I'm making a game that requires a volume of artistic content which is not practical to be created by a single person, so I've enlisted the help of additional artists.

The problem is, each artist has their own style, and mixing the content produced by all artists results in a very inconsistent experience. This is true for graphical as well as musical content.

I've tried having each artist work on completely different parts of the content, such as having a background artist, a sprite artist and a graphic designer, but this clearly doesn't scale as the art volume increases or when circumstances require me to replace an artist, and is not trivial with content such as music.

How can I work with an arbitrary amount of artists, yet maintain artistic consistency across the entire game?

Addendum: The current answers mention the creation of an art spec, but even though useful, and probably even necessary, it is simply not enough.

In programming terms, "make an art spec" is similar to "make a tech spec", which is definitely a good thing, but a spec by itself does nothing to improve overall code quality.

Same goes for having an art director. In programming terms, "get a lead programmer" is not a very useful answer for "how do I improve code quality in my team?", even though it is a very good thing.

I'm looking for specific detailed answers on how to solve specific common problems in the field of artistic consistency. For example:

  • When doing lineart, draw them with vector tools instead of freehand, with predetermined brush parameters so everybody gets their lines similar.
  • Some people use the gradation tool, while others use blurring tools, and results are very different, so make sure everybody uses the same technique for gradations.
  • For music, once the percussion and chord progression is set, it doesn't really matter who finishes the song, so make sure the percussion and chord progression for all the music is written by the same person.

I just made these up, so I don't know if they would work. I'm asking this question so people who do know what works can give me specific hints on how to improve artistic consistency.

In my particular case, I am not having a problem yet, but I need a relatively large volume of music for the project I'm currently planning. I have two musicians who want to help, but their styles (and skill level) are quite different. If I let them both make the music the way they want, I will have a pretty inconsistent result, and I want to avoid that before they start writing the music.

Also, I'll be needing lots of character drawings, and I have two artists who want to help (plus me), but our drawing styles are very different. In particular, this is how each artist draws the same character:

example A example B example C

Notice how even though we're all drawing the same character, with the same palette, the results are wildly different, and telling everybody "you all have to draw in the style of artist B" is most likely not going to be very effective.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A style guide. Here's an example: support.steampowered.com/kb/9334-YDXV-8590/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetrad
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 6:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PandaPajama Yes, you can, and a good artist can also pull it off. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 8:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Indistinguishable? Probably not. In the same style not to clash with the lead's art? Yes, definitely. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 6:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you believe that art style is "uncontrollable" then your question is by definition unanswerable. Obviously games have shipped with lots of artists and consistent art styles, so I propose that your assumption is incorrect. Yes, unskilled artists may not be able to control their style, but skilled artists should be able to bend the medium to whatever their goal is, even if it isn't their own personal vision. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetrad
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 16:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ The comparison to paying programmers per line is a bit obtuse. Programmers have their own sense of code style (from things like spacing to which language they prefer) but at the end of the day there's usually a code style guide that the tech lead writes and enforces. If you don't follow it you suffer whatever penalties not doing your job entails. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetrad
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 5:08

6 Answers 6


You need an art lead and proper art style documentation. There are things like palettes to determine, plus various bits of example concepts, a lot of art terminology that clearly defines things to artists in ways that tech terminology clears things up for developers. A good art lead can define all these and make your consistent art style, and properly communicate all this to artists.

The art lead can also be your "human" element who simply rejects art that fails to meet criteria and properly explain what's wrong and how to fix it, rather than just saying "no good" or "tighten up the graphics on level 3." Ideally this wouldn't happen often, but humans are humans, and at the end of the day you need someone to wrangle other people and push things into the right shape rather than having it all magically fall into place.

As with all things in large teams, the trick is finding experienced, charismatic people to lead. There's little that a programmer or producer can do to solve any art problems besides talk to the art lead about it.

I myself am not an artist and can't give any advice on how an art lead does his or her job well. I just know that as advice to another non-artist trying to produce a game, the answer is to delegate to a good art lead.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is pretty much it. There's no magic answer to the question -- the answer is that it has to be somebody's job to make sure that all the artists know and adhere to the style (and normally, to set what the style is, as well). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 6:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Color palette definitions, descriptions ("we want to look like Mario 64 but with Borderlands' lighting and an Eastern culture"), some art as right/wrong examples, style guides with lots of art lingo that explains what art styles to use or avoid, and a firm hand that rejects - with constructive feedback - work that you feel misses the goal. Refine your guides as you become aware of any confusion or missing pieces. Art is an iterative process; you should be involved at every step and course correct early at concepts/thumbnails/silhouettes through modeling, texturing, animating, and polishing. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ As further followup, think of it as the art version of code review. You don't get consistently high-quality code by setting rules. You get it by sitting down and looking over it and constructively commenting on bits that don't meet your standards. There's no formula or codification that results in quality, and with tools you can at most enforce the bare basics of technical conformity. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 24, 2013 at 19:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Even with code reviews, at a single glance to a piece of code, I can immediately know who wrote it. Besides, code review is not meant to make the entire code seem as if it had been written by the same person. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 14:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's a metaphor, not an exact parallel. The point was, you need human oversight, not a book of rules. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 19:54

The question "How can I work with an arbitrary amount of artists, yet maintain artistic consistency across the entire game?" cannot be solved with a one-size-fits-all answer - it is dependant on your specific project. If you edit your question and provide more details on your specific problem, then perhaps we can help with your problem of scale and arbitration.

