Rendering the final concept – What to expect as a concept artist – Part 3

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Rendering the final pick of all the concepts you sent in earlier is much the same as any drawing. There are however some things you might need to keep in mind, depending on your client and the project you're working on. You might wonder why rendering is even part of concept art to begin with, because concept art is everything but rendering the artwork. Allow me to explain.

Hi! My name is Tessa, I’m a Dutch artist, specializing in wildlife and creature designs. I love to share my passion for nature, art and fantasy, and do that by creating this archive and community, alongside my company Tez Art & Design.

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This article is part of a series, part 1 and part 2 should be read first.

Rendering the final concept

Rendering a concept is like any other render. The idea is already in place, you can tell if your creature is furry, or has scales. Where the eyes are located, how many limbs they have, you name it. All the information is in place, that’s the whole idea behind concept art. Now it’s time to refine the artwork into something that fits right into the project it’s meant for.

This is the point where all your hard work starts paying off. The idea is there, it’s already partially rendered, all you need to do now is bring it to the next level with your rendering skills. This includes things like:

  • Refining lighting (angle/shape/intensity/color)
  • Refining shadows (angle/shape/color/darkening shadows where needed)
  • Editing the textures (add or remove, intensifying them, putting them everywhere where needed)
  • Managing edges (hard and soft edges, the focal point usually has hard edges, other places may or may not have soft edges)
  • Adding reflective light, bouncelight, rimlight, highlight, etc.
  • Add a background
  • (Slightly) change pose or angle, although this is something that should have been established in the second phase
  • Draw the creature from more than one angle
  • Refining the colors, adding interest
  • Etc.

So, as a concept artist, why should I need to render in the first place?

It used to be more than common that a concept artist was just doing that: Drawing out ideas for approval. This usually didn’t include the rendering part. The rendering part is not concepting, it’s refining something that’s already there, no matter if it’s something that exists for real, or is somebody else’s idea.

So why is this part of this series? Well, over time more tools became available to artists to speed up their process. Think of things like:

My process includes blocking out the shapes beforehand. I sometimes deviate from it when the subject is a rough idea, but most of the time, when a concept has been picked, the shapes are determined as well. Blocking in the shapes stops me from deviating from the original design.
Illustration by: Tessa Geniets

  • Tools like overlays and effects
  • Custom brushes
  • Texture overlays
  • Duplicating and then editing the same image with a couple of clicks
  • Quick color picking and editing
  • Warping and editing shapes in a matter of seconds
  • Easy access to tutorials
  • Affordable educations
  • Etc.

A concept artist these days is much quicker than they used to be in the past, leaving time to do more, and that’s what happens a lot these days.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a freelancer or working for a studio, more often than not you’re expected to be able to fully render an artwork, so even if you really just want to do concept art, it’s better to spend some time learning to render your art as well. It will greatly increase your value for potential clients and studios.

Adding more value to yourself as a concept artist

As mentioned before: Being able to render your concepts to a final product will help you to add more value to yourself as an artist. But there are other things you can do as well. Understanding things like environments and anatomy are a no-brainer. You need to know your fundamentals as well to a degree. So what else can you do to increase your value?

  • Learn 3D, this can be through the open source program Blender, or through programs like Houdini or Zbrush.
  • Practice dynamic poses. You will give your concepts more interest with just little extra effort. It also saves you from reworking the favored concept in a better pose. Just make sure you don’t overdo it as your client needs to be able to read the concept with ease. You could save it for the second stage.
  • Learn to animate. It’s not unlikely that you’ll be hired as an animator instead, but knowing the workflow from A to Z is very beneficial.
  • Concider a specialty, dig into a niche like character design, creature design, landscape art, props, buildings, you name it. It’s good to know something about everything, but its better to know that + knowing something inside out.

The 80/20 rule

One of my favorite artists Trent Kaniuga is a concept artist by heart. He worked on projects like World of Warcraft, Diablo, Overwatch, and more. One thing he said specifically stood out to me: Always do 80% of what you know and 20% of what you don’t know. That way you will always be able to improve yourself without overwhelming yourself.

The idea is to start with something you already feel comfortable doing and then add something to it you didn’t master yet or something you want to refine in an effort to become a better artistic version of yourself.

No matter if you’re just starting out, or have been drawing for a while: There is no excuse for skipping fundamentals. Make sure you understand them very well and go from there. And if you’re completely new to it all: Start with the fundamentals, master one, and continue with the next until you know them all. Look at what other artists do, define what you like and don’t like about their style. Pick out the things you like, this could be a specific kind of lighting for example. Analyzing it, taking it apart, putting it back together, and refining your lighting skill will be your next 20% goal.

My 20% for this particular illustration was to have a dynamic pose that still clearly showed the original design. Another thing I focussed on a lot as well was the shadows. There is so much information in shadows, but our brains don’t register that. We’re more focused on light, we prioritize that because it holds the most information for us. That doesn’t mean though that as artists we should ignore it. We can boost an illustration immensely simply by giving a little bit of extra care to the areas that are in shadow as well.
This one was particularly challenging because I had to properly shade near-black, white, and saturated colors. A multiply layer can help you out a lot here, although I would urge you to actually study what’s going on when using layers.
Illustration by: Tessa Geniets

Conclusion

Concept art is a specialty, not a shortcut for not having to render art. Especially these days you need to be able to do the whole process, and if you can: more. Art has to be a passion. Concept art is a passion that requires you to master all your fundamentals, but also requires you to understand environments, anatomy, behavior, cultures, or whatever you specialized in, on a whole different level.

As a concept artist, you are the fundament of a creature, a character, a culture, or even a world. You are what other artists, writers, game developers, movie producers, will build on. A project can potentially stand or fall with the concepts you create, and your concepts should inspire everyone around you, and lead to storylines and/or details nobody ever thought of before. So make sure you are ready to take on a challenging and beautiful career like this one!

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