As a video game creative agency in Los Angeles, our aim in this article is to help you understand what’s involved in the making of video game key art and what it takes to become a great key artist.
What Exactly Is Key Art?
Key art is artwork created during the design of a video game. It is usually intended to be the pre-visualization of the video game. The initial illustrations are known as concept art and are a way to bring a character or landscape to life and to make the process a little bit easier for the programmers. In a similar way, many of these concept images are used as key art, which is the image that ends up on the game’s packaging, or used as a way to promote the game prior to its release.
In the initial stages, game designers use key art to show the team what their vision is so all the various artists stick to a single vision of what the game will look and play like. While the task of coding and adding everything into the game makes up the largest piece of a game’s creative process, the concept and key art act as the very first, and most important piece of the whole puzzle. Key art focuses more on the overall scene than on individual objects or characters. You can learn more about creating key art here.
The Role of A Key Artist
The key artist will be more interested in drawing an entire scene than a single static character or object. The key artist must be able to not only draw the character and environment in perspective, but also suggest lighting, special effects and action/movement to create drama and tell a story. The key artist is not concerned with details and is more interested in illustrating game play not characters or environments.
It is important that concept art not only looks great, but that it also does its job and helps further the rest of the production line. The role of the designer and illustrator is to create designs that not only inspire but also inform production.
What It Takes To Be A Great Key Artist
A great key artist is someone who can think and creatively problem solve, who is open and communicative and will express their opinions, and who can create solid production art on model and on time.
It is important to seek out variety by practicing drawing and painting all kinds of things. Go out, draw, and experiment with traditional mediums like acrylics, water colors, pen and ink, oils, screen-printing, wood working, sculpture. The more tactile your art making is, the more you will develop muscle memory and physical awareness about techniques, textures and processes that will be invaluable in your career going forward, should you work digitally or traditionally. This will give you essential skills to take on any task and also draw convincingly from imagination to the things you love. Draw from life – draw landscapes, plants, people, animals at the zoo, trains in the train yard… you see it, draw it.
Make sure that you are pursuing your goals by practicing and learning at every opportunity. Be open to new opportunities and take on projects or tasks that might be outside of your comfort zone.
Learn from other artists by finding them online and reaching out to them. You’d be surprised at how approachable and kind these people are. Work hard and make connections. If you are in art school, then make friends, be outgoing and collaborate with others. These people will go on to be lifelong professional contacts and will be the source of new opportunities for you throughout your career.
You can teach yourself by means of tutorials from magazines such as Computer Arts, or you can take courses to learn how to use the software. There are also animation certificate programs that last between 6 months and 2 years.
Photoshop has a tutorial that looks at the basic principles of designing a video game character, including: sketching, design, rendering and more. It goes through a logical workflow, from exploratory sketching in loose grey scale to turning it into a fully realized piece of concept art. As well as learning how to use the drawing and painting tools in Photoshop, it is a good introduction to a typical video game studio pipeline, which is essential if you want to get into the industry.
Books are great for general art knowledge but as software is consistently updated that means “Program Guides” will quickly become out of date. Your art skills will be much more valuable in the long run than your software skills.
Choose your specialty and create a portfolio of your best work. Your portfolio should consist of a number of different designs or creations, and if possible, demonstrate their use in video games. You should have a varied portfolio to showcase your range and focus on versatility – include polished pieces along with sketches and roughs, environments and characters, mood pieces and action. When reviewing portfolios it’s always more interesting to see imagination, a desire to explore and use creativity over skill. You will need to be a highly collaborative and team-oriented person.
Work with brightness and contrast levels to create a dramatic effect on your character
Play with highlights and shadows to make the action or storyline of the game come to life
Use a variety of textures to add realism, blend with different modes and use High Pass to increase detail moderately
Use color layers (on Overlay) to make the lighting effects more realistic and believable
See some Dance Central Spotlight key art captures below made by our designers!
How To Get Hired As A Key Artist
Apply for an internship with an animation studio. This will allow you to learn the entire process of creating animations for video games, from concept and key art to interface design. Most companies that develop video games are in Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, North Carolina, and Washington D.C. You can look for both jobs and internships on job websites but you can also look on the sites of video game companies themselves or apply for a job as a video game artist at the company where you interned. In addition, you can use your social network to find out about current openings.
Make sure your resume and portfolio reflect your strengths and showcase your talent by highlighting any video games you’ve worked on — even if they are non-professional — and including references if you have any.
All copyrights belong to their respective owners. Images used in this article are for educational purposes only.
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