advice

This tag is reader driven.
You can submit a question – anything related to working, playing, making and surviving in game industries and culture – and it may find it’s way onto the blog, either answered as an individual post or on the podcast.

How Old Is Too Old For A Rookie Concept Artist?

This is a post based on reader questions. You can submit a question and it may find it's way onto the blog, either answered as an individual post or on the podcast.

tung

First off, love your site. Wish I found it sooner. It seems to allay many of my fears and doubts. I hope you’re around for a long time!

I do have two questions though: 1) How many concept artists could be working on a game at one time? There’s an abundance of talent online. So much so, that I worry that some may be unemployed at the moment. If one game requires 30-50 concept artists, then I don’t feel too bad! 2) What’s the age of the oldest rookie concept artist that you know of? I’m making a career change of sorts and age is an obvious hangup of mine.

Hey there,

Thanks for the kind words.

Your first question has no definitive answer, not even a range. A game company can be so small that they hire just one concept artist for a game or just a handful. A production can also be so huge that the developer/publisher works with multiple outsourcing studios, which internally work with 10, 20 or even more artists. Many productions also use a lot of contract artists/ freelancers instead of hiring someone for full time positions.

If you look at film, animation and television, you have even more job opportunities. The demand is there and plenty of it. The question is how do you stand out from the crowd of people who want to get into that field? Proper portfolios and applications are necessary, but also significant skill.

As to your age question, I’ve seen people go into concept art in their 40s and make it work. However those people transitioned from other fields such as industrial design. Actually starting from scratch at that kind of age is really hard. The games industry has no particular ageism problem. I mean, ageism is everywhere but games is not particularly a young people industry.

However being an in demand concept artist is dependent on work experience. Art education can only get you so far, but the actual problem solving skills that make you a great concept artists are learned in the field. Companies often offer art internships and junior positions to shape a rookie’s perspective on concept art to their liking. Companies want you to grow into the kind of concept artist they need. And this could get awkward if the people who teach you the ropes are younger than you.

It’s very likely that entry level positions are rather given to youngsters because they appear to be more “moldable”. So, if you bring years of relevant experience to your new career, it can work as a buff for you. But if you actually are a complete rookie and a generation-x person or older, you have quite the uphill climb ahead of you.

I know, not really good news, but I hope that helps. Good luck.

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What Languages Should You Learn?

This is a post based on reader questions. You can submit a question and it may find it's way onto the blog, either answered as an individual post or on the podcast.

what languages should you learn to become a game designer or concept artist?

Hello,
In your opinion, what would be the best language to learn, if one wishes to become a Game Designer or a Concept Artist?
I’ve been learning German for the past six months, but for reasons that have nothing to do with this career.

Some people say that Japanese would be the most helpful, but I’m still not sure whether I should put effort on learning another language to “boost” my chances of getting hired or just use this time to practice drawing/painting.
Thank you for your attention,
Victor R.

Hey Victor,

since you already got english down, it really depends on where you want to work.

For everybody who has problems understanding, speaking, reading or writing english, I would always without hesitation recommend to beef up your english skills. Most game development is international… or at least distribution is. Or at least it’s useful to be able to go international.

And english is the language to go here.

But if english is not an issue, you need to focus on the countries you want to work in. You can expect english to work in most bigger productions, so you are basically set to work wherever you like. But to be successful and also have a social life in your country of choice you need to get their language down and also learn about their culture. Not to mention that some countries require you to have acquired some language skills first before they give you a visa.

If Japan is your desired working destination, language is super important but so are cultural understanding. People actually study that stuff in hopes to be a foreigner that doesn’t have to be a stranger there. Language is just half the battle.

You could also look into scandinavian games industries. Poland developed some cool stuff in recent years. And there is more.

What I totally can’t recommend you to do is learn another language for some abstract reason like “it is spoken in the games industry”. The language of the games industry – as with any international industry – is english. You don’t need to learn Japanese, if you don’t want to specifically engage the Japanese gaming community. And if you want to do that, you need to think broader than just language.

Hope that helps. Cheers.

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How About Working Remotely As A Game Artists?

This is a post based on reader questions. You can submit a question and it may find it's way onto the blog, either answered as an individual post or on the podcast.

working remotely as a concept artists or game artists

Hello!

My name’s Matteo Lolli, I work as a comic book artist for Marvel.
I was alway a passionate game user and I was always intrigued by game art and character design in general.

Today I stumbled across your website, it is GREAT and I’m planning to spend a lot of time here! :)

I’d have a question about character and concept design for game and movie industries, maybe you already touched this topic but I couldn’t find it here, my apologies if I am wrong.

