This article is part of an editorial series of Expert Talks by Virtuos aimed at sharing the learnings and best practices in global game development and art production. In this installment, we look into how 3D concept art serves as a blueprint for cost-effective art production pipelines in games.

Concept art creation is one of the earliest stages of game development and plays a crucial role in establishing the visual style, tone, and overall atmosphere of a game. It serves as the blueprint for a game’s art direction and guides the work of the rest of the team, from 3D modelers to lighting and level-dressing artists, providing a clear visual representation of various assets and gameplay elements to create a cohesive and immersive experience for players.

Concept art can also be used to pitch game ideas to publishers and investors, helping to sell the game’s vision and generate hype for its eventual release. For external developers such as Virtuos, it is at this pre-production stage where we develop a game’s look and feel in collaboration with our partners, or discuss and materialize possibilities with a given brief.

Bringing static art to life

Concept art doesn’t always have a specific format and can mean anything from simple sketches to elaborate, detailed 3D models. As technology advances and artists increasingly work with 3D software such as Blender, 3D art models are sometimes made in pre-production as concept art for games.

To create 3D concept art, artists sketch and refer to 2D images to develop an initial idea then make use of 3D software to create a rough model before adding details such as textures, materials and colors. Next, the 3D model will be put through several iterations, incorporating feedback from clients or team members until the desired result is achieved. In some cases, the concept art may need to be modified to fit specific requirements, such as technical limitations or design constraints.

After it is finalized, it can also be used to create pre-visualization mockups, so that directors and producers can get a clear idea of what the final product will look like.

3D concept art as a solid blueprint

At first glance, 3D concept art is more immersive and visually stunning than a 2D sketch due to its comparatively interactive nature. However, it also plays a very functional role in a game’s pre-production process as a sophisticated prototype for the entire project. With their interactive nature, 3D models provide a more accurate representation of the game environment and its characters, offering a closer approximation to the final product and facilitates development in gameplay and user experience.

As 3D concept art can capture the original idea visually from every angle and show a comprehensive overview of the element, other artists in the production pipeline, from 3D artists, modelers, to lighting artists, would be able to clearly visualize the desired final product.

For example, in this “Above the Dome” 3D environmental concept demo by Qi Zhang, Art Team Leader at Virtuos Chengdu, and his team, the 2D sketches seen below are able to give an idea of what the stylized scene would look like, but can only capture a limited number of perspectives and elements of the desired complete product.

2D sketches of “Above The Dome”

On the other hand, the 3D piece would be able to transport and immerse the viewer into the scene to explore it in 360 degrees, and get a sense of its lighting and overall mood – which could be further communicated with the addition of a soundtrack. The demo would guide artists in the pipeline and provide a clear reference to follow, compared to the limited extent of what can be interpreted from a single or mutiple 2D sketches.

3D demo reel of “Above The Dome”

Saves time and man-days in the long run

While 3D concept art generally takes more time to create than its 2D version, it provides a much more solid foundation for the later stages of production. With a 360-degree view of the elements being created, there is little room for misinterpretation and error in the final product. 3D concept blueprints are very much a godsend for 3D artists, who may have to work with limited information from concept sketches that are unable to fully capture the elements from every angle and perspective.

Besides giving a more accurate depiction, concept art done in 3D software can also be directly input into game engines as a preview and gameplay verification. The development team can therefore iterate on designs before committing to full-scale production, which streamlines and ensures a smooth process.

As seen in another concept demo below, “The Nest”, by Wang Xianliang, Art Team Leader at Virtuos Chengdu, and his team, the goal was to construct a boss battle scene where organic creatures were taking over human facilities and wreaking havoc! The prototype would include a wide range of visual elements, from the boss character to the lighting and atmosphere. According to Xianliang, this concept piece took 18 man-days in total to conceptualize, create, and optimize:

  • Sketching: 10 man-days
  • Polishing (in Blender): five man-days
  • Feedback: three man-days
2D sketches of “The Nest”
3D demo reel of “The Nest”

While the 2D sketches are detailed, the additional five man-days spent in Blender transforming this piece from 2D to 3D gave the rest of the art production team in the pipeline a much more detailed blueprint to follow.

Equipping our concept artists with the right tools and expertise

While 3D concept art could work very well for art production in game development, it requires artists to have a high level of expertise with various 3D software applications. At Virtuos, our concept artists are well-equipped with the right tools and undergo regular in-house training programs, ensuring that they are up-to-date with the latest technology available. Our 3D concept art capabilities fit perfectly in our end-to-end art production pipeline, ensuring that projects flow seamlessly from concept to an in-engine playable product by staying optimal while maximizing visual impact.

If you’re interested in learning more about our art production services, click here to read more or drop us a message to schedule a meeting with our business development team!