Literally, Darling has a series following millennials with unexpected careers (so far we’ve talked to a book cover designer and UX designer). Have an interesting career? Want to know how to get that position? Contact us with ideas and maybe we’ll feature your dream job next!
Artists can have a pretty tough time “monetizing their joy,” as some have put it. Sean Simons has always had a talent for quirky doodles, and he eventually turned this into an actual job title (“Artist III” thankyouverymuch) at Everi, a company that creates concepts for slot machines. He has spent five years there designing the artwork and animations for the games. Fresh off the heels of his month-long Instagram project, #DwarfADay, he shared with us how he got the coveted title of professional artist, and his advice for others seeking the same.
LD: What kind of background did you come from?
Sean: The background that specifically got me to this job started with going back to school for a second degree. I had only been out of UT for a year or so and after hearing about the opening of an Art Institute here in Austin, and no real plan to do anything with my first degree, I went back to pursue art. I studied graphic design there, taking a couple of animation related electives, and was in one of the first graduating classes for the Austin branches.
I also had an internship with SXSW, the company that puts on the yearly festival. I worked in the publication department for the interactive branch of the 2011 festival, on parts of that year’s guidebook, some of the branding for the interactive awards ceremony, and the signage designs for inside the convention center that they may or may not still be using?
The small window between my internship and starting at Everi I had a short run as a freelance designer as well. When freelancing, you get some cool projects but you have to spend so much energy being your own manager. You’ve got to find your own clients and negotiate your own pay, often times with kind of sleazy “idea guy” types that don’t want to pay you, and there’s hardly any left to do the fun creating part. It just wasn’t for me.
LD: Did you always have a passion for this kind of work?
Sean: Yes! I’ve always had a passion for art and design it just took me way too long to embrace that. When I first went off to college I already knew I liked art but I think it was crushing self doubt that steered me away from it as a career. My father at that point had left his career path as an artist to work in other fields, that probably deterred me some, and I just didn’t think I had the skill that I thought I should have had by then.
I ended up graduating the University of Texas with a degree in English and a minor in Sociology. I played around with the idea of teaching before deciding that wasn’t right, and by the end I walked out of there with no career path at all in mind. Instead I ended up working at the local Austin toy store, Toy Joy, which I think was a big contributor to helping me decide to study art. Everyone who worked there, and a lot of the customers too, were so creative—everyone was either a painter, a chef, a musician, an illustrator, a puppeteer! It was the first time I felt like I was surrounded by kindred spirits and that really gave me the confidence to go back to study art.
LD: Describe a typical day.
Sean: I like to warm up with some sketching at my desk, get a nice hot tea, then I get into spending a majority of my day in Adobe programs designing and doing concept art for a game, occasionally sending out emails to the art leads or producers to get their feedback. It’s all pretty laid back and we usually work as just one artist on a game unless we need help to meet deadlines.
If a project is more further along and we have a programmer building and putting the game together, we kick into production mode where there’s less conceptualization and more of just creating artwork and animations and getting them to the programmer.
LD: What is your favorite part about your job? The most difficult?
Sean: Favorite part is concepting! That’s the stage where a rough idea for a game theme is chosen (like is it going to have shiny jewels or feature sexy gods and goddesses, or some majestic lions or something) and its bonus features (fun ways for players to win big) start to take shape but the specific art style or look hasn’t been figured out. That’s when I get to research styles I’d love to try and sketch ideas out to see if they have potential. An idea seems promising if I can mentally picture the artwork five steps ahead—for instance, if I like an idea for a character design, can I imagine how it’s going to animate? And if so is that way amusing in some way? If I like what I’ve got I show the superiors and a game is underway!
I’ve found I really like thinking about what works in a game. What do people enjoy and how can we communicate things like rules and ideas the best way? At our company, anyone can pitch game design ideas too, which is pretty fun!
The most difficult would probably be on the opposite end of the game design life cycle, when a game is almost done and there’s just a lot of really small details to iron out and finish up or bugs to fix.
LD: Any crazy work stories?
Sean: We sometimes get sent to Las Vegas for work trips to see games in their natural habitat. I’ve seen Carrot Top playing our games as part of a celebrity slot machine tournament, that was definitely a bit surreal.
In a more mundane story, I had a huge torrent of water fall from the ceiling while I was at my desk. Turned out the air conditioning had a place where it collected moisture above me that wasn’t draining properly. It was like those scenes in an alien movie where you feel a few drips on your shoulder and look up as if in slow motion to see the thing descending upon you, but for me it was like 20 gallons of water all of the sudden about to flood my office. Quick reflexes saved my computer at least by turning off the power in time!
LD: What do you consider your biggest professional accomplishment?
Sean: Two things! I’m most proud of the latest game I’ve had released, Sushi Sushi Bang Bang: a slot game themed with cute little sushi characters. I’m a big cartoon lover and it was one of the first games I had (almost) full creative freedom. My superiors just had a surprising amount of confidence in me to let me go nuts!
And secondly, on a cat-themed game, Kitty Riches, made with pictures and footage of real cats and kittens, I sort of snuck in my own cat Lilo. She’s a grey tabby that appears in some of the bonus features of the game!
LD: Where do you find your inspiration?
Sean: Even though slot machines are usually considered pretty “low brow” in their end product, when we’re designing a game we look all over the place for ideas. I’ve helped concept a Paris-themed game and loved looking through galleries of French architecture and typography from the Art Nouveau movement. Usually though I find sparks of inspiration in the things I like, cartoons, comics, and video games, especially the growing indie game scene and the artists that work there.
A photo posted by Sean S. (@kidkaiju) on
LD What does a career arc look like for this position?
Sean: “Artist III” is the highest level for artists in our company. Some people like to chill at that stage and just make games. Others take opportunities to go into being a producer and overseeing projects, or step up to be an art lead where you sort of guide other artists on their projects. Eventually there are higher up positions like art directors and executive producers!
LD: What are some of the essential qualities for someone who wants to go into this field?
Sean: I’d say anyone going into an art-related field first and foremost needs a good eye. They need to be able to see their work and tell what needs improving, see others’ work and know what really makes it succeed, and see a project from all the angles and problems that good design can solve. Secondly, you need a good balance between ego and humility. A little bit of ego so that you’re confident enough to defend your design choices when you really think they’re right but also humble enough to remember that everyone you meet can teach you something and every criticism can potentially be worthwhile.
LD: What advice would you give to others who were looking to get started?
Sean: Good portfolios count more than good degrees! I studied Graphic Design but now my job is 75% illustration and 25% animation. Some people see a distinction between those fields, but I don’t really and I don’t think people hiring you are discouraged by what a resume says as long as your body of work has something they’re looking for. So keep creating—if not freelancing for others than do it on your own!
When applying for jobs in a creative field, really kick up the professionalism to stand out from the crowd. A lot of people applying for creative jobs might have the passion and the skill, but the ability to work as a team in an office setting may not seem like the right fit, so class up the website and get yourself some business cards! It may sound lame but I really think my business card was like half of the reason I got my job.
Also, just enjoy what you do! It will show in your work!