So You Wanna Make Games?? | Episode 2: Concept Art


Concept art. Sometimes you need a drawing so beautiful, so awe-inspiring in its exquisite detail that it rattles the very foundation of– I want to stop you right there. Concept art isn’t about making beautiful, detailed drawings. The job of a concept artist is to help teams solve problems by designing visual solutions, and drawing and painting are just tools that we use to communicate those ideas. Oh, oh yeah yeah yeah, I knew that. Got you! So anyway, like I was saying, a concept artist is a visual problem solver. And in this video, we’re gonna see how a concept artist prepares for a project, generates ideas, and gets the most out of feedback. Alright, let’s get started. Concept artists are involved in the earliest phases of game development. They’re the ones helping figure out what the game’s gonna be, and how it’s gonna look. I bet it’s pretty awesome to be a concept artist. You basically do whatever you want. No limits, no constraints! Actually, constraints are really important. A concept artist’s job isn’t to explore for exploration’s sake. It’s to solve problems. Remember the ABCs of being a concept artist. Always be colving? That means you have to know what problem you’re trying to solve. Just drawing something cool doesn’t necessarily push the team toward its goals. Before you even start drawing, find out what you’re solving and establish your constraints. Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m not really sure where I was going with this drawing. Maybe I need some constraints. Constraints help narrow the focus of a concept artist and they prevent endless spinning on ideas. Thematic constraints, like lore, the setting, and the tone of the game, limits the kind of content a concept artist will brainstorm. You know, for instance, a dubstep gun is a great idea for a game like Saints Row, but it might be kind of out of place for other games. How the game is experienced also has a huge impact on concept. Designing visuals for a first-person perspective will bring focus to different aspects of your design and have different limitations and constraints compared to designing something for a third-person perspective or a top-down perspective. The rules and mechanics in a game set huge constraints as well. If your ability is to pull enemies close to you, a concept artist is usually the one figuring out what that might look like. Toasty? Even something as simple as how many health points a character has influences the design and constraints a concept artist works within. Alright. Once you got your constraints set up, it’s time to start… researching? What? I thought we were going to draw. Where am I supposed to research stuff? So there’s all kinds of research to immerse yourself in. If you’re making an adventure game, play other adventure games. If your game takes place on a mountain, get lots of images of mountain. Maybe even go visit one. Collecting all this reference will help you build what’s called a moodboard. Oh yeah, a moodboard. That’s like that collection of images and reference material that kind of shows off the theme and tone of what you’re going for. But why do a moodboard before you start drawing? A moodboard is a great first step because you can get feedback from the team without doing much work. It’s a great gut-check to see if you’re heading in the right direction. An effective moodboard makes it very clear what you’re going to be doing. It can include short descriptors, often called pillars, and should represent a fairly narrow direction. A moodboard that’s too general or scattered will make it hard to stay focused and is more likely to result in confusion or pivots down the road. Alright. I got my constraints. I got my moodboard. Time to start drawing my great ideas. Any second now. Oh crap. I don’t have any good ideas! What do I do? Unfortunately there is no formula to come up with good ideas. Sometimes people say a good idea is original, something that hasn’t been done before. But chasing originality more often than not can just be paralyzing. It might stop you from experimenting. So the key is to just try a lot of stuff and not to be too precious about your work. That’s why it’s also so important to draw fast and loose. We call this drawing for ideation. Drawing for ideation still requires strong fundamentals, but it’s not about rendering a beautiful, polished image. It’s all more about getting the essence of your idea in front of your team, and a sketch can more often than not be enough for your team to understand the idea and to get really excited about it. Ooh I know! Let’s get some concept artists together and watch how they rapidly generate ideas. The problem they’re solving: the team needs an idea for a magical weapon. The constraints: it must be a wizard’s staff, topped by a powerful, ancient crystal. Ancient, powerful crystal. (All right) Wizard’s staff… Wizard’s staff. I’m just gonna draw the weirdest sh- (CENSORED). I’m gonna base all my crystal shapes on various candies from my childhood. Like a candy-mancer. Damn. Okay, I’m doing the snake staff, guys. I’m gonna do the frog. It’s gonna look exactly like yours but just way better. I’m already stuck. How many teeth do snakes have? They’re… four. Nuh uh, python’s have more. That’s not true. That is true. Woah, that was awesome! I made some of my own drawings. But when I took them back to the team, they wanted me to make changes. Is that normal, to have to make changes? Yes. Yes it is. The concept artist goes first because huge changes are cheaper to explore with quick drawings. It’s