Introduction (and disclaimer).
A recent competition on “Artstation.com” required 2D artists to produce conceptual artwork based on character archetypes of their choosing. There were some fantastic final entries here, visually stunning pieces of work as well as interesting character backstories to complement their designs.
However, the second section of the competition highlighted involved character artists taking one of these designs (or using one of their own) and interpreting them as a game ready asset (with the design acting as a piece of concept art). Whilst there were a lot of pieces that were interesting to look at from an illustrative point of view, there were a few designs that would have caused trouble for a character artist (particularly if used in a professional environment, such as development on “Total War: Warhammer”). Issues such as how practical a character was in terms of functionality (e.g. how a joint functioned or how well a character’s attire allowed them to move) and legibility of a final design (where important details were illustrated with very loose strokes/paintwork). Issues and obscurities such as these can make it very difficult to translate a design into a final 3D character.
Over the last couple of years I have had the opportunity to work with many great concept artists who, whilst working in a variety of different styles, produced amazing designs that were easy to interpret by their 3D art peers. The goal of this article isn’t to answer the question “How to become an amazing concept artist” (I’m not a concept artist so I don’t feel qualified to answer that question at all :)), it’s to highlight what elements make concept art useful for a 3D character artist (and 3D artists in general) to work from.
This article has been a difficult one to write, mainly because I want to avoid stepping on the toes of concept artists who have established their own styles of work. So I write this coming from the perspective of what we like to see as 3D character artists on our current project (“Total War: Warhammer” franchise). I respect that different development companies/art houses/etc work in completely different ways, but I hope that some of these points will make concept artists (both aspiring and established) think more about their colleague’s or client’s requirements (as well as ways to work with an existing IP such as “Warhammer”).
Special thanks to everyone who helped review this article, as well as all the concept (and character artists) who contributed their work:
https://www.artstation.com/richardcareylol - Rich Carey
https://www.artstation.com/telthona - Sandra Duchiewicz
https://www.artstation.com/neonraye - Rinehart Appiah
https://www.artstation.com/bethh - Beth Hobbs
https://www.artstation.com/fightpunch - Darren Bartley
https://www.artstation.com/afisher - Adam Fisher
https://www.artstation.com/samarvijay - Samar Vijay
Too cool for a website - Jim Russell
Defining your art.
It’s important to differentiate between the major types of 2D based art that are commonly used within the game industry.
The first thing you want to consider are your end users (or “clients”).
- Marketing Art/In-Game Splash Screens/Box Art. Client(s): Marketing and brand teams.
These are pieces created with the intention of promoting the game via social media, gaming sites and storefronts. Brand and marketing teams use these extensively (with a combination of real-time screenshots and cinematic/CGI trailers.) These are usually well rendered pieces, used to make a product appear more appealing to an end user (similar to the way movie trailers/posters work). Utilizing these in the correct way can improve brand awareness on a product and help to expand the potential audience for a product.
- Mood Paintings. Client(s): Mostly environment, lighting and shader/VFX Artists.
Mood paintings are incredibly useful for environment/lighting artists as they clearly illustrate the overall look and feel of the game. An environment team (especially those that deal with terraforming and natural flora) can grasp the overall vibe of the world and create a good basis for a natural setting (without assets such as rocks, cliffs, trees, etc to be concepted on an individual basis). Lighting artists can try and emulate the overall vibe and feel for the atmosphere, controlling source lights and fog effects in the background. Finally, the VFX team can use these to quickly see what type of particle/shader effects are needed in order to make the scene come alive before any characters/animated props are placed down.
Concept art. Client(s): All production art teams (including animation).
Concept art should emphasize clarity and functionality of assets. Elaborate rendering can be sacrificed for simple colours with basic highlights/shadows. Instead of showcasing a character in a dynamic pose from one angle, characters would be in more neutral poses and showcased from multiple angles so that 3D artists know how to tackle the character without ambiguity. Concept art is incredibly useful for all disciplines, not just a blueprint for character/environment artists. A concept artist might also include thumbnails of basic poses (so the animation team can get a better understanding of how the character might stand and move) as well as highlighting some of the accompanying VFX (for example, if a spectral character requires an ethereal shader in game or a unit requires flames shooting from their weapon).
Consider where your concept is going.
This is incredibly important and it highlights a common question that you see more and more when it comes to larger development titles; is your concept going to be developed into a game asset in-house or will it be developed by an outsourced contractor?
Contractors could be freelance artists who work from home, all the way to large outsourcing houses who focus less on defining the style for the game and instead help to produce a bulk number of assets for us based on the briefs/concepts we provide.
To maintain consistency with the style of our game, most of our contractors are usually asked to follow the provided concept almost exactly (with additional in-game assets and zBrush sculpts sent to them to also use as a reference regarding detail levels and material values). Providing them with a concept that lacks clarity or all the visual information needed to work from would mean a lot of back and forth to clarify ambiguities (which can be a costly process for both the studio and the contractor). Of course these situations can occur, and when that happens it’s important to provide them with additional paintovers or notes (or if they feel comfortable enough, let them offer suggestions as to what they feel would work design wise).
In-house artists tend to have a bit more flexibility when it comes to what they can do and/or change as they are closer to the project and better positioned to influence creative decisions. On “Total War: Warhammer”, we have to respect the original IP whilst ensuring that the characters visually fit within the “Total War” universe. Most of the time our concept artists do this, however on occasion they may adjust the design of the original miniature a bit too much so that it might conflict with the design as outlined by the IP. Instead of spending the time adjusting the concept, we will simply try to hybrid the final design so that it sits somewhere between the concept and the miniature. Usually this means collaboration between the concept artist/lead character artist and the artist creating the final asset to find a viable solution.
In the example below, we wanted to adjust some of Wulfrik’s design elements so that he looked less like an armoured knight and more like a Norscan Marauder. In order to achieve this, we asked our contractor to change the bracers, greaves and boots to be leather gloves instead.
- Font Size
- Reading Mode