concept art smarts

80minutes Doomguy Concept Art Process

concept art process gif doom

Here is another 80minutes concept painting I did as a warm up before contract work.

You can find a step-by-step gif below and a dirty secret image of the raw photobashed gun design.

doom guy concept art doom

Concept art smarts used:

  • Photobashing for quick prop/weapon ideation.
  • Bashing of stock 3D assets to quickly add greebles.
  • Color picker used on original art to get proper palette.
  • “Selective Color” adjustment for quick color correction.

As most of my exercises are done, this concept was time boxed. Meaning I limited my time to max 90minutes to finish this piece, prioritizing completion over execution. You can see it in the often rough details and brutal photobashing contained in the design. Since this was fan art I also had official Doom art ready as reference and as color palette to raid with Photoshops color picker tool.

Here is how the photobashing of the weapon looks like without overpainting and color correction, using bought pre-rendered 3D and photo stock images:

weapon design concept art tutorial

And here is the step-by-step gif (>1mb, so please be patient on slower lines):

character design process gif doom marine

Til next time. Cheers.

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Super Mario AAA Concept Process

super mario concept art tutorial

Here is a step-by-step process of a Super Mario concept art I did for practice. Including some dirty Photoshop tricks.

Concept art smarts used:

  • Photobashing for quick character ideation.
  • Liquify filter for quick shape correction without repaints.
  • Custom brushes.
  • “Selective Color” adjustment for quick color correction.

Let’s go…

Alright, step one: Proportions and pose.

There are plenty of ways to play around with proportions an poses. From thumbnails and silhouettes to fast sketches. Sometimes you just want to grab the right reference from a stock library you can use. However, with stylized characters like this, a few tweaks are in order. Using just super quick and dirty lasso moves I shortened and thickened the arms and made his hands huge. No need to worry about ugly edges right now, they will be overpainted later.

To properly capture the plumber’s iconic likeness, I just pasted part of an official promotional artwork on top of my Frankenstein creature.

photobashing concept art tutorial

Step two: Drawing on top.

For now, I’m happy with my character build. Maybe I change stuff later, but I’m ready to go to the next phase. Always keep in motion and do what comes to you first. Anything can be tweaked later.

I reduced the build layer opacity to like 40% so that black lines on top are easier to read and started drawing on top of my custom anatomical reference. Using “overlay” in a layer above, I separate different grey values, using different shades of grey. Note how you can still see many snippets of the photos below, but pants, skin and shirt are separated by value.

photobashing and overpainting

Now, I fill in my drawing with grey tones where needed. Mainly using the color picker here and grabbing shades from the photobash layer below. A moment later

mario triple aa concept art

Step three: Painting high priority details.

Now, I’m starting to get anxious about nailing down Mario in a AA context, so I need a benchmark for the painting. I need to paint a part of this layout to get familiar with the level of detail and quality I’m aiming for. So let’s paint the head. While I can draw plenty of support from the shading data from the photobash – using the color picker – this step is just plain and simple painting. Sorry, no secrets here, just practice and patience.

concept art process

Step four: More tweaks and first paint layer.

The current state of the head tells me where I want this painting to go. I can now fill in all areas of the layout with the necessary layers of paint to move on. What it also tells me is where I need to tweak the pose and shapes. The more I work on a painting the more I’m able to see and fix. For the first steps I was really able just to go with the flow, knowing tweaks can be done later and now is the time to get serious about some stuff.

character concept art step by step

Lasso and repaints are used to reposition his arms, while the filter>”liquify” was used to sculpt the painting of the head into something more round full. Here is a comparison gif for the before-and-after. Note how I did not repaint anything for the new fuller shape, just moved things around. Oh yeah, and a second ear helped (which I literally just copied-pasted from his left ear):


More detailed painting. Just working myself through all the areas of the layout. For the sledgehammer I used a photo reference, to get it right. The Bob-Ombs and painted within a circular selection, to get the spherical shape right. The smut on his arm is made with the first use of a custom brush in this piece, only regular round hard Photoshop brushes until now.

anjin anhut concept art

Step five: Coloring.