As a comic book artist I work from here (Italy) for the United States comic industry. I was wondering if the same happens in game and movie concept arts, because whenever I read about job opportunities in game industry it seems like it’s always required to move there to work in their studios.

Thank you and keep up the great job!
Matteo

Hey, Matteo,…

Thanks for the kind words. Glad to see you get something out of it.

To your question: Yes, it happens that people work with artists remotely. But it really depends on the company and what they are looking for.

In general when it comes to concept art in games or production design art in film, it’s popular to have the artists on site. The concept phase benefits from really short feedback loops – so working remotely drags down the conversation speed a lot. Also, since it’s about developing ideas, person to person communication, the ability to pitch your ideas along with your art in meetings is super helpful. Working remotely removes this pitch aspect of development almost completely, because files get sent around instead of people personally presenting their work.

This doesn’t mean remote concept art is not a thing. It’s just more complicated to do.

Where remote work is usually more popular than having artists on site, is when it comes to illustration and the production of actual game assets and promotional artwork. In this phase most creative decisions have already been made and it’s more about putting in the working hours to make stuff shine. Feedback loops are longer and artists take more time for their deliverables. Many companies then often prefer to work with artists/studios who have their own facilities and just send in the results on time. Otherwise the companies would need to provide working facilities for these artists, even though they just need to check up on them from time to time, not during the whole week – which is unnecessarily expensive.

So, if you position yourself as a game artists with a focus on illustration (box art, trading cards, character illustration etc.) or you also do animation, you are more likely to be able to find remote freelance job opportunities. If you make concept art your focus, it might be more likely that companies want to have you on site.

No rules and borders. Just likelihoods here.

Hope that helps, cheers.

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How to Build Your Portfolio?

This is a post based on reader questions. You can submit a question and it may find it's way onto the blog, either answered as an individual post or on the podcast.

how to build a portfolio for concept artitst

Christos asked:

Greetings.

Question: What do concept art portfolios really look like? Is it a series of polished, shiny images of either fantasy or science fiction characters/environments that we usually see in online portfolios or is it more like the kind of stuff one sees in ‘The Art of X Game’ books?

Secondary Question: How would you organise a portfolio and what would you put in it?

Thank you for your time.
Christos

Hey Christos…

Here are a few things I can tell you.

1. Portfolios are made to convince clients.

This means you need to understand what the client is looking for and present yourself accordingly. Client here can mean employer or even art school as well.

Do your research. Read job offerings carefully, visit a client’s site to see what they are doing. When they are looking for a 3D artists, don’t let a human resources person browse through pages of 2D art first. Be the 3D artist they are looking for. If you are a concept artist who does horror stuff and cute stuff, put the stuff forward the company is doing. You wont impress a horror game company with your panda babies or a casual game company with your deformed human demon nuns.

2. Make multiple portfolios.

Presenting yourself to each company in response to their specific needs means that you can’t make one portfolio to impress them all, right? When sending PDFs or showing your portfolio in person, take time to prepare and arrange a sampling of works specific to the client’s tastes.

Online you can either prepare specific galleries or tag you samples if you are using a blog-based framework like wordpress. When contacting a client you can then send them a link directly to what they are looking for. A random site visitor will get a more or less unsorted view on your stuff, but in direct contact you can impress a client by giving them exactly what you think they need to see.

Client’s usually appreciate consideration and homework done by applicants.

3. Show your best only.

If you don’t convince your client with 10 work samples, you wont convince them with 20. Plain and simple.

Rather plan to have 5-7 reeeeeeaaaallllllyyy convincing pieces of work than to allow yourself to even add one piece of filler.

4. 1 work sample does not mean 1 image.

In your job later you will have to do more than just painting pretty images. You will need to do research, explore styles and visual language. You will need to understand written concepts and ideas, and visualize them. You will need to produce tons of digital waste paper in search of a really refined design. You will need to use many different digital creation tools.

Show that you can.

For example, when you paint a really really nice character design illustration, how did you arrive at that design and what is it you wanted to express? Show the final piece and the process behind it. Show a selection of your image research, give a quick writeup of the idea for context (1-3 sentences max), show thumbnails and development sketches. Did you use 3D modelling in that concept or create photo references? Show them.

For any art director or art lead it’s important that your portfolio is not a collection of happy accidents, not a collection of sparks of inspiration. You need to demonstrate that you can systematically reach impressive design results, not just when you feel like.

Showing impressive work from actual projects, where you have worked with other people is also a big plus. Look for game jams in your region. Jams are a good and quick way to get some content with project context.

So to your question specifically: it’s more art book than art gallery for concept artists. Process for concept artists is as important as the final result. 3D artist need to include references and model sheets as well, so the AD can see how well they translate concept art to model. They also need to show naked meshes and texture maps, so the 3D lead can assess the quality of the work. Illustrators however better focus mostly on the final work.

