Developing as a concept artist is a deeply involved pursuit. It requires countless hours of practice and study in such areas as product, industrial, environmental and architectural design. There is no way around it.
How else are you going to be able to adapt to the ever-evolving needs of art directors and prove your understanding of what they and production designers look for in potential team members?
So here are 5 tips for creating a strong concept art portfolio for use in the film industry.
1. Show Your Ability to Create a Narrative
When you are designing for film you are really designing for the story. The images you come up with must communicate defining moments in the narrative clearly and effectively—but do be careful to leave the sequential art to storyboard artists.
Your focus should be on demonstrating how well you can sell drama, support the film’s overarching narrative and create a story within a story.
2. Design with Realism in Mind
To my mind, no other artist has done this better than Syd Mead. His neo-futuristic illustrations and paintings on the set of the original Blade Runner helped define the look and feel of a dystopian 2019 Los Angeles.
If you read that article and feel your skills fall short, worry not. Your portfolio does not have to be filled from cover to cover with examples of technically brilliant illustrations or matte paintings. You just have to create a degree of believability and as they say, the devil is in the details.
Research is key. Look at historical photos, production stills, film sets and all forms of media across different genres and use your visual library to lend authenticity to the pieces within your portfolio.
3. Use Framing to its Fullest
Having sound knowledge of composition is one of the most useful skills you can bring to the table as a concept artist. With it you can guide the eye of anyone looking at your work and draw attention to the focal points.
Each piece in your portfolio should make use of various design elements including the Rule of Thirds, leading lines, contrast, light and shadow, blocking and colour to demonstrate your understanding of the ways good design informs interesting cinema.
4. Embrace Alterations and Design Variations
In the world of concept art, one iteration is never enough. This goes for character design, prop design, environment design, etc. Art directors want to clearly see your process and approach in your portfolio.
Take the time to render multiple variations on one idea to fully explore and validate its potential. This is ninety percent of the job and you will be making your future art director’s job much easier if they decide to take you on.
5. Choose an illustrative specialisation
As the tools used by professional concept artists have become more affordable, competition for the limited number of positions available has increased. If you intend to vie for these jobs, your portfolio will need a unique point of difference.
Include examples across all genres and design areas—prop, product, architectural, etc—but focus your efforts in a particular direction. Scout the companies you wish to work for. See what films they put out or work on and tailor your portfolio to meet their expectations.
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Good luck and get creating!