Now that I’m happy with the value painting, let’s add color. I pulled up official Mario Promo art, to have quick access to offial colors via the color picker tool. The colors are painted on a new layer, set to “overlay”.

by concept artist anjin anhut

Step five: Final Retouch.

Finally, some retouching… Same stuff a photographer would do to spice up their shots. Color correction via image>adjustments>selective color. I added some cyan and magenta to the blacks, making things more vibrant. Fire is painted using custom brushes again. Super thin blue rim lights add the final crispiness.

values painting to color painting tutorial

I hope this was a fun insight into how I sometimes work. Keep practicing and show your stuff. Bye.

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Halo Series Character Design Showcase

concept art drawing halo series

Impressive and fun combat armor is one of the most iconic aspects of the Halo game series. The games themselves – being xbox exclusives, Masterchief being an Xbox mascot – have often been marketed as system sellers, aiming for the high def AAA look, you wanna advertise when showcasing the graphics capabilities of your system.


Still, much of the concept art is colored linework, not detailed hard surface painting. Why? Hard surface painting is hard, like super hard. Lines get wonky shapes get soft… lines are just super precise, clean and quickly executed.

Often preferred by 3D artists, linework concepts make model sheets easy to read and leave not much room to imagination.

Concept art smarts used:

  • Line drawing instead of painting – clean, precise, fast, easy for details.
  • Symmetry – saves time, helps to design for mainly symmetrical 3D models.
  • Overpainting 3D models – keeps proportions consistent, allows to iterate on previously established designs.
  • 3D model based T-position – quickly done, consistent throughout all angles.

Identified artists:


The following concepts are collected from Halo2, Halo3, Halo4 and Halo:Reach. They have been selected to highlight the concept art smarts used in the production of those titles. Zoom in on anyone.

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Process Gif for Spacemarine Commission

This is a set of process gifs I made with screengrabs I snatched while painting it. The person who commissioned it wanted it to be a portrait, that’s why the marine is wearing glasses.

Concept art smarts used:

  • Transformation tools to edit proportions of rough sketch and value painting.
  • Overpaint of reference photo for accurate likeness.
  • Photo based texturing.
  • Polygon lasso used to define hard surface shapes.

You can see the sketch phase…

…the first overall shading, without detail…

…a bit of stretching and first wave of details, including photobashing the reference photo for the face into the image…

…more layers…

…photo texture bashing, and rimlight…

…colors and tweaks.


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class demos in 60 minutes

Last week I did two 60 minutes demos in class…

One was to showcase painting from scratch, the other was about photo bashing with some overpaints. Kinda happy how much I get done in an hour nowadays. Looking back to my older stuff, a 60 minute demo did not contain that much detail. Sometimes I just managed to do an upper body design or a bust.

Below I included the greyscale paint for the painting demo and attached the used stock photos for the photo bashing demo. Enjoy.

Concept art smarts used:

  • Photobashing for quick character ideation.
  • Photo based texturing.

concept art tutorial

concept art tutorial

concept art tutorial

concept art tutorial

anatomy reference from
textures from
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Paul Richards Concept Art Lectures Galore

concept art tutorials

After my post Let’s get Real About Concept Art from early february Paul Richards – concept artist on the Darksiders series and Halo 4 – pointed me to a tutorial he posted on his blog. Browsing through his site revealed he released quite a few tutorials already… and damn, so much great advice, all with easy to understand samples, nicely structured, step by step.

He focusses on designing with a pen – from drawing basics to complex rendering and construction. The full package for beginners and even seasoned artist will snatch some goodies there as well. Here is a small digest in recommended reading order:

How to draw?

The first two articles, I’d like to recommend to you are about his drawing techniques. Many concept artists use digital painting techniques or overpaints, start with a rough 3D model or photo manipulation – all valid approaches. Richards on the other hand is comfortable starting off with a pen and a blank page, constructing and fleshing out his designs with lines.

