Senior Standards


#1

XCOM_2

Our latest featured job post is a senior-level position. I know standards & expectations for senior VFX artists vary quite a bit. I’m curious what your studio(s) require from those of us who have been doing this for a while.

This post comes from Maryland-based Firaxis, makers of the XCOM and Civilization Series:


#2

This is actually really interesting, looking forward to seeing what people say!

One trend I’ve noticed with my previous employers is an emphasis on soft qualities. What separates an associate from a senior is not technical knowledge or software proficiency, but rather things like mentoring, doing lots of active communication with other departments, informing producers and directors of risks and challenges, etc.

Of course, you’ll oftentimes see seniors be stronger artists as well through the sheer amount of experience they have, but I personally don’t think raw skill alone should qualify you as a senior.


#3

In my world that post is a perfect description of an intermediate position.

A senior needs all that’s mentioned and some more. I expect a senior to have seen a full production cycle a few times so they wont get surprised by previz work nor the emergency cert bugs or day 30 patch issues. So I think 3 years sounds low.

I expect a senior to coach intermediate and junior artists. I expect them to be better than average at time estimates. I expect a senior to own a subsection of a game. By that I mean something like the combat effects or cinematics. That includes planning ones time and being the point of contact for the rest of the team.

A senior should be able to watch a gdc talk and implement the learnings, given enough time.

A senior should be able to implement effects in any section of the game without much assistance from other vfx artists.

If a senior tells me something is handled, I drop it, whereas I would still keep an eye on a less experienced artist.


#4

What I would expect from my seniors is mostly to be more confident in decisions.

I might be able to comunicate with the team, to implement a solution from a talk or paper into the game, implement an effect anywhere in the game without assistance from prety much anyone except maybe a programmer, etc… , But I’m not sure wether I should be doing it :smiley:

I would expect my senior to be more confident in deciding these kinda things:

  • Is it worth spending a certain amount of time implementing the solution from a paper or talk into the game? Or should we spend that time somewhere else.?
    Edit : I replaced hours with "a certain amount of time, because as Urgaffel pointed out hours is misleading
  • Is there enough value gained from me implementing the effect all by myself? Or would it be more efficient if someone else helped out?
  • Is this effect we made a few weeks (or months) ago still what we want? If not, is it worth spending the time to improve it?

Just thought people might find the perspective of a younger artist interesting :smiley:


#5

If it’s only a few hours to implement something from a talk then it’s pretty much a yes as long as it makes things better. If it’s days of work then it’s a bigger ask :slight_smile:


#6

I’m not sure how experience you have, but with how much confidence would you be able to say this to management if this was potentialy a few weeks instead, and you had no idea how effective the solution would be in the game you’re making (general solution for a vr game for example?)

Ability to make these kind of decisions confidently and correctly is one of those things that make the difference for me.


#7

Really enjoying this thread, and it’s been helpful identifying actionable things I need to work on to get to that next level. I appreciate the review-by-proxy haha


#8

Yes but you said hours to implement. That’s short enough to do in a day and see the results. Days or weeks require a more thoughtful approach and probably input from programmers on feasibility and how much of a gain/improvement it will be.


#9

Maybe I didn’t explain myself propperly.

I don’t mean knowing the solution for a specific situation, I mean that a senior should be able to confidently take decisions like that whatever the situation.
I was just giving some examples there.

Also about your reply. Programmers (especialy the once trusted to take a decision like that) are expensive, are you confident it’s ok to drag them into a meeting to discuss this problem? Cause you end up disrupting their work and taking away time they could be implementing solutions to other problems, etc…


#10

I disagree. A big task like that, is not on a senior to make a decision about. It’s a group or lead decision since it will involve a significant amount of planning and other departments. The senior should however be able to provide information and input on that decision. Eventually, also implement it.

Seniors should of course be able to make decisions about what they work on, but not in a vacuum. Small tasks are fine to just go for even if they don’t always pan out. A sneior shouldn’t be afraid to have a meeting with code to discuss ideas. Just don’t waste time. However, when it comes time to make a decision about implementing a larger feature, involve the lead so they are informed, can give input and can plan accordingly.

