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Submitted on
April 5, 2013


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A lot of people ask me what skills are required to become a professional game concept artist. So, I will try to answer that question here.

Firstly, there is actually very little demand for pretty, colorful paintings like you see in my gallery for instance. Smaller companies often see these 'mood paintings' as an expensive luxury. Larger companies often have very little use for 'mood paintings' and scenes.
In fact, in the 2 years since I have been doing concept art I have never been required to do any 'mood paintings' at all.

Generally, pretty scenes are only necessary for promotional marketing purposes and they are usually very tight, not loose. I have been lucky in the fact that I have been able to do plenty of tight marketing images from scratch, designing the entire image from my own imagination. However, most of the marketing art you see on commercial game packaging, posters and so on is probably done by an illustrator or graphic designer, using photographic references, 3d renders or screenshots to paint over or simply colorize. Rarely are these images created from scratch by the artist as there is no point spending unnecessary time on an image when there are assets ready to stitch/merge together.

The real demand is with line drawings. Even with environments there is usually no requirement to do any 'concepts' or 'loose mood paintings' first, except for occasional fast 10 minute thumbnail sketches. Companies have tight schedules to keep and would rather have accurate 45 degree perspective line work created straight off so that the 3d modelers can get to work modeling your design asap. By skipping the 'pretty-image' stage more time is saved. So, rather than creating an entire image of a scene which may look cool, companies would rather have the individual elements of the environment broken down into tight line work. Color and even shading is rarely desired as it just gets in the way. Line work only.

Another skill which is always in demand is character design. However, it is becoming more and more essential for character designers to use 3d software such as Z Brush, rather than to sketch out a character using line work. Again, this saves time and Z Brush can create flawless renders in much less time than it takes to sketch by hand. And of course, the 3d model can be viewed at any angle and in any pose imaginable, with the anatomy and form remaining perfectly accurate. Almost all 3d character designing is done using Z brush in the larger professional gaming companies.

In the not-so-distant future I am sure all concepts will be created using 3D software once computers have become fast enough at rendering the designs. Also, by creating the concepts in 3D the modelers can just import the 3D file to polish the design, saving more time.

Personally, I see the art of free hand drawing (traditional and digital) being phased out completely in the entertainment industry, though the demand for human imagination will be around for a while of course. I also create orchestral music using sophisticated sampling tools that utilize real orchestral samples. The quality of these samples are very convincing and very editable in real time. Already the entertainment industry uses this technology to replicate a real orchestra and save huge amounts of time and money by not actually requiring a real orchestra.

So, for the mean time it's down to line work designing if you want to get plenty of work. I realize that there are many amazing professional tutorials out there by master concept artists who create outstanding, exciting imagery, but I have yet to find a company that actually requires that particular type of art and will actually pay you for it. Technology is great but it has its downside when it inevitably replaces peoples talents and passions.
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Luigigurl Feb 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
So what do I need to do in order to get into character art? It's what I'm focusing on and I am currently about to graduate from college. I primarily draw my work in Photoshop. I'm working on environment art, but it's not really my strong point. Is 3d really necessary? I don't really know how to do it or where to get software....I'm scared that I won't be able to find work :(
JamesLedgerConcepts Mar 3, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Photoshop is fine - most artists use only photoshop. The thing is that many artists are also using a lot of 3d programs too. Z-brush is the most used characters software, especially amongst the pro's. As long as you are good at using any programs, there will be work. Some artists still use traditional techniques, and scan their images into photoshop to add color and texture etc. If you don't want to get into 3d software yet, don't panic. Just keep going. I am constantly encouraged to use 3d software for environments, but I keep putting it off.
Luigigurl Mar 5, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
thanks :) You made me feel a little better. It's hard because 3d software is something that I don't even have access to right now; I'm technically at an engineering school so while they have lots of stuff for them, there aren't programs like Z-brush for me (though you would think they'd have it when they have a very good video game programming major). I want to teach myself, but without the time or resources it's nearly impossible. The hardest thing now for me is trying to find jobs before I graduate this May.......*sigh* I don't even know where to look.

