Concept art is a form of illustration used to convey an idea for use in films, video games, animation, comic books, or other media before it is put into the final product. Concept art usually refers to world-building artwork used to inspire the development of media products, and is not the same as visual development art or concept design, though all three are often confused.
Concept art is developed through several iterations. Multiple solutions are explored before settling on the final design. Concept art is not only used to develop the work but also to show the project's progress to directors, clients, and investors. Once the development of the work is complete, concept art may be reworked and used for advertising materials.
The term "concept art" was used by the Walt Disney Animation Studios 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, animation, and more recently, video game production. Being a concept artist takes commitment, vision, and a clear understanding of the role.
A concept artist may be required for nothing more than preliminary artwork, or 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, but the subject matter is often beyond their control. Many concept artists work in a studio or from home via freelance. Working for a studio has the advantage of an established salary. The average salary for a concept artist in video games is 60-$70,000 a year, although many make much less or more than that.
Concept art has embraced the use of digital technology. Raster graphics editors for digital painting have become more easily available, as well as hardware such as graphics tablets, enabling more efficient working methods. Prior to this, any number of traditional mediums such as oil paints, acrylic paints, markers, and pencils were used. 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. Popular programs for concept artists include Photoshop and Corel Painter. Others include Manga Studio, Procreate, and ArtRage. Most concept artists have switched to digital media because of ease of editing and speed. A lot of concept work has tight deadlines where a highly polished piece is needed in a short amount of time.