An Introduction to Video Game Concept Art.

If you’ve ever truly lost yourself in a video game, thank video game concept art for getting things started. The magical, dramatic and often captivating worlds within video games pretty much all originated in concept drawings.

 

Learn the essentials on video game artwork, as well as tips for creating it and how to become a video game illustrator. Whether you’re a complete novice, a hobbyist creative looking for fresh ideas or a pro wanting to brush up your style, our guide should help.

A video game race car facing the sunset in a futuristic desert.

What is video game concept art?

Video game concept art is all about designing and creating the intended look, style and visual ‘feel’ of a game before it enters full development. Artists work to sketch out drawings, paintings and references for all the key elements that will appear in the game.   

 

From characters and their costumes, props and weapons, to scenery, architecture and interiors - video game concept drawings help create the building blocks for the immersive, authentic and unforgettable worlds that gamers explore.

 

How important is video game artwork to video games?

Game concept art is a crucial stage of video game pre-production. From Grand Theft Auto to Legend of Zelda, from Ori and the Blind Forest to Call of Duty, our favourite games wouldn’t exist as we know and love them were it not for video game concept art.

A cartoon-like video game environment showing several platforms, rewards and obstacles.

That’s because it’s absolutely crucial for:

 

  • Setting the tone - visualising the aesthetic for the game at an early stage can really help to bring the concept to life. It also helps communicate the look and feel of the creation to the wider production team. This can be especially helpful if its setting, characters or aesthetic are particularly distinctive or unique. Think the vintage 1930s cartoon styling of Cuphead, the eerie and unsettling atmosphere of Limbo, or the Art Deco cityscapes and interiors in BioShock.
  • Reference points - initial designs for essential components of the game, be it weapons, costumes or the environments themselves, give the development team references to build on and work to during production.
  • Maintaining consistency - from characters’ costumes to colour schemes denoting different areas within the game, consistency is key when creating an immersive gaming experience. Video game concept art helps to anchor a consistent style from the outset, so designers and developers don’t deviate during production.
  • Presenting to stakeholders - it’s also a valuable tool to help investors and stakeholders visualise how the game will look at the pre-production stage. Senior people involved in the project can give their feedback and sign-off before production begins.  

 

What are the different types of gaming concept art?

Concept art game design can be broken down into several key areas. Video game illustrators often specialise in a specific area, working as a team to visualise the rich and detailed world they’re creating. 

 

Video game character drawing.

Character drawing involves sketching the game’s key characters, including the protagonist/s and the adversaries and non-player characters (NPCs) they encounter on their journey.

 

Character illustrators will focus on details like:

  • Construction and proportions
  • Key poses
  • Facial expressions
  • Colour palettes
  • How the characters move.

Game environment concept art.

Environment concept art is the process of sketching what the game’s key environments might look like, both indoor and outdoor. These could be foreboding, claustrophobic caves and caverns, industrial sci-fi spaceships and stations or jaw-dropping fantasy landscapes. Think the epic snow-covered mountains in Skyrim or the gritty corridors in Dead Space.


Environment concept artists are responsible for visualising:
 

  • Landscapes
  • Buildings and architecture
  • Towns, cities, roads and other infrastructure
  • Interiors, furnishings and other internal environment elements.

 

Asset and object video game illustration.

This is the process of sketching key objects for the game, from signature weapons the characters might wield, to ‘MacGuffins’ - sought-after objects that motivate the player and bring the plot forward.

 

These are often central to the plot and can help build character depth. After all, where would Squall from Final Fantasy VIII be without his iconic Gunblade?

Pixel art video game assets ranging from treasure to health items and weapons.

Asset and object video game illustrators are responsible for:

 

  • Interactive props - weapons such as guns and swords, as well as items like cars or jet packs.
  • Dynamic props - the items in the game that the characters can interact with, such as boxes that can be opened or barrels that explode.
  • McGuffins - high-value objects that the player must seek out as part of the gameplay. For example, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil storylines are often a simple hunt from one mysterious trinket to the next - with puzzles, obstacles, enemies and bosses blocking the route.
  • Pickups - items that can change how character perform, such as magic vials, ammunition, healing fruits or books that teach new skills.

 

How to become a video game concept artist.

Have you got what it takes to become a video game concept artist? Let’s take a closer look at the skills, experience and responsibilities you’ll need to succeed.

 

What skills does a video game illustrator require?

To become a fully-fledged video game concept artist, you will usually need to have mastered a wide range of fundamental art and drawing skills, including:

 

  • Art composition
  • Anatomy
  • Perspective
  • Proportion
  • Texture
  • Lighting and shadow
  • Line drawing and sketching
  • Digital drawing
  • Use of colour
  • An understanding of art through history

 

You won’t necessarily need a degree in art to become a video game illustrator - but gaining a degree in an art field is a great way to build and hone all of the above skills.

 

A good grasp of digital software packages is also a must, as you’ll be creating and rendering your game design art digitally. You’ll usually need to understand how to use the following Adobe applications well to create captivating artwork:

 

 

If you don’t have any format training in digital software, don’t worry though. Online tutorials and videos can be really helpful.

When it comes to ‘soft skills’, video game illustrators should be able to:

 

  • Problem-solve
  • Communicate clearly - both verbally and in writing
  • Work independently and as a team
  • Research effectively.

