Concept art is a visual representation which 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.
Warrior 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.)
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.
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 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!
Regulos, 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.
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