highlights
  1. What is a concept artist?
  2. What types of concept artists exist?
  3. Environment concept artists
  4. Character concept artists
  5. Props concept artists
  6. What is the difference between a concept artist and illustrator?
  7. What does a concept artist do?
  8. What does an illustrator do?
  9. How to become a concept artist?
  10. What skills do you need to become a concept artist?
  11. Where to practice to become a concept artist?
  12. What is a Concept Artist's salary?
  13. The bottom line

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If you ever wanted to become that person that creates game’ worlds and characters, a concept artist might be the perfect job for you. Such specialists create artwork that defines the look and feel of a game and its characters.. 

How to become a concept artist for video games? Which skills are needed? How much can you earn?? Read on to learn everything you need to know about starting a career as a concept artist.

What is a concept artist?

Creating a concept art means to deliver ideas that help the game stand out among others in the same genre. Although this position requires a person with strong illustration skills, the whole approach to the job is more similar to the work of a product designer rather than that of an artist.

Concept artists work according to strict guidelines, which are defined as a ‘concept’. Everything starts with an idea of how the game should look: the lightning, the design of game assets, and the overall atmosphere. Concept artists work at the earliest stages of the process, creating initial sketches or environments, characters, and props, that later will be polished and transformed into a playable game environment. Basically, such professionals are responsible for that first look of the game. 

However, even when the game is more or less built, there might be some room for improvement. In that case, the concept artist might help again, adding additional details that could make the game unique and atmospheric. 

What types of concept artists exist?

To learn how to become a video concept artist it is essential to understand what types of artists there are and the one/type you want to be. 

Concept artists are generally defined by the type of art they create: environment, characters, props, weapons, or vehicles. 

Environment concept artists

Often this form of concept art is considered the most challenging. Although environment art has fewer limitations than  character design, it is detailed work and requires expertise.

How to become a concept artist for video game environments?  Building knowledge is most important: not only about perspective but also about all environmental nuances. 

If you’re drawing buildings, you need to develop a knowledge base in architectural design. If you’re creating landscapes, you need to know enough about geology. If you’re working on a game about World War II, you need to know historical details to make the concepts as accurate as possible.

At the same time, environment concept artists often cannot use the real world as an inspiration for their drawings. Instead, they have to create new worlds and fill them with unique details, nature, and living creatures. 

Character concept artists

While environment design has one of the biggest influences on a game’s atmosphere, character design plays another important role in the game’s perception. Characters have to be charismatic and eye-catching, so that players relate to them and generally enjoy playing them.

How to become a concept art game developer that creates such characters? You need to have in-depth knowledge of both human and animal anatomy to be able to design aliens, mutants, and various fantastical creatures. Without that knowledge, it would be impossible to craft characters who look both unique and realistic, while maintaining  the proportions of their body parts. 

Knowledge of 3D rendering software might also help. It’s not a separate direction of a concept artist’s work. Rather, it's an additional tool that helps quicken the work process and better present finished concepts. (It might also help you stand out among competitors. The competition in the character design niche is very high, and the more skills you have, the better.) 

Creating a character concept it’s not only about the basic design. Such concept artists also create a set of poses, facial expressions, and even outfits for each character to make them look more realistic and charismatic.

Props concept artists

The devil is in the details, they say. This phrase best describes the role of props in the game’s design and atmosphere. While such things might not be a part of a/the bigger picture like environments ,  props still contribute a lot.

How to become a video game concept artist that specializes in props? You need to be really good at research and have a strong knowledge base about a certain object (like knowledge of the automobile industry if you design cars). This will help you make these game assets as accurate as can be. Props can be very different, and most artists start by designing various kinds . However, they usually later switch to one specific niche, such as weapons or vehicles. This happens because they start building knowledge of the niche they like the most.

As the general approach to the work process is identical for each niche, we won’t be describing each niche separately. It takes time, attention, and hard work to craft a concept art for a prop, because each detail has to be as precise as possible. This works both for game assets that exist in real life and for those  that don’t.

What is the difference between a concept artist and illustrator?

