How I Learned To Love Outsourcing


I STARTED WRITING A POST last year about the evils of outsourcing. It was going to be a takedown of all the game and animation studios that moved art production, development, and QA offshore. But I never posted it because I suspected my emotions were misguided somehow. Something wasn’t right. I’ve since had a positive first-hand experience with outsourcing that reshaped the way I see it and wanted to share that here in the hopes that I can challenge your beliefs.



My limited knowledge of outsourcing was as follows:

  1. Concept art and effects are outsourced to Asia where wages are lower presumably cutting salary expenses and maintaining output.

  2. A lot of animated series are really made in Canada, not L.A. Companies like Nelvana, Brown Bag Films, House of Cool, to name a few. Just google “canadian animation studios” and check out their demo reel.

  3. The fear of being replaced by outsourcing has been spreading around the games industry and the US at large for as long as I’ve been in the field. Most people I know have at least one layoff story. I think it affects artists particularly because we see ourselves as expendable. We’re also aware of the outstanding work coming from Asia and feel stressed out by the extra competition. Outsourcing is the artist’s boogeyman.

That is what I knew. The first 2 are true, but this applies mainly to film and TV animation, of which I am not really a part of. Nevertheless, a company will do whatever it takes to cut costs and increase their profit margin. A couple of US game companies have outposts in Canada. Kabaam is there now. Our very own Glu Mobile has a studio in Toronto, but it’s smaller. A satellite office where some work is done for less money, as opposed to a factory where all the work is being done.

As for the third point, people have lost their jobs as a result of the changing business. Studios are closing all the time. But they’re also opening all the time. And mobile games continue to take market share from console (Venture Beat I’ve never seen any evidence of a one-to-one fire and re-hire a foreigner scenario. It’s more likely that a company would sell off a flagging game title to a foreign company and reassign the American artists to another title. CrowdStar did it with multiple games in the early 2010s.


As an artist on Covet Fashion, I can tell you we rely heavily on outsourcing to create the digital versions of the “real world” clothing for the game. They’re real clothes, from real brands, that partner with us to integrate their products into our game. This has been going on for about 5 years. Since there are hundreds of brands, tens of thousands of items from skirts to tops, to hats to jewelry that need to be “rendered” for the game, we outsource the time-intensive part of the production pipeline to several offshore art houses. To be clear, I’m not envious of these offshore artists. It’s not great work. It’s like taking a photo from the internet and morphing it to fit our game characters, then sending it to our US artists, who provide feedback, and basically redo it before it’s approved. It’s not like these people are taking away our good American jobs! This would be low paying work even in the states.

More recently, after the acquisition of CrowdStar by Glu, our whole company has had access to the Hyderabad India studio artists. It’s not outsourcing technically because they’re employees of Glu. They call it “insourcing”. As the primary artist working on game backgrounds and event feed images, I’m often racing against the clock to finish my work. Six or seven events are released automatically every day, seven days a week, 365 a year. I would tell you that the objective is quality over quantity but sometimes I have to cut corners. There’s no one tool that can remove a model from a background, feathering the edges of fur coats and sheer clothing, mask and repainting hair strands and highlights. Wouldn’t it be great if I could focus on the art directing and storytelling of the event, and not the pixel-by-pixel minutiae? Fast forward to present day– 2 years after the acquisition–and I have access to the Hyderabad art team. Now we’re cooking with gasoline! It’s hard to put a number on quality, but I’ve witnessed a dramatic improvement to the visual appeal of my work with the additional help from offshore.

Typically, I have this problem where I need to fit a vertical image into a horizontal image module for Covet Fashion. Cropping and stretching are not options so I have to realistically extend the sides of the photo. Either photo composite, digitally paint, of clone the image to fill in the unused area. I could spend hours doing it myself, or I could ask a colleague to do it. With the outsourcing infrastructure that already exists at Glu, it’s a no-brainer. Transfer the file to Hyderabad with a short note and get the finished product back the following morning.

Property of Covet Fashion/Glu Mobile

Property of Covet Fashion/Glu Mobile

Property of Covet Fashion/Glu Mobile

Property of Covet Fashion/Glu Mobile


Navigating this foreign business landscape is going to require some business savvy and money up front. The offshore market for art production is big. Many companies of various sizes, strengths, and price points. Somebody who is fluent is the native language would have more success. Doing international business would probably require legal aid. Some money up front. Most likely an international plane flight. Time and money. Could a super-lean startup or smart entrepreneur pull it off? Probably but I’m just saying, it’s not as simple as it may sound.

