Difference Between Concept Art and Illustration in Games

Concept art and illustration often experience some crossover and thus confuse aspiring game artists. The main difference between them is concept art conveys a broader idea of what the character, environment, or prop might look like, whereas illustration puts all these elements together to tell a story.

While concept art and illustration use similar techniques to produce a piece of artwork, they represent two completely different aspects of game design. So, let’s take a closer look at concept art vs illustration — what sets these two apart?

Difference Between Concept Art and Illustration in Games

What is Video Game Concept Art?

Concept art is a depiction of all the key elements of a video game before it enters full development. Concept artists design the intended look and style of anything from illustration character design and their costumes, props and weapons, to scenery, architecture and interiors. The sketch drawings set the tone of the game and help create the building blocks for the immersive world to explore.

What is Video Game Concept Art

What is Game Illustration?

Game illustration is the actual representation of concept art in some form. It is a complete drawing that can either be a stand-alone piece or used to create a larger, more substantial work. Digital illustrators create a finished product based on concept art ideas.

game illustration service

The Differences Between Concept Art and Illustration

Illustrator vs concept artist lines often gets blurred due to the nature of today’s ever-evolving world. Trying to cut expenses, studios intend to make these artists interchangeable. But whether a concept artist can do illustration or vice versa is entirely down to the individual artist. For more clarity, let’s puzzle out each of the differences between illustration and concept art (you can also read our other article about how to make concept art).

Different Perspectives

Concept art gives you a broader picture of game characters and assets, showing them from any possible angle, since it may be important through the game process. Whereas an illustrator doesn’t need to give any thought to things outside the view of their illustration. For example, an illustrator drawing a scene with a male character facing the camera wouldn’t consider how they’re looking from the back. A good concept artist can’t ignore this and will provide a male character concept art with different camera angles and various emotion sets included.

male character concept art different perspective

Different Budgets

The financial scale of a video game may vary from project to project, but the creation of illustrations, especially 3D ones, tends to be one of the most expensive steps of the whole pipeline. However, it’s wrong to say concept art is cheap. It requires strong artistic skills and imagination to come up with. If there are a lot of requirements in a brief, many assets in a game and the concept should be done in 3D, its pricing rises simultaneously. To cut the expenses, game developers outsource both concept art and illustration.

character design concept art illustration commission price

Different Levels of Detail

For a better understanding of illustration vs concept art differences, think about concept art as a set of sketches, and about illustration as a complete drawing. The illustration demands a great level of artistry and complexity.

Nevertheless, a concept artist does provide details such as the texture, the feeling, the form and the purpose of each element. Like a slot machine illustration will showcase how it looks in a game while its concept art may include the way it works and how it looks from different angles. When a studio outsources concept art, a concept artist will give the client many detailed options to choose the best from.

slot machine illustration vs concept art

Different Processes

A concept artist takes an initial idea for an element of the game and creates an overall vision for it. To make a high-quality concept design, an artist researches and brainstorms ideas that embrace the list of traits and achievable tasks given by the client. Afterward, the illustrator works with finalized concepts and briefs to create a custom illustration. An illustrator builds a cinematic scene by creating a mood, expressing action and telling a visual story.

concept art illustration process

Different Intended Uses

Concept art often takes a director’s vision and is used to showcase how a 3d character design or a final scene for a game may look. Concept art is involved at the pre-production stage. It helps to visualize the composition and layout of a shot, before having a camera set up in place. Games illustrations, being full-bodied drawings, are used directly in a game and in promotion materials.

Different Skill Sets

Concept art creation requires big-picture thinking and a great level of imagination. Details are often less important than the overall idea and practical side of the work. A concept artist should take into account any rules the final product must follow and catch the director’s vision.

Since a video game illustration is used in the final product, it demands attention to detail and the ability to create realistic, stylized visuals. A gross technical prowess and a huge level of artistry are crucial skills that lead to beautiful illustrations and designs. If you don’t have a skilled professional in-team, you can hire an outsource concept artist and illustrator.

Concept Art and Illustration Different Uses

Different Levels of Creativity

Many concept artists are dreamers who come up with multiple possibilities and ideas. To conceptualize the look of a character or a scene, they need powerful creative and visualization skills. An outsourcing concept artist who has been working on dozens of different projects has an unconstrained creative vision. On the contrary, illustrators’ work tends to be more technical than creative.