much harder to make changes once you’re making polished art. So the best way to work is to assume that what you’re working on could vastly change at any moment. Especially early on, when we’re trying lots of different versions of things, some concept artist here will use a two tone approach. We sketch something quickly using only two colors. It helps prevent you from overthinking small details so you can stay focused on big graphic shapes, making it really fast to ideate and try lots of different things. But it seems like the changes could go on forever. How do you stop yourself from going around in circles? One technique we use is called Closing Doors. Closing Doors is a method of brainstorming ideas from broad to narrow. You start by presenting a broad set of ideas to your team, and then with every iteration cycle, you close off the ideas that didn’t work and expand upon the ideas that the team liked. Continuing this way will ensure that each idea is more narrow and more precise. The trick is resisting the urge to reopen closed doors. But what if everybody on your team still has a different opinion? How do you make sure you’re getting good feedback? Ask specific questions and keep the goals clear. If you ask something broad like “hey do you like this?” You’ll get all sorts of answers. But if you approach it from a goal’s perspective, like “which feels the scariest?” It’ll keep your feedback on track. What else should I do? Avoid grand reveals. Make sure to show your work early and often. If something needs to change, it’s better to know as soon as possible. Alright, no grand reveals. Any other advice? Present your work like you care about it. It matters a lot how you communicate your work, and as a concept artist, you’re often the inspiration for your team. So uh… this is the concept I did. Um… I don’t know if you guys dig it or not but it’s a guy with, like, wings and… he’s… Darius. So imagine Darius with a [CENSORED] chainsaw axe, right. And he’s literally got a jetpack with wings and when he flies up for his ult he’s going to come back down onto you and just a [CENSORED] rain of fire is coming behind him. All you hear is just him cutting through you with chainsaw grinding and screaming. It’s going to be metal as [CENSORED]. Unmatched power! All right, let’s go over what we’ve learned. First off, before you even start drawing: know what you’re solving, set your constraints, and do your research. Once you are drawing, make sure you draw fast and loose. Try lots of ideas and try to work from broad to narrow. And finally, when you’re navigating feedback, make sure you ask specific questions relating to your goals, avoid grand reveals, and present your work like you care. There’s more to concept art than I thought. But we’re finally at the end of the video, and that means it’s time for advice and stuff. When I was starting out, I really wish that I had been less obsessed with making good art. The heart and soul, I feel like, of concept art for me, that I came to find what it was, was that moment where you have, like, a lot of different doodles, a lot of different versions of a thing, and you’re, like, talking through those things with the team. Have your sketchbook everywhere you go. Pull it out anytime you’re waiting for food, anytime you’re standing in line. Have it as a natural extension of your body. You can really learn a lot simply from observation and absorption, and then taking that and making it your own and making it personal to you. Just fill up pages. Anything you see around you, anything in front of you in real life, anything on a screen, fill your brain with a strong visual library that can help you provide a lot of solutions. Do a sheet of, like, fifty or a hundred different staff designs, right? Give yourself constraints, like is it magical? Is it steampunk? Is it necromancy? Being a concept artist is all about knowing how to evolve a design. You know how to paint. You know how to draw. You got your anatomy down and perspective. You’ve got to understand the history of the design you’re trying to evolve. For instance I designed the new Irelia. She’s a blade dancer. Before I evolved what the blade dancer archetype is I have to understand what it means first. Just explore ideas visually. You’ll find those those nuggets of “oh well these are constraints, that’s what I can do, I can’t do.” How does this shape language convey the idea? How does the coloring that I use, how does that convey the idea? All of these things will tie in and all of those things will be immediately represented when you go to show this to somebody. Ultimately what you’re doing is communicating these ideas. That moment where you’re with your team with all these drawings and taking them through like all the things that excited you and got you like super ramped up to make these drawings in the first place, and connecting those things to those ideas that took you down that journey. That’s really where the magic is. And so you really just want to doodle, you want to be loose, you want to be limber, you want to be quick, you don’t want to be precious. It’s important to understand that not everyone is gonna like every single idea that you put out there, and that’s okay. Iteration is a key part of the process and whatever you’re working on should be specific, and often the most appealing work is made for a very specific target audience. Now you’re not trying to make work that everyone is simply okay with. You want your target audience to be exploding with excitement, even if it means some other people come by your desk with pitchforks.

