Sumo Digital is home to passionate, gifted people across every discipline involved in game creation, all intertwining with one another to create truly great games.
Every cog in the machine is vital to the process of making a game appealing to its audience, but perhaps one area that is often discussed is the visuals and style when it comes to choosing what game to play next – and that’s where the art team comes in.
Helen Andrzejowska is an Art Producer at the award-winning Sumo Sheffield studio, where she oversees some of the incredible artwork that goes into the games they create. She previously worked as an Associate Producer and Producer at Sumo Digital’s Leeds-based studio Red Kite Games prior to joining the Sheffield team.
Helen spoke to us about her experiences working as an Art Producer and what her day-to-day life entails.
“My role is a producer on the central art team at Sheffield,” says Helen, “Central art essentially plug into projects when the development teams have art requirements. Whether that’s a character requirement for a game or some visual effects, we work with the project team to assess how many artists they need and when they need them, and what the deliverables are for that project. I help facilitate those conversations, plan the work for the team, and make sure that everyone's happy with what they're working on so that there's a clear vision and everyone knows what they're working towards in terms of deliverables.
“I also get to look at lots of beautiful artwork that the team produces, so that's always a massive positive.”
It was clear from a young age that Helen had a passion for art – from her observations of game worlds that she explored as a child through to studying at the University of Huddersfield and setting up her own independent game studio, Ocean Spark Studios Ltd. These experiences helped shape her path to the role she enjoys today.
“When I was very young, I found a love for art,” says Helen. “Everything I did was either drawing or painting in school. I was just mesmerized by artists and graffiti and different ways of working with different kinds of materials in art – and so all the way through my teenage years, I always had this vision of myself being an artist.
“I went to college to study art and then I went to university to study fine art. I kept trying to use my art skills, but I was struggling to find where I kind of sat in the world of art, I didn't quite want to be an artist that produced paintings and I didn't want to teach art. So, I was kind of stuck.
“However, I've always loved video games and never imagined in a million years that the two could go hand in hand.
“I was in my early 20s having just graduated from university, working full-time and in a phone shop, I and I thought there must be something else I can do with my art skills. Something just wasn't clicking, and it wasn't until I was flicking through a prospectus that I found a game art and design course.
“I started reading more into it and I was like ‘Oh my God, this is the thing people actually make the art for video games’. Up until that point I hadn't even really considered where a game had come from and how it was made – it was just something that my mum used to come home from Asda with as a Christmas or birthday present, and I just assumed ‘Oh, Asda makes the games’.
“But then I recognised ‘OK, there could be something here for me to explore’ and I've always loved video games. My first console was a Nintendo 64, I was hooked on Mario and Zelda. I don't know why I just never put the two together, so I went to university to study game art and had to learn the fundamentals of being a 3D artist.
“That was then where I kind of thought I was going to go down the avenue of retraining myself to use digital tools for art, whether it be Maya for 3D creation or Photoshop too, I was starting to learn all these new tools and I really loved it – it was definitely for me, I thought ‘This is it, I'm going be a game artist!’
“I slowly started to find what I loved most about game art and thought ‘OK, I'll probably go into being an environment artist or a prop artist’ and because I was enjoying art so much, I thought I'd really love to start actually producing some content for games and the best way to do that was to set up a business and start doing art from an outsourcing perspective.
“So I ran my own studio with some university friends for about three years and we were quite successful. We did quite a lot of outsourcing and creating artwork for games, but during those three years, that's when I discovered my love for production.
“I was having to sort out the scheduling, the budgets for what we are producing, the overheads for being an indie studio, working with clients, building that relationship, setting deadlines for the work that we were producing – and that's when I started to build up those production skills that I previously I hadn't even thought of.
“Fast forward a few years, the role that I'm in now uses all of those skills. So, in the central art team, I work as more of an art producer so I have to understand how assets are created from start to finish, what that pipeline looks like roughly, and how much time goes into making those assets, as well as what are the foundational elements that make up these assets or make up that character – it allows me to be much more in tune with the art team.
“It's not a requirement, but it just means that I love my role even more because as well as getting to do my production side, I also understand the art requirements that go into the assets. So that's how it came into production.
“Looking back at what I know now, my personality and my traits, I think I was always destined for a role in production, but it was a really long way of getting here!”
All these life experiences so far have helped Helen excel at Sumo Sheffield, becoming part of a creative team that has produced acclaimed titles including Sackboy: A Big Adventure and Forza Horizon 4 – but what is it about this industry that fascinates and drives her so much?
“I love video games, I know that's a really cliched answer of why you want to work in the industry, but I've always been mesmerized by them,” says Helen. “It's always been something that I've been able to get lost in and with a huge, appreciation for art as well.
“I just love looking at the visuals of games and I play all types of genres from realistic to really stylized 2D pixelated games – I think it's because the enjoyment for me is the art side, the visuals, and how that kind of makes me tick. My days are so satisfying just because I get to look at the artwork that's going into games, whether for a publishing partner, or whether it's something that we're working on, that's our own kind of internal IP.
“I find that really satisfying. I also love talking to artists and surrounding myself with creative people. Making a game is a very creative process and you get to kind of see how people think and even the design elements of games.
