How To Become A Video Game Concept Artist

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This interview is part of the Quest for Your Career series. We focus on each specific job in the video game industry by interviewing an expert in the field. Learn what they do, how they got started, and whether it's a good job for you.

Meet Tyler Finney, Concept Artist

Tyler Finney, Video Game Concept Artist

“Insist on developing a range of skills that make you a multi-threat.”

Tyler has worked on numerous games for mobile, PC and consoles, including Forza Motorsports 5 by Microsoft Studios. Learn why he thinks that being a strong communicator is just as important as being a strong artist. 

In just a few sentences, how would you describe what you do every day?

Compared to probably most of the other roles within the games industry, I have found that my job over the past 10 years has eluded a repetitious daily structure, and shrugged off nearly all predictability from project to project.

The main goal is to inform and give detailed art direction to the production art staff. But that can often mean more than just drawing characters or environments. Standard tasks include: photographic research, digital painting, basic 3d modeling, digital painting over simple or partially-constructed 3d environments, photography reference trips to specific locations, Adobe InDesign documents, and even UI, Logo and font design.

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That is a surprisingly large variety of work. How did you come to be in the Concept Artist job?

Since my teenage years, I wanted to be in the movie industry. As special-effects house jobs started to decline with the overtaking of more and more CG-based effects, the role of a concept artist became more prominent. I thought the best chance out of college to get in to a concept art role was to start small. My first job in the games industry was as a 2d environment artist. It took a few years to finally break in to the concept art role.

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What’s your favorite part of being a Concept Artist? What’s your least favorite part?

“If you fully invest yourself in any trade it can be incredibly draining, but also quite rewarding”

The most rewarding part of my job is when people tell me (even people I have just met) that they love or enjoy my game. If you fully invest yourself in any trade it can be incredibly draining, but also quite rewarding when you see the final product.

The hardest thing to cope with is when one of your favorite “must-have” features gets cut due to any number of circumstances. It happens every game production, and it never gets any less frustrating.

What aspect of the job would be surprising to people looking in from the outside?

Probably the amount of time and man hours devoted to fleshing out good design.

What kinds of talent and personality does it take to succeed at that job?

Besides being technically skilled, you also have to be able to communicate ideas effectively. Very important. And you have to accept that your work will by constantly revised or even thrown out, and that an involved art director will subject your work to constant scrutiny. Being open-minded and collaborative is a must.

What advice would you give to somebody in school, who’s thinking about Concept Art as a career?

Insist on developing a range of skills that make you a multi-threat. As the industry evolves it is becoming quite uncommon for artists to enter a studio only knowing how to digital-paint. So, be open-minded to whatever roles you are first asked to do when starting that new job.

“The more things you are interested in and skilled at, the more valuable you are to the employer.”

The industry has become so competitive with talent. Often when selecting applicants to fill a role, we chose the artist that has decent paint skills but also knows Maya/3DS Max and After Effects over the artist that is clearly a better painter yet lacks other software proficiency. The more things you are interested in and skilled at, the more valuable you are to the employer.

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What would you recommend for education, books, or other learning to start down that career path?

Trade schools are great. Networking is huge. Meet people/professionals at PAX. Reach out to professionals and ask for any advice or critiques of your work. Browse forums and websites that have professionals posting work and tutorials, like zbrushcentral.com and others.

 

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