Another story comes to mind as I’m thinking about why you shouldn’t fear outsourcing. An artist colleague told me about how he hesitated to discuss the idea of outsourcing with his general manager because he assumed that it would be at the expense of some of his team. Only to find out later that it was perceived as a sign of weakness. Now his general manager knows he’s worried about job security, and may use that against him when it’s time to talk about a raise or promotion.


We fear what we don’t understand. My hope is that artists can learn more about the reality of outsourcing and the potential benefits, getting over the fear of being passed over for a foreign competitor. Another way to look at it is with respect to control. Having more control over what you do will lead to happiness and fulfillment. I’m pretty lucky in the sense that I’m not competing with an offshore team. I’m essentially managing them, and giving them assignments like freelancers. We can’t all be that lucky, but having this knowledge and an open mind is a good place to start.

Color Adventures: The Tetrad

I WANTED TO BREAK AWAY  from the standard Yellow Red Blue (or Split Primary) palette that I've been using for most of my landscapes. One afternoon, my friend Tony Weinstock suggested that I try a tetradic color palette. The following paragraphs will break down the techniques I used to achieve this. 

It's spring in California, so I know I need green. I started with two greens–Permanent Green (a warm green) and Winsor Green (a cool green). Opposite green on the 12 color wheel is red. I then chose two reds–Cad Red (a warm red) and Alizarin Crimson (a cool red). This is actually a Tetradic Color Scheme, consisting of two complementary pairs. A relatively warm and cool version of opposite colors. See infographic below.

All the areas in light, such as the lawn, the tree on the left, and the bench, are warm green and red mixtures, and the areas in shade are cool red and green mixtures. The violet tree on the right in full shade, was mixed with crimson, white and  maybe some green to neutralize it. It's relatively cool by contrast. The takeaway is that you don't always have to use blue for shadows. In fact, according to Nathan Fowkes, shadows in nature are warm, with the exception of the bluest glaciers.

I cheated a little because I already had a yellow orange ground ready to go in my pad. I let some orange peek through for interest. Notice that I didn't use any pure white. The resulting painting is cartoony and way out of the ordinary, but unusually pleasing. A fun experiment in color mixing! Share your Tetradic Color experiences in the comments below.

Drawing from Life

GREAT IDEAS MAY COME TO YOU IN THE SHOWER, or while driving, but even the most brilliant illustrators don’t whip out designs without some visual reference. Sure. The internet is a decent place to start your search. But there are disadvantages to limiting your research to a pool of still images curated by an algorithm. Furthermore, drawing from photos has a multitude of drawbacks as described in this well written article by Veronica Winters. Join me as I take you by the hand away from the comfort of your chair and into the real world in search of live reference.


Observational Drawing

Otherwise referred to as “coffee shop drawing” or just “people watching”, this is the practice of drawing people in the wild. To get the most out of this, your attention must be focused on your subject. Not yourself. Think of it as a recorded observation on paper. Forget about your individual style, your reputation, your Artstation, Etsy and Instagram. The goal is to learn something about people. People are interesting and behave unexpectedly when they aren’t aware they’re being watched. Which makes for great character reference! Whether searching for reference or inspiration, observational drawing is a beginning drawing exercise that should really be taught and sustained at all levels.

Drawing from a Model

One way to create a character is to directly reference a live model of your choice. The following images show how Disney animators based Alice on a live model named Kathryn Beaumont. Conveniently, she also voiced the character.

By doing this, they were able to more accurately depict the character’s size, age and mannerisms, among other things. It’s not clear whether they are tracing over photos, but they do appear to be drawing her very literally. I can see some problems with this, but in general, figure drawing is extremely important and should be practiced often because it allows you to focus on details.

Drawing a Live Animal

Have you ever tried your hand at animal or creature design, only to realize you don’t know what the hell you’re doing? I have. Disney animators found themselves in that situation in the late 1930s when they were tasked with creating a believable, but not overly realistic Bambi. They studied live animal models to get the anatomy and movements just right. It wasn’t convenient for the production, but it was an investment of time and talent that resulted in a landmark film.


I doubt the old Disney animators would have relied on the internet as much as we do today. Another awesome thing about drawing from life, is that the playing field is level and accessible to everyone. And it's not limited to people. In the end, you’ll have a better understanding of various subjects for present or future character design, and the confidence to draw anything in public or in private without fear.

Have you ever wandered away from the computer in search of live reference? Have you ever been inspired to design a character based on somebody you saw? Share your stories below.


