Ever dreamed of drawing pictures for a living and participating in the production of sci-fi and fantasy movies and games? Or have you ever considered changing your career and moving across the globe? Well, Vladimír did exactly that.
Music! When I’m working on a game, I listen to its soundtrack. I prefer ambient music, no words.
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About People We Don’t Know.
Walking around the beaches of Vancouver without any destination in mind.
Hey Vladimír 👋
We’re thrilled to have you as our very first interviewee. We hope to clarify what a concept artist’s position is like and what you get to work on. The good sides of it as well as the bad ones. Let’s get into it!
How would you describe yourself in a couple of sentences?
I'm a former entrepreneur and UX designer. A few years ago, I made a life-changing decision to move to Montreal to study concept art. I'm currently living in Vancouver and working as a visual development artist for a major game studio. I've been fortunate enough to work with some amazing people at companies like Volta, Unity, and now Respawn. I see myself continuing to grow in this field and becoming either art or creative director. In addition to my work in the entertainment industry, I also want to continue working on indie games and teaching the next generation of concept artists.
What are the key things you get to work on as a concept artist?
The essence of concept art is communicating visual ideas to other team members through sketches, concepts, and illustrations. My regular work day might start with developing a look for something in a game. The first part of the process is research. I am browsing through images and building a mood board. Then I start creating the final piece. The process might have multiple steps, from sketches and color roughs to a fully rendered piece. The ultimate goal is to visually capture the ideas as accurately as possible.
Why did you decide to pursue concept art?
I decided to pursue my passion for art while traveling in Japan. I was burnt out from years of working on startups that didn't fulfill me. I knew that I would continue to be unhappy with my job as a visual/brand designer. I always wanted to be an artist. I realized that concept art was one of the few subgenres of art where I could be creative and financially rewarded for it. But I had avoided pursuing this path all my life - my excuse was that I didn't have the experience, money, or aptitude for it. But then, one day, I found that I had only one life; I stopped making excuses and made a leap of faith.
I always wanted to be an artist. I realized that concept art was one of the few subgenres of art where I could be creative and financially rewarded for it.
What was your way of getting into concept art?
I was faced with the decision of whether to study the field or to learn it myself. I needed a solid curriculum and motivation to learn, so I started looking for an art school. One option was to spend 3-4 years studying art in Czechia, which wouldn't have fully prepared me for my role as a concept artist. I wanted to gather all the knowledge as quickly as possible. So I started looking for schools teaching directly in the field of concept art abroad, and I found Syn Studio in Montreal. A year and a half course cost 30 000 CAD / 23 000 USD at the time. I wasn't selected at first - instead, put on a waiting list. The school takes 20 people a year, and I was number 24. Eventually, in the summer of 2018, they announced that spot number 20 was open. I went for it, and 18 months later, I successfully graduated. (Note: you can learn more about Vladimir's studies at the school in Montreal on his YT channel).
What are the most fulfilling and challenging things about your job?
Fulfilling: You are at the birth of games or films that your friends and family will see. That's where I see fulfillment. Plus, I can draw in my spare time as well as at my job. I wake up every day knowing that this day I will also enjoy. From an Ikigai perspective, my work ticks all the zones.
Challenging: The moment you get to be around other students and concept artists, humility is important. The people around you are often much better, younger, and can speak English. We, Eastern Europeans here in America, have to fight the fact that we like directness and challenge the authorities. But with this attitude, you often run into a brick wall. You also have to keep learning new things because the industry is moving fast.
The moment you get to be around other students and concept artists, humility is important.
What were the main challenges in your journey?
All decisions come with a certain amount of inherent risk and cost. This was also the case when I decided to move to Canada. I knew I'd have to leave my friends and family behind, which was probably the hardest part of the decision. I also had to take into account the overall financial burden of the move, and I ended up needing to take out a loan. Plus, I was an immigrant - I had to learn how everything worked. There was also a language and cultural barrier at first; for example, I didn't understand the jokes my classmates and later colleagues told each other.
What would you like to say to your younger self?
Surprisingly, probably nothing. People like to dissect this stuff, but it doesn't make sense to me to say that I might want to do some things differently. The moment you have a certain amount of information and face the choice, there are no good or bad decisions; there are only decisions. I made decisions based on the information I had at the time. I might have decided to become a concept artist earlier in my life, but I didn't have the knowledge or successful friends to financially support me at the time. In retrospect, the decision came at the right time and in the right place.
What advice would you give to a beginner concept artist?
For anyone who wants to become a successful concept artist and has the intrinsic motivation and self-discipline to see it through, I would highly recommend online courses, from which they can learn most of the curriculum for free. On top of that, add some mentors from the industry, which would cost a fraction of the price of an art school. The post-covid world is different; it's easy to find remote work now. If you have an awesome portfolio, great studios will hire you from anywhere.
How did you prepare for an interview for your current job?
Most game studios have a very comprehensive, multistep acceptance process - going through five rounds is no exception. People have the misguided idea that Concept Art is a dream job, and therefore the demand greatly exceeds the supply. Concept art schools are like a dime a dozen, and every year the graduates have better portfolios - and then they compete with each other to get the few available jobs. But there just aren't that many open positions - getting into the industry is also about luck. When you get an interview, you know you meet the minimum quality requirements. Then it's just a matter of making a good impression and sparking things off between you and your future colleagues. And if you're unsure about interviews, what I think helps is to go to companies you don't want to work at, and the low-stakes environment allows you to try out the process.
What's your opinion on trends in your industry?
Today, there is a lot of talk about artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential implications across a variety of industries. A few years ago, it was 3D programs. New tools are shifting the way concept artists create ideas. People are afraid that AI will take their jobs away, but the development is affecting all fields, and it has never happened that people have nothing to work on. The market will find its equilibrium. I don't think AI will take away the work of concept artists, but it will make the job either faster or easier. In 2-3 years, idea generation using tools like DALL-E, Midjourney, and Nvidia Canvas will be as efficient as the current process without AI in cheaper productions. Concept artists will then become more like curators. But I don't think their jobs will disappear. Maybe they'll be able to produce more work; maybe production will need less of them.
Go-to interview question to ask the company?
I like learning about the company's remote work setup. This includes how they help and collaborate with each other, how they give feedback, and what the company's hierarchy looks like. I also like the question, "What does it take to be successful at your company?". This might help you to get your first mentor in the company, because that person will be personally invested.
Favorite tools (software or hardware) specific to your industry?
My current tools are Photoshop, Blender, Procreate, and VR.
Favorite productivity hacks/tools?
Photogrammetry (Creating 3D models directly from multiple photographs), Photobashing, Kitbashing (Merging multiple 3D objects from libraries together), and using AI wherever it’s fitting.
Who are the people you’d recommend others follow in this field?
I'm finding myself more and more interested in artists who have developed their own individual styles and who create art for the sake of art, rather than PROs that got to the top of the concept art game.
What inspires you?
I try not to look to others for inspiration for my art. It's easy to take finished works and get inspired, but in my opinion, it's much better to draw ideas from reality. Do you want to get better at concept art? Travel more.
What does the future hold for you?
I would like to become more integrated into the creative process. To do that, I need to become an art or creative director, where I will have more responsibility and ownership in the creation of a product. That way, I would be able to bring even more ideas to the table.