Game NPC Concept Art Outsource

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NPC concept art creation

NPC or non player characters are those dummies with poor AI who wander around, fall from cliffs, sell the goods and give quests. Roughly speaking, NPCs are interactive objects. But there’s one difference: the players see NPCs as almost real human beings (orks, elves, aliens, AI, etc). The goal of character artists is to support the illusion of “real” nature NPCs and at least give unique looks to the most important ones. That’s where concept artists come in handy.

Concept artists are those who created iconic looks of every game character you remember: Trevor from GTA V, Lara Croft, Kratos from God of War and many others. But they are main characters of their own story. Aside from main characters there are hundreds of NPCs whose names and looks you don’t remember. But they were there — witnesses of your gameplay. And you saw them as part of the game world, not as talking moneybags.

trevor gta v concept art

Some NPCs are more remarkable than others: Elizabeth from Bioshock, Mimir The Talking Head from God of War 4, Jackie Welles from Cyberpunk 2077. We bet, you remember them for their unique looks. And those looks couldn’t be done without doing proper NPC concept art.

The long entry is over. We are ready to explain how concept artists create character concept art, what techniques they use and how you can get the best concept art for your game.

Character concept art production: it starts with story

First step in character concept art creation is to understand the whole story. Story and script in most games doesn’t describe the character’s looks in detail. For example, Elizabeth from Bioshock was explained as a good naive girl with black hair. But mr. Levin told nothing about clothes — so the concept artists started to experiment with Elizabeth’s looks and created dozens of outfits.

elizabeth bioshock early concept

Look at the Elizabeth NPC concept art: the artist started her creation from clothes and tried many variants with different designs and colors. Then Bioshock Infinite game designer Ken Levin specified that Elizabeth is a naive and discreet girl, she doesn’t try to catch men’s attention. That helped concept artists to create a simple blue dress instead of fancy and coquettish ones.

elizabeth final concept

Concept artists can’t just draw a sketch and ask someone to add a story to it — it won’t end well. But concept artists often need to create character concept art with little background: a common soldier, townsman or beggar. In this case artists study the game narrative and background of the location where those NPCs “live”. For example, habitants of medieval village destroyed by war will be starved and dirty. And villagers in a peaceful place will smile and wear clean clothes.

NPC concept creation: the character’s purpose is important too

Character’s story often tells its purpose: NPC may be just a random citizen, a policeman on duty, a cabbage seller or an honest politician. It’s not a complete story, but the concept artist must show it through the NPC’s looks. Sounds too generic? Look at it from the different perspective: the player is looking for a specific kind of NPC: policeman, vendor or doctor. The player must clearly see who is who.

good and bad npc concept examples

The “purpose approach” in NPC concept art creation works the best if there is a need to create a variety of NPCs of one kind. For example, to draw some gang members. Gangsters must look related, but still differ in details. The best way with this kind of concept art is to study the gang’s background: why they fight, what they want, who they hate.

Saints Row series developers did a good job in designing gangs. For example, in Saints Row 3 there are 3 rival gangs:

  • Morningstar — mafia obsessed with red.
  • Luchadores — they like green color and hand-to-hand combat.
  • Deckers — blue color and gothic-cyberpunk style.

Concept artists solved gangsters NPCs concept in following manner:

  • Morningstar gang members wear official costumes and red shirts.
  • They drew Luchadores as muscular guys with green bulletproof vests and wrestler masks.
  • Deckers became edgy teenagers in dark clothes with blue neon-stripes.

saints row npc concept

The same approach will work with every kind of NPC. In Assassin’s Creed 2 doctors were portrayed as Plague Doctors with famous bird-masks and wide hats — a stereotypical but recognizable outfit. Hot-dog sellers in GTA always wear white aprons and stand behind a hot-dog stand. Police, militia, army or any other dangerous caste bears weapons of their time so the player can distinguish them from ordinary people.

One more way to draw a non player character concept

The last and least popular way of creating NPC is to draw a cool character with a common background. A perfect example — Vaas Montenegro from Far Cry 3. He was just one of many pirate 3D-model variations, until a concept artist gave him a mohawk, a scar on his face and dark eyeliner. And that’s how Vaas became the one and only psycho pirate you’ll remember.

far cry vaas concept art

This approach doesn’t work with every game because it requires to fit a whole new character into a complex game script. The task is easier when the concept designer created a mini boss or an additional villain to defeat. But if the character is positive, it may be complicated to fit him in the script. Complicated, but still possible.