Forget Everything You Know About Caricature

JOHN K. (THE CREATOR OF REN & STIMPY) has written a lot about this topic on his blog John K Stuff, so let's kick off this post with a quote from John. "When you sit down to caricature a person, you should try to bury all your preconceived notions of what 'caricature style' is.” This is the best advice a budding caricature artist could receive. An artform that is predicated on exaggeration and the depiction of an individual must be unique. Not formulaic.

I’ve found that the best way to approach caricature is to practice it a lot over a long period of time. Years. Then put them all together so that you can see what’s working and what’s not. Literally print or photocopy them and attach them to a piece of cardboard or corkboard. At work, we have a place where all of the caricatures go. A colleague once told me that it was her favorite part of the office. It has become sort of a shrine. A year after it started, when employees had moved on to greener pastures, my colleagues (non-artists) moved them over to a separate board so they would not be thrown out or forgotten. This was truly a grassroots movement within the company. People universally love to see themselves drawn by someone else. And they love to see people they know drawn. Humans are so vain.

Here are a few of my personal favorites, and let me tell you why. Each one is primarily a behavioral exaggeration of a person, as opposed to a purely physical or facial exaggeration. It should tell a story about your subject. Caricature shouldn't call attention to your artistic skill level. Everything down to your choice of medium and linework should reflect your subject. 

How do you approach caricature? How often to you do caricature? For more about John K., follow him on Twitter @JohnKricfalusi1

Character Flaws: The Evolution of Unintelligent Character Design

IF YOU WERE TO DO AN IMAGE SEARCH FOR CHARACTER DESIGN right now, you’d likely see something like this. They look like professional Character Designs, don't they? Slick digitally colored characters, turned around in space. Let's take a closer look.

Sometimes, Google search results are misleading. The algorithm uses filenames, site context, and image recognition to group images. Then it optimizes based on clicks. The most clicked images are considered to be a match. That's fine if you're searching for pictures of antique cars. But as we become dependent on the internet for answers, I would expect to see more authoritative examples of character design from a variety of films and games. There is a glut of fan art and student work that is spoiling the results.

I see a lot of good looking humans. Looks are important, but looks aren't everything. Personality is a key ingredient. So is story. A telltale sign of amateur character design is a lack of story. Even if characters are well drawn, they can't exist without a story. There's a term for characters without a story. Doodles. 

Don't get me wrong. Good characters can inspire a story. Fun unique characters and creatures. Bipeds. Quadrupeds. The possibilities are endless! The world doesn't need another human warrior coming-of-age story. And the adorkable kids look like adorkable kids I've seen before.

Let’s say that you don’t know anything about character design for games and animation. How would you distinguish good from bad when it’s all lumped together like this?

Feel free to jot down your thoughts in the comments section!



The Art of the Opening: Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: David Simkin

THE SCREEN is black when you are hit by a wall of sound. Title credits roll as a teenage girl leaps into the frame lip-syncing to "Then He Kissed Me" by The Crystals, dancing with wild unabashed glee that you will only see on film. She kneels before a framed photo then holds it to her chest. From his cross-armed stance and preppy attire, you suspect that he's a dirtbag. This is confirmed as he pulls up to the house–Illinois plate reading "SO COOL" –and honks 3 times. 

This brilliantly choreographed opening dance sequence–without a word of dialogue– sets the tone of the movie and provides necessary background information about the main character and the setting in the span of 2 minutes. It's a supreme example of visual narrative in film.

The power of a musical opening brings to mind Scorsese. If you're unfamiliar with the opening scenes of Mean Streets (1973), a quick refresher can be found here A man (Harvey Keitel) gets out of bed at night and ponders his reflection, exhibiting signs of stress and guilt, followed by some home footage of the actor set to the song “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, which was also written and produced by Phil Spector. Despite the differences in tone, the song makes the movie. On a side note, Scorsese used it without permission and narrowly escaped an injunction from an infuriated Spector, a crackpot who to this day claims that he held Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro's careers in his hand.

Mean Streets

Mean Streets

Adventures in Babysitting

Adventures in Babysitting

Another opening which bears resemblance to AIB is from the 60s comedy/musical Bye Bye Birdie ( Here we have a young Ann Margaret with shoulder length red hair (looking a lot like Shue) singing directly to the camera about the object of her desire–preceded by a close up of a photo. Check out the side by side comparisons. This was referenced in an episode of Mad Men, which opened it up to a whole new generation of viewers. I haven’t seen the whole movie, and I doubt I ever will because her voice is more obnoxious than Rebecca Black on her worst day. 

