“What is Concept Art?” and “What does a Concept Artist Do?”

I’m often asked these questions when explaining what my focus in art is.  Below I will quote explanations of what concept art is, how it relates to illustration, and what the role of a concept artist is on a pre-production team.

“What is Concept Art?”

Concept art is a subset of illustration.

What is illustration? Dictionary.com says this of the word “illustrate”:

1. to furnish (a book, magazine, etc.) with drawings, pictures, or other artwork intended for explanation, elucidation, or adornment
2. to make clear or intelligible, as by examples or analogies; exemplify
3. 3. Archaic. to enlighten
4. to clarify one’s words, writings, etc., with examples: To prevent misunderstandings, let me illustrate.

So, an “illustration” is art that communicates something.

There is much of fine art that falls into the category of illustration. Any image that tells a story or represents an object is illustrative, whether it is communicating something as complex as a scene from the Lord of the Rings, or as simple a thing as “a horse” or “a man”.

What makes concept art different from illustration is that the audience isn’t the person who reads a book, plays a game, or watches a movie. The primary audience of concept art is other artists, and other people involved in the making of the final product. Concept art is the blueprint that is used to make more art. It is also used to communicate with the holder of the intellectual property rights involved in a project, and it can also be the leverage that is used to get funding for a project.

If you want a formal education that will prepare you for being a concept artist, then study illustration.

Seedling, Concept Art 101, conceptart.org, 11.4.2006

“What does a Concept Artist Do?”

Role Overview

The role of Concept Artist is highly creative at EA. The Concept Artist sketches ideas for game worlds, characters, objects, vehicles, furniture, clothing, and other content (often starting with hand-drawn pencil sketches). These sketches form mockups/visual prototypes for key areas of a project. The Concept Artist also suggests level designs, color schemes, and the overall mood and feel of the game. They are usually very good at perspective drawing and architecture. Although not involved in creating the actual game art, the Concept Artist will help determine the look of many aspects of the game.

Concept artists generally draw worlds on paper. Some artists work with pencil, while others are “matte painters,” like the artists who paint amazing backdrops for movies. A good Concept Artist at EA needs to be able to draw straight into Fractal Paint or Photoshop using something like a Wacom digital pen and tablet. They must generate high quality digital images quickly that will inspire the team and can even be used as temporary placeholder art. They need to be very good at “perspective style” artwork and real and organic architecture. The Concept Artist should also be able to lay out a storyboard for game sequences. They often play an important role in design meetings by sketching out ideas during brainstorming sessions. A lot of their art appears in the original design document for a new game. Comic book artists are often well suited to this job.

What skills does EA look for??

Concept Artists are exceptionally talented artists with at least 3-5 years of cinematic/game production experience (1-2 years feature film experience is also a plus). From a technical standpoint, Concept Artists possess strong drawing and painting skills in color and black and white. They have extensive experience with Photoshop and knowledge of other digital paint programs and a good understanding of 3D content creation tools.
An EA Concept Artist will have several areas of emphasis:

  • Character ideation and design (i.e., cartoon, stylized, realistic, etc.)
  • Environment ideation and design (i.e., realistic, stylized, fantasy, etc.)
  • Component ideation and design (i.e., cars, military vehicles, weapons, gadgets, etc.)

A Concept Artist’s portfolio should demonstrate the following:

  • Very strong traditional illustration skills in a variety of media as well as excellent drawing skills
  • A strong ability to think in 3D
  • Strong fundamental skills
  • Good use of line, light, and shadow
  • Storytelling and concept development
  • Breadth of artistic styles
  • Understanding of color theory
  • Ability to work within specific styles, including a style set by another artist or art director

A Concept Artist at EA could be working on The Simpsons’ one day and Dead Space the next. The more diverse their skill set and thinking, the more valuable they are as an artist. Great Concept Artists at EA tend to have a good foundation in Art History and History of Design.

EA Games: Careers: Art: Concept Artist