Some day I'll post creative stuff again. Right now, all my will is bent on work. The best I can do is periodically slide these out.
Over the years I've endeavored to answer as many emails and specific comments as time allowed. There have been enough repeats that I think I feel comfortable starting a list.
First, some general information:
My name is Matt Rhodes. I graduated with my Bachelor of Design at ACAD (Alberta College of Art and Design) majoring in illustration. Before graduation some ACAD alumni from Bioware came to look at portfolios and I was brought in as an art intern. I’ve been with the company ever since, working on Jade Empire, the Mass Effect series, the Dragon Age series, and other projects.
How do I become a concept artist? What do?
There are many ways to become a concept artist. I’m trained as a graphic designer but I’ve known concept artists who were animators, architects, industrial designers, even one former opera production designer. There are as many ways to become a concept artist as there are concept artists. The secret is in the name: concept artist. You’re drawing ideas. Every day you’re taking abstract and ethereal ideas (often from multiple brains) and translating those into tangible blueprints and inspiration. There’s no prescribed way to do that. However you chose communicate, learn to do it clearly and quickly. Put your work up constantly so people can see it and then listen to their interpretations. Absorb critiques and keep refining your skills until people start to understand your intent. Do that for thousands of hours and then check to see if you’re a concept artist yet.
Where should I go to school? Should I go to school?
I don’t know. Sorry. The best I can advise is to look for a school that offers a reputable program in the field that interests you (design, illustration, traditional painting, animation, sculpture, etc…) and that offers some strong fundamentals. As to whether you should go to school or not, I’ve heard our own HR gurus say many times that having a degree makes border crossing much easier. If you’d like to work in another country then having a degree makes it easier for a company to prove that you’re worth importing.
Where or whether you chose to go to school, you’re really only going to get out of it what you put in. College, university, night-school diploma course, self-taught… you’re going to have to bust your ass.
If this is one of your questions then I sympathize. It’s not always fun to stare into the unknown.
I liked ACAD a lot though.
What should I put in my portfolio? Is my portfolio good enough? What should I be working on? What do companies want to see?
If you’re not already following concept artists’ work online, do it. Collect (or at the very least regularly flip through) concept art books. Does your work look like that? Well… then it’s time to give yourself hand cramps by trying. Push yourself to work in a broad range of genres and subject matter. Environments, characters, props, creatures, UI elements, effects, storyboards, production paintings... a well-rounded portfolio likely includes them all. “Show your work” and include development work to the level that it’s appropriate. People like to see an artist’s thought process. If there’s a specific company you’d like to apply for, what sort of genres/subject matter/styles are they working with? Are there ways you can make yourself more valuable to them? It helps a lot to see a portfolio that makes you think “we could sit this person at a desk todayand they’d be able to add to the project.”
How do I develop a style? Will my style be an obstacle to getting a job at a studio?
I get style questions a lot because my work is more simple and exaggerated than our games. My “style” (I always struggle not to say that with a sneer) is just the byproduct of being very busy. There are a million things to draw for every game, and you’ll only ever be able to draw a quarter of them. I’d rather sketch a thousand things than beautifully render ten. To me, line is the most effective tool I can use to communicate an idea quickly and clearly. If more information is needed then flat color and simple lighting will usually help. Very rarely is more needed. Metal is metal, leather is leather, carbon fibre is carbon fibre. Working like that for years, as well as keeping up my fundamentals and life drawing has created the style I currently have. Focus on the work, on learning and developing yourself, focus on communicating concepts and you’ll find out what your style is eventually. If you find yourself on a project that has a distinct visual style, that’s just another form of visual communication that you can learn. Oh, and most good art directors will know the difference between polished rendering and solid design, so “style” really won’t be a concern if you’ve shown you can get your point across.
Sifting through the design fog until you start seeing light in the distance. These were just some of my drawings, there are even more from other members of the concept team.