CONCEPT ART FAQ:
What software do you use?
The Foundry's Modo
What process do you use?
Digital sketching and painting
Basic 3D block-ins
Please see my YouTube channel for information on how I work: www.youtube.com/conceptdepartment
How to become a Concept Artist in the entertainment industry:
There are all sort of ways one could break into the entertainment industry as a concept artist. Figuring out ones specific artistic goals is a very important milestone in deciding what initial steps one should make in any decision. For example, in my case I was very interested in industrial design, my obsession led me to the personal discovery of artists like Syd Mead and Ralph McQuarrie. I soon found out what they studied, where they went to school, what their early careers looked like. As I progressed along my educational path I tried to duplicate the paths of the people who I admired as best I could. Following in my art-hero’s footsteps I went to Art Center College of Design to study industrial design as they had. I would encourage anyone who is just starting out initiating an art career to do the same. Find what you like—what you aspire to be, and use your research of the past as a guide moving forward.
Traditional Education vs. Self Taught:
Which Education path is right for you?
The education path you choose to take whether institutional or self-taught is directly hinged on what sort of artist you hope to be. Do you dream of working at an animation company like Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, or Blue Sky? Are the bright lights of Hollywood calling your name? Halo, Destiny, The Last of Us more your speed? Are sci-fi landscapes and moon buggies your thing, or are you more into epic castles under siege by dragons? Again, figuring out your specific goals will have big impacts on what choices you make early on in your career especially at the education level. Choose an education track that best fits your goals based on work you are seeing being generated by others who have gone before you in their respective tracks and do as they have.
What art school is right for you?
Top design schools in the country are the best place to start looking I believe. Truly good designers are extremely rare to find, especially these days with the low barrier to entry into concept art due to the proliferation of computers and softwares. If you learn to design, learn to draw, learn to think like a designer in the real world it will make designing for a virtual world that much more believable and convincing to audiences.
I recommend finding a school/program/online resources that focuses on something you are interested in and aim to spend 10,000 hours learning fundamentals in training/school and early in your career.
Selecting an education track:
There are three main education tracks that can help get you to the position of concept artist in the entertainment industry. Of course there are countless other ways to become a reputable artist and many of them require no formal training at all. That being said the three educational majors I routinely see are listed below with a brief explanation of each:
Illustration Majors: Illustration majors focus on painting and drawing techniques making them a good starting place for many aspiring artists wanting to get into entertainment design. Strong drawing and painting foundations can create great artists however they tend to lack hard surface design ability due to an educational emphasis on more natural settings and objects. This is an extreme generalization however and it is possible to teach oneself hard surface design from within an illustration program by adding classes from ID programs or personal study.
Industrial Design Majors: ID majors are geared towards equipping students with the tools and abilities to develop sophisticated hard surface objects along with a keen design sensibility. ID majors tend to be broken up into two categories: Product and Transportation Design. ID programs commonly output artists who are more like designers than illustrators. Although they may excel at vehicle, prop, hard surface environment designs in entertainment settings, they may get bogged down in assignments with more natural subject matter like characters, landscapes, and art that is generally more organic or “illustrative”.
Entertainment Design: Entertainment Design is a mix of Industrial Design and Illustration. The goal of these programs is to kludge together ID and Illustration programs into one silver bullet for those aspiring to find work specifically at entertainment companies. The only downfall of these programs is that they tend to generate portfolios a bit generic as opposed to a more refined specialists found in other tracks. Like any education track the students’ best judgment on what she/he needs is paramount to prescribed curriculum and the student should be course correcting to guide the learning path in a desired direction for a specific outcome.
What do companies look for in a portfolio?
In my experience companies seem to be looking for people with passion and an artistic voice. These are kind of ambiguous concepts I know. Generally artists who are passionate tend to be self-motivated and naturally inquisitive, good at solving problems and see art and design as an exciting exercise they have a lot of natural energy to invest into.
To get to this point focus on building a portfolio that is specifically representing what it is you want to be doing in the future. This can take years and is not a painless endeavor so the more concrete and specific your goals when getting started the higher the chances are you will have in achieving them.
Advice for aspiring artists:
Seek out an art mentor(s) at all costs. Could be an instructor, a peer, a boss, a group of friends, etc. The main idea is to find a person you respect to help guide you, give you honest feedback and second opinions.
Set goals (with dates). The more specific the goals the better.
As the game industry has become increasingly competitive and it is now harder than ever to break in, what can I do to obtain recognition for my work and ‘make it’ as an artist?
It is true that the entertainment arts industry is more competitive than ever, but all the same technological advancements that have come along to raise the competitiveness have also done the same to level the playing field. Get creative and focus on getting 'good' at the basics.