Different Levels of Creativity

Different Roles in the Pipeline

Concept art is a crucial video game pre-production stage. It’s a birth phase when concept artists bring ideas into the game world. Illustrators work at the production stage, using finalized concepts and briefs to create realistic character illustration, immersive environments and detailed props.

The Purpose of Concept Art and Illustration in Games

What is Game Concept Art All About

Concept art is all about providing information: how something works, how it moves, what’s the form, the texture, and the feeling. It doesn’t have to be strict in terms of design. A concept may include the same character with a few different options like clothing, weapons, skin features, etc.

The Purpose of Game Illustrations

A game illustration is an actual representation of the concept art in some concrete form.

How to Use Concept Art to Guide Level Design

Level design concepts are a stepping stone to make good story-based games and multiplayer shooters. It will show up these things:

  • How levels are meant to play
  • What story is told in the scenery
  • What are the points of interest
  • What player should feel during the level
video game environment concept art for level artist

Working with Other Designers to Achieve a Unified Game Art Style

The ideal approach you can make is to first settle on the gameplay with game designers. After creating an initial prototype, you can start looking for an art style that fits your game aesthetic and showcase its features. For best results, you should understand what professionals are involved in game development, like the concept artist vs character designer difference and their roles in a pipeline.

How Great Concept Art Leads to Better Illustration

Concept art gives life to an abstract idea and is used as a reference point throughout the production process. For illustrators, a concept piece is like an information sheet. They are looking to explain concept art ideas and depict them, rather than showing them from the artist’s perspective. Together, the functional integrity of concept art and the technical beauty of video game illustration lead to an amusing product.

The Purpose of Concept Art and Illustration in Games

Examples of Concept Art and Illustration in Popular Games

From Grand Theft Auto to The Legend of Zelda, our favorite games wouldn’t exist as we know them without concept art and illustration. Here are some great concept art examples.

gta 5 concept art illustration

Blizzard has already released a bunch of concept art for the upcoming Diablo IV. It shows the dark gothic art direction of the game as well as the open world and the evils lurking about.

diablo 4 concept art illustration

Many Half-Life projects have never reached development. Thankfully to some published concept art, we at least know what they could have looked like. From concept art for Half-Life 2: Episode 3 we know about creatures like a large, slug-like creature BreenGrub that might appear in the game.

half life 2 episode 3 concept art illustration

How Concept Art and Illustration Are Used in the Game Art Industry

In-game art industry, there are several different types of illustration and concept art:

  • Character Art — a type of art that depicts a player or non-player character. At pre-production, character concept artists design their looks, personality, and behavior within the game world. While 2D and 3D character illustrations are used at the production stage.
  • Environment Art — that includes everything from landscapes and architecture to interior and exterior design. Concept artists aim to make sure the world looks believable and cohesive while being interesting to explore. Illustrators are bringing life to the world, making it detailed and realistic.
  • Props Art — it covers objects such as weapons, furniture, vehicles, etc. Concept artists figure out how the objects might look and how they might be used within the game.

Future of Concept Art in the Gaming Industry

The entertainment industry is growing, and there are more projects happening, meaning companies need artists to make great designs. But concept art is a highly skilled field, requiring strong credentials and years of experience. AI generated concept art can make it more convenient and accessible.

However, an AI generator can’t replace the artist completely. Automated systems can only work with the information they’re already given — works of other artists and real-life photographs. AI can’t generate ready-to-go concept art but can give artists inspiration to start with.

ai generated concept art illustration

Benefits of Outsourcing Concept Art and Illustration

Game development can take years, and requires a huge team of professionals, which is nothing but costly. Studios can reduce development time as well as cut down expenses by outsourcing illustration work. Game art outsourcing is becoming more and more common, and there are good reasons for it:

  • Time-saving. No need to go through the long hiring staff process, including searching for candidates, interviewing, and training. Plus, no additional bureaucracy.
  • Reducing costs. No special expenses for office rent, computers, supplies, and licensed software.
  • Flexibility. Freedom of adding more resources when needed and releasing them when they aren’t.