He focusses his tutorials on drawing designs with volume and depth, turning 2D lines into 3D shapes, while keeping it freehand. Expect tons of tips on how to construct, shape, sculpt, mold, build, scale, squeeze and stretch creatures, mechanical design and characters with a pen.



What to draw?

Okay, so you worked your way through the first two? You know, with doing sketches and all, not just reading them? Nice!

So, now that we know, how to create anything we can imagine on paper, how does a concept artist go about imagining interesting designs? This is what Richards tackles in the next two tutorials. From research to composition, to fine-tuning, this should give you plenty of input.




I suggest you take some note cards and write down some core ideas from each tutorial and store those cards in your current sketchbook, so you always have something to challenge and inspire yourself, when drawing and doodling. It’s important to leave your own comfort zone from time to time to push for some progress. These tutorials should provide plenty of challenges to do so.

Even I – doing this for more than 8 years – found quite some fresh approaches for my own work. Normally people would have to buy a book for this kind of content, so drop by and say hi.

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Paul Richards said…

Concept artist of the Darksiders series Paul Richards said:

Anjin, Thanks for mentioning me in your “Let’s Get Real About Concept Art” post.  Though I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to certain methods, I appreciated being used as an example of what I believe to be a utilitarian but nonetheless valuable aspect of production.

-Paul Richards

My reply:

Hey, Paul!
Thanks for your comment on Let’s Get Real About Concept Art. I specifically picked you as an example for a concept artist who knows how to draw and draws a lot. While other samples were picked to show the more photoshoppish side of concept art. What I appreciate about your portfolio is that you share even really rough sketches and all tons of work that go into finding just the right design, not just the really polished later pieces. It’s a valuable insight into the creative process and your stuff finds its way into reference lists and slideshow for my students in my concept art classes.


The art books of Darksiders 1 & 2 are treasure troves of process sketches and actual development work for design, which I wholeheartedly recommend for all my readers here. And a quick look over to Richards’ portfolio is recommended as well.

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Let’s Get Real About Concept Art


The public perception of what concept art means is severely skewed.

While I have to accept that people broadly label art created for games and films concept art, including promotional illustrations, it is necessary to get real about what concept art as a craft actually is.

My students and other young artist I talk to get presented with misleading standards for concept art, which feeds into insecurities and doubts. And that puts unnecessary roadblocks in their ways. It also suggest to the broader public that these misleading standards are what concept art is about, which leads to my students receiving completely skewed feedback for the work they publish. They get devalued and berated for doing EXACTLY what is bread and butter to professional concept artists.

If you are a newcomer artists or a student trying to get into concept art, you should read this article. It might clear up some things.

Concept Promo Art

Almost all art that gets officially released or mysteriously leaked as concept art in relation to a game or movie or comic book, is published to generate buzz for said game or movie or comic book (furthermore just referred to as game or release).

Nobody wants a design go viral, which is possibly later rejected and have customers imprint on a wrong key visual.

Publishers and studios want to hype their release. Magazines and blogs want to generate views from the hype around the game. In order to fulfil these goals the art needs to represent the final key visuals of the game accurately, which means the art is either selected or created after the designs of the game have already been completely established and approved.

Companies only release concept art when it is polished and final enough to represent the actual product. What gets released as concept art is actually promo art. Nowadays all promo art – even including obvious art that has been created after the completion of the production of a game – gets labeled concept art by the marketers who release it, the editors who write about it, the fans who share it, the sites which collect it and even the people who made it.

concept art

Sites like do a great job at collecting game related art. However, if you click the “concept art” tab, you’ll find that the majority of images is promo art. Not even repurposed concept art as promo art, but straight up promotional illustrations and 3D renders. Something is off here.

This sucks hard. So much talent blocked by unrealistic expectations and held down by gatekeepers who enjoy pretending to be the arbiters of what real concept art is. Let’s change this.

