Am I too old to become a good concept artist at 26?


I couldn’t agree more with what ArtBot has to say here. Folks must understand that there are many levels of “concept art” and “concept art tasks”. For example there is concept art and then concept visualization. The two have almost no similarity and are almost 180 degrees out of phase with eachother. Concept art can be the precursor and will set the direction for the final product and style, concept visualization is the post product which is created to convey the message or story of an already well defined concept or idea. In between there are many levels which can combine or range between the two. But in the use of the terminology(taxonomy) it may be difficult to understand the difference without prior experience in one or both. And sometimes the terms are used interchangebly only confusing matters.

I completely agree, however I would go further to suggest that this example be thought of as Forward Vision. The ability to imagine something that has never existed and lead the way with a new and imaginative idea and give visual body to a narrative where no visual pre-exists.

However, while I agree, I do think there is some irony to this statement. Having met Syd and listened to him describe his experiences, Syd is one of those really rare individuals who can fill large negative areas with nondescript content that suggests that something is “there” without getting into the specifics of the content. While I would never dare to call this visual content junk, his ability in this area is an absolute artform within itself.

This is fairly close to world I live in. I work with people who have their ideas and products clearly laid out, understood, and predefined. I can’t deviate from that without the potential risk of damaging the credibility of their product. My “concept visualization” often lacks the component of being able to employ “forward vision” because its not about what I want to create, its about respecting the client’s product and visualizing their ideas, not mine. Along the way I occasionally get to introduce some of my ideas, with permission of the client, and if accepted is a positive experience. This side of the equation is more a matter of interpretation than style, and I enjoy this kind of work.

However, this can be a difficult thing for some artists to cope with because it can often go completely against everything they “feel”, “need”, or have been “taught”, especially regarding the traditional art theory of personal style development. So many artists become artists in order to perform “their” art, to establish “their” style. If you are sought out for that you are fortunate indeed. But many artists are needed just to visualize someone else’s vision. The ability to swing back and forth between these two extremes is a talent in and of itself. The trick here is for the artist to figure out exactly where in this spectrum they enjoy being.

I don’t disagree, but I’m curious if the scope of this comment might sound more narrow than I think it was intended. Concept design can be applicable to Feature Film, Television, Product Development, Science and Research, etc. In each area the “form follows function” factor deviates dramatically. In feature film or television you can have the possibility of “function” applying no constraints since you may be in the situation of pure imaginative design. In other words, anything goes. And then documentary work will be very different from science fiction. While in product development or science the constraint of “function” drives everything.

I think the skill factor is right on the money however. Someone can have the greatest imagination ever, but with no skill to put that imagination on paper or screen, no one will ever know your abilities.

Its the reason I think that there is this misleading presumption that child artists have the edge over everyone else. That they have been honing their skills longer. It may be true in some cases, but its no guarantee of success. The only guarantor of success is motivation. Not age, not congenital talent, not the tool you use. If you are motivated and focused, the potential for success is all up to you.



This hits the nail on the head and brings it back to the OP’s intentions. It may be a bit presumptuous, but it sounds like OP thinks that a concept artist is hired for their own vision, when in reality the majority of CA tasks are deciphering and presenting someone else’s vision. And the emboldened sentences say it all.


They told Van Gogh he couldn’t paint. He said I can’t hear you.


I think my last post was clearly about the opposite. It’s the reason why I’d rather work on personal projects than at another studio to have complete control…

Meaning that even though you are getting better as an artist since it is your day job, you still are working on someone elses ‘vision’, which is a trade off some people may not be willing to make.

Also forgive me for turning into a troll but isnt the quote in your signature a tad foolish?

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. -P.K.D.”
That is, until you’re dead. What is the point of this quote? Obviously reality doesn’t stop, because it is reality, you may as well say another random obvious statement.
Even if you don’t believe in gravity, apples still fall from a tree and hit the ground.

Anyways, words can only say so much and to me are not really a vision. A concept artist is really the visionary, if you say I want a space ship interior with aliens and give specific details, they are just words. Unless you are working from an even more basic concept reference, which is still concept art.

I think there are exceptions though, we can’t be so bold to say it’s one specific way or the other, it probably goes both ways. For example dylan cole’s role in bioluminescence and the whole art direction for avatar seems to be extending from his vision. The one who told him “I want glowing alien plant life in a beautiful nature scene” is not the visionary. Thats just a brief description. At least in dylan’s avatar section on his site he made it seem like he played a large role in the overall style.

So concept artists are visionaries in their own respect, but contradictorily I also agree to have ultimate complete control over the vision you can only really achieve that on your own personal project.


Okay, you are incredibly naive and have no idea what you are talking about. Good luck with your “vision.”


Please elaborate on which part of my post was incorrect. I thought it was a good response to bring us all together.


I’ll say you nailed it in your comments as well. Its more than true that its very very rare that an artist is hired to share his or her vision, you’re there to create and “make real” someone else’s vision in just about every actual work for hire situation you’ll find yourself in. If you’re working towards getting hired as the creator, you’ll have better luck funding yourself.

