Concept Art & llustration
I am currently studying the MA course ‘Concept art for Games and Animation’ at Teeside University, England.
Having come from a very traditional and illustrative background (as opposed to many of my peers who graduated in gaming specific degrees), it is proving immensely useful in the development of my digital art skills as well as informing me about the industry as a whole. I have learned a lot within my first semester and am seeing steady progress in my work already. I would recommend that anyone who is serious about a career in the field of concept art consider the course as an opportunity to improve their art and portfolio.
Learning Outcome 1
Appraise the issues relevant to character design in various contexts.
The role of a Concept Artist is to effectively communicate the internal nature of a character through design. This visual representation of an idea is intended to create an impression on the player or audience from which they can reliably assume the qualities and intentions that the character possesses. Particular conventions and archetypes can be used or deliberately rejected in order to generate the appropriate response.
Animation studios, such as Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks, use the convention of using particular shapes to construct their characters in order to establish them as protagonists or antagonists. Soft, round ‘friendly’ shapes represent non-threatening characters such as Dug (Up). In contrast to this, villainous or unfriendly characters tent to use sharp, angular shapes to represent a more threatening presence, such as Alpha (Up).
As in interactive medium, games often require the player to react to the characters onscreen in order to progress. These situations can vary from online interaction with other players, in-game non player characters or enemies. As reaction time often plays a role in dictating the success of the player, it is crucial that the intention of each character is communicated effectively within a short space of time. This is especially true of first person shooters in which the player is required to quickly differentiate between friend or foe. The most effective way to achieve this within character design is to create silhouettes that are easily identifiable in regards to the character’s alliance, in spite of the length of time or distance in which the character is shown. An effective way of implementing this theory is to use human and non-human characters as opposing groups.
An example regarding the advantages of strong silhouettes can be seen within the Left 4 Dead series, in which accidental friendly fire affects the health of team-mates. Not only is the use of silhouettes effective in the differentiation between the zombie enemies and the human allies, but also in the identification of particular types of infected (e.g. witches, boomers, tanks etc), and the specific threat each one poses. These silhouettes simultaneously inform the player both of the nature of the character and how to best approach it’s particular attack; often at a distance great enough to inform allies of their appearance in order to work alongside one another before it approaches.
Another way in which a character’s nature can be communicated is through the use of colour. Much like silhouettes, this is particularly useful within games as ally and enemy characters can be identified quickly. A good example of this is can be seen within the red and blue teams used within Team Fortress 2 in which the player’s costume almost entirely conforms to an allocated team colour despite their individualities in silhouette, costume or class.
Learning Outcome 2
Make informed choices relating to the creation of artwork designed to meet professional requirements.
I created silhouettes to generate initial ideas as is often the standard process within concept art practice.
I then developed these further as sketches.
From these I chose preferred designs and continued to develop them, using research to inform my design decisions and generate varients of the original design.
FISH GUY RESEARCH
FISH GUY HEAD SHEET
This process is demonstrated throughout the final design sheets for my ICA submission in addition to the evaluation of choices made concerning my individual approach and practise under Learning Outcome 5.
Final Design Sheets:
Learning Outcome 5:
Learning Outcome 3
Demonstrate an understanding of techniques and methods appropriate to the chosen area of design.
This is demonstrated in:
Initial character silhouette exploration:
In which a variety of forms and stances where quickly established in silhouette in order to produce a number of different outcomes. This method is commonly used as a preliminary idea generation practise within the game industry. It is particularly effective in establishing distinctive visuals and communicating certain characteristics during initial character development.
I have produced various sketches of the same character in order to find the most appropriate, visually pleasing or relevant design. This allows different aspects of the design to be explored and evaluated alongside one another before spending larger amounts of time on more rendered versions.
I have created several low resolution thumbnails in order to efficiently describe a variety of ideas. These concern fundamental techniques such a perspective and composition, as well as decisions concerning design. Much like silhouettes and sketches, thumbnail images are regularly used within the industry to quickly communicate and compare ideas prior to further development.
Learning Outcome 4
Investigate and synthesise visual research into the creation of original concepts.
This is demonstrated in:
Visual investigation and research.
(Fish and male reference)LINKLINKLINK
Synthesis of original concepts influenced by visual research.
Final Design Sheet:
Learning Outcome 5
Evaluate and defend own work in the context of contemporary practice.
The Alien Creature Prison Brief allowed me to explore the process of creating both character and environment concepts. Although the brief contained a set list of requirements regarding the content of the final outcomes (such as short character descriptions), it did not specify a particular style, audience or medium in which to target. In order to produce a body of artwork that was unified and cohesive, I applied my own limitations during the initial stages of the project. I did this by choosing to interpret the brief as a game for an adult audience. These additional guidelines provided me with a better understanding of the artistic needs and practises that would be most appropriate within the context of game design, in which I could more accurately imitate of the workflow used within the game industry. This also helped me to focus my research and time management as my targets and intentions were clear from the beginning.
An example of common design practise that I explored during this project is the generation of silhouettes. Strong identifiable silhouettes allow the player to easily differentiate between friendly and antagonistic characters. This immediate response to shape rather than detail is particularly useful within the adult game market in which hostile situations require fast reflex times in order to progress successfully. This method of initial character conception proved most useful in the design of alien prisoners. As the prisoners were not human, there was more opportunity to investigate a greater and more interesting range of shapes that did not need to conform to human anatomy. This allowed me to explore and exaggerate traditional threatening traits such as height, strength and predatory features quickly without getting caught up in detail. Sillhouettes have become industry standard for idea generation due to their speed, efficiency and serendipitous nature.
