Career Advice: Working as a Concept Artist at a Game Development Studio
Daria Burdukovskaya, a Concept Artist based in Italy, shares her journey and valuable advice for aspiring artists seeking a rewarding career in the gaming industry. Join us as she discusses her experiences and offers insights into the exciting and challenging path of a Concept Artist.
Want a successful career working in Games? Daria Burdukovskaya is a Concept Artist based in Italy, working at an independent remote-friendly game studio in Raleigh, North Carolina.
She sits down with us to share her journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like her own.
What's your current role and what does it involve?
I am a concept artist. I work on creating visual representations of ideas based on a creative brief or script. Essentially I transform words and abstract ideas into images. Those images are then used as a reference point throughout the project’s development.
Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?
Currently, I am a Junior Concept Artist at Methodical Games and I work on creating concepts for “a multiplayer action-adventure game with an emphasis on close-quarters combat set in a fantastical world”. As it is a relatively small studio I also assist 3D departments in creating game assets as it is a part of my skill set.
When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?
I remember the feeling of awe I had as a tweenager when I first saw the 1979 science fiction horror film Alien. I was fascinated by the craft of making the imaginary seem real and invoking strong emotional responses from the audience. Shortly after that the fascination shaped into an ambition of becoming a concept artist when I saw concept art for the 2009 action-adventure video game Prototype.
How did you get your first big break?
After graduating from ArtFX I had a hard time finding a job as a concept artist. My end-of-studies short film was canceled shortly before graduation and the general reason for rejections from the studios I have applied to was that my style wasn’t suitable for the project.
That’s when I realised that my portfolio at the time was lacking. Thus, I was working on developing my portfolio as much as I could to add more variety. I also made a point to participate in several concept art competitions to get visibility and add to my portfolio. I did get some freelance opportunities in that period, but it wasn’t sustainable enough for an independent life. Approximately after six months after graduation I applied to Methodical Games for a full-time position and landed the job! However, that first break happened when I passed the trial period with them.
Describe the journey you took into your current role.
For as long as I can remember I was always spending my free time doing something creative. I am thankful to my Mother and adoptive Father for helping me shape it into more than just a hobby. I went to a variety of afterschool art academies, moved countries for better education, enrolled in ArtFX to gain 3D knowledge, and never ceased to practice drawing and gaining new creative hobbies.
Why did you choose to study at ArtFX?
At the time there were not as many concept art-focused schools in Europe, plus I wanted to learn a wider selection of skills and ArtFX offered an extensive Master’s degree program to learn the entirety of game and film pipelines.
How does your education complement your work?
The education has given me a very valuable skill of understanding what the selected design will go through in the following stages of the pipeline, thus helping me to inform my design choices to fit better in the production.
Moreover, my education have built my organisation and communication skills, as I had strict deadlines to follow and be on the same page with my colleagues to achieve a set goal on time.
In my last year of ArtFX, I had an incredible opportunity to work on a short full CG movie, starting from the script, and art, and to finalise the assets and layouts. It was a tiny test run of real-life production experience with all of its ups and downs!
Day in the life
Describe a typical day for you and your team.
It is quite autonomous. I work remotely and in a different time zone than the rest of my colleagues (our work hours intersect after lunch). I work throughout the day on the tasks and attend weekly team catchups. I also have one on one calls with my Supervisor to get the creative brief and feedback on work in progress or completed work.
What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?
I work on my tablet in Procreate for concept art, when I have to assist in 3D I use ZBrush. I upload my work on Miro board and we communicate daily on Slack with meetings over Zoom.
What does your workflow look like?
To generalise, as it widely depends on the task, I start by communicating with Game and Design Directors to get the task details. I then look for references, approve them with the Directors and go into the drawing/painting and iterations phase.
I request feedback after completing several sketches, they can vary from loose drawings to drawings with colour and shadows. Depending on the feedback I either go back to create new sketches, or continue developing the selected drawings into fully-fledged concepts. There is a lot of back and forth happening as a couple of words can be interpreted in a huge variety of ways visually.
Which departments and key people do you work closely with?
