Call of Duty and Dead Space Art Producer: Game Art Production From the Inside

Kseniia Taranets, Lead Art Producer at Room 8 Studio, discussed the role of an art producer in game projects and its distinctive features.

Kseniia Taranets Lead Art Producer at Room 8 Studio, which is part of Room 8 Group. A skilled project manager with an engineering background, she has several years of art production experience under her belt. Kseniia worked on such projects as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II and Dead Space Remake.

The Role of the Art Producer in Games

An art producer is someone who balances the business and creative processes. The scope of responsibilities includes goal decomposition, planning, risk management, and project budgeting. One in this role coordinates the team of artists and handles technical tasks (creating mood boards, collecting references, working out briefs, etc.) alongside them, as well as moderates demo meetings with clients and creative presentations.

Let's unpack the inner workings of game art production. Tell us about the peculiar features of your work: what are the pipelines, services, and subtle aspects?

Kseniia: Let's start with services. Not everyone knows that characters, environment, and animation in a game are usually created by different teams of artists. In indie or just small projects, all these tasks can be performed by one general specialist, but when it comes to AAA titles, there is a clear specialization. Four different people can work on the same character, and that's okay.

Currently, I work with photorealistic environments, and even within this single service, there are many possible pipelines. The choice depends on many factors such as engine, tools, software, work type, approach, etc. For example, the classic 3D props pipeline (blockout – highpoly – lowpoly – textures – LOD – collision) is not suitable for level art.

The final decision on the pipeline is made either by the client or technical lead of the project (in outsourcing studios), or the art director (in product companies).

As for management, there are both general industry standards and features inherent in every company. The key point is to select an appropriate methodology and adjust it to meet both client's needs and the needs of the team. But it seems like AI will soon replace not only artists but project managers as well (here is the place for your joke about ChatGPT).

Could you give us an example of how it works in practice using one of your most recent projects?

Kseniia: Among the latest releases, there are two titles that I'm particularly proud of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II and Dead Space Remake. As part of Room 8 Studio, I was the Lead Art Producer and set up production processes for both projects: we started with a small team and ended up with multi-service cooperation.

In CoD MWII, I led a team of 40 artists who created the level art, props, and weapons. We planned our work due to the classic waterfall model. This approach is becoming less common since everybody wants flexibility. But in that project, we had a precise backlog, constant pipeline, and clear deadlines, so the waterfall was a perfect fit.

Simultaneously, we used Scrum ceremonies for team management. CoD MWII was a long-term project, so it was important to track progress. We held many retrospectives, postmortems, and of course, mandatory daily meetings, which have already become the standard for any team and project.

CoD MWII became special since it was the first time I had to add a “War” item to the Risk Register. And the risk reduction plan turned into the plan, reducing adverse impact on team performance.

To ensure smooth production even if someone drops out, we made an interchangeable team of producers and technical leads, brought sub-leads who managed small teams of 4–5 people and wrote about 40 guides and checklists.

Your job is tied to communication with the team. Can you recall the challenges related to this? How did you overcome them?

Kseniia: The hardest time for any project is its setup. Especially when it scales quickly and the team has to adapt to changes in internal processes with no quality loss. In one such case, the lead and I had two completely different ideas of the workflow. The deadlines were quite aggressive, so it was urgent to find a trade-off. Eventually, we took the best of both worlds, added the team's ideas from the first retrospective meeting, wrote down the rules, and only then moved on to the next sprint.

A good manager speaks the same language as the team. What helps you better understand artists?

Kseniia: First and foremost, the understanding of game art pipelines. As an art producer, you are not one to create models, but knowing the process is essential.

I remember once I tried to make a model of a teapot. Even though I took a basic course in 3D modeling for game development and was familiar with Solidworks, it wasn’t easy at all! I was ashamed to even show that teapot to someone, but my team praised me very much. It was simultaneously fun and useful: now that I get a better idea of the needs, risks, and challenges that artists face, I can plan our work in a better way.

The second important thing is to follow the industry and develop watchfulness. Besides the fact that it eases communication with artists, it’s of great use for professional development. In game art production, having a wide visual experience is crucial for distinguishing between a good and a bad piece of work.

The modern world is bringing increasingly more challenges, giving us less time to react. How does this affect gaming overall and your work in particular?

Kseniia: The game industry is experiencing turbulent times. Big companies are being taken over by larger ones. More and more games – both high-quality and not-so-high-quality – are being released every year. A bunch of crypto and NFT projects appears, but only a few manage to stay on the crest of the wave. Software is getting more complex. The hardware requirements grow. AI is right at our heels. Therefore, it is essential for an art producer to be flexible, resilient, and capable of building a positive work environment, leaving no chance for miscommunication within the team.

You have twice mentioned AI, which is lately on the rise and widely used in many industries. Have you had a chance to use it in your work?

Kseniia: Unfortunately (or fortunately), not yet. But we are clearly at a turning point: AI is growing fast, gaining new skills, ​​and developing its capabilities. Some of them are already being utilized in game development. For example, Hogwarts Legacy has a well-developed AI-based NPC system. However, concerns about AI being a job killer are quite exaggerated and will stay so for the next few years. We need to use this delay to strengthen our soft skills; in this case, we'll stand a better chance against machines.

What about procedural generation? What is it used for in-game art production?

Kseniia: Procedural generation is used to model the game environment, mainly vegetation, materials, and surfaces. For example, with the SpeedTree Modeler, you can create trees and even whole forests. Terrain in Minecraft was also generated automatically, by the way.

Let's get away from technical issues for a while. What do you do for fun? Maybe some of your hobbies are of use in your work?

Kseniia: Most people working in game development would answer that their hobby is playing games. But not me, I‘m not persevering enough. Along with that, I like watching other people play, as it's a way to fully immerse myself in the atmosphere and enjoy the gameplay.

Also, my friends and I love to get together for a cup of tea (or a glass of wine) and question common knowledge in game development. Valuable insights may occur during such discussions.

For example, during our last meeting, we debated AAA games. Usually, this term refers to high-budget games but when you dig deeper and analyze expensive games, it turns out to be more complex than it seemed at the beginning.

What is it you like most and least about your job?

Kseniia: I’ll come up with the same answer for both questions. People. The passion for work, dedication, creativity, and unconditional support within the team give me such a charge! Yet, working with people, especially creative and dynamic ones, is always hard (and managing them is even harder). These are two sides of the same coin.

In closing, what advice would you give to someone looking to start a career as an art producer?

Kseniia: I would go with the following:

  1. Take a step back and clear up your motivation: a passion for games doesn't make gamedev a perfect career fit, yet it is a must-have for any gamedev specialist.
  2. Try to stand out from other candidates: come up with an authentic cover letter or record a creative intro video, and design your test task in compliance with the brand style of the company you’re applying to.
  3. Speak about any relevant experience that you have: even if it was outside your job responsibilities, and if you have a pet project (e.g. an indie game developed on your home PC together with friends), make sure to mention this.
  4. Prepare for the interview: check out the company’s website and portfolio and do some research on its competitors. Come to the interview with your homework done, in a good mood, and you’ve got this!

Kseniia Taranets, Lead Art Producer at Room 8 Studio

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