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Tips on finding compatible concept artists?


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#1 Nairou   Members   -  Reputation: 418

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Posted 06 June 2012 - 06:43 PM

This is not a call for help. I'm hoping for tips from other developers on how you find concept artists to help flesh out the visual direction for a game, when you yourself don't know what it should look like.

For example, I have a game I'm working on, using crappy programmer art. I have some vague ideas on what I want the game to look like (or what it "could" look like), but nothing very specific.

How does one find a compatible concept artist to help define the visual of the game when a) you don't know exactly what you want it to look like, and therefore b) can't explain it really well to someone else?

I've tried looking through artist portfolios, but they tend to be filled with character portraits and simple things. It's not like I can look at a portfolio and see exact examples of what my game could look like, and know that they would be good at this style. :)

So how do other developers find concept artists and get them interested enough in the game concept for them to deal with fleshing out visual ideas from scratch?

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#2 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 8711

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Posted 07 June 2012 - 12:14 AM

How does one find a compatible concept artist to help define the visual of the game when a) you don't know exactly what you want it to look like, and therefore b) can't explain it really well to someone else?



How about: go visit a lot of concept artists' websites, look at a lot of concept artists' portfolios, until one jumps out at you?

That said, I'm not sure this thread belongs in Visual Arts, since it's more of a project management question. (Project managers can tell you how to do project management tasks.) But I'll leave it here for the time being, I guess.

Edited by Tom Sloper, 07 June 2012 - 12:16 PM.
deleted snarky bits

-- Tom Sloper
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Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#3 Namakoro   Members   -  Reputation: 116

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Posted 14 June 2012 - 09:04 PM

I'm not a manager at all, or much of a programmer, yet, but I have done a good chunk of freelance concept work myself, so I might be able to give some advice from the flip side. There are a few elements to your question, and I think it benefits from breaking it down. But first, the dirty but essential question that lies at the heart of all contracting: Are you planning to pay? Or are you looking for a hobbyist who wants to help make a game? What are your monetary goals for this project- are you planning on this game being released free-to-play? FTP but with optional paid upgrades? Open source? Selling independently online? Selling as a phone app or through a company? A lot of hobbyist folks have reservations about producing free art for a project intended to profit the creator, but on the other hand, it's always safer to assume a project won't turn a profit. If it all turns out to be just for your enjoyment, how much, if anything, are you willing to pay to make your game happen? Keeping in mind, of course, that getting the concept art nailed down is the equivalent to unfolding a map, and it's kind of a long trip from there.

So, if I read correctly, your questions are A. How do you select a concept artist when you don't have a style in mind for the finished game? B. How do you interest a concept artist in working on your project without having specific ideas for them to work with? and C. How do you communicate your non-visual ideas to them and, between the two of you, generate visuals that work for the game?

Selecting a concept artist has a lot of factors, as far as I know. If you're looking for a paid contractor, you're lucky- there are a lot of them out there, and they are often very skilled. But concept art isn't game art, and it isn't the polished finished product your players will see- it's the rough model for the game artists to work from. So keep in mind that your game probably won't find itself in the concept drawings- they'll be fleshing out the world, the characters, the backgrounds; making these things into tangible, visible ideas that the game artists can then work with. The style is important- if your game is about... I dunno, teddy bears, you don't really want a concept artist drawing them as photorealistic grizzlies. But more important than that, in your case, for a concept artist, is the ability to work with people, adaptibility, and flexibility. Send out feelers to different concept artists; tell them you're interested in hiring them. Explain that your ideas aren't visual or concrete and ask them about their process. See who's interested in working closely and communicating frequently, and who is more comfortable being given instructions and left alone- both are fine in their own situations, but the latter artist isn't gonna be much use to you. (I'll elaborate on process later.)

Also important is genre- look for artists who draw a lot of the kinds of things you want in your game. Someone who draws almost exclulsively... say, fantasy-realm cats, isn't gonna be as useful for your hypothetical Galaga-inspired spaceship epic. If you're doing a fighting game, then perhaps someone with no environments in their portfolio but plenty of interesting character designs would be fine- but if you're looking for a intricate point-and-click puzzle game like Myst, you want someone who puts time and effort into detailed scenery. It's easy to get swept up in a well-executed portfolio, especially if you aren't sure what you want the finished product of your game to look like- but if you know you're going with a futuristic genre, then look for a concept artist who is comfortable with robots, machinery, and space craft, and don't let yourself be too distracted by someone who draws a lot of really pretty faeries.

Getting a concept artist to work with you is super-easy... if you're willing to pay for them. Art industry secret: most concept artists have day jobs and feverishly look forward to a day when they can quit them. Regardless of whether or not you'll be throwing money at them, though, take some time to compile everything you know about what you want in your game. Whatever backstory you have, whatever ideas of genre, setting, character, theme, mood; get it all together and write it down as something readable- avoid making it too stream-of-consciousness or jumbled. Make sure that your concept artist has some idea of what they're gonna be doing for you- are they going to be designing epic 3D randomly-generated dungeons in an underground steampunk fortress or a simple digital bingo game? There's no one way to hook an artist, of course- aside from the money thing, which works on most of us. You have to have a game idea fleshed out to the point where it's interesting and engaging, and let them decide if they want to work on it based on whether or not the themes presented are what they like to draw. If you don't have your ideas built up to the point where they can interest people outside of yourself, then you're not ready to contract. Give it more thought.

