Inspiration is your fuel. You should recognise when you have enough to get your engine started, but also notice when your tank is empty. Very often, when we struggle to draw or paint, it is less because of a lack of technique than a lack of inspiration.
If your reference is an awful photograph, you will probably incorporate this into your artwork. That is why movie snaps, fashion photos, well-lit product photos, etc, are often popular among professionals; they have a quality that you can add to your artwork.
If you try to apply a process that you see on the web, you will get frustrated because it relies on another person’s way of thinking and understanding things. If it makes sense for you to start with flat colours or lines or scribbles, then go ahead. At each stage, choose the way to work that seems logical to you.
Start with shapes
Define further detail
Lisa Liao‘s responsibility as an environmental artist for videogames is to create art from concept to production 3D scenes. She has over eight years of experience in game art with different consoles such as Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo and mobile devices.
“Before I start creating concept art, I create some speed paintings or thumbnails. Often, I need to paint different angles for the same environment. To control the colour and lighting more effectively, I usually draw two to four speed paintings at the same time on the same canvas, each sharing the same swatches. I also put similar elements into the same layer for different printings. For example: warm colours across all paintings are consolidated on one layer, and the paintings’ cool colours on another.
“Sometimes, I start painting thumbnails in greyscale and choose from my favourites to apply colour information. As these thumbnails have light information, I only need to consider colour. Overall, the process of creating an illustration takes place in small, incremental steps. The key is not to overwhelm oneself.
“In my experience as an environment artist, I find it useful to maintain a library of Photoshop swatches for use throughout my work. Inspiring reference photos are a great way to source the colours utilised in my swatches. Finalising a colour palette early on allows me to utilise a persistent set of colours through multiple phases of the project. A swatch I use during the thumbnail stage can eventually be applied to textures in the final 3D scene.”
Titus Lunter is a concept artist for Ubisoft Massive, so he is well placed to tell us a thing or two about the importance of concept art in the videogame industry, and how it’s a bit different to what we often see in the media: “Concept art in the mainstream media and concept art that happens behind the scenes are two completely different things. Most of the images the public gets to see are marketing approved and are much more like illustrations. The prime goal of a concept artist is to make sure the rest of the team understands an idea clearly and without using words. Getting to this idea requires a lot of exploration and sketching so an idea can grow, and this can happen in many different ways, from line sketches to colour block-outs and collages. Getting comfortable with reiterating your ideas is one of the most important things to do; you have to have a bit of a thick skin when it comes to dealing with feedback. It’s our job to fail and get all the crazy ideas out of the way, and really push the production into the right channel. Speed plays an important role in this; getting your workflow down and working quick is vital – but should never be your first goal. Customising Photoshop is a big part of it; make sure you use hotkeys and use your cursor only for painting.”
Senior artist Stuart Ellis created this piece of concept art for Atomhawk’s work on Killzone: Mercenary, a first-person shooter game for Playstation Vita, developed by Guerrilla Cambridge Studio and published by Sony in September 2013. Atomhawk worked with Guerilla and Sony to create character, environment, props and vehicle concepts for the game. Ellis shares his top advice on how to break into the incredibly competitive world of entertainment concept art: “It sounds like such a cliché, but what you need to do is practise constantly. A lot of aspiring artists see what professionals are producing and think, ‘Yeah, I can do that’, and when they can’t do it straight away, they become disheartened. Persistence is key. Keep going at it and you’ll find you get better pretty quickly. There are so many resources, forums and professionals online that learning has never been easier. Take a sketchbook out in your bag and whenever you have a couple of minutes spare you can scribble out a couple of doodles. Surf the ‘net and learn from those already established in the industry. It’s a very difficult industry to break into, but once you do the job, the rewards are great.”
Concept artist Stuart Jennett created this artwork for an unannounced sci-fi project, in which the player took the role of a futuristic combat soldier who is dropped into a number of tense combat scenarios against an invading alien species. In order to achieve the graphic look showcased here, Jennett relied on one of Photoshop’s key tools: “If you’d like to bring a more graphic element to your work, make sure you use the Lasso tool to help define and fill areas of your canvas. By adding texture and filter effects on layers over these areas, you can create some really interesting contrasting techniques. I really like to combine these approaches with my more traditional painterly style to help create more layers of interest to the viewer. You can always mask areas as well and apply the same approach if you wish; it is nice though to have a juxtaposition of finishes within the same piece if possible.”