Concept artists aren’t well-known when it comes to the backbone of the art industry whether it’s games, animation, or design, but their roles are incredibly important. They bridge the gap between abstract ideas and turn scenes into reality.
This article breaks down what a concept artist does, what their job would look like, as well as what is expected to get hired as a concept artist.
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What is Concept Art?
Concept art is basically the art that communicates the idea or concept of something in media. This can be media such as games, animated films, TV shows, movies, and even comics. These concepts focus on the whole of the story, including the environment, characters, props, lighting, and more.
This art doesn’t always focus on the individual details but on the overarching feeling. This art is to make sure that animators and illustrators have a point of reference when doing their work.
Art is usually fairly simple, lots of people can draw these days, but to turn it into a professional career you should be able to follow certain guidelines and be able to create your own style and also adhere to whatever art style set by the art director.
Concept art at its early stages lacks details and that serves multiple purposes. It gives the team the ability to make small changes like outfits and hair with ease to appease the client, and it makes it easier to give multiple samples to the client in a short amount of time to allow the client to pick the ones they enjoy the most.
Additionally, things often change along the line, such as what a character looks like, features, or hair, so being able to make simple changes is a lot easier than changing something extremely detailed.
What Does a Concept Artist Do?
Concept artists take the storyboard, script, art guide, or brief and turn it into images. It is important that a concept artist can pick up details and translate them into art so that the story and the art match as closely as possible.
Concept artists will be in constant contact with all teams, including animators, illustrators, art directors, and clients. They have to take feedback from their supervisor usually an art lead or an art director.
The concept artist will also take reference material and styles for similar media to make their reference images and lead the other animators and illustrators to understand what the style is and the visuals based on the brief.
In short, concept artists translate the brief and details of the story into images that the rest of the art team can then refer to when doing their own work.
Here is a brief look at the basics of a concept artist as well as two other jobs that concept artists often get mixed up with.
|Concept Artist||Visual Effects Artist||Storyboard Artist|
|Career Path||Generally, you will want a Bachelor’s Degree in an art field, and get an art certification for the best chances. |
However, portfolios and experience as well as daily practice are more important.
|A degree in computer animation or graphic design is ideal. |
Having additional certification in tools and software is also recommended.
|Bachelor’s degree in filmmaking principles and certifications in software and skills is highly recommended, but high levels of experience can be substituted.|
|Job Description||Create detailed key designs Drawing up specification sheets Establishing dimensions and details Assist in the creation of marketing materials and assets||Creative visual effects and animations using technology and software Troubleshooting issues with animation Creating storyboards to understand the images and storyline Brainstorming with artists and designers||Reading and interpreting scripts Breaking down scripts to identify and visualize key scenes Identifying lighting requirements for each scene Briefing animators on key scenes in the storyboard Amending storyboard scenes during production|
|Skills||Awareness of facial expressions and postures Knowledge of anatomy and zoology Knowledge of animation or game development process Strong drawing skills Ability to draw in multiple styles||Excellent time management skills Good drawing skills and creativity Strong knowledge of 3D animation Ability to create high-quality VFX||Ability to collaborate with multiple teams Knowledge of styles and genres Knowledge of the principles of storytelling Strong layout and design skills Skills in drawing by hand and with computer assistance Solid knowledge of camera angles and cinematography techniques|
|Tools||Autodesk CAD Quixel Mudbox ZBrush Adobe Creative Cloud||Autodesk Maya Houdini Unity Dreamweaver Adobe||Adobe Creative Cloud Toon Boom Harmony|
|Pay||$58,000 on average||$67,000 on average||$31,000 on average|
A table comparing concept artists, visual effects artists, and storyboard artists
Concept Artist Job Description
There are many ways to describe a concept artist’s job description. However, it boils down to one simple sentence. A concept artist is a person who develops the initial visuals of the story based on the script or brief they have been given.
