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Vol. 2, Issue 2
November 18, 1999
Painting on Polygons:

Conceptual Art
Part 1

by Rick "Flatness" Grossenbacher

After a busy summer it’s great to be back writing this column again. Since loonygames is starting its second volume I’ve been tossing around ideas of my own for making this column better. What I came up with is that I’d like to write it to better serve you, the reader. So, I thought it would be cool to have a little Question & Answer or Critique section at the end of every, or perhaps every-other installment of Painting on Polygons. So send me in a graphic you are working on or an art question you have and I’ll post an answer or short critique. Or if you have a general question about getting into an game-artist career or just what it is like behind the scenes (or whatever). Oh... if you do e-mail me a file, please limit file attachments to a meg or less in size. Thanks, and send all e-mails to [email protected]

Before I start, I’d like to get a few things out of the way for any new readers of Painting On Polygons. In the simplest terms, this column is designed to help artists learn some of the ropes of creating video game art. Since there are so many different interests and styles out there, I try to keep this column a broad as possible using several different programs. Occasionally, however, I will probably go into topics that aren’t video game related -- but are related in art -- and are things that I feel are important to note or in some way may connect to the video game industry. I certainly don’t know every answer to every art question, or the ins and outs of every single art program out there, but I do have a good deal of experience in this field and am always happy to help people become better artists.

With that said... on with the new tutorial!

Since this is sort of a new beginning to loonygames and my column, I decided to start at the beginning of virtually all game design dealing graphics: conceptual art. This is the most fundamental necessity that a good game needs at the early design stages. Period. I’ve never seen or heard of a game that didn’t use conceptual art to some degree -- weather be simple pencil sketches or a full-color drawing or even a high quality 3-D render. Personally, I’ve always loved looking at the conceptual art for games, and I think it is a great way to study how other artists capture images and the techniques they use to capture those images. For example, here are some pictures of mine that are simple examples of what a piece of concept art might look like for a game.

In part 2 of this article which will come out about two weeks from now, we’ll come back to these drawings and I’ll explain some things about each of them individually. But first, let me break down concept art into a series of categories so you can understand how it is applied in the design of a game.

Concept art is used...

1. To help create the mood, feel, and style that the game will have.

It is important for the game to have a sense of its own unique style -- or at least a style that is appropriate for the game. By having an artist come up with a series of images at the early stages of the game-making process, it can be a good framework for the game designer(s) to conceive how the game with be presented to the player. This type of concept art can be, and usually is, a cast of characters, objects (such as weapons or items to be collected by the main character or characters), and scenes (such as landscapes or architecture).

2. To capture a sequence of events that will or might occur at some point in the game.

Putting this more simply; a storyboard. Many games these days have full motion video or a complex plot that requires drawn out storyboards for the game designer(s) to visualize certain sequences as a whole. Storyboards generally are fairly quickly drawn or sketched out by an artist simply due to the volume of artwork that is needed in a short period of time to keep the design process moving smoothly.

3. For other artists on the team to follow a consistent style throughout the game design process.

You can’t very well have a team of artists guessing how everything is suppose to look in the game. With a key visual or set of visuals for the other artists to work from can help give the game a sense of flow. Consistency of style is definitely key.

4. For the 3-D artists to have a visual representation to work from.

This is basically an extenuation of point number 3 from above. Many 3-D Artists and Level Designers are not always skilled 2-D artists themselves, but rather skilled at the craft they do; which is create objects or characters in 3-D space. This is why a good drawing may be necessary for them to base their 3-D models off of. This type of conceptual art can also be used to toss around ideas to other members. For instance, once I was working on a dungeon texture set and wanted some inspiration to help me think of what kinds of things I might want to put in it. So, I went to the concept artist and had him draw out a sample dungeon. From there, I was able to base my textures off the kick-ass sample he drew, and make myself a cool texture set.

Those four points pretty much sum up what concept art is and how it is used in the game design process. In part 2 of this article I’ll get more into the creation aspect and explain some good drawing pointers to follow.

In the meantime, keep drawing and also send in your questions to me so I can start building out the Question and Answer section of Painting On Polygons.

See you in a couple of weeks!

- Rick "Flatness" Grossenbacher works on Gameboy Color games for Vicarious Visions.


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