Concept artists are kind of the unsung heroes of game development. Well, so are the programmers. And the designers. Everyone, really, but concept artists are tasked with the nearly impossible on a daily basis: craft something unique and fresh and amazing from nothing. The lead’s idea or whatever conglomerate concept the leads decide on is nothing more than words. “Post-apocalyptic mega city” or “ethereal sandscape of dreams and nightmares” or “cyber medieval space castle” are provocative words, sure, but they elicit a wide range of responses.
All those wildly varied ideas that flit in and out of existence in everyone’s minds have to be simultaneously consolidated and honed through the hands of a concept artist. Given them an idea, point them a direction, and watch them go. They’re like one of those windup toy monkeys with the cymbals except each tinny crash also brings about an amazing piece of art. Both rough and refined, raw and kinetic, these bits of visual magic inspire an entire team of modelers and designers and engineers and other artists to explore a space that was previously nonexistent.
The most amazing thing, though, is that a lot of it is on the Internet now. Code takes years to go open source and design docs rarely make it out in any state less guarded than a GDC slideshow, but art is thrown out into the world as soon as (and sometimes before) the game releases. Portfolio sites, art repositories, social networks: they all house visual treasures beyond measure, and we’re going to look at them. Hard.
I’ve sifted through said sources and dug up some neat pieces that came up this week. There’s a lot of BioShock Infinite stuff from a fellow named Ben Lo, a concept artist at BioWare who cooked up things like The First Lady airship and Finkton Docks. One of his pieces was even selected into the 2011 Into The Pixel gallery, an annually cultivated collection of art from all over the industry by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS) and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).
Next up is Maciej Kuciara. Kuciara is a concept artist currently working at Naughty Dog on The Last of Us. He also worked on Crysis 2, so I’m guessing he’s probably really tired of coming up with wrecked, empty metropolises overtaken by foliage and monsters. Kuciara also works on films like the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending and Sergey Bodrov’s The Seventh Son, so don’t be surprised if you recognize his work in other places.
Billy Ahlswede (portfolio link might be NSFW) is currently a senior character artist at Sony Online Entertainment, drawing up the dudes and dudettes you’ll be playing for EverQuest Next, but his past is probably more interesting: character artist at 38 Studios, the Rhode Island development company backed by former baseball pro Curt Schilling. 38 Studios, if you don’t remember, was the center of the entire May-June news cycle due to its massive bankruptcy and blowout scandal last year. Hundreds of people lost their jobs and their MMO Project Copernicus got canned. Ahlswede thankfully managed to land on his feet and began to showcase some of his work. Sad to see people get laid off, but Copernicus at least looked pretty neat.
Prior to the Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut, Alex Figini worked almost exclusively on the MotorStorm series. With all five MotorStorm games under his belt, it’s a little surprising to see him branch out immediately to an established sci-fi world like Mass Effect as a concept artist for BioWare, but it fits him like a glove. Illogically luminescent buildings, structures that could only exist with advanced technology or a disregard for safety, and creepily clean-cut environment are all there, so I’d say he nailed it. I guess it’s not surprising given what he draws in his spare time.
This last one isn’t wholly connected to video games, but you know what? I don’t care. I loved Wreck-It Ralph and the Paperman short that preceded it in theatres is easily one of my favorite seven minutes of anything. Part of that can be attributed to Helen Chen, a visual development artist at Disney. She also worked on Frankenweenie but all I really want to do is watch Wreck-It Ralph right now so excuse me while I cut this paragraph short kbyeeeee.
I’m thinking of turning this into a regular thing. What do you guys think?