 

What key responsibilities do video game concept artists have?

Video game illustrators are responsible for the initial sketches and designs of landscapes, character, costumes and props at the pre-production stage of video game development. These images give an overall look and feel of the fantasy world that the level design and production team will go on to create.

 

But it’s not all sketching, colouring and rendering. Video game artists have a lot of responsibilities in their role:

 

  • Researching locations, architecture, people, fashions and more to inform their drawings.
  • Determining how to visually represent particular moods within a video game.
  • Giving context and direction to production team members.
  • Using design software like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to paint and render digitally.
  • Representing video game characters’ personalities, backgrounds and behaviours.
  • Responding to feedback and revising and updating designs to meet specifications.
  • Collaborating with other artists and designers on the team, such as:
    • Art directors
    • 3D modellers
    • Animators
    • Programmers
    • Level designers
    • Developers
    • Publishers.
Sleek spaceship interior environment for FPS game.

How can I get started?

Keen to become professional video game concept artist? Here’s what you’ll need to do.

  1. Study art - whether that’s an art degree, online courses or video tutorials. Practice and hone your art skills and develop your own unique style. 

  2. Research video game concept art. Get an idea of techniques and styles that you love. Start building a bank of images you can use for inspiration. 

  3. Practice using design software and start creating fan art. Watch online tutorials to master digital art skills.

  4. Make a digital art portfolio of your work to showcase your abilities.

  5. Build an online presence. Social media channels to promote your artwork and even your own website can help you gain exposure. 

  6. Build your professional network. Follow video game artists on social media and start keeping in touch to them for advice and guidance. 

  7. Apply for jobs. Search for vacancies through online job boards and directly on video game companies’ websites. 

How to create game concept art: essential tips and masterclass.

 

1. Start with a simple sketch.

Start with a simple line drawing of a landscape or character. Think about the composition and proportions. It’s good to think about the light source within the image at this point, but you don’t need to worry about adding it in yet. You can build on your initial sketches by adding detail and colour later.

 

2. Think about the tone and aesthetic you want to capture.

Futuristic universe? War-torn wasteland? Or fantastical wonderland? Think about how you can convey the look and feel of the world you’re creating through shapes, colour, texture and lighting. Environment concept design artists draw on inspiration from the world around them to help create immersive and authentic landscapes in video games.

 

3. Make sure character poses, expressions and style reflect their personality.

A character concept artist will use model sheets to draw up a wide range of facial expressions and poses for their characters to help bring them to life. Whether your main protagonist is a fierce warrior, a crafty trickster or an unlikely hero, think about how you can bring their personality to life through their facial expressions, poses and style. 

 

  • When it comes to poses, do they stand proud and tall or are they light on their feet - ready to spring to attack? As for expressions, have they got a trusting smile, a sly leer or are they more reserved and serious? 
  • Consider their proportions: a battle-worn traveller will be muscular and toned - like Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher - while video games set in futuristic sci-fi worlds might be part robot part human, like Samus Aran in Metroid.
  • Also think about their costume - are they wearing fine garments fit for a medieval lord, armour to protect them from attack or lightweight and practical gear to help them move swiftly?

 

4. Build depth with colour and lighting.

Colour plays a big part in concept art. It can help to convey danger, bring the focus on to specific elements and depict characters’ personalities. Consider the landscape and use appropriate colours to reflect the climate, location and scale. Use contrasting colours if you want to draw attention to MacGuffins or dynamic props at this point.

 

Light also helps to emphasise the focus of the image. Think about where the light is coming from - the sun, a torch, a spaceship’s light beam or the reflection of fire on water - and how it illuminates key elements in your image. 

 

5. Add detail, texture and shading.

Now it’s time to add details and really bring your image to life. Cascading water, smooth marble, rough tree bark, thick fur coats or shining steel can elevate your image from a 2D landscape to a three-dimensional world.  

 

Check out how the professionals approach creating concept art on Adobe Photoshop by watching YouTube tutorials. 

Some inspirational video game drawings

 

Use of light and contrast in environment art

A video game cave design with a key reward and goal signalled by a beam of light.

Fun character concepts

Video game pixel art of various characters, including costumes and poses.

Colourful forest art

A woodland environment designed for use as a video game backdrop.

Futuristic, stylish 3D art

Abstract futuristic hallway for 3D video game.

Character concept sketches

A hand holding a pencil, drawing a collection of robot sketches.

Video game artwork: FAQs.

 

Is game art a good career?

People with artistic talent and a passion for video games could find their calling with a career as a video game concept artist. It’s a varied, exciting and fulfill path, but it’s also a fast-paced and demanding job too, while it can be challenging to get a foothold into the industry. Understanding the skills you need and developing a strong portfolio will go a long way though.

 

Do you need a degree to be a video game concept artist?

You don’t necessarily need a degree to become a video game concept artist and it is possible to make it if you’re self-taught. However, you’ll likely be competing against artists who do have art degrees. A degree in an art or design subject will be very beneficial to teach you the skills required to succeed in the role.

 

How much do concept artists for video games make?

Entry-level or junior concept artists can expect to earn in the region of £17,000 to £20,000. More experienced concept artists earn between £25,000 and £40,000, while freelance rates are around £14 per hour on average.

 

Discover more about environment concept art.