC
Preferred the "free question" style of this roundtable to the theme based discussion of the first roundtable of the week. Though far too much time was spent on the multiple projects in a studio question, this was only even slightly applicable to (at max) half the room and went on for the majority of the time. So feel that could have been moved along quicker to leave room for more questions.
Keith Roundtable is my favorite talk almost every year. I make it a point to come every time. I'd even suggest adding an Art Leadership Mixer for people who come every year as there are a lot of familiar faces, and we don't get to mingle much.


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  2. I can't find this session at this year's 2018 GDC. Is this happening under a different name? This is by far my favorite series of talks every year.

  3. Thank you. Yes, the roundtable will be returning again this year.

  4. Do you know how to find it in the GDC schedule?

  5. It should be posted sometime this week, but clearly hasn't yet been listed. I hope to see it posted by tomorrow.