So now, you have a concept artist, and you have this summary of what you're going for. You have characters, assuming your game is character-driven- their strengths and their positions in society, their personalities. You have an environment, a political climate, a season, a world, if any or all of those things exist in your game. You have a genre- sci-fi or fantasy or steampunk or post-apocalyptica or zombies. You have a mood- dark and sinister, quirky and humorous, lighthearted and playful, suspenseful and scary, gritty and edgy. But you still haven't been able to translate those things into a concrete visual. On the other hand, that's why you have a concept artist.

And now on to process, and why you sure are glad you went with the dude who loves to communicate with clients, and not the one who likes to take her money and her pencils, vanish for two months, then show back up with half a dozen completed and polished drawings. One thing to consider is to start with very rough sketches of a few things- starting location, main character, one or two central NPCs, a villain, and a few enemies, for instance. Nothing exciting or colorful or detailed- just a few quick ideas, 5-10 minutes. These won't look anything like how you imagine the game to look- the anatomy will be a little off, the lines will be rough, the style might be simplified. But the ideas will be down on paper, for you to look at and pick at. Compare them with the ideas you have in your head- you might be surprised to realize that even though you never got a strong mental image of gameplay, you know what you want the core elements of the game to look like, and you know the main character should be more slender with shorter hair, and the starting city should be more industrial, and the enemies should be less stylized, more wiry, more menacing. Keep going with short, quick sketches until you feel like what you have represents the aspects of the game you had in mind, and then start adding on detail. (Some concept artists find this to be tedious, which is why it's important to figure out how their process works before getting them on board- myself, I always found doing quick sketches and then redoing them to be much less tedious than redoing intensive pieces of art because by "curvy woman with curly hair" they meant "slim, busty woman with slightly wavy hair," they just didn't want to sound misogynist. =P Which reminds me- if you need something changed, be up front and be specific. If a major change is needed, then a major change is needed. If, for instance, a fighter character is drawn too slender to carry his own sword, say it. "He looks good, just a little small," is fine, and you get that a lot with people who don't hire artists much and don't want to hurt people's feelings. But then the artist winds up fixing the sketch to make the character slightly bigger and getting the exact same feedback; doing it again and getting the same feedback, fixing it in baby steps until they're downright sick of that concept. "He's a half-giant warrior and he looks like a slightly-above-average-human, here- he needs to be at least 60% broader, significantly taller than everyone else, and have more definition in the chest and upper arms. Also, I think maybe he'd look better with facial hair- could you try it on the next sketch?" on the other hand, is a lot more direct and gets you a much faster and more efficient result.) If you find it very difficult to make the decisions about what concept art works with what aspect/concept, then you might want to consider collaborating with someone who specializes in game design, who can focus on pulling talent together to make the visual aspects happen while you stay working on the technical bits and gameplay.

Anyway, again, I'm not a project manager in the least, so the bits that make me sound like I'm pretending to have any experience in that field should be taken with a grain of salt. Most of my experiences are from the flip side of the coin; hopefully they can be of some use. Best of luck in your project and your hunt~

#4 indiegraphics   Members   -  Reputation: 110

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Posted 18 June 2012 - 03:01 PM

Nicely said Namakoro!

Just to chime in, for me it's very much about communication and semantics. The more the director can communicate desired aspects/characteristics of what is needed, the more I can nail down their vision.

As for finding the right artist for you - Again communication. Pick a couple you like and open up a dialogue, "hey, I'm working on this. Is this the sort of art style you do? Would you be interested in a project like this? What would be your approach? Speaking with various potential artists also gives you a "get-to-know-you" buffer, and you can better evaluate if this is a person you want to work with.

Best of luck with it!

#5 BCullis   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1813

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 11:40 AM

How about: go visit a lot of concept artists' websites, look at a lot of concept artists' portfolios, until one jumps out at you?

This.

Plenty of good projects that needed artistic vision have pieced together "style guides" from images that have nothing to do with the game itself, but had a great, inspirational style that really helped nail the feel of the game. There's nothing wrong with telling an artist "I'm thinking cel-shaded like Rogue Galaxy, but dirtier, like the sketchy overlays they used in Valkyria Chronicles, and with more Marvel-esque physiques on the characters"

Speaking of feel: if you're stuck, sometimes talking to an artist first can help. As it turns out, everything from color choice, to line weight, to medium, to layout carries meaning to the viewer. If you can decide how you want the game to feel, what kind of emotions you want to invoke, any artist worth their brushes can likely help you nail a visual style that generates the intended ambiance and response.
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#6 Nairou   Members   -  Reputation: 418

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 11:53 AM

Thank you all for your replies! This is exactly the sort of feedback I was looking for. I've never successfully worked with a concept artist before, and this gives me a lot of insight and a lot to think about as I search for a good candidate. Thanks!




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