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What is concept art?

Art by CG Spectrum grad Steve Koo

3minutes read


What is concept art?

Concept art is a visual representation that tells a story or conveys a certain look. It is commonly used in film and video games to convey a vision and set the tone for an entire game or movie. Concept art provides a strong reference point that helps align the creatives working on the project.

Rift_Warrior-Armor-tyler-james-concept-artist-800x367Warrior Armor, rift concept art by award-winning Concept Artist Tyler James

What does a concept artist do?

A Concept Artist visualizes characters, environments, props, and more through storytelling. The saying, “a picture paints a thousand words,” should be the mantra of every Concept Artist. This type of artist is often tasked with working from previous designs, visualizing scenes from a book that will be made into a film, or creating new worlds and characters from scratch. They inject their personal style into their work while keeping true to the assignment and end goals. (Tip: When looking for Concept Artist jobs be sure to have a unique portfolio of work that sets you apart from others.)

Examples of concept art:

Character design

vfx pipeline concept art character design altCharacter design by Brian Huang

Creature design

vfx pipeline concept art creature designCreature Design by Brian Huang

Environment design

vfx pipeline concept art environment designEnvironment Design by Krzysztof Luzny

Prop & asset design

vfx pipeline concept art prop designAsset Design by Krzysztof Luzny

A day in the life of a concept artist

Many Concept Artists will start with detailed direction. They will take that direction and work freeform, coming up with visualizations however they work best. Most concept artists will draw digitally by hand in Photoshop, while some may work in a 3D software like ZBrush to block out shapes and forms. This step will more than likely involve some in-depth research, especially when designing more complex things like characters or architecture.

Once the first pass is done, the concept artist will get feedback either in the form of notes or a draw-over. This is when a supervisor may circle things that need changing and write what those changes are. They may even draw an outline of the exact change they would like to see. The process of a video game concept artist is quite similar to that of someone creating movie concept art. There may be different requirements, but the concept/feedback loop applies to both until the project is done.

CG Spectrum mentorArt by CG Spectrum mentor Brandon Reimchen 

How to become a concept artist

Some concept artists specialize, while others are more generalized. For example, you may be a concept artist that primarily does work on designing mechanical robots. Though you may be a very impressive mechanical robot artist, the job market may not offer too many jobs focused only in that realm. You want to add a bit of variety into your portfolio while keeping your personal touch.

Some things to focus on learning would be the human form, animal forms, architectural design, color palettes and the moods they convey, and light and shadow and how it can affect the mood of a scene. It is important to understand the distinction between different concepting tools (i.e. Photoshop, Zbrush), even if you don’t use all of them. Some game companies, for example, do much of their ideation for characters in Zbrush because it is fast and precise and very easy to make changes based on the supervisor's feedback.


Cinematics Concept Art from Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty by Brian HuangCinematics Concept Art from Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty, by CG Spectrum mentor Brian Huang 

Tips to break into the industry

Only share your best work in your portfolio. This can’t be stressed enough. If you only have two pieces that you are truly confident in, keep your portfolio confined to those two pieces. A potential employer may ask for more work, so keep in mind that you may have to show them the next best piece.

Network as much as possible. There are plenty of meetups that happen around the world every week, if not every day. These meetups may be in person or online, and sometimes include guest speakers from the industry that will take your questions after they give a seminar. Get comfortable with self-promotion and putting yourself out there!

Tyler-James_Rift-Regulos-Concept-Art-Final-Form-800x518Regulos, Rift Concept Art, by CG Spectrum Mentor Tyler James

What is a Concept Artist's salary?

According to Glassdoor, the average Concept Artist salary is $69,399/yr. Other sources offer a range between $32,000/yr. to $90,000/yr. depending on experience and location. 

Additional resources:

Header image by Concept Artist and CG Spectrum Mentor Krzysztof Luzny.

Learn to make concept art for film and games! 

CG Spectrum offers a beginner digital painting course (as well as accredited digital art degrees and diplomas) that prepares you for a career in the entertainment industry. You'll be personally taught by amazing industry mentors who have worked at top film and games studios. Get the skills you need to get paid for your creative talents. Apply now!


Tags:   Concept Art