Not a single big-budget project can do without video game concept art. Every character, vehicle, location, or object requires multiple iterations to make it look right. Simple concept art pieces give the idea of how things should be visualized. How it is done? Read in our latest blog entry!
VIDEO GAME CONCEPT ART IN A NUTSHELL
It may sound trivial, but concept art is a truly essential piece of almost any video game. Consider it a representation of your idea and a comprehensive guide to creating the final art for the project. Today Argentic’s lead designer will take you on an educational trip to learn more about video game concept art, its main types, core art styles, and more.
WHAT IS CONCEPT ART IN THE GAME INDUSTRY?
Concept art is the very beginning of the creative process when artists take an idea described with words and try to visualize it. Quick raw sketches allow game designers to check many different versions and drop useless solutions as early as possible during the pre-production stage. Having a bunch of approved video game concept art makes it much easier to handpick ideas worth developing. Selected sketches will be sent to the production team for enhancement and finalization.
Apart from the gaming industry, concept art is no stranger to other fields that use art: cinematography, animation, advertisement, and so on. The principle remains the same, though. It allows creators to form and visualize ideas in a short time. To create the desired image, it would not hurt to see its representation from different points of view. That is why usually multiple artists are tasked to draw the same concept art. Games then take the very best each professional has provided.
When developing a game, we recommend you start working on game design concept art as early as possible. The illustrations your concept artists create will simplify the further art development. Keep in mind that you need an experienced concept artist who understands the primary responsibilities and peculiarities of the profession. If you lack such a specialist(s) on your team, then outsourcing is always a good way to go.
The work of concept makers influences everything in the game world. You can be sure that not a single piece of machinery, prop, landscape, or character was created from a single sketch. Even individual equipment elements like rivets on armor are drawn multiple times in different colors, shapes, and textures before “the one and only” variant is found. There are always dozens of basic drawings, but only a few selected images receive a seal of approval.
TYPES OF VIDEO GAME CONCEPT ART
Games are complex products. Taking into account all the factors that go into developing a video game, you may assume that concept artists should have different specializations. And you will be 100% correct because there are multiple types of concept art. Let’s briefly discuss them.
Character concept art
Character designers need concepts to begin their work. Even though early sketches can be rather primitive, they still should demonstrate the hero’s traits and features. Creature game design concept art includes anatomical features, color schemes, clothing, and armor sets. Character concept artists do it all, and that’s a lot of drawing. Alas, the majority of such concepts are rejected, but it is a normal flow for concept makers.
A good designer must be familiar not only with human anatomy but also know animal physical traits. Not all characters in games are humans, after all. In fantasy or sci-fi settings, it is totally ok to draw aliens with attributes of a familiar animal. For example, the reptilian race of Argonians or cat-like Khajiit from The Elder Scrolls franchise, turians from Mass Effect, you name it.
Environment concept art
Every game takes place in a certain setting, so someone must illustrate it according to the script and lore. Environment concept artists are in charge of the initial visualization of landscapes, architectural objects, and elements that set the tone of the game. In order to conceptualize cool fictional places, one needs vivid imagination and skills to draw from simple words on paper. Other designers will continue working on this basic imagery, turning it into digital art that will be added to the game.
Whether it is a futuristic city street or a bar on an alien planet, the image must be eye-catching and intriguing, prompting viewers to ask what could happen in such a place. A confident environmental concept artist must be proficient with the perspective in art. If anything in the scene seems off, unnatural, or out of place, it can easily ruin the atmosphere and look of the piece.
Prop concept art
Sculptures of fantasy demigods, decorated bottles with magic potions, barrels with wine, and other smaller objects that fill the environment are called props. Take them all away, and the world will look empty and lifeless. Prop designers create all these little things to add extra flavor to the game environment. This type of concept art for games is arguably the most creative and open to experiments with style as designers draw inspiration from thousands of objects that exist(ed) in our world. Obviously, there are some limits to creativity, and you cannot mindlessly add something like firearms to a medieval setting without justification. Anyway, all props must feel right and be in line with the design code of the game.
Equipment concept art
Some designers say that equipment art is a props sub-category, but we disagree with this statement. Armor, weaponry, and gear used by characters in games are much bigger than your ordinary props. Equipment video game concept art can provide more information about the world where the action takes place. Also, the favorite protagonist’s gun can say a lot about their traits and preferences, providing a more comprehensive feel to the final product.
