Ask the Concept Artist
What’s actually the job of a Concept Artist? If you always wanted to know, read on! We had a chat with our Concept Artist Mel and asked her some questions. Have fun!
Hi Mel, thanks for taking the time for having this interview. Perhaps it’d be best if we start off with you telling us who you are and what you do at Travian Games.
I’m Melanie, I work as a Concept Artist at Travian Games and I’ve been doing so for exactly five years. My job involves drawing everything that’s in 2D as we don’t do so much in 3D. This includes illustrations, the buildings and much more. In other words, I complete illustrations from the sketch and line work through to adding color.
This also involves working on characters, where we’ve had support from the Sidekick company, the full avatar with eyes, mouths and noses. Everything you see contains some of my work. The maps, mountains, stones, trees, bushes… everything.
You just mentioned that you have been with the company for five years now. What roles have you had so far and which games have you worked on? Was it always Travian?
I originally started at Renanum, if anyone still remembers that. I made lots of buildings and characters there; my work with characters was actually primarily revisions and retouches. The raw versions came from another company at the time. We then made Roger & Out. I designed all the armor for that. That was really a lot of work since the armor was made up of five parts. My work is kept a little easier with the current Travian: Kingdoms. The development of Travian: Kingdoms started right after Roger & Out and I got straight on board.
You were with Travian: Kingdoms from the very first day?
From the very first day. I created the sketches for the crop fields back then.
Maybe now would be a good time for a little information: You have described a whole bunch of things you’ve headed at Travian Games. What exactly does a classic concept artist do?
Strictly speaking, a concept artist only does the design preparation work. They make sketches of the future characters or monsters. How should they look later? When should they be added to the game? Do the mechanics and anatomy work properly? So that involves a lot of idea generation.
Then it’s time to also work on the colors. A finished game asset is not usually made by a concept artist. This is usually the job of graphic designers or other artists and illustrators. The concept artist is there to design the stuff. At Travian Games this is a little bit different. We are all involved throughout the whole project. I’m able to completely finish a game asset from the design stage through to its implementation in the game, and that comes in handy here.
That sounds even better for you, don’t you think? Especially if a concept artist usually produces the design and then has to pass it on. Then you’d have no more influence on what happens with your concept. In the end, your concept could become something that you don’t even like.
Yeah, that often happens to concept artists, but that’s just part of the job. You have to live with that. What I really enjoy doing is actually coming up with the ideas. Trying out designs and seeing how they can be implemented later. You could end up leaving one evening, only to return in the morning and think to yourself: “Ah, what the heck did I do there” (laughs).
In my job, I also occasionally spend days just working on tiny, black and white thumbnails. That can really frustrate some people because it’s not the most exciting thing in the world. But I enjoy it. The work of a pure concept artist may sometimes be forgotten. You create things that most people won’t ever see.
Have you ever read the credits of a typical film? The concept artists are usually the guys at the very end in small print. Yet those are the people who designed the whole thing. As I was saying, luckily things are a little different at Travian Games. Here I get to work from the design phase through to the finished game asset in the right resolution, size and everything.
That’s great, isn’t it? A normal concept artist just does their work and if the game goes into production, they’re no longer involved.
Yeah, it can be really cool. But try rolling out 180 buildings sometime. There really are more exciting things in life. What’s really good, though, is that you learn an awful lot. So there are pros and cons. The beginning, the creative part, is most fun for me.
Does that mean that you’re already taking a look at what Travian Games is planning for the future, or are you staying in the Travian: Kingdoms team?
I think all artists are interested in Travian Games’ future plans. That’s always exciting. With regard to art, Travian: Kingdoms is pretty much already completed. I really like the game as I’ve been involved in it since the very first blade of grass. But I would also really look forward to having the chance to work on something new.
For the readers who are now thinking that being a concept artist is just the right profession for them: What do they need to be able to do? What do they have to have learned? What is the training like?
Practice, practice, practice – and stop only when your fingers begin to bleed (laugh). Actually there is no official training for a concept artist. I went to a game design school here in Munich that offered an all-round program. There you could get a sense of which direction to head towards. Generally, it’s worth having good connections and simply, you just have to be able to do what is required. It’s important to be able to draw.
There’s no point having an awesome idea but lacking understanding in the anatomy or color theory. Noone would take your idea seriously then. Of course, it’s also silly if you shine in anatomy and color theory but you lack the idea or creativity. You should be able to do more than simply draw a cow realistically for instance.
At best, you’d have a chance with Diablo and its cow level.
Yeah, but they weren’t exactly great anyway. (laugh)
As a child you most likely started out with watercolors, like everyone else. When did you first think to yourself that you could do this professionally?
My career background has had somewhat of a zigzag nature to it. When I was really young, I always wanted to make cartoons at Walt Disney. At the time, people always told me that that was no real job. There’s no money in it and you can’t do it. But I wanted to go in that direction anyway. I then began to spend my time in graphic design. I got some training in the games industry and then ended up going in this direction.
I then switched over to web design, but I can’t tell you why I did that. In any case I was miserable doing that. At some point I came across the occupation of the concept artist online. My first thought was: Ha, so it is possible to earn money doing that!
I looked around for training courses and was unable to find any. I then ended up at a school. My lecturer at the school back then was the Art Director at Travian Games and was looking for interns. That’s how I got here. And, once you’ve got a foot in the door and stay on the ball, it all seems to work out. Practice is extremely important. It’s not enough to put the pen down after work. In the evenings I take art classes, I’m getting further training; on the weekends I do my own projects and that all serves as practice.
Part two will be available next Thursday. If you’d like to play now and take a closer look at the incredible artworks Mel created, click here!