Bye Bye Birdie

Bye Bye Birdie

Adventures in Babysitting

Adventures in Babysitting

Bye Bye Birdie

Bye Bye Birdie

Adventures in Babysitting

Adventures in Babysitting

Blues is central to the entire film. The next best scene takes place at a Blues Club on the South Side of Chicago. I think this trend started in the early 80s with John Hughes. More about him later. 

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Review: Rituals (1977)

Director: Peter Carter
Writer: Ian Sutherland

LOU. THE BENEVOLENT old trader in Wall Street. Henry. The spineless scientist in Creepshow. Father Malone in The Fog. The shady head of The Firm. Whether or not you know his name, you've probably seen Hal Holbrook in these supporting roles. Let's take a look at one of his leading roles in a unique horror/survival movie called Rituals (aka The Creeper).

A group of doctors are flown into a remote location for their annual backpacking trip. Expecting a respite from the stress of the medical profession, they're preyed on by an unknown assassin. A series of tragic accidents befalls them as they fight for survival.

I’m fascinated by the character development in this film. It’s all achieved through realistic banter. Dirty looks. Stoned and drunken ramblings reveal so much about the men. As the situation becomes more grim, the secrets and regrets pour out. Each man's identity is revealed only as it relates to the story.

The opening scene is perfect. Guys bullshitting around the breakfast table. Simple and effective. Almost Altmanesque. Tarantino–the ambassador of 1970s cinema–devised a similar situation for the opening of Reservoir Dogs. I'm not saying it's easy to pull off. It requires a combination of great writing and great acting to keep the audience interested in a 3 minute conversation about tipping. But the method is tried and true. For any movie that's all about the group, the audience has to see the bond, or lack thereof, before it's tested.

Rituals manages to be part Lord of the Flies and part intelligent slasher. The men are driven to their physical and moral extremes. Forced to choose between individualism and teamwork. Mitzi, played by Lawrence Dane, represents the brutal individualist. He's the perfect counterpart to the quiet, virtuous Harry. I'd call it an intelligent slasher because although they are being stalked by a creep with a vendetta against doctors, most of their physical injuries stem from their own ineptitude and disagreements. There isn't a full-on confrontation with the creep until the very end. I like that.

My main complaint with Ritual is the film quality. It's very grainy and key scenes are too dark to see. There were some very rough cuts as well. With regard to the cinematography, there's not much to speak of. Although it was shot in the Canadian wilderness, it’s not a beautiful movie. It’s bleak.

Most reviews describe Rituals as a copy of Deliverance. On the surface, they do have a lot in common. I think Rituals is better. When the shock of the butt rape in Deliverance wears off, what's left? Dueling banjos. No, thank you.

Rituals is for people who liked The Hills Have EyesThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Descent. It's a little hard to find because it's also known as The Creeper, but as of this writing, it's available in its entirety on Youtube:




Review: Coma (1978)

Director: Michael Crichton
Writers: Michael Crichton (screenplay) Robin Cook (novel)

IN ANTICIPATION OF HBO's REBOOT OF WESTWORLD I thought I would watch and review some of the films of Michael Crichton.

Sometimes before I watch a pre-1980s movie, I like to read the original newspaper reviews beforehand. They provide a generational context that Rotten Tomatoes cannot. All of Roger Ebert's old reviews are on and the old NY Times reviews are online as well. Although Coma wasn't exactly panned by critics in 1978, the term Nancy Drew was blurted out–not as a compliment. Honestly, I've never read Nancy Drew. From what I've gathered, she's a semi-rich teenage sleuth who spends her time chasing purse snatchers around her home town. The only thing Coma has in common with that is a female protagonist. Being a fan of mysteries, I wasn't as quick to dismiss this movie.

Coma was directed by Michael Crichton, based on a novel by Robin Cook, both medical doctors. Although he was already a director and best-selling author, this was all before Steven Spielberg’s film version of Jurassic Park made Crichton a household name. The subgenre of medical thrillers weaves science into the typical mystery. It's basically a whodunit set against the backdrop of a Boston hospital. When a surgeon's friend is rendered comatose after a routine operation, her private inquiries into the cause reveals a bizarre procedural pattern, a backlash from hospital staff, and murder. 

Douglas being Douglas

Douglas being Douglas

Geneviève Bujold's character Susan Wheeler is an ascetic doctor, unhappily involved with a colleague played by Michael Douglas, the quintessential doctor bachelor. She's whip-smart and pretty, but mostly unlikable until the shock of her friend's untimely death reveals a vulnerable side and an unlikely hero emerges. As she digs deeper into underlying causes of the incident, she's thwarted by the classic "threshold guardians" played by a young Rip Torn, and an elderly Richard Widmark.