Oh, and I’d just assume that Urgaffel knows what he’s talking about since he was already a senior when we worked together, around 7 years ago… :wink:


#11

A Senior Fx Artist:

Should be able of

  • He/ She can work without micro management
  • able to have a bigger picture about the FX for project or task.
  • able to do mentoring
  • To use the “Principles of Art” of the needs for the project or task.
  • able to work in other tools and engines as well.

#12

Yeah, I’m definitely not explaining my point well since you are agreeing with the point I’m trying to make (in a way) , not disagreeing :smiley:

Hmmm, how should I explain this from my point of view.

Essentialy, I think (and that just my opinion here) If you take the grabbag of skills you guys have as seniors, I can confidently say I can do some of that, but I’m very unsure about most others. And I feel like that is the case for most people like me who aren’t very experienced.

So my expectation (so from my point of view what do I think my senior should do) would be that you guys (as seniors) have confidence where I don’t.

And you both are kinda proving my point here, you are providing a solution with confidence where I would have doubted myself ( because of lack of experience etc…)

When I said programmers are expensive, are you confident in dragging them in a meeting, what I’m trying to illustrate is that I wouldn’t be.
I might think that dragging a programmer into a meeting is a good idea, but I wouldn’t be able to say it with confidence.
So from my point of view, a senior is someone who can make those decisions like you guys did, with confidence that this is the correct choice.

Hmm, I feel like I still might not get my point across propperly, Sorry.

I was trying to give an opinion from the other side of the coin. A lot of the reply’s are people defining what a senior is. I’m trying to ilustrate a specific expectation I would have of a senior I would work together with.

Yes, I expect you to be able to mentor me. yes I would expect you to micromanage. But I would also expect you to be more confident then me at the things that I can do myself. A bit like that.

Sorry If I’m not clear enough, I find it hard to put it in a way that is clear and consise.


#13

I think what makes it confusing from my point of view, is that many of the things you attribute to a senior would be the responsibility of the lead (which could of course be a senior). I wouldn’t expect a non-lead senior to manage any other artists. Coach, help and feedback, sure. But not to the extent where he/she makes plans for them and so on. In the same way, a senior shouldn’t have to take those big decisions and be responsible for them. Responsible for delivering them, sure, but the ownership of the decision lies with the lead and in the end the Art Director. (That way if it fails, the lead takes the fall :slight_smile: )

The lead responsibilities live somewhere outside the seniority tree. I spend a lot of time in excel, jira and powerpoint to make sure my team can work as efficiently as possible because I’m the lead. That said, I’m far from the most senior person on the team. Everything I do is to ensure that the actually skilled people can do as good a job as possible.


#14

I’m a team of one so I have to have the confidence to drag everyone and anyone into a meeting or a discussion or I will never get what I want :smiley:


#15

I love this topic. It’s especially interesting to me right now because we’re redoing all our hiring process and documentation and I’ve been involved in the process from the beginning. It’s been quite the learning experience to say the least. In fairness though, I brought this on myself. :smile: I started complaining because every candidate we would get usually ended up being a student who “did some effects” in their classes. I’m really upset with game dev schools right now because they’re not doing us or the students and favours when it comes to VFX.

As far as what I think a senior should be -

  1. Most importantly - someone who can handle the vfx for a project on their own. When you start a project there’s usually just one person doing previs and protos. If that person cannot handle all the various avenues that vfx usually require - particles, scripting, shading, animation, modeling, etc. at a decent level for at least three of those items, I would not considering that individual be a senior. No matter the number pf years of the experience. And I’m not saying a master at them, just know them enough to quality work done. If you’re the only one on the project for the life of it, then of course it needs to be more than just “quality”.

  2. If point 1 is true - how long has the person been doing VFX? IMO - min 5 years, which used to be the industry standard for any senior role.

  3. How many games shipped? As @Partikel wrote - starting and finishing a game are vital criteria. Ramping up / placing the pipelines down vs. working on FX mid project vs. shipping a game vs. working on a live game are all different experiences. in 2019, I expect a senior to have experienced all of those (minus live games, but that’s what we do at UBI, so for us it’s important).

  4. Problem solving capabilities. This is super hard to learn from the person while interviewing and I would almost put this as item 1. I don’t care care, nor would I ever assume that one individual can do everything super well. BUT what I do expect out of a senior is the skillset to get out of a jam. Decision making skills, knowing the project and tools, and know WHAT to ask are super-duper important IMO. Having trouble with a particular math formula or have to rig an asset that you’re not familiar with? - Who can you ask for help? What can you google? Are you too scared to ask for help because of what it may do to your ego? Those are all important questions that should be easy enough to answer for a senior.

