The Art of Concept Art
// November 9th, 2012 // Graphic Design
My brother and I have started working on our new project and I have been spending a lot of time researching different methods of producing concept art. In this post I will be discussing my experience so far on the topic and the steps I have been taking to create my concepts.
When I first started working on Robofish I told myself I need to make some concept art before I do anything else. I had seen plenty of concept art on the internet from other developers and came to the conclusion it would be a good idea, however, I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t do any research and just started drawing, while this helps to get some of your creative juices flowing it doesn’t end up being to productive in the long run. When I went to create a new enemy or weapon asset in Robofish I would skip the conceptual phase and move straight to the production phase of the asset. This lead to faster “in game” visuals but over time we kept noticing things about the graphics we didn’t like and I ended up re-creating nearly all the assets two or three times before the game was released. If you take the time in the beginning to hash out some concepts and agree upon something before hand it will save you time in the production phase of your project.
So that is what I decided to do this time around and the first thing I did was head out into the internet and look at what other, more experienced, graphic designers have done. I did quite a bit of research on different methods of concept art but decided to alter the steps a little to my style. I do not consider myself a fine illustrator but more of a cartoonist or caricature kind of guy and a lot of the tutorials I read start out with sketches so I decided to do my sketches in Adobe Illustrator instead of on paper. Nearly all of the artwork that you see in Robofish was designed and animated using Adobe Flash, so the transition to illustrator, while still a vector based program, has been pretty time consuming. The main reason I am switching from Flash to Illustrator is “level of detail”. Flash is an excellent tool for animation and interface graphics but when you want to get down and dirty into the cracks of your artwork and really polish the details it leaves a lot to be desired. Illustrator has many powerful tools that give you the ability to manipulate your pixels to exact points. Now that I know what program I want to be designing in I started the concept process.
The first step I took was to acquire reference materials. In my case, we have the idea of a space simulation and we are leaning towards 2D graphics at the moment; so I immediately downloaded a bunch of other developer’s screenshots of their 2D space games as reference material. I also grabbed a few photos of stars, galaxies, and other realistic space imagery. The reference material you use should be a guideline or sort of like a scrap book of past iterations of the type of project you are working on. As you develop concept art these images will allow you track your progress as you evolve and improve on existing ideas currently being used, assuming that is your goal. After I got my reference materials I started thinking of my initial ideas for the project.
At this point I opened up Illustrator and started working on my first sketches. This is one of the most difficult parts of the process for me as I am never satisfied with how my sketches look, they always seem to lack the detail that I am going for. While frustrating at first I learned that this is normal. Your first ideas should be rough and quick so you can produce a handful of ideas before deciding on one you like. I started out by making the mistake of spending hours on detailed concept art which ended up looking to much like the reference material I was using as a guideline. I had to take a step back and first think of ways that would make my designs look unique compared to existing artwork. I did this by creating very rough and quick drawings of conceptual ideas I had, each one taking ten to thirty minutes. I experimented from high detail artwork to more abstract looking designs. I still have not decided on a specific look I am going for yet but now I have some concepts to display and discuss with my partner about.
At this point I am still working on fresh ideas and more concepts. I really want to narrow down our options on this project to avoid having to remake graphics down the road. Once I get a few concepts my Brother and I agree upon I move into the next phase of higher quality concepts. Keep an eye out for the next post regarding more on my design process and some pics of my concept art.