Pacing is something that I play close attention to with any mystery. When the Cat and Mouse game between doctors gets old, the director takes us to the Jefferson Institute. The idea alone of a coma warehouse, where patients are cared for by computers is great science fiction. But the way it was brought to life on film is a testament to the timelessness of practical effects (see below). 



I would give a lot of credit to Crichton and Cook for their ability to craft a believable medical world on film, with ample explanation, combined with elements of crime and action. By presumably pulling back the curtain on something the average viewer knows nothing about, they educate and excite. They play off of our fear of corpses and the known risks of surgery.

Coma is a nice example of 1970s style, taking cues from Robert Altman, particularly during the operation scenes, and Michael Mann, with regard to shots and color. It has a sparse musical score by Jerry Goldsmith, reserved for the most dramatic scenes. Aesthetically, I'd put it in a category with M*A*S*HThiefNetwork, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Style by decade is something I plan to explore deeply in later posts. 


Snow Westerns: The Films that Influenced The Hateful Eight

Image courtesy of IMP Awards

TARANTINO has always been outspoken about his influences. He pays homage to his favorite filmmakers and explores genres that have fallen out of fashion, updating them for modern audiences.

In an interview with IGN's Chris Tilly (Follow him on Twitter), Tarantino revealed that The Great Silence by Sergio Corbucci had the most influence on The Hateful Eight, followed by Day of the Outlaw. Comparisons have also been made to Murder on the Orient Express and The Thing (1982). Watching the films that influenced the making of a great movie provides insight into a director's creative thought process, and expands my understanding of film in general. This article is all about those films as they relate to The Hateful Eight.  

"I'm ready for my close-up Sr. Corbucci." 

"I'm ready for my close-up Sr. Corbucci." 

The Great Silence is a spaghetti western falling under the sub sub genre of snow westerns, according to Tarantino. A gun for hire known as Silence faces down a corrupt politician and a blonde bounty hunter. There are obvious similarities between the two movies, but I think most of them are incidental. A tale of revenge at it's core, the protagonist has more in common with Django. There is no mystery element. The pace is slow. The overdubbing is abysmal, as it is in most Italian westerns. The characters are one dimensional. And it all leads up to a pitiful conclusion. There is a lot of room for improvement as I see it.  

Day of the Outlaw on the other hand was delightful. It's an American western about a group of outlaws descending on a small town in the midst of a feud. The townspeople are forced to band together by saving the gang leader from a fatal gunshot wound in order to keep the peace until morning. Deftly played by Burl Ives, Captain Bruhn is the only one that can keep his men from ravaging the town. As Bruhn's health deteriorates, so do their chances of survival. The situation is a pressure cooker. In that respect, it has the most in common with The Hateful Eight. The full film is available without ads on Youtube:



Murder on the Orient Express is a film from 1974 adapted from the novel by Agatha Christie. It's a specific kind of mystery known as an English parlor room mystery, predating the American hard boiled mysteries of the 1940s and 50s. I haven't read the book, but I had a lot of problems with the film. The filmmakers failed in their effort to romanticize the era of travel by train. Visually it's unimpressive and too soft. Even the ensemble cast of Old Hollywood stars couldn't save this picture. 

In The Hateful Eight, Tarantino was able to keep the spirit of a parlor room mystery, transported to the American west, updated with visual storytelling, Tarantino-esque dialogue, and action. The investigation aspects are handled visually, through POV shots, instead of dialogue. For example, when Major Warren sees the Jelly Bean in the crack between the floorboards, then looks up, and notices a missing jar. Rather than demonstrating the protagonist's intellect at every turn, Tarantino gives the audience a chance to solve the mystery. Another distinct difference is that most of the detective work takes place before the first body hits the floor. Which is the exact opposite of a standard mystery plot line. The inciting incident is always the first murder. Of course Tarantino is the king of broken narrative structures. 

Like Poirot, Major Warren gleefully reconstructs the murder, ferreting out the killers, then promptly serves justice more like Dirty Harry than Poirot. He's not wrong, but it all happens rather quickly. Apparently this was Samuel L. Jackson's favorite scene, in which he referred to his character as "Hercule Negro".

I'm going to hold off on my examination of The Thing from 1982, because I'd like to talk about it as it relates to Reservoir Dogs. I'll sum up by saying that there are other aspects of The Hateful Eight which I enjoyed. Mainly the performances, and the cinematography. It's a visual treat. I'm pleased with Tarantino's foray into the mystery genre, and I'm looking forward to his next film.