5. Form.

Each and every image has your contact information on it. A small readable line of text near the border of the image is fine. No watermarks.

Don’t sign your images like Karl Lagerfeld. Really don’t. Nobody is impressed by a concept artists putting a big artist’s signature next to a character that is as big as that character’s thigh. It’s rather pretentious.

Always send PDFs when applying for a job, even when you invite them to your site as well. You never know what happens when they stumble upon you in their files. Also having something to print out is really comfortable for recruiters.

Keep PDFs under 4mb, under 2mb is even better. No fancy cover pages for PDFs. Cut to the chase, don’t let them waste their printer ink. Start with your resume best.

6. Be a person.

Make yourself visible at conventions, recruiting events, public events and all that. There is nothing more valuable than having shaken hands with a recruiter and snatched a direct contact before sending an application.

7. Get second opinions.

What you have just read is 1 opinion from 1 person. I’m confident in my advice, since I work as an art director and recruiter for 4 years, am working as a freelance artist for 9 years and work with art teachers to prepare game art students for the professional world for 5 years now. So I bring a couple of perspectives to this.

However, other recruiters have other opinions and preferences. Do your research. Ask around.

I hope that helps.

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How About Pricing for Freelance Work?

This is a post based on reader questions. You can submit a question and it may find it's way onto the blog, either answered as an individual post or on the podcast.

pricing for freelance work

Hi Anjin,
I have a fairly uncommon question, and it’s okay if you don’t want to answer — or just give me a general answer perhaps. I am an illustrator and you are the only person I could find, who may know about character guidelines or design sheets. How much would you/one charge for a short character design guideline, two or three pages. Only colors, proportions, angles.

Thanks a lot! Have a nice day,
Jon

Hey Jon,

actually that question is not uncommon at all. “Hey, I got a request to do X, what should I charge for X?” I get this quite often, mostly from beginners such as former art students of mine starting to get contract work. Uncommon however is that I get the question from an experienced artist like yourself. I checked your portfolio – good stuff BTW – and you already did quite a few things and should have a pricing policy already. But I will see, if I can help you out with a few thoughts here.

However I wont drop my numbers here. It’s not good policy to publicly name your prices, since it’s a matter of negotiation between me and my client. Aaaaaaannnd I will also address this question for beginners, so that this post is helpful to more people. So, please excuse some basic knowledge drops, it’s not meant to be patronizing to you. I just want to be thorough.

Let’s jump in….

Pricing for freelance work is always a combination of the work hours you spent on creating the design plus the licensing fees for how the design later will be used by the client. Basically it’s a combination of how much work you did plus how much worth that work is for the client.

When thinking about licensing I look at the briefing and talk to my client to find out if they want to hire me to do content creation or to do IP/CI development. IP stands for intellectual property and CI is short for corporate identity, both are trademark designs [trademarks on wikipedia]. What happens in those cases is that I would create designs that will be used in a big way and long term to give a face and name to a product, service, or story franchise. While content creation is more about filling a single piece of media with content.

For example:
If a TV network asks me to design the titular hero for a new tv kids show (I wish), that would be IP development. That character would – just as the name and logo of that show – be part of visual trademark of the show. But if that network goes to me and says in episode 26 we need a villain for that epidsode and nobody will give a shit 3 episodes later, one could argue that is content creation.

So for you Jon, I recommend you take the same approach to pricing as you would do with the development of a corporate identity and the creation of a style guide for using that CI. I don’t know what your modus operandi is for CI work, but I don’t see any reason pricing CI work differently from IP development.

For people who have no clue how to price any of this, meaning beginners:

1. Pricing should at least allow you to sustain yourself and have a couple of bucks left for fun stuff, like going to the movies. So calculate what you need per month and this is your rock bottom income. Include everything in that calculation, groceries, rent, insurances, social activities…be thorough.

2. Remember that you as a freelancer have plenty of unpaid work. Such as client acquisition, practice, studio maintenance. Your clients need to give you enough money to make that work. This means if in a good months you have like 15 paid days of work, the other 5 days need to be paid as well. Adjust your price per day accordingly. Your client work days need to pay for non-client work days too.

3. If a client does not respect your right to sustain yourself as a freelancer – if the client is not willing to pay your rock bottom daily rate, SAY NO! Saying no, is one of the most important skills you need to have as a freelancer. You can’t block yourself from good paying contracts by being stuck in work for shitheads who want to exploit you.

Doing a low pay job is a desperation move or emergency measure – I did it myself, when times have been tough – but it’s NOT what people should expect from you. Clients should respect your right to eat and have roof over your head, or they are shitty clients.

Say no.

