Listening to: Oblivion OST - M83
Reading: The Art of Revenge of the Sith
Watching: BBC news 24
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.