Concept artists then create many iterations of design and story solutions. They will draw on many references for inspiration, from real-world examples of architecture and fashion from history to fictional stories and even other movies and animations.
A lot of concept artists follow the 80/20 rule: 80 percent known; 20 percent new. Even fictional worlds need some form of anchor point the audience can relate to – otherwise, it might become too disconnected.
Tools a concept artist might use when creating include:
Small preliminary sketches to show a quick snapshot of the idea.
- Compositional sketches
Combining the elements from your thumbnails into a frame to distil the mood and look of a location.
- 3D tools and renders
Taking your 2D composition and bringing it to life as a 3D model.
Combining different elements of existing assets to create something new.
A technique where artists merge and blend photographs together to create something new and unique.
Once the different iterations have been drawn up, “These are presented to the story creators, who choose the images that best fit their vision. Often, they ask for adjustments to the art. It’s not dissimilar to what actors do in crafting their performances, giving the director variations within their skills and craft,” explains McCaig.
Feedback & Editing.
From there, artists make tweaks to their designs and send the final product along to the next department. Depending on the project, they could be sent to the costume designer, production designer, animators or the art department.
Top tips for becoming a concept artist.
Get comfortable with your tools.
When you’re confident in your skills and your materials, you’ll create better work. Whether you start with pencil on paper or work in Adobe Photoshop (or do digital painting and sketching in Adobe Fresco on a tablet), use the tools that work for you.
Whatever format you choose, keep in mind that you’ll probably need to make a digital version of your designs. “All of my final work is delivered in a digital format — even my pencil drawings are scanned,” notes McCaig.
Practice makes perfect.
“You have to know about your subject. Let’s say you’re trying to paint a portrait. Do you know the anatomy? Do you know how skin reacts in light? If you don’t know, find out. And if you have that knowledge, but it’s still not looking right, then you just need to practice,” says Ortiz. Drawing, painting and illustrating is a muscle. To get better you need to exercise your skills - so keep making more art.
Find your unique point of view.
“You won’t go anywhere in the entertainment industry if you don't know your craft, but the one unique thing you have to offer the world is who you are. Putting your own unique vision into what you do is what makes good art great,” explains McCaig.
“Finding your voice or style is as simple as keeping an inspiration sketchbook. Put one drawing in there every day of something that creates strong emotions in you. Collect these images for a few months and then look back through the sketchbook. What you see will be a snapshot of your soul.”
Take on passion projects.
When you paint and create for a living, you can get burnt out and uninspired. Keep your passion for art and illustration alive with projects just for yourself. “I always remind people of the importance of personal work. I always make time for myself to pursue new paintings, whether it’s an interesting freelance project or even if it’s just painting for myself,” notes Ortiz.
Concept art: FAQs.
How do you create concept art?
Concept artists use a wide range of mediums to create their visuals, from hand sketching using traditional pencil and paper to utilising digital tools like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for techniques like kitbashing and photobashing.
What is included in concept art?
Concept art involves bringing elements of a story together in visual form. This includes characters, costumes, props, scenes, sets and locations in movies, video games, cartoons and more.
What is the difference between illustration and concept art?
The main difference between illustration and concept art is that the latter brings to life the idea and overall look and feel of a character, place or setting. It helps to cement those elements before production begins. Illustration, on the other hand, combines all these elements into a visual piece, which tells the story as a narrative image.
Discover more about digital and concept art.