I think a lot of younger guys who get into the business side of the industry don’t realize that for a little while. Majority of us are tools for hire. And its afforded me a good life so far.

If you want to only work for your own art, pick a job that pays well for a few years like investment banking, then retire and work for yourself.


Believe it or not, even famous concept artists disagree with you. The people who create the stories, doing the world-building, structuring the plot, breathing life into the characters with descriptions and dialogues, etc are the visionaries. Read any major landmark sci-fi/fantasy novels from the past and you’ll see how much influence they had/have. Feng Zhu, one of the leading concept artists in the world, said publicly in one of his videos that the best source for building one’s visual library as a concept artist is to read novels. To say that “words can only say so much” is to completely disrespect the power of words and storytelling, which is the root of of all imaginative works. How imaginative and creative do you think all your favorite concept artists would be if they didn’t grow up reading novels and comics and watching movies/animation–all of which had to originate from the creative vision of a creator/writer?

The concept artists cater everything they do towards the will of the storytellers (the writers, directors, game designers). When you read novels and screenplays, the good ones make you see a rich, detailed world in your mind’s eye through the descriptions, and the job of the concept artist is to translate that into the visual representation so production artists can build assets out of them to be used in the film, TV show, or video game. Yes, concept artist do contribute their own creativity and add to the descriptions they’re given, but they are not the ones calling the shots or the ones who did the world-building–it’s the creator/writer/director/game designer that came up with the premise, and they dictate what concept artists will do. You talk to any concept artist and ask them what should be king in any project with a narrative, and they’ll tell you “The story is always the king.” Without the visionary behind the story, the characters, and the world-building, concept artists would have nothing to work on. Even projects that aren’t heavy on story (such as some MMO’s) there would still need to be enough world-building by the creator/writer for concept artists to begin work.

Now, I’m talking about mainly concept artists working in entertainment. In the world of industrial design things can be different, but even then, the designer has to work with a set parameter of requirements and rules and feature sets–it’s not as if the designer one day woke up and just came up with a revolutionary technology/invention. It’s the scientists and inventors that are the real visionaries–the designers help the inventors bring their ideas to life.

I think maybe you’re confusing certain aspects of this discussion because you have aspirations to be a creator/writer as well as a concept artist, and you’re kind of mixing them up because they are somewhat intertwined in your own projects. But if you separate each discipline logically, you’ll see that it’s always the storytelling that matters the most–everything else is there to serve the story.

Almost without exception, projects that have great visuals but horrible storytelling, uninspired premise, or lackluster gameplay don’t fare well with critics or fans. There are some exceptions, but they are few and far between. Also, if you look at all the successful and critically acclaimed works out there in film, TV, games, or even in toys, the creative visionaries who came up with the ideas for them were not the concept artists. The concept artists were hired workers that were brought into the projects to work on the ideas that the actual creative visionaries came up with.

Creative projects exist because of the creators/writers/directors/game designers, not because of the concept artists. When was the last time you heard in any promo that said, “From the concept artists that brought you Toy Story/Star Wars/The Hunger Games/Harry Potter/Star Trek, comes a new adventure,” or “The critics are calling the latest film/TV show/game by concept artist(s) so-and-so a triumph and instant classic.”?

None of this is meant to downplay the contribution of concept artists–I’m simply stating things as they are. I love concept artists as much as anyone else, and in fact, one of my biggest influences as both an artist and as a human being is Craig Mullins, one of the most beloved concept artists working today (his presence and teachings at Sijun Forums during the early years had a huge impact on me).


I don’t know. I think there is definitely room for the idea of shared vision. And I think that words often play a significant role. I’ve been in more than enough situations where the client defined the vision scope, but I provided the vision for the visual within scope. In those cases I can’t claim credit for the basic scope of vision, but I can claim credit for the vision employed in the visual execution. Without the client’s premise the final vision would have no meaning or context to the client, or even potentially me. Its the seed which is cultivated into the final vision if you will. They can’t be separated, the seed from the plant that is.

Its why I tried to draw the distinction between the two directions of concept art and the many possible states of vision development which can potentially exist from 0 to 180 degrees. Its also why I draw a distinction between vision and forward vision. Forward vision, while its a term that appears redundant, really helps at clarifying that kind of vision as more than just shared vision. I think shared vision is most common, however.

I will say that I doubt most feature films are ever created without shared vision. And that along the way to the edit room so many variants and degrees of shared vision are executed. And that unless the producer of the product is also the visionary and sole artist, very few things today are the pure vision of one person. I do think you fully understand that.

Avatar is a great example. Cameron worked for decades on that story concept. Without Cameron’s effort, imagination, and shear determination in light of a CGI production environment that wasn’t technically ready to execute his specific vision, Avatar would never have been realized. The specific case you cite is a case where the vision was planted by one person and cultivated by another. In the end it was a shared vision and both are visionaries. Society could argue for a hundred years who contributed what percentage to the sum of the vision, but both are involved, both contributed, both are visionaries. Both were executing Cameron’s ultimate vision. And from there it gets more and more complex.

