Concept art is an incredibly dynamic process that is more than just delivering aesthetically pleasing content, it’s a cycling process of creating and refining that results in content that effectively communicates your creative idea. The purpose of concept art is to create a foundation for the entire project creatively, it gives other members of the team and pipeline an understanding of the overall aesthetics of a project and puts everyone on the same page, which makes it a pivotal part of the creative process. With that in mind, what are the keys when figuring out how to create concept art?
Different early variations of game characters, note that it’s more about having identifiable features than it is about detail at that stage.
Concept art is about iteration and in the early stages, it’s generally about research and exploration, which means collecting references, making mood boards, and developing a tonal understanding of the project. Is it a horror title? Is it a fantasy title? These are all questions concept artists will define answers to during the early stages to begin creating a strong visual foundation – it also ensures that early concepts are within the realm of the genre.
Successful Concept Artists need to have a solid understanding of the following:
- Colour Theory;
Video game concept art is about understanding the creative vision of the developer, what are they trying to create? What genre does it fit? What particular style do they want? It’s all about communicating in the early stages. Once you can loosely define the art direction, you can begin researching as we mentioned earlier, it’s a good habit to collect references as these can help guide your designs in the right realm.
Early on in concept art game design, it’s about being very loose with your drawings, don’t be rigid, there are no mistakes in the early stages – refinement comes later, and in the early development stage it’s about drawing from the arm, let the stylus or pencil flow freely, your initial sketches don’t have to be perfect, they just have to create a foundation that you can refine into something more structured later.
- Early sketches for environments in the Ubisoft title For Honor – note the roughness of the sketches but the variety and distinct differences between iterations.
Planning is important in the preliminary stages because essentially when it comes to how to make concept art for a game, you need to have in mind what the final product will look like. Having a general direction for your concept means that you can begin narrowing the scope – look at concept art development like a funnel, at the wide end, you put all your loose ideas down and as the funnel thins to a point, you refine those concepts and build iterations of the ones that suit the developer’s vision appropriately.
Whether you’re wondering how to create character concept art or how to draw video game concept art, it’s important to remember that it is more than just drawing, your role is to visually communicate all of the aesthetics, story, and tone of the project so that other departments can bring it to life.
When it comes to creating character design, it is much the same process as environmental concept design, in environmental concept art, you define with visuals, what kind of place it is, and what has happened there? What story can you tell with the composition? And with character concept art you approach it the same way, who is this character? What is their background? What are they trying to achieve and where have they been? These are all notions that you communicate with your designs.
Starting with Silhouettes is a common way to start character design, as it allows you to define form and stature, giving you a good foundation to begin refining and adding detail once you have those elements settled. If you look closely at the various stances, they all communicate a different characteristic/attitude of who this person is.
The next stage of refinement is adding detail and colour, concept artists have a good understanding of colour theory as well as composition harmony. Understanding how to distribute colours, and which colours in the colour wheel work together and contrast, are all key elements of a good concept artist. The general rule of thumb for character concept art and colour use is to define your main colour tone, your secondary colour tone, and your accent tones, which provide little details. Once you’ve done that you apply the 60, 30, and 10 rule which means you use 60% of your primary colour tones, 30% of your secondary colour tones, and just 10% of your accent tones – following this rule, you’ll achieve a good balance in your character design.
Notice the distribution of the primary, secondary and accent colour sets – 60, 30 and 10. Colour Harmony at its finest!
Video game art, whether it's character-based or environmental-based, is about following the same process.
Generally, the concept art process can be simplified into these steps:
- Concept Sketching (which can include silhouette work for character content)
- Introduction of Mood and Colour
- Establish lighting
- Further refinement
Whilst it can vary depending on character or environment art, the “funnel” process is generally accurate for all types of concept work. Ultimately when trying to figure out how to create concept art for games it comes down to good research and defining the tone you’re trying to achieve, establishing that early means that your iterations and process will be heading in the right direction.
Remember, concept artists aren’t just drawing ideas and concepts for the video game, they’re telling a narrative with everything they produce, whether that is through the environmental concept design or the character design – they’re communicating an overarching theme and story that allows the rest of the production pipeline to have an understanding of the attitude and course of the game.
Entering into the world of video game concept art outsourcing with the understanding that you’re telling a narrative with every piece you produce is key to being successful. Concept artists need to understand the fundamentals of drawing (Form, Perspective, Anatomy, Composition Value, and Lighting) but those are elements that you pick up over time with enough practice.
At Pingle Studio we understand the process of developing and working with Concept artists and are proud to be able to not only provide game developers with talented artists but also assist artists in growing and improving as creatives.