Illustration Degree (MassArt) = games concept artist?

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  10 October 2011
Illustration degree

Hey guys,
Had a question for any games industry folk regarding the effectiveness of an Illustration degree (I would be looking to go in as a concept artist). I'm considering going back to school for a BFA in Illustration from MassArt, but wasn't sure if that prepares me for a game industry job the way a degree from say, Full Sail or Digipen would. Reason for MassArt is the's a solid 30k less (minimum) than any game design degree I could find, and I have a lot of confidence in my ability to make a great portfolio. I just wonder if I'd miss out on something the industry is looking for; for instance, being part of a team and creating a game in school. I also wonder about ending up with finished pieces of illustration that aren't all dragons and ogres (which is what I really get my jollies off of), and if a company like Blizzard or ArenaNet would care if they saw an off-topic portfolio but still be amazing enough to see the talent and know I could get those type of things done. Of course I plan to supplement my portfolio in that direction, but again, I just wonder if an Illustration degree would send me down the right road.


Also, if there are better resources, I'm all for checking them out. Forum posts usually get down to nitty gritty experience from individuals.

Last edited by SixFootEwok : 10 October 2011 at 07:35 PM. Reason: More accurate title
  10 October 2011
First off, you have to ask yourself what you need to get out of your education. My advice is to look at company hiring pages for company's you WANT to work for. Most of the big ones will have pages explaining what they are looking for for All positions including concept art.

If your primary goal is to go for a concept artist position, then you need to focus on the things that will make you a better candidate for that position. Mainly you MUST be a good illustrator.

To this end, I would think that looking into dedicated art colleges might be a better fit for you then a more game design centric school. Learning the principle of game design is important, but unless you are aiming to work at a place where you will be responsible for both concept work, and practicle 2D or 3D texture work, then it is best to focus on SPECIFICALLY the illustration side of things. As Concept art is probably one of the most fiercely competitive positions in the entire industry.

That being said, I do have to warn you, Concept art is a very fickle thing. Many of my friends that work as "Concept Artists" in the industry would consider themselves illustrators first. And because much of the 2D concept work tends to be more on a contract base, many of the illustrators I know fill most of their time doing things like 2D flash animation, texture art, or their own personally developed comics or books.

Only a VERY small amount of concept art positions out there are staff positions, so you can imagine how feircely the competition for those positions are. Just be prepared that you will probably be looking down the freelance pipeline for quite a bit til your professional portfolio is great enough to get a staff position somewhere.

I can tell you from experience that Big company like Blizzard WILL want to see not only their kind of subject matter, but specific pieces done in their style before they would even conciser you a candidate. So if you enjoy that style, make sure you find the time to do those kind of pieces, but more importantly, you need to hold your own work to the same standards that they hold their work at. Basically, you need to get yourself on the path to make sure that your work is JUST as good as any blizzard concept art before you can be considered for a position with them.

Good luck to you.
Online portfolio
  11 November 2011
Spiralface has very good advice!

Added to that, I would also say you need to research the course catalog of MassArt for the illustration program (and if you can research who the professors are too) in order to make sure the classes will be useful to you. Try to find some work of students who have graduated from the program to see what they are typically producing.

I say all of this because I went to SCAD and their Illustration program was not ideal for people wanting to become concept artists. Instead their Sequential Arts program was the best place to learn the types of skills you would later need. Their illustration program focused more on developing "style" and works of art with a deep meaning or creative interpretation...more a long the lines of something you would see in a magazine next to an article about saving the whales. In contrast the sequential program had classes such as "Character design and storyboarding", "Fantasy Illustrations", "Creature design", "Constructive human anatomy", etc. The biggest difference in the programs mostly comes down to draftsmanship. For example, the Illustration program may think that an ink blot is a work of genius while the Sequential program would see the ink blot as a mistake they made while trying to finely render the musculature of a cat and have to start over. lol. I'm not saying all illustration programs are like this, but rather explaining why researching what you are getting into before hand is a must and what to look out for.

Degrees tend to be not as important as your portfolio and I assume you simply want to go back to school in order to improve your skills. Remember to take responsibility for your own education. If you see a course in a different major that you think will help you but doesn't get you any closer to a degree, you should still probably take it. Use classes as a jumping off point for your own research, don't leave it up to the prof. to do all the work. Don't forget that there are also a lot of resources/courses and even schools (like The Art Department and Schoolism) online where you can improve your skills. Libraries (especially ones at art schools) are your friend, visit often. And lastly, find out your artistic strengths and weaknesses, then improve both.
  11 November 2011
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