What are games?
In order to discuss game art within the games industry, we first have to determine what art is. According to Haeyen and Noorthoorn (2021), art is an expression of emotion. Games, by nature, are very emotive – when you are deep in a game of FIFA, every choice, and every move evokes sadness, anger, and happiness along with a whole spectrum of other emotions.
How would you create a game?
The first question to ask yourself when you are about to make a game is what you want it to look and feel like. Do you want it to be 2D or 3D? High-level role-playing game or a simple platformer?
Once you have your idea in place, it’s time to scout out your resources. What’s your budget? What’s your team size?
With enough budget, some companies will hire a specific person to do only the foley for a game, for example, to really immerse the player into the game (Ament, 20214). Some teams, though, will decide against hiring people for these highly specific roles, whether it’s to keep the game design narrower – or due to budgetary purposes (Sharp, 2015).
In some cases, one person will make the entire game. For instance, Stardew Valley was created entirely by Eric Barone (Lange, A. 2017).
All of this goes to show how flexible the art is games industry is.
Kinds of game artists
There is always a role for you in the industry. You can get as specific as designing one dress for a game, depending on the project you are working on. Let’s go into a non-exhaustive list of the different roles that you can apply for.
When talking to an artist in the game industry, they will tell you that the most important quality to have is efficiency. Try and keep back-and-forth feedback conversations short and minimal to keep things progressing.
Texturing artists make 3D models believable by mapping textures onto the object’s surfaces. They also add an extra dimension with imperfections – rust to oil cans, scuffs to trainers, rips to fabric and reflections to windows.
Pauline Boiteux – texture artist, you can get as specific as this
An excellent example of a texturing artist who does beautiful work is Pauline Boiteaux. Her work Is breath-taking and definitely worth looking at for inspiration.
Artstation: ArtStation – Pauline Boiteux
If you feel a pull towards becoming a texturing artist, then head outside! Look at all the textures that are available to you and think about how you can best achieve these.
The concept artist provides the first kind of art within the game’s production. A concept artist is a designer who visualizes and creates art for characters, creatures, vehicles, environments, and other creative assets.
A great example of this is the concept art for Smurfs Vileaf.
Do you want to become a concept artist? Have a look into shape language and colour theory to get started on building your base.
Character artists create and draw the visual elements of a computer game such as the characters, environment, vehicles, weapons and other props. This could be in many formats, from 2D Illustration to 3D modelling, sculpting, and texturing.
A strong example of a character artist is Adam Beardall. Who has worked on Destiny 2 – amongst many other games.
If you have an interest in becoming a character artist, take a look into anatomy. However, do not stop at humans – explore a vast range of animals and creatures, too.
An environment artist can overlap with a prop artist; their job is to create environments in which games are played. You can thank the environment artist for your favourite football pitch, spooky dungeon or moody wasteland.
Despite sometimes being looked over, the environment of a game can really add to the storytelling of a game. An excellent example of this would be the environment in Bioshock Infinite – created by environment artist Aaron Contreras.
Do you feel a pull towards being an environment artist? Again, consider going outside and taking a look at your surroundings, what do they look like? What little details can you see? How can you make your game environments feel real to the player?
A UI artist, or UI designer, is a specialist that uses their experience and knowledge of user behaviour to design and create user interfaces. This art tends to go under the radar a lot, yet it is incredibly important. A case of bad UI art can ruin a gaming experience for the player and will pull them out of an immersive experience.
For example, as a UI artist, you need to make sure that the player’s map is visible but it won’t disturb their gameplay.
Scarlet Fu and her work on Rainbow Six Siege are great to reference when talking about UI art.
Explore colour theory and cases of bad UI art if you are thinking about going down the UI artist path.
It does not matter how good the art is in a game if you cannot see it. This is why lighting is so important to not only understand what is happening in the game but to convey the mood.
A lack of lighting can be impactful too – if you take a look at Undertale, you can see that no light can lead to a large, impactful moment that throws the player into a completely new environment.
Take a look at Damien Stempniewski’s work in Control – the red lighting in the example below can make the scene look dangerous, and ominous.
If you are interested in becoming a lighting artist, take a look into natural vs artificial lighting. What is the difference between having a natural light source and an artificial light?
Being an animator has its own entire pipeline. It’s an intense job but it is extremely important and rewarding. Animators will circle back to character, environment, props, VFX. They bring the characters to life through emotion and push reality with their work.
A strong example of this is Supergiant Games, who have created smash -hits such as Hades.
If you want to be an animator, take a look into whatever discipline you prefer to explore.
Ament, V. T. (2014). The Foley grail: The art of performing sound for film, games, and animation. Routledge.
Haeyen, S., & Noorthoorn, E. (2021). Validity of the self-expression and emotion regulation in Art therapy scale (SERATS). Plos one, 16(3), e0248315.
Lange, A. (2017). Love on the Farm—Romance and Marriage in Stardew Valley. In Digital Love: Romance and Sexuality in Video Games (pp. 59-67). AK Peters/CRC Press.
Sharp, J., 2015. Works of game: On the aesthetics of games and art. mit Press.