Monday, May 21, 2012

Concept artist cookbook - part 1


I though I would share a few things related to concept art for those young ones who think about pursuing that career. Maybe they'll find a thing or two in stuff that follows. Good luck with that :)

OK, first things first. Computer and all the software you can install, no matter how advanced and powerful they might be, are just tools. If you don't have some sort of artistic background and imagination, your designs or models often will turn out way below your expectations, mediocre at best. You have to remember that freeware software in hands of a skilled artist is usually as good as the one for $3000. If you're good designer, all you really need is a pencil and a piece of paper (and that how most designs usually start). Besides, when you're working freelance, nobody cares what soft you're using.

Don't worry, though. By saying "artistic background" I don't mean that you have to be a descendant of Picasso or have a Master degree from prestigious art college (although it wouldn't hurt for sure). Not in this field. What I mean is, that you have to practice, practice and once again - practice. Drawing, designing or modeling - all these skills have to be practiced equally and all the time. If people say that you have "talent", that's great, but unfortunately it doesn't really mean anything. 'Talent' is maybe 20%, the rest is hard work. People without any "talent" detected by their immediate surroundings but devoted to the craft, eventually will become much better than those who rely only on their "natural ability". Sure, some people tend to draw more naturally and seemingly without any effort in spite the lack of proper training but rest assured - those are very rare cases. Most of the artists out there, most of those online celebrities who you might admire, have left behind them hundreds and thousands of hours of practice. If you're not as good as you wish to be, don't get discouraged. Just grab a pencil or tablet and practice. Sooner or later, you'll become good.

Observation and imagination are another key elements. Learn to notice and remember things. Drawing or designing something without looking at the real life object is very difficult even for a pro. That's why even top artists use references - real-life photographs, diagrams, etc. of the things similar to those they want to draw or model. The more you practice your "observation", the less references you'll need. It's important to remember about it, because sometimes you may have no time to search and collect any additional materials.

Imagination is crucial, especially if you intend to be a concept artist. Having just a brief description, you have to be able to depict things quickly and in convincing manner, almost like you were looking at them right here and now, no matter how complex they might be. It can be a fancy pair of shoes, a futuristic gun, an 18-wheel truck, alien baby's cradle or a capital city of elves. Whatever it is, you can't sit half a day, scratching your head before even laying down the first line of drawing. You have to be able to grab the pen and provide the first design sometimes in a matter of minutes. And you have to be versatile. You are great at drawing knights and dragons? Awesome. What about small children? What about realistic landscape? That's the problem I notice from time to time with all the wanna-be concept artists. Those guys can draw a very limited number of things really good (usually leaning towards characters/creatures), but what would happen if they got their dream job and suddenly was asked to create something completely different? And to do it quickly and in many versions? Obviously, everyone feels more comfortable and works faster in his or her favorite context, but concept artists must be prepared to work on any kind of projects, some of which may require from them to quickly adapt, learn and practice new skills and techniques. You may love designing cars but you may end up with 2 months long assignment of designing fancy balloons. And you better do it right. Like it or not, that's the name of the game.

Few advices:

- look around on how things are designed, how do they work. Look at various machines and vehicles from the technical point of view. Such knowledge will allow you to create things that are more believable, especially in sci-fi setting.
- watch sci-fi and fantasy movies for the sake of designs and shapes. Try to get some materials from "behind the scenes". Buy art-books, study them and compare the artworks with what you see on the screen. Think why they were used in such and such way? Why they were dropped or altered, why didn't the director eventually go with this or that?
- always remember about composition, perspective and light. Remember - composition, perspective and light. These three elements are extremely important, especially when dealing with architectural elements, vistas and complex environment. Naturally, the same applies to illustrations, although concept art is not exactly an illustration. They can be done in an illustrative manner (as a full-blown detailed color concept) if art director/production designer/whoever requests such but usually the time per piece is limited to day or two.
- digital camera is your friend: buy one and use whenever you see something interesting - to take a picture for further reference. You can do a number of other things as well, e.g. taking shots of people and use them for over-painting, photographing textures for use in your concepts as overlays or in 3D models. If you don't have a scanner already, you can also take shots of your sketches and send them to your hard drive.

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