However your question is a very good one - but it sounds like the tail is wagging the dog. You should not be managing your project around the various artistic techniques your team has - they should be managing their own techniques to fit in with your project. If they are not, then honestly I do question the value of your art team. If you find yourself with an artistic team who cannot work together to achieve the same styles using the same techniques - then you have a problem with your art team. This reinforces the need to check your artists techniques and skills before you take them on.

Although I do not have experience as an Art Director myself, I do have experience working in the games industry and can tell you that the art teams I have worked with have been very well structured. In terms of art hierachy, it started with junior artists who were in charge of the more minor, less noticeable art tasks. The senior artists would then be responsible for centre-piece props, weapons, characters etc (and usually only focus on their specialized field, for example a character modeller). Above them, we had leads for each field; eg a lead environment artist, lead character artist etc etc - then the buck pretty much stopped at the art director. That is an example of the art structure I have had experience with.

Anyway, I believe these five points will help you find your answer:

1) Concept Art - Having a team of graphic artists without any concept art on which to base their work is a recipe for disaster. Each artist will have their own impression of how the game should be presented and the end result will be an awful mess. It is absolutely vital to have a concept art team (however small it may be), which will help to maintain consistency across your project.

2) Internal documentation - something that artists can refer to for questions such as "What kind of locomotion engines are used by the vehicles in this game universe?" - its no use having one artist make a vehicle that is a combustion engine and another artist make a vehicle which uses some sort of higher-tech gizmo. Documentation is vital for consistency. Also, on this topic - try not to have artists overlapping different areas of art. Eg, if you are the art lead - try and keep individual artists stuck to one aspect of the art without bouncing them around too much. The few people working on a specific area of art, the less inconsistency there will be.

3) Art Director - Someone who makes the final decisions on art related topics and can make sure everything is kept coherent and consistent. As artists can clash in their ideals, styles and techniques - it is of utmost importance to have somewhere there to make the final call.

4) 'Palettes' - A tiny level, scene, or just a collection of props that serve as an 'example' to your art team. This should ideally be built by one of the art leads, or possibly even the art director (depending on how hands-on he/she is). It should be accessible to your art team whenever they want to view it, and should serve as a standard on which to base all their artistic decisions on. If an artist needs to be steered towards a particular style or technique, he should be able to refer to this palette and look at how he should be doing things.

5) Common inspiration - What is the inspiration of your project? Don't be afraid to share it with your entire team. It doesn't matter what that inspiration is - tell your team to research it. Is Star Wars the inspiration for the game? Get your team to watch the star wars saga at home (oh what a chore!). Your team will be more in-tune with the overall intended 'feel' of the game and as such - technique and style will be more likely to be consistent.

(Answer edited based on OP feedback)

Further reading: http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/501/an_artist_grown_reflections_on_.php http://www.imaginefx.com/02287754330842797110/the-20-rules-of-game-concept-art.html

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think it can be achieved by these three elements alone. Even if we all agree on the same motif and documents, it goes down to the actual technique for each artist. Even two people drawing the same world may do so very differently (for example the retro vs the modern batman comics). My question is not about how to coordinate several people, but about how to get their already coordinated work to be consistent. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 14:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have edited the post. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 10:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I will be awarding the bounty to this answer, specifically for the two links at the bottom. However, I still don't consider my question to be answered. The five proposed ideas are still too broad. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 3:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PandaPajama Thanks for the bounty. I'm glad my post was of some use. At the time of me posting this answer, the original question was still quite vague. Now that you have specified your problem in more detail, I am more confident that you will get an answer to it. Now that I understand your problem fully, I will have another think about it, although I think there are other people who may be able to give you a more tailored answer. I hope you find an answer that solves your problem soon. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 20:54

I see three methods to approach this.

Method A is to do it like most cartoon/anime studios are doing it. They have one lead artist who designs the characters. The job of all other "artists" is to suppress any own creative urges and copy his technique and design as accurately as possible, including the number of spikes of the hair. This is a very boring and repetitive job without much creative fulfillment. That's why this job is often outsourced to China or Korea. The advantage with this way of working is that it leads to a very consistent style and a high efficiency, but unfortunately it isn't enjoyable for anyone except the lead artist.

Method B: Topic segregation. Make each artist responsible for something entirely different. When one artist is responsible for the design of the backgrounds, one for inanimate objects, one for special effects, one for animals and one for human characters (which could be further divided into male/female, old/young or main/background), it isn't that apparent when they have a different style, because you will rarely see a similar motive interpreted by two different artists. This way of working gives everyone a greater degree of creative influence and freedom, so it's much more enjoyable to work that way. But it doesn't scale well when you add or remove people from the team and there is still a potential for style and technique clash.

