What is a Concept Artist in Video Game Design?

concept artist for video game designGamers who enjoy entering the virtual video game worlds probably don’t give a thought to the work of the concept artist in video game design, and that is a tribute to the proficiency of these professionals. Concept art is a highly-creative field that requires abilities and knowledge in the fine arts as well as a strong computer skill set. Those virtual worlds with their unique topography and natural laws, along with the characters that inhabit them, involve the work of many artists and animators, but they begin as an idea in the mind of the concept designer.

Definition of Concept Art

Concept art is an illustration that conveys an idea for films, video games, animation, comic books or other media before it is put into the final product. The art is also called visual development or concept design. The term was coined in the first half of the twentieth century, perhaps by automobile designers bringing out “concept cars,” and it was used as early as the 1930s by the Disney Studios.

What the Artists Do

Although these professionals must be skilled and talented artists in the traditional media of oils, watercolors, markers and pencils, technology also requires them to be studied computer experts. In Disney’s early days, the concept developers created their images on paper with traditional materials and, once they were approved, the images were refined and cleaned up by other artists. This is still true today; the first images are put onto paper, but the concept developer soon transfers his ideas to the computer. Digital painting programs and graphic tablets make it possible to achieve stronger, cleaner lines and smoother color transitions. These images are used not only in the development process for the images, but in demonstrating development progress to investors, editors, producers and clients. The work is done in stages, with each stage being more refined than the previous one. An article in Computer Science for Fun is quoted as saying one frame of a complex Pixar production can take a single computer up to 90 hours to interpret. Concept art for video games differs in that the artist uses his imagination to create characters and environments that fit the proposed game requirements and give the game a unique “feel” and “look” that make it seem plausible to people playing it. The most popular themes are fantasy and sci-fi, but sports video games also require lifelike characters. Sometimes characters must look like the professional players they represent.

Becoming a Concept Developer

While there are some openings at the associate degree level, most employers require a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and some computer curriculum, according to Animation Career Review. Experience is also helpful in landing a job and the website recommends completing several internships in college while getting your degree. Usually at least three years’ experience is desired. Depending upon education and experience, these artists can earn a median salary of $44,850. Salary also depends upon the geographical area where developers work and on the industry that employs them.

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When someone has an idea for a new video game, or any product, words only accomplish so much in describing it to the investors or to the corporations that may produce it. The old axiom that a picture is worth a thousand words certainly applies in this case. Though it takes many steps by many artists and animators to bring a video game character to life, the spark that energizes and excites producers begins with the concept artist in video game design.