My problem lies with all the stuff, that is totally not concept art, still getting treated as concept art and all the stuff that totally IS proper concept art but gets either omitted or gets dismissed as something inferior.

My problem is, that I have to clean up toxic misconceptions about concept art, over and over again, in my classes and in personal conversation after personal conversation. I say toxic, because I regularly meet students who look at what the community tells them concept art is and who compare their own work to that twisted ideal and then conclude, that they do not have what it takes.

We need to understand, that what is sold as concept art publicly rarely is representative of what concept artist actually have to do and how they do it. Concept art is not what you create and publish to hype already established visuals. Concept art is all the dirty work you have to do in order to establish the visuals to begin with.


All of these boss design sketches for Darksiders went into the drawer. They are made quickly with a focus on volume and not execution. Drawing variations, but only one of them gets picked and the rest discarded… this is concept art. By Paul Richards. You can also read a quick response to this very article by Paul here.


If you google concept art for Gears of War 3, you find this. Looking into the art book from Ballistic Publishing reveals, that these character concepts are done by overpainting basic blockout 3D models and are not painted from scratch. Via Epic Games. EDIT: rewrote this caption to make clear that this art was used during production, after this comment came in: read comment

In The Trenches... Wikipedia says: Concept art is a form of illustration where the main goal is to convey a visual representation of a design, idea, and/or mood for use in films, video games, animation, or comic books before it is put into the final product. Cute. What a wonderful fantasy land in which masterful concept artists come up with ideas and designs, paint them and then these designs go into production. Bam! Just like that.

While the wikipedia definition is not technically wrong, it ignores the bulk of concept work that disappears into drawers. Only a fraction of what concept artists paint actually later gets used as reference material for the production.

For every final model sheet there is tons and tons of exploration art, mock-ups, reference collections, thumbnail sketches, speed paints, variations, iterations and rejected designs. No matter how masterful a concept artist is, he or she will usually create more waste paper basket work, than designs which actually get put into the final product.


Character exploration for Jack from the Mass Effect series. All costume designs are drawn with simple lines, flat coloring and roughly copypasted textures. Also all designs a drawn over the same silhouette, so that elements from individual designs can be recombined into new costumes. By Matt Rhodes

A design goes through several release stages, with different people evaluating it and with different requirements.


1. As long as we are creating designs for internal purposes – within the creative team – speed is more important than execution. Building a universe is a huge undertaking and incorporating the vision of everybody involved means producing huge volumes of designs – HUGE volumes – so that everybody can look at the same stuff, discuss it and eliminate ideas until only the strongest designs remain. It’s like mining – you have to eliminate rubble to get to the gold nuggets. This is the phase in which the most ideas get sorted out, so fleshing out an idea better not take too much time.

Before a design gets to stage 2, these people need to have their say in it:

  • Creative directors want to see their vision represented.
  • Lead artists want to see their established style guides implemented.
  • Writers want to see their characterisations realised.
  • Game designers want their gameplay cues visualised.
  • 3D artists and animators want to be able to build the thing within limitations of release platforms and budget constrains.
  • 2D artists and animators want to have complete references, so they wont draw frames and images that are off-model.

2. Only when we start presenting our selected ideas to our partners – in pitch presentations or milestones or submit it directly to our partners – only then do we need to take care about execution, because now we have people to convince. However, time and budget restrictions often make it a bad move to invest a whole lot of working hours into polishing your ideas and art, only to have the partners maybe smack it all down with their demands. This second stage is a balancing act between speed and execution.

These people need to be consulted and satisfied before a design can go into stage 3:

  • If stuff needs to be made in factories (like Disney Infinity figures for example), production companies want to be sure, that the thing can get made in compliance with budget limitations, production standards and safety regulations.
  • If the release is an instalment in a series of games, IP owners and writers want the design to be canonical.
  • Marketers want to see the brand/IP represented well, while at the same time see that the new game will have its own identity.
  • Surveys of focus groups will also bring requirements from marketing.
  • If the game is based on a license (like movies or comic books), the people who own the IP want to make sure that the game represents the values, standards and messaging of the original license.
  • Publishers and funding entities want to be confident that the design will yield the desired financial results.
  • …and probably someone else I’m forgetting here.