Now you know what a concept artist is. And you might wonder how they differ from illustrators. Each profession requires strong drawing skills and deep knowledge of both visual foundations (like composition, perspective, and colors) and the niche they specify in (characters, props, environments). However, it’s the goal and the work approach that make them different. 

What does a concept artist do?

Concept art is all about the idea. It might not be as polished and detailed as an illustration, because that’s not its goal. If such art contributes to the overall game’s atmosphere and looks unique, that means that the artist did their job well. 

Concept designers also have to follow a strict set of rules while doing their job. These rules are dictated by the game itself: for instance, an artist has to draw outfits that game characters could actually make and wear — they have to be crafted in accordance with the game’s timeline, world rules, race, and social class of characters, and so on.

What does an illustrator do?

An Illustrator, on the other hand, starts working after the concept is approved. Their goal is to create a piece of visual (drawing, photo, or painting) that tells the story and displays the final form of the concept.

Unlike concept artists, illustrators don’t have to think about the game’s realities as it’s already been done for them. For instance, they draw a building. It’s not their job to think about how it would look from above and whether it would be possible to climb on the roof or not — that’s what concept artists do. Instead, illustrators work to make these initial sketches look ‘complete’ and polished, to tell a story with their visuals so even the people who aren’t familiar with the game’s plot could get a grip of what the game will be about.

How to become a concept artist?

The most obvious answer is to build the necessary skills, practice a lot in order to create a strong portfolio, and learn all the important nuances of the niche, such as the level of competition, the concept artist’s salary, and so on. Let’s dig into more details on that. 

What skills do you need to become a concept artist?

A concept artist has to understand how to work with color and composition, and how to draw and render. Knowledge of 3D software (such as Blender, ZBrush, 3DsMax, and Cinema 4D) is a must too, and if you can work with Unreal Engine — that’s a plus. 

However, being a concept artist is less about the software you know and more about your imagination, logic, and other soft skills. You have to come up with an idea that is truly original and be able to present that idea to your colleagues so that they find it appealing and believable. That also requires strong communication skills. 

You also have to be able to work with information well, structure it, spot the most important pieces, and focus on how to solve a certain problem (for instance, how to design a vehicle that can fly and drive). Sure, having in-depth knowledge about a certain niche is also great, but you won’t be able to always know everything. However, if you are curious, open to new things, and willing to learn, you’ll always be able to find a solution and create strong concept art. 

Where to practice to become a concept artist?

It’s possible to build a strong portfolio on freelance projects only. Still, it might be more beneficial and quicker for a beginner to grow within a company. This is especially true for the outsource companies that work with multiple projects of different genres and styles. This way, you can try yourself in all these genres and understand what’s best for you. Then you can try your skills at a product company that creates its own games. 

Besides building skills at work, it’s also important to develop your imagination. Watching movies, cartoons, and anime, as well as playing games, helps you build your ‘visual library’. Doing so will also help you get a better understanding of various styles and concepts. 

It’s equally important to get used to generating ideas. Sketch a lot. Try to combine some random stuff that shouldn’t combine (for instance, create a design for a strawberry mousse). Get comfortable with producing different concepts, even the wildest ones. This will help you greatly in your future work.

What is a Concept Artist's salary?

Obviously, there is no specific sum. A concept artist’s salary depends on the country you work in and the company you work with. 

For instance, the average annual income for a concept artist working in the US market is $84,105. But this doesn’t include some additional perks one receives. US companies also offer health insurance, stock options, different bonuses among other perks that could motivate the artists. 

If you want to learn what an average salary is in another country or specific company, you can do  research on Glassdoor. While not all companies’ employees specify their salaries there, you might get lucky and get a better understanding of salaries on the market.

The bottom line

When we think about the work of an illustrator, some of us usually imagine them coming up with all these wild visual ideas that later come to life in video games. However, in reality, it’s the concept artists who generate these ideas and create drafts of game characters and worlds. 

This job is still not as creative as some might expect, as concept artists are bound by the game world’s rules. Still, the whole process is both complex and amazing.  After reading this article if you feel this is your dream job , start chasing it by building the necessary skills and experience. It will be worth it. 

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