Depends on the task, but generally I work closely with Design and Art Departments, for some tasks, I communicate with the Animation and Engineering departments for guidance if it’s required.
Are there any industry trends that are changing the nature of your role?
Homogeneous art has been an issue in the industry for quite some time now, with different IPs reusing designs and ideas, leading to creativity being suppressed; this issue became more apparent with the unethical use of AI. As people grow desperate for work a lot of us have to agree to do something that actively harms all of the industry and everyone involved. Please learn your worth young artists and demand better standards. It is a shame to see AI be used in such a detrimental way.
On the other hand, 3D tools are being implemented into concept art workflow to speed up the production process. This means concept artist doesn’t only provide a reference point for the rest of the production in 2D but provides a prototype asset for modelers to use as a base.
One thing you’d never change about your job?
One thing I would never change is the ability to use my imagination, art, and life experiences to aid to tell stories and create new experiences for the audiences.
But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?
I would love for companies to give more opportunities to entry-level artists whom they don’t necessarily know to give them the much-needed experience. Take educated risks and you may be pleasantly surprised with the results and ideas that can come from an entry-level artist!
Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?
I think formal education is essential to gain the necessary interpersonal, and organisational skills, and practice what you love in a structured and guided manner. Regarding the creation of images, that should come from one's desire to want to create. You shouldn’t expect the school to create your portfolio for you.
What tasks would you be typically asked to do as a junior artist?
Typically it would be something that you are capable of doing yet challenging enough to help you to gain confidence and take your skills to the next level.
What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?
Generally artistic, technical, interpersonal, and organisational skills. It helps to have all of them on a professional level and show what you can bring to the company to help them achieve their goals as a team.
What skills seem to be missing all too often?
Interpersonal skills, especially being able to communicate effectively, give and receive feedback. As artists, we tend to focus on images, but it is also important to remember that in the industry it is a team effort and fluid communication is key.
Describe your attitude towards your job.
It is overwhelmingly positive and professional. I am grateful to be able to do what I love daily, therefore every day I try my best to achieve the tasks that were given to me to the best of my abilities.
Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you implement it into your work?
Media is great but I tend to get most inspired by my life experiences. Traveling and experiencing, researching, and learning about the surroundings helps me to make the imaginary believable.
Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio.
I would recommend seeing what job applications require of you and using it as a prompt. For example, the company you dream of working for is looking for a Concept Artist, and in the job description it asks for science fiction environments. Create a project focusing on addressing that specific job description as if you were hired to create these images at the company. Show your understanding of the company, and the pipeline, and your willingness to learn and try new things.
What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?
In previous answers, I spoke a lot about soft skills, so I will use this question as an opportunity to talk about portfolio mistakes:
Avoiding challenge. Go out of your comfort zone, this will help you to find your true passion and develop a wider range of skills.
Not mastering the fundamentals. It is important to make a point in your artistic routine to study life. Learn color, composition, anatomy, etc., and show this in your portfolio.
Forgetting about the time requirements. Learn how long each step in your creative process takes and practice to speed the process up. Concept artists are a part of time-restricted productions.
Not understanding their creative process. It is important to show that you know what you are doing, and that you have practiced enough to build confidence in your work. If you think you are not good enough, work hard to change that and convince yourself otherwise.
Comparing yourself to others. This also creates way too many similar-looking portfolios. Find your inspiration. It is okay to have a different path to success than others. Embrace what makes you unique.
Hoping for success without work. Some people will get extremely lucky and get what they want without much work, but this type of success is fleeting. With a strong basis for success, it will be much easier to continue to grow instead of hoping to get lucky. Practice, practice, practice.
If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?
Be curious. Learn new things, and hone your skills by practicing and seeking feedback. Reach out to the community and industry professionals, this will build the necessary communication skills.
If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?
Try and don’t be afraid to fail, this will build the necessary confidence in your ability and will help you to sell yourself to potential employers.
Daria has been studying arts for the majority of her life in a variety of different countries and institutions. Growing up traveling across half the globe with a singular ambition in mind of having her favourite hobby, drawing, becoming a full-time job. Currently, Daria is making this dream come true and working hard to reach new heights in her career.