SAE hosts virtual masterclass with concept artist and art director Jason Pickthall

15 Sep 2020

Last week SAE hosted an SAE Extra masterclass with accomplished concept artist and art director, Jason Pickthall, who has worked on major games such as Call of Duty, Skylander, Sea of Thieves and Everwild. 

In the session, Jason provided a fundamentals and workflow overview for environment design, as he broke down a bespoke piece of art he had created for the masterclass.  

One lucky attendee won a print of the final artwork - SAE Glasgow Animation student Ross McIntosh. Ross said: “I thoroughly enjoyed Jason's Masterclass last week. As an aspiring Environment Artist myself it was really interesting to see his workflow. I also thought the way he demonstrated composition fundamentals was really insightful and an interesting way to explain it for beginners.” 

Jason began the session with a quick overview of his background. He talked about training as an industrial product designer at Northampton University, before working on PS1 and PC games. Eventually he worked up to PS4, Xbox One and Google Stadia titles, including working as a Lead Concept Artist on Sea of Thieves and Everwild. In the last few years, Jason has gone freelance, enjoying the variation and ability to work across multiple studios simultaneously. 

He started by breaking down some myths about concept art. He said: “Most people would prefer a unique concept that isn’t drawn to the best ability but is a really interesting idea. Concept art is about communicating an idea - the more quickly and visually articulate you can be, it makes you more employable.” 

Then he launched into explaining the brief which he followed when creating the bespoke artwork: ‘Resurrect a lost empire - a modern take on a civilization’. He ran through composition 101 advice, recommending the book The Visual Story by Bruce Block to the attendees, before launching into an explanation about his thumbnail concept sketches. 

After identifying a series of thumbnails he wanted to develop, Jason started working in Photoshop with a series of mid grey rectangles. He then locked the layer and painted on top of them. He paused to consider whether using 3D elements is cheating; he acknowledged that it can be quicker and helps solve some lighting and perspective questions. However he stressed that it’s important for students to understand perspective, and not rely on 3D as a crutch. 

Then Jason talked about the colour overlay process. Using his example artwork, he explained how he added neon Tokyo style photos as layers. He explained how he added dust and dirt to make the environment feel more organic, as well as people to create a sense of scale. 

SAE Glasgow Animation student Yannick Bande said: “The talk was very interesting. Being able to see a professional approach on how to utilize a 3D element for a 2D concept piece was insightful. Jason explained his workflow from initial sketches to final concept very well and in the process gave some good info on how to get elements to look the way you want them to.”   

Jason said that when it comes to finalising a painting, it’s not a magic bullet. Some people add noise or chromatic aberration, or you can do a colour lookup - which works like colour grading in film. Jason said you can add a colour grade which tightens up the colours.  

SAE Oxford Animation student Aidan Whiting said: “The talk was very informative and it was interesting to hear another perspective on the art industry. Jason was very open about his process and gave a lot of good tips.” 

After the talk, Jason answered questions from the attendees about his workflow and more generally, about his path into the games industry. Jason talked a little bit about how lucky he was to get his first role, including taking his portfolio into a local studio where he was asked to an interview on the spot because the company owner happened to be on reception when he went. Even though Jason acknowledged this came down to luck, he said he engineered the circumstances for his success because he had his portfolio with him, and had dressed up smartly. 

He spoke about his transition to freelancing, and gave the attendees some tips and tricks for how to stand out when applying for jobs in the games industry. In terms of the general state of the creative industries in a post COVID-19 world, Jason said: “There’s never been a better time to be a creative in that there is so much content being created - from Netflix to Amazon Prime, indie games, AAA games, there is so much out there.” 






One of the attendees, Lily-Joy Lancashire said: “Taking part in the masterclass really helped answer some questions I had built up over lockdown, as well as helping us get some tricks of the trade.” 

We’re so grateful to Jason for giving up his time to create such an amazing piece of artwork and walk the attendees through the creation process. It was a super useful session with lots of great advice. 

If you would like to learn more about what Jason spoke about, keep an eye on our social media channels for the full video from the masterclass.

To learn more about the games industry, you can attend our event tonight with audio designer, Mariana Botero. Register for a free ticket here.