Concept artist (Games)

Also known as: Lead artist, 2D artist

Concept artist (Games)

What does a concept artist do?

Concept artists are responsible for the style and look of a game. They are the first to draw the environments, enemies and player characters. Working with a brief from the producer, their sketches are used to help 3D artists, producers, programmers and publishers understand how the game will look.

The drawings of the concept artist are a vital part of the game’s development as they are the starting point of all the artwork and an important part of the marketing plans.

Watch and read

What’s a concept artist good at?

  • Art: be very good at drawing by hand, understand of composition, draw in a way that matches genre styles such as fantasy, sci-fi or cartoon
  • Creativity: imagine how a character will look, starting from a written brief
  • Using art software: create 2D and 3D art using a range of programmes, know the latest technologies and techniques
  • Communication: work with the other artists and in the team, share the vision with designers and games developers
  • Knowledge of games: understand gameplay, have market awareness, appreciate how art will be experienced as a player

Who does a concept artist work with?

Concept artists work with all the other members of the art department. They report to the art director and often work closely with the creative director.

How do I become a concept artist?

Concept artists usually enter the role having worked in other roles in the art department. Look at the job profiles for 3D modelling artist, environment artist or texturing artist for details of how to get into the art department of a games company. Some companies have a junior concept artist role, but you will be expected to have learnt the skills before they will take you on.

At school or college:
Learning traditional drawing, painting and sculpting is useful as a way to demonstrate artistic flair outside software.

If you want to go to university, it would be useful to take A-levels or Highers in:

  • Art and design
  • Graphic design
  • Graphic communication

Or you might want to take any of the following vocational Level 3 qualifications:

  • BTEC Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • UAL Diploma/ Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • BTEC Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production
  • OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Graphic Design)
  • BTEC Diploma in Graphics

If you can add some physics or computer science into the mix, that will give you a rounded set of skills that are ideal for a career in games.

If you want to straight into a job or apprenticeship, these Level 3 qualifications will equip you with relevant skills:

  • Aim Awards Diploma/Extended Diploma in Games Animation and VFX
  • AQA Technical Level Entertainment Technology: Video Games Art and Design/Design Production
  • OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Digital Content for Interactive Media)
  • AQA Technical Level IT: Programming
  • OCR Technical Diploma in IT (Digital Software Practitioner)
  • BTEC Diploma in Computing for Creative Industries

Build a portfolio:
Learn the software, experiment with games engines and start creating work that you can show to admissions tutors or employers. This is essential. Go to Build your games portfolio to learn how.

Look for an apprenticeship:
You’re unlikely to find an apprenticeship as a concept artist in the games industry but you might find a role as a junior 2D artist that could equip you with some of the skills that you need.  It might be worth taking up that role and moving into games concept art at a later point. Check out What’s an apprenticeship?  to learn more about apprenticeships and Find an apprenticeship to learn how to find one in your region, or approach companies directly. Go to ScreenSkills information on games apprenticeships for the main apprenticeship schemes in games.

Get a degree:
Most people in the games industry have a degree. Get one in games art, graphic design or any 3D digital art. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses in games. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the games industry.

Get to know people in the games industry by attending events, including games conferences and expos. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest and knowledge in the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to Network well to learn how to do this.

Search for jobs:
Use the UK Games Map to find out if there are games companies near you, then go to their websites directly and check out their open roles. You could also check out the ScreenSkills jobs board. Look for roles like 3D modelling artist, environment artist or texturing artist to get your started.

Look outside games:
It’s also worth considering computer artist roles in any other industry as using similar software will build up your skills. You can use this and any professional artwork you produce to continually improve your games art portfolio, putting you in a stronger position for an entry-level role in games.

You might also be interested in…

Being a lead games designer, level designer or an environment artist in the games industry. You might also be interested in being a production designer in the film and TV drama industries, a concept artist, previsualisation (previs) artist, look development artist or an environment artist in (visual effects) VFX, or a concept artist, storyboard artist, art director or background designer in the animation industry.

Further resources