“It always amazes me what designers come up with and I'm in awe every day when I see them working and hear them come up with an idea where I'm like ‘Oh yes, that's a great idea!’. The fact that there's so much out-of-the-box thinking that goes into games, yet there's also so much research and it's quite difficult now to come up with a unique idea because there's so much out there, yet I still see it every day.
“I still see unique ideas and that is so nice to be a part of. I love being around those kinds of creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, and there's never a boring day.”
With a plethora of knowledge under her belt already in such a short space of time, Helen has been a great asset to Sumo Sheffield’s team. But what was it about Sumo that appealed to her so much?
“Sumo has always been somewhere that I've wanted to work,” says Helen. “I was born and raised in Sheffield and always put Sumo on a pedestal of being a game studio local to me, and it’s somewhere that I've always wanted to go. I used to work in Meadowhall for many years whilst I was studying, which is literally just over the road from Sumo, and I always thought one day I'll go from working and grafting in retail and studying to working there.
“Sumo is the best place I have ever worked, and I've worked for a few studios, whether it’s been at small or larger ones. Sumo looks after its people, which is a massive bonus working in games – we all know that games can be a hard place to work, there are deadlines, and it can be stressful as we're working to budgets.
“Everyone hears about crunching in the industry, but one thing I can say about working at Sumo is that doesn't happen. People care about each other here, and you're very well looked after, and we get awesome projects to work on – that's a big one as well.
“A lot of the projects that we get to work on at Sumo are great games, I just love working at Sumo.”
With her first year at Sumo Sheffield under her belt, we asked Helen what has been her biggest reward or achievement that she’s experienced here so far?
“It’s not going to sound like a huge achievement, but the biggest reward was coming out of lockdown,” says Helen. “I've spent the majority of my time at Sumo working from home, and we had our first central art social event two weeks ago where we actually got the team together in person, and we went for a night of bowling, and it was so nice to get the full team together.
“Even the new starters that joined us in the last few months came too, so it was nice to get the full team together and just enjoy being back together – and the best part is that I won a trophy at bowling!
“It’s nice because I can see the steps towards to getting the team back, perhaps working in the office or doing more socials because everything up to this point has been online and there's so much to gain from being together in person and socializing again as a team. So, although it's not a big project win or a central art-specific win, I think it was it for me.” Helen has been impressed with how her people have gelled this year following lockdowns and working from home – and how Sumo’s remote and hybrid working has helped that happen.
“The great thing is that we are able to offer remote roles and people are able to work with us,” says Helen. “We've had people join us from the Netherlands, we've got people working with us from Spain, and we work with our people at Sumo over in Pune, so it's a really good, cultural and diverse mix on central art, which is why it's so nice when we get everyone together.”
When it comes to advice on how to break into the industry, Helen knows all too well the importance of finding the right guidance, having benefitted from it herself in recent years as part of a mentorship programme organised through Sumo Digital.
“One piece of advice, something that worked really well for me and not just for women, for people looking to grow as a producer is to try and find yourself a mentor or someone that you can go to for advice,” says Helen. “Whether that be someone that works at your current studio or someone that you can go to that you perhaps met at a networking event or on LinkedIn – someone that is potentially a few roles above you.
“That person can not only become a mentor, but they can offer support and guidance, and they can become someone that you can chat to that perhaps when you're having a tough time at work. You might be suffering from impostor syndrome, or maybe there is something you want to chat to them about that they can offer support on – that's something that I found very useful.
“I was part of the ‘30% club’ where Sumo match you with mentors from outside of your company I got matched with someone from a tech company – she was a CEO and became my mentor, the advice and support I've had from her over the last year has significantly helped me on my career path because she's given me confidence.
“She's been a bit of a sounding board, I've been able to chat to her about how I'm feeling and areas that I'd like to improve. So that's the one piece of advice I’d give, if you can find someone that's willing to offer you that mentor-mentee relationship, definitely grab it with both hands because both you and them will benefit from it.
“They'll learn about you as a mentee, and that will help them perhaps understand other people that they work with, but it will help you because you'll be learning from someone who's been through the things that you're going through, and it can be very easy to feel isolated, especially as a female working as a producer if you’re in a male-dominated workforce.
“Finding someone that you have some common ground with as a mentor can give you confidence and it's someone that you can talk to really for advice.”
A fundamental part of the studio’s strategy is to plan ahead for the future on how each discipline within the studio can work more efficiently and effectively.
For Helen individually, and her team, the roadmap is already being laid out on how the award-winning Sumo Sheffield can become even better.
“The plan for the next few years is to continue to grow the central art team at Sheffield and we'd like to bring on a few more art disciplines, with animation hopefully the next team to join us on central art,” says Helen. “We are growing the production team on central art too, so we're hoping to bring on a few more producers and the goal being that central art just continues to grow and scale with Sumo – we want to be able to service the projects when they do have art requirements.
“My personal goal is hopefully in the next few years to get into a senior producer role and continue to mentor my junior producers.”
If you have a passion for video games and would like to pursue a career in this industry like Helen, visit our Sumo Digital Careers page now.