A good example of this is M’aiq the Liar — a wandering merchant from The Elder Scrolls series. M’aiq is a khajiit, an anthropomorphic cat-merchant. Unlike other khajiits, he wanders around the map and tells cool stories. That’s why they call him The Liar.

Another example — fist fighters, mini-game champions and other side-quest final bosses from every open-world game. They must look interesting so the player will feel satisfaction from beating them. And the artists are free to draw whatever they want — because those NPCs have almost no backstory. For example, in The Witcher 3 there is a quest about gwent minigame “High stakes”. The final boss of this quest is Carthia — the only female gwent-player. CD Projekt Red concept artist decided that a typical man wouldn’t play the role of gwent champion as well, as a woman can do.

the witcher 3 npc art

The drawing process of concept art

First thing to do is to find a suitable shape of character. If the game has stylized art style, it’s even harder: a character may have literally any shape. So, we need to try a few primitive shapes, combine them and find the best combination. Cartoon studio Pixar always does this for the new characters — and it works well.

Second step is to find clothes or situation that would explain the character from the first look. For example, we expect assassins to wear capes and knights to wear plate armor. Sometimes the game setting tells us what the characters should wear. Like, the players expect that future soldiers will have thick power armor and giant guns — let’s not disappoint them with latex spacesuits.

katarina concept art and sketches

Third step is to choose the colors. Color palette of a separate character is very important, not because they symbolize something, but because they can change the player’s affection for the character. It’s simple: white is good, black is bad, add a contrast to highlight the interesting details.

Fourth step — iconic features. Iconic features are so important that we wrote a whole article about them. Just in case: iconic features are really unique elements of clothing or hairstyle which distinguish the character from any other character in any other game. Here’s an example: Bayonetta. Who else wears pistols on heels?

Fifth step — polishing the concept. We combine clothing and colors from concepts produced earlier to find the best combination, play with colors and some dimensions. Maybe, the warrior will look angrier, if we put his head lower on shoulders. Maybe, the merchant will look more friendly if we make his legs a bit shorter. There are plenty of options to experiment with.

polishing the npc concept art

How to outsource NPC concept art production

Just like with any other game art outsource, NPC art outsource starts with filling a brief. The brief contains detailed information about characters and related stuff:

  • game setting and universe description;
  • character’s backstory;
  • occupation and role in the game story;
  • role in the gameplay;
  • in-game interactions;
  • possible looks and references;
  • concept art level of details, file type and other technical details;

This is a lot of things to write, especially if you need concept art for hundreds of characters. To make things easier you may do this:

  1. divide the NPCs into a story-important and “decoration”. Story-important ones must have a unique look. “Decorations” like citizens, merchants and enemies may be drawn in 3-4 variations if they are humans, or in 1 variation if they are demons, robots or any other creature. You’ll see how many unique characters you really need and may cut the character concept art production cost;
  2. divide story-important characters into factions: side-of-conflict-A, side-of-conflict-B, villager, noblesse, monks, etc. Their unused concepts may fit “decorative” NPCs of the same faction — it cuts costs too;
  3. give us all the references you find suitable — clothes, hairstyle, colors, drawings, comics, books, your own sketches. Every reference you give can save us time on finding the concept you will like. If you want a magician that looks like Houdini — tell us, so we won’t spend time on drawing another modern magician with pierced ears.

Outsourcing game concept art is a common practice even in big game studios. They know that they can’t find and hire all creative people in the world. So it’s better for them to fill a brief and be sure that they’ll get the best game concept art then to force their ordinary artist to draw concepts. Also, the concept artist who stuck with one game series may just burn out and produce generic ideas in future. The best decision is to outsource the concepts to a person with a fresh mind.

character concept art example of work

Save time and money: outsource the NPC concept art

There’s one simple rule: if the character’s must evoke specific emotions and those emotions are important to enjoy the game, then you’ll need concept art. Basically, character concept art lets you choose the best option, and the best result is rarely made from the first try.

If you feel like you need to provide the best experience — order a character concept art outsourcing from Kreonit game studio. Fill the brief, tell us about the game, and we’ll make you cool concepts and sketches.

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