I’ve asked my good buddy Matt Core for this Q&A segment. Matt, it’s good to have you back.
Matt: Yeah, it’s good to be here, thanks Chris.
Chris: We have a question about moving and I’ll just read the question here and then we’ll respond. But I really want to say that I wanted Matt to join us first because he always has great things to contribute, but secondly because he has moved to the west coast in somewhat recent history and also for the games industry specifically. So I’m hoping Matt, you can weigh in on that in a way that I am not really able to do. The question comes from Justin Goodrich and it says, “I currently live in Middle, Georgia,” which I can’t help but wonder if that’s kind of like middle earth.
Matt: Yeah, it’s Georgia but 500 feet down.
Chris: Somewhere beneath the earth’s crust. “I currently live in Middle, Georgia as I work on my visual development portfolio. In the past three years, I have had little success. I know that my portfolio is my most important thing for conceptual design opportunities, but I am wondering how much location plays a part in this business. I can’t help but notice that the majority of concept art opportunities are out west. I know it is not futile to keep trying, I am just a little curious about the practicality. If an employer liked my work enough, could they help me relocate?” So it’s kind of two questions, one is about the practicality of being in Georgia and do I need to move, and then there’s this secondary question about relocation. Matt, what are your thoughts on the games industry and if Justin…we don’t know if he’s talking about animation and games, but if he is talking about games, does he need to move to the west coast?
Matt: Yeah, I’ll take games, you’ll talk about movies okay?
Chris: Sounds good.
Matt: I don’t think about those but um, so as an interesting side note, I moved to Middle, Georgia in order to work in the video game industry. Right after college I went to a studio called Hi-Rez which is just outside of Atlanta. That was my first game job, so there are in fact game studios, in fact a couple of them, in Georgia. So that would your first thing to look at, but beyond that, you sort of have the question of two lives. You can do the freelance life or you can do the in studio life, and if you want to work in a studio, those are often on the west coast. There are some on the east coast as well, but not as many clustered in Georgia. So your odds are going to be better in a sort of a nomadic lifestyle where a studio might lay off a hundred people and then you have to get a new job. If there’s more in your area, it’s just easier where you don’t have to move. So for that regard, moving to the west coast might be nice. Freelancers can live wherever they want and so that is a valid choice from wherever you want to be but they are two totally different lives. Like working in a game studio is a very particular day to day experience and working in your house and drawing pictures is a very particular day to day experience. Yes, you’re drawing dragons in both, but I think they are totally different people that want those lives. Chris, you work at home now and you used to work in a studio. Would you say they are different enough to be considered almost like different jobs?
Chris: Yeah, I think so. But, it’s a more interesting question I think now than it was even five years ago. I’ve seen a trend where trying to cultivate a career as a freelancer is more similar to trying to cultivate a career as an in house artist as it ever was before. So now, it’s…I am over simplifying, I understand that, but in a way it’s kind of this simple which is, be a great artist that does the thing that you want to do.
Matt: So that’s a technical thing, like how you go about getting the job but what I’m saying is like say you’ve got the job, you are a freelancer, or you are an in studio artist. Those are two totally different pursuits, just like from an emotional standpoint. I think not everybody is set up to be a freelancer for instance, they might not have the dedication to get up every day and do it or they like being around people or whatever.
Chris: Right, you mean more of an intrinsic motivation, is the intrinsic motivation there to stick with freelance for example.
Matt: Yeah, like for me when I hear about the solitary novelist that like sits in the woods with a typewriter; that sounds awesome to me. But I don’t know that everybody feels that way. So to me, being a freelancer kind of works with my personality so technical stuff aside, that’s a valid choice for me but for some people, maybe you’re just thinking about getting into the industry for the first time. It’s easy to get hung up on the particulars of how to make a portfolio, blah, blah, blah. But think ahead to the life, like say you are the freelancer, or say you are the studio artist, does that sound fun to you?
