Alongside my posts relating to the development of art assets that I will be giving away here, I am also starting up a series of articles dedicated to explaining the intricacies of my weird little hybrid career. I will be focussing mostly on my experience as a Studio Manager, what I do, how my experiences can help you and your team, and most importantly, I will endeavor to prove that every studio full of creative people needs a great Studio Manager. This is partially self-serving because, frankly, I want to be doing this sort of job, or some mix of it, for a long while and I want you to want to hire me or someone like me one day to make your life easier. But, that is only part of it. The larger part of my mission here is that I have been on creative teams with no structure, no support, limited resources, and unfettered external access into our daily lives. As a designer on different teams I have lived with the pain and bitterness that comes with working in an environment that can best be described as chaos. I get it. I know how hard it can be. And, more than anything, I want life to be better for my fellow artists in this world.
But I’ve also seen what a great Studio Manager can do — I’ve learned from some of the best. I’ve seen how a team can blossom into a productive, efficient, proactive, balanced and happy team. The last two teams that I managed doubled their workload in a year and reduced overtime to almost zero. Designers went from always working behind deadline, making last-minute changes and spinning in circles over poorly-conceived reviews to nailing designs in first review, meeting deadlines ahead of schedule and having more immediate and direct access to real decision makers. I’ll get to how and why this happened as this series goes on. In short, though, I like to see what I do as the oil and the glue for the team. I keep the machine running smoothly, and I hold all the pieces together.
Every Studio Manager I have known has a different style — I have a very soft touch compared to most. Before I left the last place I worked for six years I questioned how portable my skills were, but having gone to a company that had no history of using a Studio Manager and basically had zero process when I joined, I see how important it can be in moving a team to the next level. I will over the next year talk your ear off about it. I originally backed into doing this 9 years ago, but now I feel like it is really my calling. Strange how life turns.
Now, getting to the beginning of talking about a Studio Manager’s benefits to a team, I feel it is important to define what a Studio Manager is, or at least the way I approach it. First off, I feel it is important to note that a Studio Manager is not an Art Director, Creative Director, or Lead Artist. I am not the person on the team that everyone reports to. I do not set the artistic direction, I do not make hiring decisions and I do not meet with the executive teams to discuss the direction of the team. I have always functioned best as more of a right-hand man — the leader on the battlefield whose job it is to make sure everything gets done at the ground level and let all of the artists look to the team lead for overall direction. Although much of my work involves shepherding projects through a process, I feel it is also important to note that I am not a project manager or a producer. A lot of what I do includes a hybrid of what people in those positions do, but I am firmly and solidly part of the art team and can do any of the jobs that each artist on our team does. I always makes decisions through the lens of a member of an art team, which is inherently different than the perspective a producer or project manager has.
Recently, a friend of mine who is an Art Director at a local game company asked me the simple question “So, what exactly does a Studio Manager do?” I had been asked this before and often found myself at a loss for words. However, I did come up with a response that I feel serves as an adequate introduction to this series. Here, almost verbatim, is what I said.
The details of what I have done have been different for every place I have worked… maybe the best way to illustrate is through an exercise.
Close your eyes and think of what the 3 main missions are for you and your lead artists. This would be different for each leader but they would probably be something akin to “making great art”, “mentoring my team”, etc.
Now, think of all the little day-to-day tasks that keep you from doing these things. All the tasks that you do up until 5:00 and realize that you haven’t done nearly enough of making great art and you’re going to be working all night. This could be anything — lengthy emails to outsource artists, sending files, gathering source material, archiving files, prepping screenshots for a magazine, updating the web site, scheduling projects, planning for vacations, filtering resumes, making budgets — anything that breaks the flow of the day. The list I am sure is endless. Most creatives I have known need nice hours-long chunks of uninterrupted time to be effective and this stuff can be a real killer. Any excessive lessening of the time you spend on your core mission as a team leader reduces your value and effectiveness to your team.
Now, imagine that all of that is gone — off your plate and off your lead artists’ plates, too. And it is being done by someone you trust will get it done, who will summarize the work for you regularly, who will keep things rolling when you are out and, given time, will know exactly when to get you involved. Most importantly, imagine that this person is also an artist (not a producer or a recruiter or an intern or an office manager) and will do all of this with an artist’s perspective. And, as a bonus, you have an extra hand on staff for crunch time.
That’s what I do. Times ten.
Links to the whole series
Adventures of a Studio Manager Ep.1
Adventures of a Studio Manager Ep.2