  5. Good knowledge of colour / animation / timing and gameplay loops. Most of our work is feedback of some kind. Are you able to tell a good story with your FX that communicates what you want effectively?

  6. Time management skills. Know yourself and how long it will take to close a task.

  7. Mature enough to be able to take criticism and work with it. But also the knowledge to defend your work. You can’t always assume the person who’s making the calls has done all the homework. As most of us here know all too well, our trade is usually forgotten about by directors until the last minute. So we need to be sure we’ve crossed our Ts and dotted our Is. Study other games, understand communication theories, create communication languages that work for you, etc.

  8. Understand performance VERY well. You got gud at optimizing over the years that you can rip a building apart with 4 particles and it looks amazing. :stuck_out_tongue:

As you can see, I consider giving the title of senior quite important. I used to be much more lenient on it, but VFX is soooo present in games now, that the title means a lot more than it did in the past. The tech is infinitely more complicated than it was before which means our basic knowledge needs to be that much wider.

I’ve personally been doing this for over 15 years. Looking back now, I would only have considered myself a true senior (by my own definition) in the last 9 to 10 years. I would say that my first 5 to 7 years was too occupied with learning way too many new things to be considered a senior by today’s standards. But of course this is like comparing Gretzky to McDavid. Different generations. :slight_smile:


#16

This is not specifically about VFX but here’s a document (i got it from the lead env artist of crytek) with expectations to junior/regular/senior/principal&lead for different aspects like Responsibilities, Teamwork & Communication,Processes / Workflow and Pipelines etc.

Maybe this helps the discussion a bit. I found it very iteresting :slight_smile:


#17

@Urgaffel A team of one, gosh that sounds stressfull!
I used to be the only “vfx artist” in a company, but I had a super amazing tech artist who was also incredibly talented at vfx as a sort of senior :smiley:

@Partikel , Yeah well, I am kinda confused haha. So, I thought the line between senior and lead would be way thinner, with the only difference being this end responsibility.
But thats only from my point of view from below ofc, I suppose If you stand higher it’s easier to see the broader implications :smiley: Thanks for clearing that up for me :wink:

@Floggins The school thing is totaly true, I had about 3 lessons (about 12 hours) “VFX” And the only thing we learned was how to use cascade.
I think recruiters are also partialy to blame though. I have been asked multiple times if they could send in my portfolio to a senior role because they thought it was good enough.


#18

Hi everyone. The Firaxis job posting that sparked this thread is intended to find someone to fill out my team. I’m the FX Lead who will be managing whoever we end up hiring. It’s great to read all the thoughts about what sets a senior artist apart. What you all have described is very much what we’re hoping to find.

Firaxis is a company with a lot of senior staff in all departments. We have many developers who have been in the industry for decades. It’s the kind of place where senior level developers who have bounced around the industry tend to end up staying.

What I see setting the senior level ones apart is hard to quantify, and it sounds kind of cheesy, but the best word I have for it is “wisdom.” When you’ve been through enough development cycles, you learn how to handle things in a holistic way better than the junior developers. It’s not just the ability to make good looking FX with the tools provided, but the ability to handle all aspects of development surrounding them, from ideation through creation, iteration, implementation, optimization, and bug fixing, with only light guidance from the lead. They are masters of their tools and craft, but also of the soft skills of communication, planning, and teamwork. With sufficient wisdom they can be proactive about meeting the game’s needs instead of just waiting for their next assignment. Senior artists can take a wide and heavy load on their shoulders, and are not surprised by the twists and turns of the development cycle.

All of this is pretty hard to put down in a bullet list, and can’t be judged by a highlight reel of their best FX, though certainly we want applicants who also have great work to show in addition to these qualities. Unfortunately things that are hard to quantify for us in the hiring process are even harder for applicants to judge in themselves. Nobody is ever going to say “nah, I don’t have good enough communication or planning skills for that.” So the interview process for these kinds of positions needs to be very thorough, to really get a sense of who the applicant is in totality.

If any of you think this describes you, and are looking for a change, I encourage you to apply. I’d be glad to meet you and see if you’re a good fit. Firaxis has been steadily growing for many years, and is a wonderful place to make games.