Chris: Yeah, I know what you mean. I am not motivated intrinsically to pursue freelance jobs. Now that’s not something I’m pursuing obviously because my job is the director of the Oatley Academy and has been for a while now.
Matt: And that’s weird and different.
Chris: But I know myself and I know what I’m driven by. I think you have to want to freelance to really be kind of psychologically postured for a career as a freelance artist. The thing is, is that for most artists who are broadly just looking for work, I don’t think that it’s much different. And I think if you’re in a place where, “I just want to work professionally as an artist in a beggars can’t be choosers kind of way,” it matters less what you actually do now. And so I think either way you can yes, you need to consider at some point, what are you emotionally, mentally wired for but I don’t think that is the pressing question. I think the pressing question is, are you hirable as an artist in any context and I think that’s the thing. Just like Justin said, I understand that the portfolio is the most important thing for conceptual design opportunities. And I think that’s really the question because you can kind of…like Justin can just focus on the concept art portfolio and that’s it. He can focus on making a great concept art portfolio and maybe his first few gigs will be freelance or maybe they’ll be in house, either way he doesn’t have to do much differently. All he has to worry about is making a great concept art portfolio and send that to everyone. And then he can kind of at first just let the industry decide whether he freelances or whether he moves, do you know what I mean?
Matt: Totally. And I guess if we’re talking about that direction, from seeing portfolios coming in, like from being on the other side of the table at games studios. The portfolios, absolutely keen, the location is less relevant. At the studios I worked at in the past, we’ll maybe hesitate for a second if it’s a choice between two identical candidates and one lives halfway across the country, it saves you a couple thousand bucks to get the local one. But in the big picture, you’re not going to be equal, you’re not going to have those two perfect candidates. So it’s really the work that matters, not the location. They’ll move you, it may be hard for you because you’ve got to move your family or whatever, but as far as their checkbook is concerned, they’ll move you if they need you.
Chris: Yeah, and in terms of whether you’re mentally suited to freelance or not, I would be just happy to have the gig and then if I find out I hate freelancing, then that’s a good problem to have. Then you can pivot and you can change and you can go, “Oh man, I don’t really want to freelance.” But you can tough anything out for a while if you’re…if you’re working on an awesome game for fair pay, you can tough out the solitary lifestyle if you’re not wired for that just to be able to get the experience that will then lead to whatever you were kind of looking for next. I can say that in animation, it is not common for studios to relocate you. It’s just my opinion, but I think it’s not like there are so few artists that can really do the job that they’re like, “We’ve got to do everything we can to sweeten the deal to make sure we get this person,” because I don’t know if you’ve noticed this Matt, but there are quite a few concept artists around.
Matt: I have noticed that but at least in games, the exact right artist, there’s not so many of those. Like you’re often going for a really specific look, especially if you have a stylized game, and so if someone has a portfolio that proves that they like have already made art that meets the criteria your game needs, that can be really appealing. You can look at someone who’s got really great art and sort of extrapolate and think they could probably do the style that you need. But if you find that person that like their portfolio is very specific and matches exactly what you’re doing, that’s an attractive candidate you might want to move to get to your studio.
Chris: Right, that’s a good point. And I don’t think that’s any different in animation, I think that’s exactly true and that’s exactly why you get hired. But I just don’t think they relocate very many people. If anyone knows differently, please post in the comments of the blog post that’s associated with this podcast episode which will be ChrisOatley.com/Robert-Simons, and share in the comments. If anyone has had an experience where you’ve had animation studios pay to relocate you, please let us know. I know I had a friend in graduate school who was a technical director and if I’m not mistaken…I probably shouldn’t say…but one of the studios, one of the big studios, the big animation studios, paid to relocate her but she’s the only person I know of who has been where the artist did not have to foot the bill for the move.
Matt: And I actually understood and have seen in the comments for people who have thought they were about to have a game industry job that looked like an offer and then they refused to give it to you because you needed to be moved. I’ve like to hear the opposite.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. That’s very interesting. So does Justin need to move to the west coast?
