What's Concept Art?

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History of the original concept art

On the road where illustration and film-making meet, there is Concept Art. Also known as conceptual art or concept design, concept art’s purpose and approach are the same whether animation, live action or gaming; to convey visually a proposed idea of “look and feel” before it is realized in the final product.

Concept art has a long history in other areas of design and manufacturing, but as it pertains to film it is debatably believed the earliest use of the term may have been coined at Disney (once again) in the 1930s, although other studios were clearly sketching preliminary ideas well before then.

The concept art process

Concept art can be rendered using virtually any media, from monochromatic pencil drawings to markers to wet paints to digital. Concept art is considered a part of Visual Development. It is an exploratory sky’s-the-limit approach to ideas, within the confines of story or gameplay.

Anything that can be conceived visually for the purpose of the project can proposed; setting; a specific scene; layout and characters, etc. Concept art’s wonderful gift to the artist is that it is not final. Rarely there is a “that’s it!” moment from a first sketch.

To achieve a final concept requires a process of elimination and a mix-and-match of other visual ideas and design suggestions from other concept artists on a team. Not only is concept art great to convey ideas amongst a team, but it is also useful to show an aspect of visual progress of a project to directors, producers or clients.

So, what is the role of a concept artist?

The concept artist’s role can be as varied as the media for which they are creating. Their work may be only preliminary, as it is mostly for film, or on-going throughout a project, as fluid and amorphous as video game development might be. Although concept art has produced its stars who specialize in a style, generally the concept artist must be adept at any style, any genre and any element, be it character design, creature design or setting.

Despite style or genre, the concept artist is well-grounded in their knowledge of perspective, lighting, color theory and anatomy, human and animal. Concept artists are indeed illustrators. Generally, but not an absolute, it is the “star” concept artist who has a popular style that is in demand across studios, who may freelance remotely. The concept artist who works at a studio will need the versatility to change style from project to project.

Could I become a concept artist?

Do you think you have the chops to be a concept artist? People make a living doing concept art, why not you? If you are new you can start with the beginners introduction to Concept Art course, and if you have already made your mind to become a professional Concept Artist, you can apply for the Concept Art Program at Vancouver Animation School and start from there.