Method C: Pipeline segregation. Make each artist responsible for a different stage of the art pipeline. One artist scetches, one artist inks, one artist colors, one artist shades, one artist adds after effects. That way everyone can live out their style and the end-results are still a consistent collective work of everyone.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a much better answer. Method B is what I've been doing, and as you state, it doesn't scale. Method A makes sense, but that's unfortunately not really possible in my case... I wonder if there's a middle point \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 16:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I read somewhere that in Disney movies, each character is drawn by a different person. Unfortunately they were probably exceptionally good artists who could pull that off flawlessly... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 16:21

As Sean said earlier you could potentially do with an art lead as well as documentation to do with the style and direction in which you want the art to be produced.

Another possible way of doing it (which I have used in the past) is to layout the general style in which you want the art to look like and then get the artists to work on very specific things which should not overlap. For example in the past I had Artist #1 working on terrain and building art whilst I had Artist #2 working on Guns and Characters, we also had a third artist that worked on different things that fell outside what the were assigned to. This approach we found during development to be the best way as the document gave the artists the direction and then them having their own specific things to do gave the final product we finished the have a consistent style.

Hope this is of some help

  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem with separating work in non-overlapping parts (characters, backgrounds, GUI) is that it doesn't scale. In my particular case I need a lot of character portraits, and each artist has a completely different technique to drawing them. Even if they all use the same motif and the same documentation, different people draw different. This is very easy to visualize with musical content. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 14:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ would it be a possibility to standardize the technique's that they use? or would that not be a viable option? \$\endgroup\$
    – Elliott
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 9:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ By technique I don't mean something like "watercolor vs charcoal", but more about the nuances of shading, line weight, etc. Unless they come from the same school (of thought), I think it's difficult to emulate somebody else's style. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 1:51

If you're talking about small indie productions and maybe not the most formalized hierarchical structure, one possibility is just significantly constrain the design.

I'm reminded of 4-color CGA graphics in the late 80s. In spite of the graphics being drawn by so many different artists with different styles, ranging from pro to very amateur, it still looked so consistent. My memories of those games are one giant blur of cyan and magenta, like so:

enter image description here

... and so:

enter image description here

And there was a beauty there to me that came from the artistic consistency that inadvertently came from the severe hardware limitations. Similar type of thing with the music from hardware like the Commodore 64 and Nintendo. In spite of many different musicians with different musical sensibilities, there was a uniformity to it all: beeps and blips on limited palettes and purple girls in cyan bikinis.

That's not to suggest that you go all the way to limiting yourselves to using 4 color palettes and chiptune music, but it shows how such heavy restrictions on design freedom lead to something inadvertently oozing with stylistic consistency even among people who didn't coordinate together whatsoever.

So that's one economical strategy if you can't get the tightest coordination: to seek out those heavy constraints. They could be whatever. For example, if you draw all your artwork using predominantly straight lines instead of curves, that becomes a unifying design language that ties all visual elements together. Pen and ink artwork tends to look more similar between artists than graphite or charcoal, e.g., since the former lacks the ability to create subtle gradations of value. Low polygon artwork of the early 3D era looked a whole lot more similar to each other than today due to the extreme restrictions on polygon counts, lighting, and textural detail. Low-res pixel graphics look a lot more similar to each other than ultra-high res graphics.

This is a heavy-handed way to achieve a uniform design language but it's a surefire way to get some if you're willing to accept some heavy constraints on design freedom. And I think it's often a wortwhile exchange in an indie context since what makes indie games look polished or not often has a lot more to do with stylistic consistency than anything else. A game using super retro-style blocky pixel graphics or something resembling minecraft can look a whole lot more polished than something using ultra-high res detailed graphics if the former looks consistent and the other really looks like it was drawn by 10 different people with no consistent design language whatsoever.

And the more heavily you impose restrictions, the more consistency you'll inevitably get. Take writing music using a 5-note scale, for example, like Japanese (in sen). Just about everything starts to sound the same at that point, like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pYYpOFPy5o. You almost can't sound too original even if you tried with such a restrictive scale. Just about everything made with that scale will tend to sound rather familiar.


I know this is an old question, but I think you have to look at the issue from a producer's standpoint, not as a rank-and-file member of the team. Just like in music or film/TV production, the creative whims of members eventually have to be subordinated to the need to produce a finished work.

Team members can decide on the overall direction together, especially in a small team. But finding a way to contribute your artistic strengths within the established framework is an essential skill needed to transition from "art for yourself" to "art for the team/project".

Studio musicians, TV episode writers & directors, animators, illustrators, clothing designers - plenty of people earn their living doing art according to spec. Not every artist (or programmer) has the skill and temperament to work this way, and that's cool, but the mature approach is not to hold back (or sabotage) the project because you don't have what it takes.


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