What is Concept Art?

Concept Art usually represents the art in the development process of games or movies, in which will ultimately define the final look before going for final production. Therefore, concept art takes place in what the industry is calling, pre-production phase. This phase, is also the initial investment for the production, is to ensure the direction and plan is solidify before entering the next phase of investment.

In any case the pre-production is deemed not projecting to where the producers, director or board members of the project is going, the project may be cancelled or re-evaluated. This is to ensure the large sum of investment for the later phase of the project is protected which would have been near impossible without any concrete visual of concept art as the foundation of this major decision.

To clear some misconception about concept art, a good piece of concept art doesn’t necessarily need to be a nice illustration. Concept art consists of two major elements, the ‘concept’ in which the idea or back-story of specific subject that might relates to the world of the story. And the ‘art’, which depicts the ‘concept’ with aesthetic design that will appeal to the production’s target audience, however still maintaining and supporting its underlying ‘concept’. Therefore, good concept art is when both ‘concept’ and ‘art’ can provide the highest entertainment value to the final production.

Skill Set in Concept Art:

These required skill set in general helps to complete a task in concept art, but the strength of each skill may vary from one artist to another and it’s what uniquely define each concept artist.

  • Concept Idea
    Communicating concept can be done literally, verbally or visually. Sometimes a rough concept will be given, and concept artists are responsible to refine and developed the concept further. This often requires an in depth understanding of the specific subject, in order to achieve believable concept to the audience. Concept artists normally should have good general knowledge of everything especially science and history, therefore artists who have great curiosity about our world can surely create good concept .e.g. A car that only levitates on water by using anti H2O (water) molecules.

    Good Concept Design - Floating Temple   Good Concept Design - Goblin Huts   Good Concept Design - Petrified Tree   Good Concept Design - Robed Warrior
    Concept art by Daniel Dociu 

  • Design
    Designs come from the artists’ visual vocabulary, and it needs to match the concept perfectly. Because lines, shapes, colors and other elements of design are able to give a certain feel and mood to the audience, concept artists need to bring out the right mood with the right elements of design, and at the same time still conveys its underlying concept. Sometimes the purpose of design can be pure aesthetic, however this kind of design usually can lack of its functionality and believability, hence may often look out of place. e.g. The design of a special radio that was invented by a scientist whom is heavily influenced by art deco in the 1920’s will have an art deco feel to it rather than the look of our modern radio.

    Good Design - Fire Element   Good Design - Robot Enforcement   Good Design - Insectoid Space Ship   Good Design - Zen Robot
    Concept art by Mathias Verhasselt

  • Sketching
    The skill is used to visualize certain concept quickly especially in the earlier stages and where the concept is in exploration phase, concept needs to be solidified as quickly as possible before going for more refine designs to prevent the development of the project from going backwards. Which can usually be solved by increasing the quantity of concept exploration.  Concept artists could utilize any type of medium like pencil or pen drawing, marker sketches, digital speedpainting or mixed media so long as the concept can be explored and communicated in the most effective manner with the shortest or specific time frame. e.g. Enemy spaceship that comes from another galaxy could be refined to enemy massive battle fleet that comes from another galaxy with insectoid creature being the dominating species of its world.

    Good Sketch - Exo Suit   Good Sketch - Soldier   Good Sketch - Cthulhu Cave   Good Sketch - Behemoth Spaceship
    Concept art by Mikko Kinnunen

  • Presentation
    Artist do not usually present their art like corporate people, since painting by itself should speak for itself. Also when the design can work without much explanation, it will add a lot of value to the narrative part of the production. Therefore, concept artists need to rely on their drawing and painting skills which includes the understanding of form, light, personality and other nuances, to bring the art where it can be presented, intrigue and convince the art director. Depending on the time given to the concept artists, the level of presentation varies but often more time was given for the finals as the art can be used for marketing and prints purposes. e.g. Rendering the final character, dark warlord, designed for a dark genre game in colorful and flat toon tone won’t help the directors to fit it in their mind, even if the design and concept is good. In the end, some else will be assigned to continue the development of that concept as the final.

             Good Presentation - Electric Chair Room
    Concept art by John Wallin Liberto

Subsets of Concept Art:
As general, concept art consists of these subsets. Each can be a specialization because the knowledge required of each subset is too broad and can be very different from one another. Large studios generally tend to have concept artists specializing in each of these subsets, so the artists may focus and have the time to do their niche researches in order to strengthen and provide unique concept art to their targeted audience.

  • Character/Creature Design
    Anatomy, fashion, culture history, personality, the animal kingdoms, habits, lifestyle… All comes in handy for a character and creature designer.

    Good Character Design - Undead Prison Guard   Good Character Design - Sea Warrior 1   Good Character Design - Sea Warrior 2   Good Character Design - Sea Warrior 3
    Concept art by Cole Eastburn

  • Environment Design
    Artist who does the environment concept art have slightly different knowledge than the others subsets, for example culture history, weather effects, environment condition and its effect, general science, advanced understanding of light…

    Good Environment Design - Advanced Settlement   Good Environment Design - Agua Place   Good Environment Design - Cave Temple   Good Environment Design - Entrance
    Concept art by James Paick

  • Key Art
    Illustration that conveys a specific shot or frame of the production for its lighting, mood, colors and angle. Therefore the artist has to have good illustration skills and sometimes speed, understanding of cinematography, photography, light setup, stagging and composition…

    Good Key Art - Solo   Good Key Art - Knightress   Good Key Art - Bike and Guns   Good Key Art - Airport Scene
    Concept art by Maciej Kuciara

  • Props/Vehicle Design
    Sometimes  complex prop and vehicle may have transformation or conversion. In order to explain the mechanical movement frame by frame for the animators to understand how it moves, the artist has to be able to visualize real mechanical function which requires some knowledge about the industrial parts. And whether the object is animate or inanimate, designing an inorganic object requires much different aesthetic sense, the artist has to study and draw substantial amount of inorganic stuffs to grasp the beauty of inorganic shapes. Industrial design in short is a close subject to this subset.

    Good Prop Design - Catapult   Good Prop Design - Command Center   Good Prop Design - Lab   Good Prop Design - Scout
    Concept art by Feng Zhu

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