To add more detail to that, they are the people, with input from the client or other team members, what the style of the work is and they turn something abstract into something visual that is used as a reference all down the line.
Concept Artist Skills
Some of the necessary skills for a concept artist include:
- Ability to find references and adapt them to your own work and the story’s needs
- Excellent attention to detail
- Understanding of the fundamentals of art, such as colors, light, texture, shape, form, and perspective
- Strong communication abilities
- Ability to handle constant feedback and constructive criticism
Types of Concept Art
The types of concept art are broken into categories of parts of the story. There are many different kinds, but it is generally broken down into a few categories.
- Character concept art
- Environment concept art
- Prop concept art
- Vehicles concept art
- UI concept art
One of the most common categories is character concept art. This is when you design a character based on the concept you are given. You will handle their features, common gestures, clothes, and accessories.
Then there is environment concept art, where you create the backgrounds, general theme of the setting, and even maps. Buildings sometimes get included in the environment, and sometimes may be considered their own thing.
Prop concept art is anything that plays an important role that isn’t a character. For example, tools, weapons, costumes, trinkets, accessories, and more. Generally, it is something that plays an important role, such as revealing the background of a character or being used to save the day.
Vehicles are another type of concept art. While they aren’t used for every story, they are important in some such as action and adventure themes. They are harder to design than regular props and are usually essential to the storyline.
Finally, there is UI concept art, which focuses on logos, icons, banners, or designs. This can be the UI design for the company making the story or a design the characters see and wear in the story.
Examples of Concept Art
Using Ahmad Beyrouthi Superb Work as an example, you can see some of the work that concept artists do.
As you can see from these examples, having the ability to work with a variety of different styles, lighting, and media types is ideal as you will never know what your next job looks like.
Concept Artist Software and Tools
Some common tools of concept artists include:
- Adobe Photoshop
- Substance Painter
- Corel Painter
- Paper and drawing tools
Each industry uses slightly different tools, so learning a wide variety can be important. However, these are pretty standard across all fields.
How to Become a Concept Artist?
Becoming a concept artist involves a lot of practice and experience. Showing skills in a variety of styles and the ability to make concept art from basic briefs is the most important step.
If you want a bit more backing, getting a Bachelor’s degree in an art related to film or games can help, as well as getting certification in various software and skills.
Concept Artist Career Path
After graduating most probably getting an internship in a studio is the best way in, even if it’s not paid at the beginning, because starting out is the hardest step just get your foot in the industry.
After 6 months to 1 year, you can move to a junior concept artist position which is a paid position (yey!), and then gather experience and learn as much as you can.
Then from that you can move to a Regular concept artist position and then a senior concept artist position. That usually takes a while from 3 to 7 years because you will need a lot of experience under your belt to qualify for a senior position.
Senior concept artist is where the path will split into 2 roads, one is going into more management which will be a lead concept artist position, and then after that an art director position or an expert approach which will make you a principal concept artist position and then an expert concept artist position.
I will explain it below in arrows so you can understand more.
Concept Art Intern –> Junior Concept Art –> Regular Concept Art –> Senior Concept Art–> Lead Concept Art –> Art Director –> Head of Art
Concept Art Intern –> Junior Concept Art –> Regular Concept Art –> Senior Concept Art–> Principal Concept Art –> Expert Concept Artist
How Much Does a Concept Artist Make?
Concept artists tend to make about $58,000 a year on average. In some states or countries, it may be lower, especially when you first start out. However, with skills and experience, you can expect to get closer to $78,000 annually.
Tips on Becoming a Better Concept Artist From Industry Professionals
Ahmad Beyrouthi Art Lead – Senior Artist
- No matter how intermediate your level is, always go back to the fundamentals.
- Get inspired by others and be competitive without comparing yourself to them.
- Practice your medium, and become proficient with the tools that will serve your style and appeal to your audience.
- Understand your designs and make them functional and believable.
- It is important to separate Design from Execution and study both.