Game Illustrator

The role, salary, software and skills of a video game illustrator

Student work by Steve Koo

What does a game illustrator do?

Game illustrators draw characters, objects, scenery, and backdrops that make up video games. Also referred to as game artists, they take rough sketches of concept art and transform them into finished artwork for video games. All images are created using modeling, 2D or 3D animation software, and programming. 

Giving life to rudimentary sketches and developing characters in different guises and from different angles is the primary role of the Game Illustrator. They imagine the world of the game as briefed by the developers and transform it into all its moving parts.

Game illustrator job description

The role of the Game Illustrator is to design preliminary sketches and develop them according to the game’s general style. They then create 2D or 3D animations from these sketches under the supervision of the Lead Artist.

There are various areas of specialization for Game Illustrator, including character design, architecture and landscapes, lighting, modeling, special effects, and texturing for 3D animation. These elements create the world, its mood, and its unique personality. These all must be translated into the creation of the game.

Role and responsibilities of a game illustrator in games:

  • Liaising with lead designers and developers regarding the style and feel of the game
  • Researching references and resources required to produce the assets of the game
  • Sketching concept designs and key elements of the visual style
  • Designing promotional materials, packages, posters and websites for the launch of the game
  • Building 3D models of all assets in line with the technical limits of the game engine
  • Applying textures to all visual elements
  • Adding lighting and shading effects to all elements, ensuring consistency in color, intensity and lighting levels
  • Integrating special effects to textures, scenes and events, including muzzle flashes, weather effects, particle systems, sparking wires, smoke, haze, billowing dust, steam vents, explosions, etc
  • Producing prototypes for testing
  • Working with motion capture
  • Maintaining production documentation
  • Advising on new technologies
  • Problem-solving both creative and technical issues
  • Adhering to the production schedule
  • Curating and cataloging of asset library
  • Designing with the user experience in mind

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Skills required to become a game illustrator

Game Illustrators are skilled in many aspects of game design. As their careers progress they will specialize in an area that interests them most and serves their specific talents. Games are produced by teams, so communication and interpersonal skills are vital to aid in the smooth running of the production pipeline. 

Game studios may look for the following skills in game illustrators:

  • Training in game art, illustration, fine art or graphic design
  • A strong portfolio of original work
  • Knowledge of lighting, perspective, material finishes and special effects
  • A cinematic eye for lighting and shading
  • Strong drawing skills, able to visualize and design from abstract ideas
  • Solid knowledge of game genres and latest trends in gaming
  • Able to work from storyboards 
  • Advanced understanding of visual language - texture, color, dimension, scale, perspective, shade, composition depth of field, proportion, spatial awareness, etc
  • Talent for visual storytelling
  • Knowledge of 2D and 3D animation, and familiarity with the principles of animation 
  • Systematic and logical work practices
  • Working knowledge of industry standard software and ongoing professional development
  • Team player, ability to work independently
  • Ability to create special effects
  • Knowledge of anatomy, zoology, layout design, texturing and asset creation
  • Comfortable taking on constructive criticism and deliver amendments based on feedback
  • Used to working under pressure and consistently meeting deadlines

What software and tools do game illustrators use?

Game illustrators work with any manner of gaming and animation software.

Game illustrators may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:
  • Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects
  • Blender
  • 3D Studio Max
  • Maya
  • Mudbox
  • Zbrush
  • Substance Designer
  • CAD
  • Quixel
  • TVPaint
  • ToonBoom Harmony
  • CelAction
  • Unreal Engine
  • Nuke

How much does a game illustrator make?

The average salary of a Game Illustrator ranges from USD $32,000 to USD $77,000. (Source: Glassdoor)

To learn more about this field, visit: What is Digital Illustration? or What is Concept Art?



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