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Concept Art in Game Design: An Introduction to its Significance and Fundamental Principles

Level of difficulty Easy
Reading time 6 min
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Game design *Games and game consoles

Let's talk about concept art, one of the main pillars in the digital art world. Concept art is the foundational and fundamental stage of any media industry project, where bold design choices are made and the best one is selected, shaping the overall style of the product. "Concept" refers to abstract ideas and fresh designs, while "art" entails the intentional use of imagination to create objects for immediate contemplation, which can be assessed for their aesthetic appeal in terms of appearance, sound, or even words. The exact origin of the term is not entirely clear, but some attribute its first mention to Walt Disney Feature Animation during the creation of characters for the first feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in the 1930s. It was during this time that an entirely new profession, later known as "concept artist," began to take form and became highly sought after in the media industry.

The essence of modern concept art is not significantly different from its earlier form. The changes primarily lie in its appearance, applications, and purpose. Concept art addresses the issue of communication between developers, clients, and the target audience through a visual system that reflects the core idea of the project.

Concept art has also embraced popular art and technological progress. Today, it is a rapidly evolving and relevant form of digital painting. In the last century, concept artists relied on traditional drawing tools such as pencils, markers, charcoal, pastels, watercolors, and oils. However, with the advent of computers and digitizers in the concept art scene, they began to give their concepts an entirely new look, utilizing the possibilities that came with technological advancements. When it comes to creating concept art, the most functional tools are illustration programs like Adobe Photoshop, ZBrush, Corel Painter.

A concept artist occupies a position between a traditional artist and a designer because their task is not only to visualize an object but also to have a psychological impact on people. Concept art draws upon past experiences, such as the language of painting and drawing, the fundamentals of art education, and the design techniques described by Itten in his textbooks "The Art of Form" and "The Art of Color." However, concept art as an art form in itself is relatively recent.

A Brief Overview of the Principles of Concept Art in Game Design

Research and Ideas:

The process of creating concept art begins with research and seeking inspiration. Artists delve into various sources, conduct thorough research, and compile extensive collages to grasp the essence of the game world and its defining characteristics. This initial stage helps shape ideas and concepts that will eventually be brought to life through stunning concept art.

Composition and Layout:

An essential aspect of concept art is the creation of compositions and layouts. Artists skillfully position elements on the canvas to captivate viewers and effectively convey the intended mood. Crafting a harmonious composition involves considering compositional lines, balancing shapes and colors, and employing negative space wisely. The basics of composition and layout can be learned from the articles: "The Basics of Visual Hierarchy in Design", "The rule of Thirds", "THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING COMPOSITION", "The principle of symmetry in graphic design", "Negative Space in Design: Tips and Best Practices".

Color Palette and Lighting:

Choosing the appropriate color palette and mastering lighting techniques play a crucial role in establishing the atmosphere and mood of the game world. Concept artists carefully select colors that align with the intended concept and evoke the desired emotional response. Vibrant and saturated colors may be employed to depict dynamic and energetic scenes, while muted and pastel tones can effectively convey a sense of tranquility and mystery. Lighting techniques also help to create a sense of depth, volume and focus on the objects in the visual composition. The basics of color palette and lighting can be learned from the articles: "Color Theory for Game Art Design – The Basics","Color in Video Games: How to Choose a Palette","Color in games: An in-depth look at one of game design's most useful tools","PALETTE LIST","Color Psychology of Game Characters: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly","Color psychology in game design – how do colors help design better games?".

Detail and Style:

Concept art can include a wide range of styles, from realistic to stylized or even drawing inspiration from comic books. Factors such as the genre of the game, the target audience, and the overall concept of the project influence the choice of style. Careful attention to detail allows artists to convey not only the general idea, but also the subtle nuances of characters, environments and objects.

Consistency with the game design and mechanics: Concept art should blend seamlessly with the game design and mechanics. It should accurately reflect the characteristics of the gameplay, the functionality of the characters, locations and objects. The visual elements of concept art must be clear, functional and help developers integrate the intended game mechanics. Recommended Literature and Information Sources

To deepen your understanding of concept art in game design and gain valuable insights, check out the following sources of information:

  • ArtStation - ArtStation is a popular online platform where artists can showcase their work. There is an extensive collection of concept art from various games, allowing you to explore different styles and techniques. You can follow your favorite artists and even find tutorials and information about the process of creating work.

  • YouTube Channels - YouTube is a treasure trove of concept art tutorials, artist interviews, and industry information. Visit channels like Ctrl+Paint, FZDSCHOOL, and LevelUp! to find valuable material on concept art techniques, digital painting, and game art creation.

  • Online courses - Several online platforms offer courses specifically dedicated to concept art and game design. Sites such as CGMA (Computer Graphics Master Academy), Schoolism, and Gnomon Workshop offer a number of courses taught by industry professionals. These courses cover various aspects of concept art, from the basics to advanced techniques.

  • Art Books and Magazines - Keep an eye out for art books and magazines that feature concept art from your favorite games. They often contain in-depth analysis, behind-the-scenes stories, and stunning visual content. Such publications include The Art of Game Design series, The Art of Overwatch, and ImagineFX magazine.

  • Game developer conferences and events - Attend industry conferences and events such as the Game Developers Conference (GDC), PAX, or industry art summits. These events often feature panel discussions, workshops, and presentations by concept artists and game developers, offering valuable insights and networking opportunities.

Examples of concept art in game design: Let's take a look at some awesome examples of concept art that showcase the influence and versatility of concept art in game design:

  • "The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt" - This critically acclaimed RPG from CD Projekt Red features spectacular concept art that has helped shape the game's immersive world. The concept art for "The Witcher 3" impresses with its visual storytelling, setting the tone and conveying the essence of the game, from the carefully detailed characters to the stunning landscapes and atmospheric lighting.

  • "Overwatch," Blizzard Entertainment's team-based shooter, is known for its variety of characters. The concept art for "Overwatch" played a crucial role in character development, showcasing their personality, unique abilities, and visually striking design. Not only did it serve as the basis for character modeling, but it also contributed to the game's vibrant and dynamic aesthetic.

  • "Horizon Zero Dawn," an open-world RPG from Guerrilla Games, presents a post-apocalyptic world filled with robotic creatures and breathtaking landscapes. The concept art for "Horizon Zero Dawn" helped define the visually rich environments, complex mechanical designs, and iconic garb of the protagonist. It demonstrates the importance of concept art in conveying the essence of the game world and its key elements.

  • "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild," the critically acclaimed installment in Nintendo's "Legend of Zelda" franchise, boasts a huge and engaging open world. The concept art for "Breath of the Wild" showcases scenic landscapes, architectural designs, and characters, conveying the spirit of exploration and adventure. It played a crucial role in creating a cohesive and visually stunning game world.

Remember that concept art is a constantly evolving field, and keeping up with the latest trends and techniques is important. Practice regularly, study the work of talented artists, feel free to experiment, and develop your own unique style. Embrace the journey and have fun creating stunning visuals that bring games to life!

Keep on playing and creating!

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