100 Replies to “So You Wanna Make Games?? | Episode 2: Concept Art”

  1. as an artist who plays games, its really fun to come up with characters even if its not going to be a character in an actual game

  2. I want to be a concept artist but I don’t know what major it falls under!!? There was a concept design class but that was last semester 🙁 I was about to take a graphic design class, but I don’t want to take a class i dont need and waste time! Any idea or suggestions?
    I never even heard of a video game major in my school but there’s classes to support it apparently

  3. Being concept artist can be tiresome as one going to churn a lot of ideas to realization then dumps most of them. Although, so does art learning is about making a tons of things that you shall commit willpower when making, but dump them when finished.

  4. Awesome and unexpected video Riot, hope you guys don't end like Blizzard any time soon and keep flowing good video content. (KDA video, Pentakill video, this serie, cinematics, etc)

  5. well, I play dota. but this is way better than i thought. I'm a graphic designer and I learned a lot from this. Thank you Riot.

  6. Modern Concept Artists in Calfornia follows the GDAGG formula.

    Gunblades.

    Dojos.

    Alien Green Glow

    Go check out the Design school Graduation shows. You'll find one out of the 3 in every drawing.

  7. This video was so insightful and helpful and knowing more about how the incredible concept work i've been ogling came to be just makes me want to do it more! Thank you thank you thank you for this tubular video!

  8. YES
    Everyone understands conceptart so wrong. When it says it's just concepts for something anyways. AHHH
    I want to become one, let's see where I'm going =)

  9. I want to design concepts for games.
    Mainly, I want to work for video game companies such as Netherrealm or valve.

  10. This really helped me a lot. I aspire to be a concept artist in the future and this video really provided lot of inspiration and helpful advice for me. ^^

  11. I recommend everybody listen to the podcast ArtCafe, it's on youtube and features amazing movie/game industry artists!

  12. Thomas Randby is like what Ryan Reynolds would look like if he was Captain America in the first movie, pre super serum steroids.

  13. 我想问一下这他妈中文字幕是谁翻译的。。。太有才了!!!!!!!!!pitchfork翻译成40米大砍刀。The chinese subtitle is awesome! Whoever is responsible for this deserves a raise!

  14. What do you do if your client wont finish the basic backstory, script or even general information, thereby making it next to impossible to close doors?

  15. Nobody said a word about reference and that u not only can find reference on pintrest/google but also movies and cartoon/porn. That is what kim jung gi do! ;3

  16. Just found these videos and never has the YT Algorithm been so useful. I love these and I hope you all find the time to do many more past the initial 10.

  17. So I've been working as an artist in Japanese Game companies for the past 6 years, but none of the places I worked at had a official "concept art" position. How common of a position is this usually? Is there a high demand for concept artists or is it a relatively difficult position to get?

  18. Thank you for this. I myself am still unsure if I want to be a concept artist primarily in character design or become an Illustrator. So far freelancing might be what I do after some experience in the field.

  19. Lord I wish I had this when I was in art school almost 20 years ago. And I just applied for position with you guys. I doubt I have a chance against all the strong artists that are already applying but I took my best shot. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbaF9zdUbLseF93VqXFbymA?view_as=subscriber

  20. 8=D
    Thats an idea for Yasuo's new passive. It looks like a dick but its actually double crit. I know he has so much in his kit already. I feel like nothing wrong with overloading a character.
    8=D 8=D
    New riven passive… Two swords at level 10. Double the auto attacks.

  21. Riot: "The sketches don't have to look perfect" Also Riot: drawing sketches better than any of my fully rendered art

  22. In game design… I actually prefer it if every single piece of art doesnt explode with excitement. If everything in the entire game is competing to be coolest, you end up with a lot of weird shit.

  23. In case someone is pressed for time!
    Here are the notes:

    1)Project Prep

    -Understand the Problem

    -Set Constraints

    -Research

    -Mood Board = References w/Clear narrow focus

    2)Generate Ideas

    -Drawing for Ideation ( silhouettes, sketches, progress shots)

    -Closing doors = process of elimination for bad ideas

    3)Navigating feedback

    -Ask specific questions

    –Show work early and often

  24. Thank you so much Riot! it'll help me in my search. I've just a question, who's making those awesome draw? Is it a job? plz Answer me ^^

  25. Wow, this is very well made and you absolutely understood how a beginner (like me) would think. Answered pretty much all my questions and gave plenty of useful advice. Thanks for this video!

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