Jake Kazdal has been around the block in a relatively short time, having worked in studios as disparate as Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s United Game Artists where he worked on such titles as Space Channel 5 and Rez to Electronic Arts’s Los Angeles studio, where he is currently working on Steven Spielberg’s still-secretive project. In between, Jake returned to school and attended Art Center Pasadena, in attempt to move from production to more concept-based artwork.
Please dispel the myths: what do you do at work every day?
Right now we are extremely early on in the project, so I am doing more sketching and visualization of gameplay concepts than actual location/character designs. I’ll get to those in the next phase.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I have been a complete vidiot since I was old enough to stand on a chair and play arcade games like Centipede and Tempest in my Dad’s pizza parlors in the late 70’s and early 80’s. In high school, I was fortunate enough to live down the street from Nintendo America, and got a job there as a game counselor, followed by similar stints at Irem and Enix. After that I went to Art and Film school to get into actual production.
What skills did you have that made this sort of work possible for you?
Good people skills and a creative imagination, solid drawing skills, and a lifetime of game playing experience.
Talk about the less-glamorous work you did before jumping into games. Did any of that experience help you at all?
Well in my case it was playing lots of games and listening to where everyone got stuck or frustrated in their games back in the eight-bit days that led to me being extremely gameplay oriented (and vocal about it), even though ‘?m not a dedicated game designer.
Did your education help you get where you are? Or should people hoping to be in your shoes simply drop out, and get to work?
I think that really depends on the person. Personally I went back to school recently to really focus on Industrial Design for my concept work, and it certainly has been a major help.
In 2007 what do you think the salary range will be for a concept artist? I mean from a junior position all the way up to an Executive Director level, what’s the range?
I honestly don’t know.
Some game developers laugh when they hear the word “Royalties! Are royalties real? Should I take that seriously if I’m offered them as a part of my employment package?”
HA! HA HA HA…yeah. Never seen one dime in seven years of professional game production. Of course, I have never worked on a game that sold over a million units (or anywhere close), so I’m not the guy to ask. If I were working on Gran Turismo, yeah I know those guys get PAID.
How competitive is the market for the sort of work you do?
There’s plenty of competition. My industry experience was absolutely the biggest factor in getting me to where I am today, you really have to commit yourself long term.
Within your current role, are there opportunities to transition to other areas of game development, should your interests take you there?
Well, yeah I guess there are a couple of different ways I could go. I’m pretty happy now that I get to provide a lot of concept art as well as contribute to game design, it’s actually a fairly unique position, most concept artists are freelance contractors that come and go, I really like being embedded in a project as a key member, which allows me to affect many areas from where I am.
Fast-forward 10 years: where are you, and what are you doing career-wise?
By the time 10 years have passed, I will most likely be in a senior art direction role, either as an art director or lead artist on a major project that is looking to expand the barriers of what we understand as gameplay. My track record has been pretty interesting so far, and I continue to find myself on the front lines of innovation and far out games. By then I wouldn’t be surprised if I was back in Japan again or in some other country, maybe even at my own company I’ve always dreamed of with some of my very talented friends.
What advice would you give to people interested in doing what you do?
Get a REAL art education!! Find the best Industrial Design program you possibly can, and learn to paint on the side. And play lots of games!!! Understand what they are doing right and wrong!