Matt: Not until he has an offer.
Chris: Yeah, right. If you can afford to just move to LA and whatever, couch surf, live on your friend’s couch and go to Gallery Nucleus and the Center Stage Gallery and all of those events they do all over the Academy, as in the Oscars, they do events – I mean there are just so many great things happening in LA if you can afford to go on a long trip or a series of short trips and just kind of make that work, that’ll be…as long as you don’t do anything foolish financially, I think that’ll be a really positive experience and I think you’ll take a lot away from that. And theoretically you could meet someone who could give you a job and there might be some kind of kinetic energy, a definite benefit in being there in person. There’s a reality of the fact that you’re there and someone can shake your hand and look at your work, and there’s just an energy in meeting someone in person that can give you the upper hand, than just the long distance portfolio submission. So I think there is a definite advantage in physically being there, but LA, not unlike Seattle is very expensive. It’s very, very expensive. And there are just more people, so parking tickets for example. Not only are they more expensive than they are in say the Midwest, you get more of them. You get parking tickets more often because there are more people and therefore there are more cops reinforcing and on and on. And so that’s the kind of thing that no one ever tells you. We had a friend, when we first moved to LA, we had a friend that lived in Venice Beach which parking is extremely scarce there and parking tickets are common. And he factored into his automotive budget every single year I think like one ticket per month or something like that, and it was just part of his car budget in the same way that you would budget for your car insurance. He also added to that parking tickets, because it’s just so inevitable.
Matt: And for me, I have to pay for my parking lot, like for my one spot. It’s like part of my rent, a big part of my rent is that which is new to me coming from not a big city.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. So those are the kinds of things that just…it’s hard to prepare for that stuff because those are the things that are really hard to anticipate unless you’ve just lived there and paid attention to what it’s like. There are also other things that can just take you out financially if you’re not ready for it.
Matt: Yeah, like your story of potentially go to LA and let exciting things happen, go to Gallery or whatever. That to me sounds like a good idea for a trip or a visit.
Chris: Like a long visit, like a month for example.
Matt: Did you hear about the…I don’t know, sort of like the fairy tale of moving out to LA to make it and if your portfolio is not borderline there or already ready to become professional, you’ll get out there, your work won’t be ready to get your job yet and then you have a lot of work to do but you also have to pay huge living bills. So all of a sudden it’s like, I can’t work on my portfolio right now, I’ve got to work three jobs. To me that doesn’t sound like a great foundation on which to start your career, to just being in a terrifying financial situation. And were I living in Middle, Georgia and I was not really sure my portfolio was ready, I would keep living the cheaper life and working on the portfolio until I was more certain that I was close.
Chris: So as a short-term thing, if you have some savings and you really want to try and sprint, there are people who do that. It’s definitely not my advice, generally speaking, it is not at all my advice but there are people who pull it off.
Matt: They are braver than I am.
Chris: Yeah! Braver than I! I was so fortunate in that I had the offer from Disney. They called and were like, “Can you be here in three weeks?” And it just happened like that, but I had freelanced, I had struggled for a long time. You can hear my story, I’ll link to some of my other stories for those of you who have not heard me tell my whole story, I’ve got it in several interviews. So I’ll link to those in the blog post associated with this podcast episode. So you can learn more about that, but I did have the gig before I moved out to LA, and even then, I moved to LA by myself and stayed on my buddy’s couch. And I had the job at Disney, and I worked at Disney for six months and then I was laid off, and that happens, it’s part of the reality of working as a concept artist. And I didn’t get work at Disney again, I got some other cool gigs which were all freelance. I didn’t get another in house gig again until I moved back to LA a year later. And it wasn’t until I got back and people were like, “Oh hey, Chris is back!” And then the phone started ringing. So I don’t really know what my point is there except that’s what happened. I didn’t move initially until I had the gig and even then it was sort of a dating period. I was dating LA to see whether I wanted to get engaged.