At any rate, I really appreciate you taking the time out to listen to my concerns. There aren't many people that I can go to.
JamesLedgerConcepts Mar 23, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Good stuff! There is only so much a human being can do. We are expected to learn so much in such a short time but it's not always necessary. Just keep going, as you already know. Good luck with finding work too. If you can get an in-house job it will propel you more than taking online work by the way. In-house work experience is always more desirable to employers.
meronfeisu Nov 21, 2013  Student Digital Artist
ewww that's terrible to hear. fuck 3d i will jump ship the day it takes over completely. 
JamesLedgerConcepts Nov 23, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Indeed, friends of mine are already creating cityscapes using Cinema 4D.
Petethetoad Nov 13, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This is really good info and well Ive been thinking of being a concept artist for some time. and im really good at line work. look at my art so you can see what I mean (but cause ive been doing fine art GCSE ive had very stricked lines of what I can follow so never really been able to do my own art yet but starting my own fantasy art and stuff tomorrow as Started A levels and am no longer doing fine art :D) and I was wondering would it be worth me taking up learning to use stuff like z brush. and how do you get a job as a concept artist like what do you have to do to become one.
JamesLedgerConcepts Nov 28, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Yes, your line work is good! You will need to learn about line weight so you can get 'perspective and distances'. A brilliant person to watch is this guy, Scott Robertson.…
Yes to Z-brush. Most professional character artists use it now as it IS in demand, and often essential for the bigger companies doing games and film. I think this will replace regular sketching in a few years.
To get work as a concept artist most of us search online for work. To start with you may be working for free or very little money, but it's essential to get real client work in your portfolio. Clients like to see what you have done for other clients.
To get enough work to keep you working full time may take a few years - but it may not. It depends on so many factors of course.
Most concept artists work from home, doing freelance work. Some clients want a single picture, some want more. Speed is essential if you want to make a living from concept art. Otherwise (like me) you can get stuck on a single image for too long and at a fixed price this isn't going to pay the bills.
The best jobs would be in-house. I have never worked in-house. I have applied but never received a reply. An in-house job means a regular salary, and some of these gaming studios can pay really well! A lot of concept artists will relocate if they have to. The more in-house experience, the more freelance work will come. Some freelancers I know will charge LOADS, esspecially if they can produce 3 images per day, which I can't...yet. I must admit it IS better than a normal job. It IS good fun, most of the time. Most of my clients have been very good. Most come back for more. I just need to find clients with larger budgets, so I can relax with the bills etc. Money is so boring, but it's important if you don't want to have to work in another job to make ends meet of course.
Keep drawing - animals and characters are always in demand, as these are generally the hardest to draw. Draw from every angle. And definitely get into z-brush as soon as you can. A lot of gaming companies want concept artists to be able to use other packages too, such as cinema 4d, as it's a great tool for creating vehicles and buildings etc.
Also, clients (and gaming studios) often like to see your rough sketches, as it shows how quickly you can use your imagination and come up with something. Let me know if you have any questions Pete!
Petethetoad Nov 29, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thats really help full and I am designing an Album cover for a starting off band but its not really concept art, but I wouldnt really count that as real client work xD. And I will look into Z-Brush then but Its good that animals and characters are in demand cause Ive just uploaded anoughter painting of a wolf (Fan Art ) But I have also just uploaded my first ever well properly finished own character xD but my only problem with sketches is that I dont have loads as well I usually just clean them up and make them the actually drawing But I will make sure to just have some sketches too. Also thanks for linking me to Scott Robertson thats really useful but never really considered it as my art teacher hated line art so never really got far into it even thought its my favorite to draw xD. but yep Thanks again and I will ask if I have anymore questions :D. Also call me Dan cause well Petes not my real name just named my account after a film reference and changing it when i get premium as I Think it just sound silly xD
JamesLedgerConcepts Dec 12, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Any kind of work is good - I do book covers. Good luck with the album cover. It doesn't matter how big the band is, as long as it's for someone other than yourself. The more varied the better.
I also clean up old images and put them on here. Some have been hanging around for ages until I get back to them to complete etc.
Yes, zbrush is a good move. Technology constantly changes, and it's hard to keep up with it.
Ok Dan, let me know if you have any images to take a look at and yes, any questions just ask. Make sure to watch all of Scott Robertson's stuff too!
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