The Role of Concept Art in Film And Games

Recently attended E3, the industry conference for all things games, and while the games, booths and general spectacle are always cool, one of my favorite parts of the show is a quiet, out-of-the-way corner with the Into The Pixel gallery of game concept art.

I’ve always thought concept artists don’t get the recognition they deserve, both in film and especially in games. They play an important role in defining the look and feel of the final film or game. And much of the art is truly beautiful. It’s much faster/cheaper to do a series of sketches and then paintings to create the look, than to build a set (even a virtual one) and make endless changes to that.

We always talk about developers and 3D artists, but often forget that the beginning of the creation process often starts with pen, ink, and digital paint. Here’s a few images (top to bottom: God of War, Jose Cabrera; Control, Oliver Odmark; APOC, Krist Miha) from Into The Pixel (the website no longer exists and I’ve removed the images but you can view the images at the links below):

God of War, Jose Cabrera:

Control, Oliver Odmark:

APOC, Krist Miha:

My first exposure to concept art was back when I was about 10 and a complete Star Wars nut. Star Wars had just came out and one of the things I purchased (ok, my parents purchased) was a portfolio of reproductions of Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art. It was fascinating to see what the initial ideas were, what changed, what remained the same. It’s truly one of the best pieces of Star Wars memorabilia that I own. And, even now, the art is still fabulous.

As George Lucas himself said of Ralph, “Ralph was the first person I hired to help me envision Star Wars. His genial contribution, in the form of unequaled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s really a testament to how important he was that there’s such a connection between a lot of those iconic images and the movie scenes. The way he illustrated them were an influence on those characters and how they acted. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph’s illustrations and say ‘Do it like this.’”

I think my favorite ones are still from A New Hope. Many of these were done prior to Lucas pitching Fox on the movie, so show what some of the ideas were when there was only a rough script. They were needed to convey what his vision for the Star Wars universe was to people that had _no idea_ what he was going on about. And they turned out to be critical in Fox’s decision to green light the film.

All in all, a pretty big testament to the importance of concept artists.

Some of his images are below, so check them out.  More can be found on and elsewhere on the interwebs. If you know of a concept artist that does great work, please feel free to put their name and website in the comments below.

Ralph McQuarrie's Star Wars Art SW-3 SW-4

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