Game concept art outsource: how to draw unique and memorable art

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Game concept art: how to draw concept art and make it good

The main task of concept art for games is to offer a choice of art style for the art director. And sometimes concept art can directly affect the game mechanics, level design and narrative.

We don’t know how to describe the importance of concept art in a few sentences. So in this article we will tell what is the difference between concept art and just art, why concept artists are rare to find and why it’s better to outsource the concept design.

final concept art for game

Concept art is like a menu in a pizzeria

Imagine that you went to the pizzeria to get some pizza. Not a specific one but just a pizza. And the waiter asks you:

— What pizza do you want?

— I don’t know. What do you have?

— We have cabbages and carrots.

— OK, give me cabbages and carrot pizza.

Sounds strange, isn’t it? Let’s reimagine:

— What pizza do you want?

— I don’t know. What do you have?

— Here’s the menu, choose what you like.

— OK, give me this one with salami and cheese and please add extra onions.

Felt the difference? Sometimes we don’t know exactly what we want because we may have no experience in a particular field. And we may accidentally order cabbages and carrot pizza because we don’t know that there is something better.

concept art is like pizza

The task of concept artist is to offer a menu with several good choices so the team can choose the best one. And it is way more difficult than creating a new pizza recipe.

In game developing, the concept artist’s job is to feel the overall style of the game narrative. If we are developing an epic fantasy game, he needs to draw something that will make the player shiver just by it’s view. But if we are developing hypercausal game, he just needs to create something cute and memorable. To do this the concept artist goes through a few steps.

Step 1 — preparation

The team just talks about the future game, it’s mechanics and plot. The concept artist must imagine these aspects and come up with the great looking images to solve problems of visualisation.

The concept artist can’t just draw whatever comes to his head. Remember: he must solve visual problems and help his team to visualize the future game. To do this the concept artist sets for himself some constraints: lore and thematics. These are needed to tie the concept art for the game to actual visual problems the artist must solve.

For example, in this case we had to create cute, wise but not so dangerous character for a fantasy RPG. We come up with a noble cat.

noble cat concept art

The last part of preparations is researching and collecting references. Reference is an image or a video which corresponds to the visual problem. For example, if the artist needs to create concept art of a medieval knight, he will collect pics of knight armour, horses, knight tournaments and other related stuff. This collection is often called a mood board.

Mood board has a non-obvious use — the team can give feedback about a future concept without seeing an actual concept art. By doing this concept artist can save time and get better results. The trick of mood board is to find narrow references and get a feedback from the team and customer.

concept art mood board

Step 2 — drawing

At this step the concept artist has to draw a few dozens of sketches so the team will have a variety of choices. Initial sketches do not need to be detailed, but still need to express the feel of the portrayed object.

character concept art

Artists can draw sketches in whatever technique they want, but most artists prefer pen and paper. They draw rough lines with pencil and then redraw the main contours with black sharpie. By doing this they can highlight all the details which convey the “soul” of the object they portray. Sketches are rarely drawn in color because the rest of the team always want to edit them and change some details.

While choosing the best sketches and editing them we use the technique called “Closing doors”. It means that we choose only one sketch and ask the concept artist to generate new ideas based on this sketch — other sketches are left behind closed doors. We will repeat this process for a few times to get a perfect concept art. For example, if need to make a character concept art we do this steps:

  • a characters of different races: human, orc, elven, etc;
  • few sketches of a character of chosen race: tall, short, thin, stout;
  • same body proportions, but with different clothing and poses;
  • few sketches with different face expressions;
  • different face and clothing details.
  • final concept art with a character.

refined concept art

Step 3 — choosing and refining the final art

To choose a perfect concept art for a game we do not judge them by “I like that!”. Instead, we choose those art which solves the visual problem. If we need to make a scary enemy, we will choose the art which we consider the scariest. By doing this we prevent situations where one half of the team likes dogs, the second half likes cats and we can’t decide which animal to use as a main character.

And the final step is refining the sketch in color, adding small details and textures, trying different poses and points of view.

final concept art

Our secrets of outsource concept art drawing

To make a good concept the team must talk about ideas. Most of the people think that the concept artists are the source of inspiration of the whole team. No, the concept artists are just the best in visualising the ideas on paper. References and mood boards are not enough to get the inspiration and cool ideas. So the concept artists need to present early sketches and talk about them with other team members.

We try to tell a story with the help of concept art. For example, the task is to draw the sorcerer’s staff. By using details we can make you imagine the sorcerer who owns it:

  • skull on top — necromancer;
  • magic crystal on top — ordinary wizard;
  • frog on top — wizard from a swamp.

wizard's staff concept art

It also works for character and environmental design. By adding or resizing some details we can adjust the feel that the players will get from looking at the final product.

To draw important concepts we use simple shapes. Good artists know that good shape is more valuable than a lot of details. There are a lot of rules how the shape and proportions affect the perception. So if we need to create a main character or very important item, we will try to give it a simple and unique shape. Here’s an example: Skyrim helmets. The one on the left is cheaper but more memorable because of the simple shape. Everybody used to point up horns, and the same horns pointed down are a very memorable design.

example of simpicity in concept art

To make everything fit in one style we need to set the world rules before drawing the concept art. Like physical rules and world’s history too, not only the “The game is about the future”. OK, it is about the future, but what kind of technology does this future have? They have anti-gravity engines — we’ll draw flying cars. The anti-gravity engine is expensive — we’ll draw only expensive flying cars. How does this engine work, what is the maximum speed of the car, how high it can fly? Every answered question will make the final concept art more plausible and memorable.

Less is more. Remember the last AAA game you’ve enjoyed. How many different enemies and locations it has? Can you remember all of them? The secret of good design is to use only the best concepts to not make the player confused by a variety of locations, enemies and NPCs which differ only by small details. For a 8 hours long game it is more than enough to have 10-15 memorable locations and 20-40 enemies. By limiting the numbers we assure that concept artists will have enough time to perfect the existing concept art.

Concept art outsource

Hire us to outsource game concept art creation. We have skilled artists and experience in all kinds of games and styles: from realism to abstract stylization. We like to draw characters, environment and objects and our clients are always satisfied with our work.

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