Thursday, December 8th, 2022

What is a Concept Artist?

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If you’ve ever looked at the way a particular game was designed and got absolutely enraptured and amazed by it, you’re looking at the work of a highly-skilled concept artist.

Concept artists are the people who run the whole show when it comes to designing games or animation in movies. In essence, the people who visualize and create the art for characters, buildings, landscapes, objects, environments and all other design elements in any creative work are termed as concept artists.

The art forms the basis for how the end result is going to look – whether it’s VFX or a poster, concept artists need to set the tone for all future work by means of their own designs.

Concept art is a vast term used for all creative work that you see; naturally, the processes, thought patterns, skills and ultimately the end result will vary wildly for a concept artist working for a fantasy-themed project and someone working for a more futuristic, techno set-up.

A basic “feel” for the design process and how each and every component connects to portray the story which is intended to be shown – these are fundamentals which every concept artist must be comfortable with.

What is a Concept Artist?

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The Concept Design Process 

The method by which a concept artist works in order to achieve a coherent design language all through their work is fairly straightforward to understand. However, it does have a number of sub-processes which are complex in and of themselves.

It is crucial that each designer have a comprehensive visual library: basically a kind of database of shapes, textures, designs and connected concepts which can help them visualize how the design language for the current project will look like.

While the creative process needs stimulation and can be quite time-taking at times – but professionals must ensure that their designs have drafts ready by certain deadlines.

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Workflow | The Concept Designer’s Workday 

The concept designer’s work starts when their design director brings them a brief, which has certain information which gives hints towards what the final design will be.

This includes information like age, height, and defining characteristics in case of a character, or other such important information. Visual cues which are relevant to the design may also be made available, but this isn’t always the case.

The designer begins their exploratory design process once they get the brief. This consists of a number of rough designs or thumbnailing such designs. The number of designs becomes irrelevant to this process, but sometimes it may take over 200 such designs before you get it right.

It is imperative to remember the time constraints the design has to be made in, but without thumbnailing, you can’t go from a blank slate to the final design.

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It is these thumbnails which lead the concept artist to a final render, which covers most of the required aspects which are asked for when the brief is given. The front view, side view, and back view are included. Also included are designs with the main character performing some action, often with the required environmental details.

Once the concept artist is convinced with the quality of these designs, they are sent back to the art director. The art director thoroughly reviews these designs, and then the concept artist makes changes as per comments from the director.

If you’re wondering where the concept artist’s importance lies, it’s generally the case that the art created by the concept artist in this way becomes the basis for the complete design language followed throughout the game/movie/animation design process. Hence, the importance of the concept artist’s work cannot be stressed enough.

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Visual Development Artists | What’s the Difference? 

Sometimes when concept artists work in the field of animation, they are assigned the title of a visual development artist instead of a concept artist. The job profile remains largely the same, and the demands of the job are very similar to that of a concept artist.

However, in animation, the concept art veers more towards the artistic side than the realistic side – realism is largely the domain of video games. Over time, this distinction is becoming hazier, but it is still the case most of the time.

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Skills Needed to Succeed as a Concept Artist 

Step 1 | Getting the Basics Right 

The first step towards your journey of becoming a concept artist starts with getting comfortable with being a good artist, first and foremost. This process is incredibly essential to your growth as a concept artist since you need to be very clear on your fundamentals before you move on to more complex art.

At the same time, however, concept design is more than abstract art – product designing also plays a large role here. Objects will be incorporated into your art some way or the other.

Hence, thinking about products like bicycles, chairs, mobile phones, computers, and other such items of daily use plays a large role in the way you will end up designing your project art.

Step 2 | Choosing a Specialty 

Concept artists tend to have one particular field of focus in which they end up doing most of their work, a.k.a., a specialty. There are a number of specialties a concept artist can choose from: character designing, environment designing or props designing. Each of them requires a special thought process as well as specific designing skills.

In the industry, you automatically become more useful if much of the concept artwork in your portfolio already belongs to a particular specialty. These specialties are almost exclusive in how they may appeal to someone. Hence, if you think you like one better than the others, it’s best to keep your portfolio streamlined.

Step 3 | Resources and/or Degrees 

The paramount factor in being considered for jobs is an eye for design and wonderful prototyping skills, as well as the ability to deliver on time. While this isn’t a profession which strictly requires a degree, you should look into local universities or colleges which provide tuition in the field of concept art.

This, however, isn’t all that necessary. A number of books and tutorials are available on the internet which can also guide you in a similar manner – only you will need much more discipline in order to succeed as a concept artist.

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Bringing it all together 

Concept art is a wonderful career for those who have an eye for design and can communicate well at the same time. It helps, of course, to have some experience in designing and art, but it’s never too late to get started with art and design. This is a competitive field – but the rewards of success are immense, too!

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Sudarshan Kar

Sudarshan Kar

As Lead Editor of Homesthetics for almost a decade now, Sudarshan knows the website inside-out. His journalistic experience shaped the editorial and integrity guidelines that define the platform today.

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