Concept art is a form of illustration where the main goal is to convey a visual representation of a design, idea, and/or mood for use in films, video games, animation, or comic books before it is put into the final product. Concept art is also referred to as visual development and/or concept design. This term can also be applied to retail design, set design, fashion design and architectural design.
Who popularized or even invented the term Concept art in reference to preproduction design is perhaps ambiguous, but it may have come about as part of automotive design for concept cars or as part of the animation industry. Certainly, both industries had need for people who did this job even if the term had not come into use. References to the term Concept Art can be found being used by Disney Animation as early as the 1930s.
A concept artist is an individual who generates a visual design for an item, character, or area that does not yet exist. This includes, but is not limited to, film production, animation production and more recently video game production. A concept artist may be required for nothing more than preliminary artwork, or may be required to be part of a creative team until a project reaches fruition. While it is necessary to have the skills of a fine artist, a concept artist must also be able to work to strict deadlines in the capacity of a graphic designer. Some concept artists may start as fine artists, industrial designers, animators, or even special effects artists. Interpretation of ideas and how they are realized is where the concept artist’s individual creativity is most evident, as subject matter is often beyond their control.
In recent years concept art has embraced the use of digital technology. Software, such as Photoshop and Corel Painter, has become more easily available, as well as hardware such as Graphics tablets, enabling more efficient working methods. Prior to this (and still to this day), any number of traditional mediums such as oil paints, acrylic paints, markers, pencils, etc. were used. Owing to this, many modern paint packages are programmed to simulate the blending of color in the same way paint would blend on a canvas; proficiency with traditional media is often paramount to a concept artist’s ability to use painting software.
The two most widely covered themes in concept art are science fiction and fantasy. Concept art has always had to cover many subjects, being the primary medium in film poster design since the early days of Hollywood, however, since the recent rise of concept art used in video game production concept art has expanded to cover genres from football to the Mafia and beyond.