How to make $100,000 as a Video Game Artist or Art, Life and Games Lessons from a Former Star Wars Artist – Part 2 – my book is coming out end of May ! / by Mirena Rhee


And the first lesson is don’t. Hundred thousand is not much money, as a senior artist in today’s market you’re probably going to be compensated 150,000.

Don’t do it for the money. There are hundreds and thousands of great ways, there are beautiful, amazing, adventurous, awesome ways of making a lot more than a hundred thousand and if you put yourself in the right business like law, finance, governance, executive entrepreneurship, sales, acting – there are many, many ways to go about it, even making decent memes on the Internet is going to do it. You can make millions making and having all kinds of fun.

Seek instead to become a highly skilled professional that people are simply going to make you an offer you can’t refuse every time. The adrenaline rush, the satisfaction and the pride you are going to take in making great work that’s the kind of thing that could never be erased or replaced by making money, because if you navigate the A player field successfully you will become capable of creating work that just can’t be beat or easily reproduced.

When I first got on board at Lucasfilm I never cared one bit about how much I was going to make but I was curious instead to find out how a highly respected venerable leader in this field operates, what type of creator, what kind of process makes people line around the block at midnight just to take a glimpse to experience their entertainment product. Millions of people go crazy about the stuff that Lucasfilm puts out, that’s indistinguishable from magic.

People pay thousands of dollars to go and learn something, and then they have to pay student loans until retirement, but instead you can get paid to get an invaluable insight into the inner workings of a great operation and I haven’t even started talking about the art aspect of it, and I haven’t even touched on the fact how much I loved Star Wars.

To sum it up if you care about the money you will miss out on developing the kind of qualities in yourself as a professional that you can be part of, that you can partake in and even create an ( entertainment product ) that simply can’t be beat.

So how do you become that? You probably need a portfolio right. Well I want to tell you a secret that even if you make the greatest bestest portfolio in the world, there are 50,000 okay maybe not 50 – 5000, 500 people that have exactly the same skill set. Portfolio will definitely help but nobody is going to call you with a great offer based on that. Because that’s not what your producer is going to be looking for.

You know of the term getting your foot in the door, and it seems logical that a portfolio will get your foot in the door but no, what really happens is that the producer on the 80 million dollars project is going to look for someone who is not going to screw up his 80 million dollars project when it gets really tough, like it gets really tough every time before a project gets out.

They want to make sure that you have a track record of delivering on a half million dollar project and then delivering on a 2 million dollar project and then delivering on a 20 million dollar project and perhaps then they can trust you with their own skin because their own skin is on the line.

See I haven’t even started talking about art yet because of course art comes into play and in a very very big way, you have to deliver what is promised, you will have to deliver under high pressure. Often times you have to work 16-hour days for months, just find out how many hours Elon puts into his rockets so that’s exactly the amount of time his engineers put into his rockets.

But for 2 years you are going to get the experience of 10 or 20 years elsewhere.

Many many many many people create beautiful things on YouTube but when a highly-skilled professional artist sits in front of that computer and they have to make a zebra – between that and the highly detailed beautiful zebra that’s prancing in the game stand numerous obstacles.

And that’s why the producer on that project is going to pay you to be able to, on your own initiative, remember – on your own initiative and without prodding or being tasked by somebody, you will have to navigate your way from zero to a highly polished entity that’s beautifully prancing in the game and that’s a lot more difficult than you think. Not least of which because they may discover that they may not need a zebra after all.

And that is because they want to make sure that there are a few hundred million people out there who will want to see the zebra prancing and it’s going to make them buy the product even in a small way. By the time you’re done with that zebra you will have become in a little way a zebra yourself and will know how to prance well.

So to sum it up your job as a video game artist, okay forget the art, as a highly skilled professional is to navigate an extremely well seeded minefield of obstacles to accomplish your goal.

There’s actually very little complacency in games because every new game is a new ball game simply because the hardware, the tools and the consumers have brand new expectations every single time. That’s why working in games is very very exciting because there’s always a brand new experience.

