We Asked Two Square Enix Employees What it's Like to Work as an Illustrator for a Company - With Portfolio Pictures!
Working as a character designer
── What is your job?
Shimokobe: I'm in the First Business Development Department. So far, I have worked on projects like Trials of Mana, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, and Kingdom Hearts III, among others, where I was in charge of the design of character weapons and enemy characters.
── How long does it take to create a single character?
── It must be hard to get a good grasp of the game world.
── I'm sure making a game requires plenty of teamwork, so just how much freedom do you have in the creative process?
── Is there a particular design that holds a special place in your heart?
It was a celebrative design for an anniversary event, so it needed to be lively and flashy, but there were some restrictions since too many details and data would make it too heavy to work in-game. I spent a lot of time creating the design while confirming the specifications with the people in charge of motion and implementation.
I design my characters so that they look beautiful even as simple illustrations, but ultimately, the game needs working data. Especially for large characters such as those that appear in boss battles, the data is divided into parts (head, arms, weapons) which move and rotate at various angles. The layer structure and the order of these parts are crucial.
── What do you mean by "layer structure"?
A portfolio that starts with still life.
── Let's take a look at Shimokobe's job hunting portfolio. Kobayashi, you have some hiring experience, so we would like to hear what to keep in mind when creating a portfolio.
Shimokobe: When I made my portfolio, I was told that it was pretty uncommon to start with still life. However, I thought this style of art would really showcase my drawing ability. What I wanted to convey is: "This is what I can do, for better or for worse!" I wanted people looking at my portfolio to get a grasp of my basic skills.
Next, I featured my 3D models.
I decided to add these works to my portfolio to show that I can look at a picture from a three-dimensional perspective and create solid designs, and also that I can parse a picture as data.
Kobayashi: When it comes to character design, a bit of dynamism makes it easier to visualize characters. This also applies to the work we're doing with the Kingdom Hearts series.
Shimokobe: Next is game planning.
A portfolio should highlight what a game by this artist would look like
── Kobayashi, would you mind commenting on the portfolio we just saw?
── If you want to get into a game company, your portfolio should reflect that too.
── Shimokobe, does your portfolio feature works that you've created especially for it?
In-house artists are fueled by the desire to create games, rather than to just draw pictures.
── Many illustrators choose to work as freelancers. Did you consider that as an option when looking for a job?
── So if I want to become a game designer, should I join a company first?
── For company employees (in Japan), I thought the ability to fit in with others came before each individual's strengths.
(Translator's Note: in Japan, mid- and large-sized companies often hire a group of new graduates and assign them to departments based on internal need for additional hands rather than the strengths of the individual hire. It is not uncommon to be assigned to a department that is completely different from one's degree, and "job rotation" means employees are shifted around to new departments every few years. Kobayashi is explaining that Square Enix diverges from this pattern and takes on a specialist hiring approach.)
── Kobayashi, you're in charge of Schoolgirl Strikers. Would you say that drawing cute girls is your specialty?
── I guess strengths can change, can't they?
── What other titles are you working on now?
── So you're basically working as an in-house freelancer.
── Once you joined Square Enix, how did they decide which jobs to assign to you?
Kobayashi: When we start a project within the company, we may find ourselves lacking designers and thus look for someone with a certain drawing style to join the team.
── Was your first project hard?
── Sounds like a challenging environment.
If you're looking to become a professional game designer...
── What advice would you give to young people who want to become professional illustrators?
── That sounds difficult.
── Kobayashi, what has your experience in hiring taught you about the people you would like to work with?
── Thank you very much!