Having existing silhouettes to work from also improved the sketching process. Working on top of the silhouettes on a separate layer allowed me to create detailed content more freely and creatively, as the often difficult technical considerations concerning proportion and weight had already been accounted for in silhouette form. This process has greatly improved my workflow and efficiency, which will be useful in the fast paced nature of professional concept art.
I have produced various sketches of the same character in order to find the most appropriate, visually pleasing or relevant design. This allows different aspects of the design to be explored and evaluated alongside one another before spending larger amounts of time on more rendered versions. This pre-production process allows the client or art director to discuss, reject or change ideas at an early stage in the development process.
I feel that my work has been successful in exploring the methods used in the professional world and in the context of contemporary practise. Emulating industry practise had enabled me to work more efficiently and with greater creativity and focus.
Learning Outcome 6
Explore and evaluate the appropriate skills relevant to the creation of character design.
To achieve an industry standard level of character design, the artist must first be versed in the fundamentals of artistic practice. This knowledge includes skills such as composition, anatomical knowledge, colour theory, perspective and an understanding of shape, light, value and line.
Assuming that these fundamental skills have been acquired, the artist should also have an understanding of past and current character design and awareness of successful archetypes. When designing a character, certain problems need to be solved visually, as do characteristics and personalities need to be physically represented. An internal archive of particular methods that evoke the required audience response can be used as building blocks to create a successful solution. This is especially evident in the comparative design of Disney protagonists and antagonists, in which villains are comprised of harsh angular shapes whereas heroes are represented by softer or more rounded forms. Methods of externally communicating internal characteristics such as these have become so ingrained in the public consciousness that they have become reliable design shorthand. A level of predictability and readability in this sense serves to reassure the audience or player in their choice and level of empathy with each character.
Although knowledge of existing archetypes and design techniques is useful, predictability is not always the appropriate response. Originality is also important in order to create lasting, iconic and sophisticated designs that avoid clichés. This could mean challenging common preconceptions mentioned previously, creating juxtapositions or simply possessing an awareness of other artist’s work to avoid similarities to existing characters wherever possible.
The ability to produce consistently good designs at a relatively fast pace is also of particular importance to concept artists within the game industry, in which turnover rates for designs is often rapid. In order to achieve both quantity and quality, it is useful to implement a reliable and repeatable process or framework in which to produce designs. Examples of these include the generation of silhouettes and thumbnails, in which visual information can be represented quickly on a small scale. These methods are also useful in providing the client or art director with a large variety of designs that can then be discussed, combined, changed and approved prior to further development.
Visual and historical research is necessary in order to create convincing designs and informed choices. Obvious examples of the importance of good research include designs that are set in or influenced by a particular time period, in which the accurate depiction of clothing, hair style, colour and props add to the design’s credibility. Even when creating fantasy or otherwise fictional or fantastical images, it is necessary to preserve some plausibility within the design. This creates a better communication through the design as it enables the audience to make an informed judgement concerning the character.
Learning Outcome 7
Operate ethically demonstrating critical understanding of the issues governing good practice.
During my work on the Alien Creature Prison brief I have conducted relevant visual research into various photographs and artwork to aid my studies of environments, building, anatomy and techniques. Although these images have inspired my work throughout the project, the completed artwork within my ICA submissions is a result of my own design practise and development, and had gradually evolved in response to peer and tutor feedback.
Learning Outcome 8
Demonstrate an independent and reflective approach to personal and professional development.
Having come from a background in fine art and illustration as opposed to having graduated from a game related course, I feel that my time spent in lectures and developing artwork has had a particularly profound impact on both my personal and professional skills and industry knowledge.
Prior to the course I had created mostly autonomous work that focussed primarily on aesthetics. Although artistic skill is still important, the primary role of a concept artist is to adhere to guidelines and briefs and solve problems with visual solutions. In directing my fundamental knowledge towards a new purpose I am aware that my identity as a practitioner has shifted from creating art to conceptualising designs.
As a result of this I have also been able to detach myself emotionally from the work I produce. Where I was once shy and reluctant the share my work with others, I now appreciate the value of constructive criticism. Peer reviews and feedback sessions have been invaluable in identifying strengths and weaknesses within my practice, as well as preventing me from becoming precious about my work. This interactive approach to evaluating work has also served to prepare me for professional environments, in which work will be discussed with clients and art directors. Separating my ego from my artwork will prepare me to face the inevitable rejections and alterations of future designs during my career.
As an artist better versed in traditional media, I have climbed an incredibly steep learning curve in understanding Photoshop and using Wacom tablets. During the course of the project I have embarked upon sketching and painting my work digitally. Although I understand that my digital capabilities and techniques need more practise, I am proud of what I have managed to achieve in the given time frame.
Similarly I have also grown in confidence concerning the industry standard processes such as using thumbnails and silhouettes.
As a product of working continuously on challenging work, especially outside of my comfort zone, I have also made noticeable improvements in my understanding and execution of fundamental design knowledge.
Learning Outcome 9
Exhibit professional communication skills in the specialist area.
This is demonstrated in:
Head Warden design:
The authoritative status and devious nature of the Head Warden is visually represented through posture, costume and facial expression. The required psychopathic element of this character is more subtle, but evident in the blood found on the characters hands and clothing in conjunction with his relaxed state that implies an involvement in and positive attitude towards brutality.