The cast – 2. The artist

The very first thing you need to know is that artists are called differently in Japan. They’re either “designers”, “cg designers” or occasionally “graphicers”; it differs from company to company. Video game designers should browse the recruit pages for “planners” but more on their discipline in a later post.

Of all the different jobs in video games art is probably the easiest for a foreigner to get into. It being largely visual a lot can be communicated with sketches and simply pointing at the screen combined with some elementary body language. That said, a complete non-speaker won’t do at all. You still need to communicate with your leads, read design documents and attend meetings. It is just that you can get a lot further with crappy baby Japanese, as I have.

Your day to day tasks won’t differ tremendously from what you did back in the west, with maybe a little more emphasis on the detail often at the cost of larger looming issues. You may find yourself redoing assets a little more as someone higher up changes their mind about something seemingly trivial.

You will probably also need to have a personal relationship with the programmer who is coding that part of the game you’re creating assets for as they tend to hard-code things over here. Slight changes may have to go through a bit of a process before they can be implemented or checked. This is a little tedious and very wasteful but it’s just one of those things.

You’ll be using the same software as you always have. Maya is the norm at most companies, with a few using 3DSMax or even XSI. Maya’s menu is all English and 3DSMax comes with the English version so you can choose which to install. XSI I’m not quite sure of, but that may be in English too.
Adobe’s programs are all localized though and with ever so slightly rejigged menus this can be a bit of a pain. You’ll get used to it quickly enough though, but knowing the kanji for “saturation” and “blur” may be useful if memorizing their positions in the pull-down menus is impossible.
I had never used Optpix before I came to Japan, and really I’m not using it now, but occasionally you may have to learn some new software which will be in Japanese only. If you’re lucky some friendly colleague can walk you through the basic steps, but you might have to hunker down and plough through the manual at some point.
Tools will be in Japanese only. Exporters and converters, all that, are made in-house usually, but will often come with some explanatory emails or text files so figuring these out won’t be that much of a problem, though it may take some time.

Scheduling seems to be an arcane magic used irresponsibly over here. Often the lead or producer will dictate some date based on release and submission and not on what the team is capable of. At the same time, of course, they expect high standards. You may find yourself grinding into a crunch a little earlier than you did back home. It is avoidable if you use, what I call, “pre-emptive designing”. With a little experience you’ll learn which things will change, usually, so building assets with those inevitable changes in mind will save a lot of time. Or when you know the design will change at some point, don’t waste your time creating something perfect. Create something “good enough” and reserve some time for later to make it “perfect”; chances are that time won’t come as it’ll be trashed or completely overhauled before then.

As for quality, no the Japanese are not naturally better at creating art. You’ll probably work with some inspiringly great artists but you’ll also find yourself covering for some terrible no-hopers. Incompetence is a global problem. So be confident! If you feel you’re a good enough artist don’t put yourself down; you’ll probably be good enough for Japan too.

(I notice I sometimes repeat myself in these posts, but for completion’s sake I think I should mention salient points again where necessary)


  1. I'd love to hear details of your thoughts on the difficulty of programming at a game job in Japan, with similar "baby Japanese" language skills. Thanks for the blog.

  2. Though I must confess I dont know too much about the programming side to justify it, I will be attempting such a post at a later date.

  3. Once again, great stuff. You keep dishing out exactly the kind of info I need right now :)