Career Advice - Working as a Studio Art Director with Mike Henry
Thanks to the internet, a strong portfolio (plus resume) gets you the interview. Your personality shows us we can spend 40+ hours a week with you. Your passion shows us how much you care about your work, your profession, and games as a whole. These three qualities land 90% of jobs.
Want a successful career working as an Art Director of a leading interactive entertainment company that has developed more than 200 fun titles for the mobile world??
Mike Henry is the Studio Art Director of New Games at King, in Barcelona where he resides with his wife, kids, and three kooky ghosts (ooooo!) He is a Game Maker, Artist, Soul in a flesh mech...and he sits down with us to share his journey and advice to aspiring image makers, looking for an exciting and challenging career like his own.
What's your current role and what does it involve?
I’m currently the Studio Art Director for New Games in King’s Barcelona office. I oversee Art on multiple projects in various stages of development. I work directly with Art Directors and Artists on product as well as on the organisational side of things.
Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?
I work at King and we make Mobile Games!
When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?
I’ve wanted to be an artist in games, cartoons, movies, etc. since Kindergarten. I wanted to work in comics through middle school and high school, but I’ve been a gamer since I got my first Nintendo. I made a real effort to be in the industry in college.
How did you get your first big break?
My very first internship was through a friend who already had a lead on one. My first real job that truly got my career going was when I replied to a post on ConceptArt.org. It was working with John Romero on a project. Shortly after, they brought me on.
Describe the journey you took into your current role?
Random! When I look back on things it’s kind of bonkers, really. At the time, I was always trying to make the best next step with the information I had. I think the biggest push towards this was creating my own company. That skipped over internal growth limitations a company might have and really established what I was capable of. After a couple years of that, I was a Studio Art Director.
Day in the life
Describe a typical day for you and your team?
That’s complicated for me since I’m a Studio Art Director. There are very few typical days. If I had to describe it, I’d say it was an ever-changing melange of meetings, art reviews, documentation, and decision-making.
What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?
I personally use standard office software, Photoshop, and Procreate.
Which departments and key people do you work closely with?
I work with my Art Directors, other members of studio leadership, and some groups within the company that are external to our studio.
Are there any industry trends that are changing the nature of your role?
One thing you’d never change about your job?
Working with so many talented and enthusiastic people.
But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?
More doing art and less talking about it. That’s just because I wanna throw down more often, heh.
Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?
What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?
Since the term “artist” is so vast, I’ll keep it about the generic attributes. I often refer to the three Ps: Portfolio, Personality, and Passion. Those are big buckets, but those are the three main things that get someone in the door. Thanks to the internet, a strong portfolio (plus resume) gets you the interview. Your personality shows us we can spend 40+ hours a week with you. Your passion shows us how much you care about your work, your profession, and games as a whole. These three qualities land 90% of jobs assuming there isn’t some hard requirement like “must know Unreal Engine”. Though, that’s likely found in the portfolio phase.
Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?
In the beginning, demonstrate versatility until you have some years under your belt. Then, build a portfolio around what you’re passionate about. It’ll save you a lot of grief down the line.
What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?
A lot of artists just don’t make it easy to find their art. You should be everywhere and make it easy to find you there. Most companies just go by portfolio and LinkedIn. Have both of those ready to go. Those two things are more important than things like cover letters or fancy resume formats.
If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?
Three things need to happen for you to get a job:
The company has to need someone similar to you (3D Modeler, Concept Artist, UI Designer);
The company has to know you exist. If they don’t know about you, you won’t be contacted;
You have to be good enough to get the job. You can only control one and a half of these points. The other one and a half is up to luck.
Do everything you can to nail your half of the 3 points: Be everywhere people are looking, make yourself known, maintain frequent output, grow your skills, stay on top of industry trends, and work both smart and hard.
If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?
I would have focused myself more. I was a kid with a 3D-focused degree who wanted to be a 2D artist his whole life. It created quite a conflict for me. After my internship, I refocused my portfolio to have no 3D work and I beefed up the concept side. Shortly after, I got my first Concept Art gig and that was that.