3. Finally, some of the concept art gets approved for public release. It’s a marketing effort and only the most representative and good looking concepts get out, often getting another round of painting polish (like photoshopping a photograph). Sometimes art gets made after the designs are settled but are given the appearance of concept art to fit with common narratives about the creative process of making games – yes, fake concept art. For public releases execution is key. You want to flash your audience and get people hyped, this stuff needs to look tight.

Stage 3 art is what the broader public gets to see (including illustrations that really really have nothing to do with concept art). Stage 1 and 2 only find their way into artist’s portfolios and art books long after the game has been released, if they get public at all.

Hard Truth

The public idea of concept art is skewed.

Concept art galleries, concept art leaks and press releases include polished promotional illustrations, 3D renders, reworked former concept art and fake concept art. The bulk of concept work done to actually come up with designs often gets omitted or only published after the game launched, in order to avoid promoting unrepresentative key visuals and to sell audiences an attractive narrative about super-artists working on the next big thing.

This presents an unrealistically high default standard for what concept art actually is.


A lot of stock photographs were used for this character sheet for Uncharted 2. The artist not only copypasted snippets from photos next to the model to illustrate textures, details and materials. Close examination reveals, that the artist directly copied parts from the photographs into the character painting, instead of painting them himself. Also note all the mirroring going on here to save time. By Hong Ly

Speed is often more important than execution.

Time is money. In certain production phases, artists need to be quick rather than detailed in their work. They need to convey ideas and moods effectively with as little time spent as possible. Many of the ideas they flesh out will end up in the drawer anyway, so getting them done quickly is key. This means speed painting, overpaints of 3D models, overpaints of photographs, montage of photo elements, pencil sketches, line work instead of painting, use of stock photographs, reference guides with images from other games, thumbnail sketches, symmetrical painting, reuse of old paintings.

Because of the skewed public perception of concept art, all those valid methods to speed up processes are often called out as cheating, not real art, lazy, shortcuts, unoriginal, cheap, stealing and other undeserved labels from people, who value execution over professional requirements. These remarks are unqualified and should not be confused with legit criticism.


This Magneto concept for Ultimate Alliance 2 consist of a lot of mirrored elements. Only the frontal view is rendered, since painting the textures and shading for the other views too would have been expensive and redundant. By Eric Deschamps

Concept artists are just humans.

This public idea of these painting gods who just whip out their stylus and then magically create whole universes from nothing but their imagination is misleading. They use references, they need other people to give them creative input, they throw away unused art, they need to get reviewed and corrected, they need to take short cuts.

Even though wunderkinds exists, it’s not an industry made of wunderkinds. It’s an industry of people who put hard work into digging for the right design, people who know when rely on input from others to make their work shine and people who know when and how to use the resources of digital illustrations to their advantage.

Even though wunderkinds get the most hype, they should not be idolised and regarded as industry standard. If you find an artist online letting you in on their methods, not being shy about showing the tricks they use, give them a hug.


Concept artists and comic artists using quick reference selfies. By Paolo Rivera and Claire Hummel

Be Smart

If you are a learning or aspiring concept artists, please know that it is not a crutch to use photo references or to overpaint a 3D rendering. It is not lacking skill to use line work instead of painting your designs or to grab an AK-47 from a licensed library instead of drawing it yourself. All those methods are smart thinking in many many professional situations, which makes you a more productive and valuable concept artists.

You need to be smart about the tasks ahead and honest with your methods. Illustration is illustration, concept art is concept art. Make sure to not confuse the two, just because games culture somehow missed out on giving them distinct labels.

Back to work. Cheers.

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