Artists that draw weapons have a good understanding of such items knowing how the tech would work in the real world. Most arms prototypes are based on existing industrial designs, so no wonder why weapons look so convincing.
Vehicles also fall in the equipment category, by the way. Drawing a believable machine requires experience with traditional vehicle production, at least at a basic level. Cars, ships, jets, and other aircraft have distinctive designs, so you cannot take away wheels or wings and expect people to believe that such constructs would work even in a fantasy world. Creativity must be believable, and it must be backed up by knowledge.
CONCEPT ART STYLES
According to the Graphical style in games by Mary Keo, there are three main art styles: abstract, stylized, and realistic. A multitude of other art styles derive from this trio, so for the sake of keeping it simple, we will focus on basics.
This concept art style utilizes various shapes and forms. It forces players to guess the purpose and functionality of some elements in games because there is no clear image or explanation attached to them. Their functions will be revealed later as you spend some time playing.
As for the characters, they can even be portrayed as simple geometric figures like triangles or squares. For example, the protagonist of Super Meat Boy is a cube with hands, legs, and a face. For true representatives of the abstract style, you should turn your gaze to classic games like Asteroids of Pong. The latter uses two simple vertical lines as paddles and a small dot as a ball.
You have probably played Super Mario Bros. or at least seen it on the Internet. It is a perfect example of stylized art. Games that go with this style have cartoonish, generally exaggerated graphics. They draw inspiration from comics and caricatures so that game elements may look absurd and unusual.
Stylized games are free from many boundaries like realistic physics, movements, etc., but it does not mean that they cannot be realistic whenever they want. If you take a round or two in a crazy multiplayer platformer called Fall Guys, you will notice that it features a solid physics model.
You know what it is all about and definitely have played not one game that looks realistic. The game world, characters within it, their equipment, and all objects around try to replicate the things from real life as close as possible. This is the go-to art style for most modern first-person shooters and action adventures (Resident Evil, Death Stranding, Cyberpunk 2077, etc.). Various simulator games also love being realistic, for example, Forza Horizon 5 or Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Generally speaking, there must be two elements in concept art for it to be considered realistic. Game elements are reminiscent of their real-life counterparts, while the movement and behavior of these objects must obey real-world physics.
THE JOB OF A CONCEPT ARTIST
The tasks for such specialists vary depending on the production phase. In the very beginning, they go through a lot of research and investigation in order to create the base and set visual guidelines for the game world. During this stage, concept artists create numerous postcards that serve as the final form of concept (you have seen them in various promo materials for video games). Later on, artists switch to other, more specific tasks, and solve problems that appear during development.
The quality of concept illustrations and sketches does not have strict standards. Some can be crude and rather primitive, others – refined and complex. Each illustration starts with an idea of the composition, keeping in mind the task that must be solved with the drawing. For instance, demonstrate certain locations, present various pieces of machinery, clothing characters wear, etc. After the basic image is complete, artists continue adding simple effects and lighting. High-class professionals can tackle composition and lighting simultaneously.
Finalized illustrations must be as clear as possible because other artists, modelers, and animators will continue working with them, and it is important that not a single detail is lost in the transition. So the main goal of a good concept piece is to inform and set the general direction for the art production stuff.
FINDING YOUR CONCEPT ART CREATOR
Creating game design concept art requires a deep understanding of the process on multiple levels of work. If you are going for a graphically light project in an abstract art style, then you will need less time to produce art. Choosing a stylized or realistic approach will be trickier and most likely will require specialists with a particular set of skills.
Since not every investor or publisher has their own art studio, outsourcing has become the best way to solve game production issues. Whether you need just a little help with artwork and concepts for it or would like someone competent to take care of the entire project, we are ready to hear you out and consult on the topic!
At Argentics, we have plenty of experience with A to Z game development as well as being an emergency support unit that helps complex projects to be delivered on time. We cooperate with gaming companies, other development studios, and individual investors, creating 2D/3D game assets, models, and animation for them as well. Don’t take our word for granted, and check our portfolio of projects! And if you are interested in hiring us, send us an email or fill out the contact form, and we will get in touch.