So how do you navigate that minefield that I talked about. Steve Jobs had a beautiful metaphor for this and it is the metaphor about the rock tumbler, so you have this rock tumbler and you put just dirty rocks from your garden into it, you turn it on, let it spin overnight and on the next day you open it up to find out beautiful polished rocks in there.

What happens when you do AAA software development, video games are in fact both software development and a product development, so what happens is that the product is so complex that it depends on millions and millions of individual interaction between highly skilled professionals to navigate the way to the beautiful polished rocks. Because unlike movies you never know what you’re going to get, you just can’t shoot the script on paper. There are so many uncertainties and ultimately you may end up with a product that doesn’t at all resemble what you started with.

Neither your manager nor your producer, perhaps nobody in the entire studio will have any idea what is it that you need to do to get your job done and I’m not saying it in a major way – of course you will have a task and you will have to complete it really nicely, but the many many moments when you will need to troubleshoot stuff when things go broke, when things will need to get better you will need to know what to do, and in this instance you have to go and find out and communicate with another skilled professional to figure out what to do cuz just imagine if 300 people on the team every day go by the producer or the art director to find out what is it they need to do – it’s going to take 500 years to make a game or a software product.

The micro transactional aspect of development is one of the reasons why open source software became very popular and quite robust.

So what the Silicon Valley has worked out is that they develop this pool of talent who is proven to be capable of navigating the rock tumbler and the minefields of obstacles by learning their way while interacting with others just like them, interacting with higher ups and people down the chain, it is actually absolutely flat structure, well not absolutely flat but in terms of navigating into the process of accomplishing your work it’s a completely flat field. You will have to go and talk to 10 people to figure stuff out sometimes. Because it’s not going to be written anywhere because things develop and information gets old really fast. The funny thing is that in software development in the Silicon manage your higher-ups and you often have to tell them how to help you to get your job done. But in order to be able to talk to a person who’s literally a salaried millionaire and ask them to do stuff for you – you have to have your s*** together.

And here’s the other important lesson – we don’t call this game making, we call it game development and similar to what they call kaizen in Japan which is gradual improvement. The word we have for making gradual improvements over time is development, especially in software and of course video games.

Anyway, what does it mean to get your foot in the door – you become part of a pool of highly skilled professionals who have been trained in that way of operation where they understand that they will need to be proactive in their work and not just sit in front of a computer and sculpt stuff, they will have to be proactive and often in a very very irrational way. They will have to complete thousands and thousands of microtransactions, alone with the computer or with other professionals to the greatest benefit of their product or their company or their employer. They will have to be highly self-motivated, they have to be motivated just because of peer pressure.

I guess the next step is really important – get yourself in a place where stuff like that happens – this is Los Angeles and San Francisco hands down, I know there are other places, I just don’t have much experience elsewhere but I can tell you that’s your best chance of finding a place where there’s concentration of talent and concentration of industry. I’m not saying you can’t go anywhere else I’m just saying that’s your best bet.

Okay so the next lesson that’s really important is you got to make sure you like what you do and you have to like it a lot. I remember I used to get up at 5 a.m. to get to work at 6 a.m. because I absolutely (until this day) loved 3D modeling, sculpting, doing work on the computer – to me it has never been even 10 minutes of work and just love.

Another important thing is you got to scratch and crawl and claw yourself into finding people that you deeply respect and admire and work for them. Never work for people you don’t respect admire and you don’t want to emulate. This last line I stole from someone, so that’s not my line but it’s a great one.

I was really lucky I have to admit in the sense that on my first job I landed people who were absolutely astonishingly hard-working, talented and capable and with integrity. Never work for people you don’t respect you don’t admire and you don’t want to emulate.

So to sum it up you got to love it, you got to get to the place, you have to do the work with people you like and admire. Actually to get all of this accomplished you’re not going to be compensated hundred thousand dollars, you going to get several million dollars worth of value out of it.

My book comes end of May – if you want to know how to make this happen and what to do with it because the time will come when you will outgrow an organization and you want to strike on your own and you got to know what to do.