4. Now I can only speak from my experience: Content creation is my regular daily fee, which I do under so called work for hire contracts [work for hire on wikipedia], trademark work however demands more money due to increased use and therefore increased licensing fees.

Clients prefer work for hire conditions still, but my daily fees go up quite a bit. My IP/CI development work days are roughly 180% of what I take for content generation. The nice thing is that my clients so far really have no problem understanding why, which is a benefit of being established in the business. If you are a beginner clients will try to play dumb to trick you into being less expensive, so you need to have your arguments ready (trademarks have bigger licensing value and therefore you demand more money creating them).

5. Try to increase your pricing with each new client. Don’t be greedy, but put a couple of % on your daily rates with a new client to slowly but surely push you into a realm where you can live comfortably from your quality work. If it’s too much for a client – not all clients have the same budget available – you can be generous and lower your prices for them, but make sure they respect your value and never drop below rock bottom.

Hope that helps. If you have any follow up questions, hit the comments. I’m also interested in other practices and what works for you, if you do it differently.

Cheers.

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What to learn to become a concept artists?

This is a post based on reader questions. You can submit a question and it may find it's way onto the blog, either answered as an individual post or on the podcast.


what-to-learn-to-become-a-concept-artist

bittersiha asked via tumblr:

hi!!! i saw your reply to bones!!! did you have any ideas for my questions?? what do concept ppls need to study really hard to make it in the industry in todays world?

The job of a concept artists is to turn ideas into images. So, you need to have access to ideas, need to be able to translate them into images and also should technically be able to do this in large volumes, while being readable and having the necessary emotional impact.

DO STUFF:

flow

I rather recommend my students to think of flow instead of speed, because time is just one of two resources an artists has to watch out for. The other is creative energy. If you get stuck on properly drawing a hand for example, you will not only spend a lot of time on getting unstuck, but also a lot of creative energy. Both could be better spent on turning more ideas into images, instead of turning a cluster of lines into a properly drawn hand. If drawing and painting is exhausting and frustrating to you and you run out of creative energy, it’s as bad as if the clock runs out.

Practice drawing, so you don’t get stuck as much on execution problems. Prepare image references, so you don’t get stuck on wondering what to draw next. Learn to photobash and don’t be shy to trace or use other shortcuts to skip over problems when needed.

priorities

I also teach my students to rather think priorities than speed. Practice creating stuff under super tough time restrictions. Get yourself an egg timer and do 2-3 minute sketches and 10 minute speed paints. The first ones will suck balls because it feels like you never have enough time for anything. But over time you will learn to prioritize the things that matter most to you in that design high enough to squeeze them into the time window. You will be forced to use shortcuts, to start with the important stuff, to skip the unimportant stuff. You will not get significantly faster in your movements – there is a ceiling to that – but you will learn to use the time and speed available to more effect.

readable WIPs

A character design goes through multiple phases before we have a clean model sheet. For example: Reference collection, thumbnail, sketch, color sketch, detailed greyscale painting, colored painting. There are other steps depending on how you prefer to work. The thing is that you need to learn to make each step presentable to the rest of the team. You have to learn that a WIP step is a piece of concept art already, something to talk about, to evaluate and only if everybody decides that the design so far is cool enough to bother finishing up, …we go on.

Understand how to make moodboards out of images from the web, how to make expressive thumbnails or silhouettes… and so forth.

KNOW STUFF:

empathy & psychology

Why do we fear X but not Y? Why do we find place X welcoming but place Y hostile? Why do people without eyes make us uncomfortable? Why do certain colors appeal to us and others not? How come certain nudity arouses us but other repulses us? Learn how humans are wired, learn about psychology, so you can make your audience feel something and articulate what your characters and creatures feel.

how stuff works

Anatomy, growing patterns, mechanics, materials, physics. Do you know if the antlers of deer are branching or forking? Do you know how wooden houses are constructed? How armor is attached to the body of a warrior? Do you know how a bullet travels through a gun before it is launched from the barrel?

Knowing how stuff works enables you to go beyond what kind of references you find online. It allows you to create your own creatures, objects, buildings.

symbolism & culture

Artists, epochs, mythology, body modification, traditions, nationalities. Learn about how humans create images to say who they are, to explain the world and to communicate with each other, so you can successfully communicate cultures in your work.

BTW, nobody expects you to have all this knowledge in your head… but you need to have this knowledge available somewhere (books and web sources) and train yourself to spot and read those things. I recommend starting a pinterest account, it is a visual bookmarking tool, which has been invaluable to my work since I started it.

Further reading:

Here is an article I wrote on concept art, that might be helpful to you.
Also check out my pinterest board to see how I use it.

Get some second opinions. Concept art is not a science, it’s an art. Different people have different expectations. 

Cheers.

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