Anyone with an iPad, smartphone, game console, laptop or Facebook account already knows the addictive, fun nature of a really good game or app. If you’ve spent hours playing one, or feel compelled to master yet another level before calling it a night – then you have people like 3D character artist, animator and graphic designer, Evan Smith, to thank. Smith is the Creative Director and Company Founder of Pixel Dash Studios – an indie video game company located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Over the years, they’ve built a client roster that includes Fortune 500 companies, government organizations, and corporate game studios.
“Game design is one of the most challenging creative processes I’ve come across,” says Smith. “Anyone can kick out an interactive experience and distribute it digitally, but very few people can create something that’s truly fun, refined, re-playable and viable.”
Smith says that he welcomes the challenge of making any game project ‘incredibly interesting’. “One of the first projects I designed with my business partner was a work-for-hire Facebook game called Street Dice,” he says. “We had lots of creative freedom, but very little development time – looking back, that project was a lot of fun, a lot of sleep deprivation, and a great learning experience.”
Smith is in a field where video game creation can take weeks to more than two years to complete a finished product. He says that the game industry is comprised of creative teams that vary in size, all working together to develop a viable product, and he’s seeing the indie side of the industry making impressive strides.
“It’s been great to see the recent resurgence of both indie game development and casual game development, which tends to be much smaller in scope than traditional console games,” says Smith. “The boom of digital distribution and smartphones provides opportunity for all kinds of projects.”
He gives an example of the indie game Meat Boy, which took about a month for two guys to develop in Flash. “They went on to develop Super Meat Boy for Xbox Live Arcade, but had to devote every waking moment for the next two years in order to release on console,” states Evan. “The game received rave reviews and excellent sales, so in that case, the work most certainly paid off.”
As an art student, Evan says that his biggest struggle was grasping the options available to him beyond graduation. In college, he says that he was able to discover his interests, but did not fully understand how those interests could have applied to the rest of his life. “…I had limited exposure to people who actually designed and animated for a living,” says Smith.
Evan earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia in Visual Art, and studied character animation at Animation Mentor under the instruction of industry veterans from Blue Sky Studios, Nelvana, and Industrial Light and Magic. He founded Pixel Dash Studios in 2011, which now employs a ‘core team of 10 artists and programmers.’
Smith says that it’s important to surround yourself with ‘good people, good clients, and good contacts’ as you pursue your own art-related business.
“…designing for fun, or as a hobby is one thing, but developing a sustainable creative business from the ground up is an entirely different beast,” he adds. “… and you’ll need to supplement your own will power with all the support you can get.” Smith says in the beginning, long work hours and earning less than you’re probably used to come with the territory. He suggests giving yourself a timetable to pour everything you’ve got to reach your ultimate goal, and stresses the importance of seeking advice from mentors within the industry.
For artists just starting out in the business world, Smith also recommends looking into crowd funding – using sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. “It’s by no means guaranteed money, but there are countless inspiring success stories out there,” he says. “We’re currently involved in a Kickstarter campaign for a video game project called Road Redemption.”
Smith states that one of his company’s biggest challenges when first starting out was attracting quality clients. “For any studio offering design and development services, great clients are your lifeblood,” he says. “But if a client isn’t a good fit, it can really add to your workload and your management overhead without adding much to your bottom line.”
He mentions that if he had to start over, he would set aside a chunk of time to develop more company work samples. “Often times a few portfolio pieces can speak louder than any elevator pitch or bid.”
Evan’s advice for a student looking to pursue a career in animation or graphic design: “One of the biggest pieces of advice I can share with students is to constantly try to expose yourself to what’s out there, whether it’s shadowing someone for a day, volunteering, joining an organization, or scouring the Internet for inspirational sites, like Dribbble and Creattica, or educational sites like the Gnomon Workshop or Animation Mentor. Because ultimately, if you don’t know what’s out there, you don’t really know what you can strive to be.”