If I say concept art, you say:
If I say illustration you say:
There’s not much difference, other than the fact that they’re both pretty. And one’s of some aliens, and landscapes, and the other’s a pretty sword lady. That’s because they’re both illustrations.
That’s the unfortunate truth about this industry is that a lot of younger artists, and people who haven’t really been in the thick of it know the true difference between concept art and illustrative work. You can speak to industry professionals, as I have, and they’ll say something along these lines:
Listen, we want to see that you can do concepts, come up with new ideas. Not just pretty illustrations.
So you think: Well yeah, this is my idea. And you send them something like this:
And then you wait a few weeks, and don’t hear anything. An assumed rejection. And you don’t really know why. But here’s why:
If I didn’t know the background from you — I don’t know jack absolute shit about that character from that drawing. I don’t know how she functions, I don’t know how she might function in-engine if she was a game character, I don’t know how big she is, how small she is. It tells me very little information. It’s a decent illustration, emotive, but it doesn’t help me in terms of information.
I can’t personally speak for a successful concept art based portfolio, as I tend to get in via word of mouth (and that’s a good way to get in too!) But a lot of big studios need that confirmation. They need to know you can come up with information, not pretty art. Pretty Art is a huge bonus, but not what’s needed for concept art.
Here’s a neat piece of concept art from Life is Strange, showing the evolution of Victoria Chase:
If you’ve played Life is Strange, you’ll know that wardrobe plays a huge factor in the game, especially for Victoria. Exploring the character and who she is through clothes was the ideal way of nailing these concepts. If you zoom in, the paint job is quick and dirty but clear. It’s enough to show what the fabrics might be made of, the details, and how it sits on her. It’s probably only really exciting because its Life is Strange concept art, not because its a genuinely exciting showing of exploration. It’s clothes.
Concepts have to be information, before they’re art. That isn’t to say I can’t pair the above piece of Lisa with more information on her, and then that would paint (hohoh) a fairly clear image of the character for whoever is viewing.
I threw these together, but that explains way more than the original illustration on its own. So keep that in mind when you submit to large studios looking for concept artists. Information first, pretty second.