40 years ago it was a different world. There were fewer collaborative “art” efforts on the scale of what we see daily in Hollywood today. I’m talking about CGI, not necessarily film production in general. There was more “ownership” of art productions by fewer people, or just the one. That’s not the case today, at least not as often.

25 years ago generalist animators were everywhere. They were the rare folks like myself who have had to do everything(conceive, model, animate, light, render, composite, etc), and more importantly were willing to do everything. Today they are the exception not the rule. Over 95% of my reel is mine in context of the created visual. But almost every piece on my reel was defined in scope by someone else.

Schools today are graduating so many CGI artists and artists in general. People know they can actually make a living in art. That was not the case 40 years ago. In fact a career in art was openly discouraged in many parts of the culture, nobody wanted their children to become “starving artists”. And trust me, the idea of “starving artist” today is far different than it was when oils, gesso and canvas were considered the most common high end art tool of choice. Back then all artists, and society, knew exactly what the “dues” were that had to be paid to become a visionary artist. The seclusion, the hard work, the training, the focus, the expense, the wasted canvases and paint, the days years and decades until that “groove” or style that tapped into a public consciousness which made them successful was finally discovered. It wasn’t pretty.

It is different today. The tools make it easier, the profession is more accepted by culture, but the search for style that connects to an audience has not. What’s different today though is that you can expend a hundred canvas’ for the cost of your electricity bill. Artists that seek to be visionaries have it great today compared to the way it was. Even time is on your side. But requirement of time, investment of effort, dedication, motivation, desire, none of that has changed, or ever will.

If you truly want to be that visionary, ignore the advice of the mainstream. See yourself as that visionary and pursue it with every fiber of your being. Age is meaningless. Visionary art is visionary because it is contradictory of the mainstream. The visionary conceives and introduces something new and vibrant which others have never seen. It excites the soul. Regardless where the inspiration or seed came from. And in the end it doesn’t matter if you share the vision with someone else so long as both are recognized, and both get credit for their contribution to the vision.



How can you build a ‘visual’ library from reading? Okay I’m kidding…
(I get what you’re saying, for imagination expansion)

I do agree with everything you said though. Which is why I ended with the fact that concept artists are visionaries in their own respect, you can interpret a vision to another vision thus envisioning together. I guess we must break the word “vision” into multiple parts. One can be visual and the other is story. An analogy could be similar to a blind man telling a story. He has no ‘vision’ but he is setting a plot, story & dialogue. He isn’t actually visually making it come to life. To take the term literal, I still think concept artists are the true visionaries.

For example a ten year old can tell Dylan Cole the same thing that he was told by his art director or james cameron, that doesn’t take much skill. (Going deeper into the written dialogue does of course) but telling a concept artist to visually represent bioluminescent foliage with huge trees and floating rock islands in a mystic alien world does not seem like the true vision. Anyone can come up with that. I do have an appreciation for the collaboration of story tellers but I would call a concept artist the visionary way before the others.

And thanks Joey for elaborating more on shared vision. Some how this thread turned into a, he is the visionary and not the other. Everyone is (although I still feel the concept artist is more so)

What matters is this thread has almost 1,500 views… I hope alot of people are encouraged and relieved like I am, to know that it’s not necessary to be drawing or painting since you were little in order to have real impressive talent. I think alot of people think that way, thats why they never persue any type of art. They just figure, well if it doesnt come natural and I can’t just pick up a pen and draw something amazing I must not be ‘born with it’. But now from the inspiration from this thread and the many tutorials I have collected I am glad to see I’m wrong.
Thank you all!


:slight_smile: If we did not feel so strongly about our art, we would not be artists.



And who came up with the details and world-building of the entire premise, locations, characters, storyline, etc of Avatar? If James Cameron didn’t hire Dylan Cole and described to him the exact details of what the locations of Pandora should look like, would Cole have come up with those same ideas himself? This isn’t to say that Dylan isn’t capable of having his own ideas, because he does personal works that are aren’t from professional gigs, but in the context of professional gigs, he answers to the creative vision of the people responsible for creating and writing and directing–the people with the ideas that the entire project revolves around. And I will bet you that if you go and talk to Dylan Cole and ask him who the real visionary is on projects like Avatar or any other he’s worked on as a hired help, he’s going to disagree with you. (And this is going to be true even if we consider your subjective definition of the word “visionary”.) Try it–email him and ask him.

You seem to ignore the fact that it is the words that create the images that concept artists see in their heads. Without the descriptions of the words, the concept artists would have nothing to go on.

I don’t know how much serious reading you do in your life, but any avid reader can tell you the amazing power of words and how they create images in our minds (and that is why Feng said it’s the best way to build visual libraries. If you can’t understand that, then it only means you haven’t done enough serious reading in your life). To say writer’s lack “visionary” ability when compared to concept artists is just ludicrous. Concept artists do their designs by following the instructions given to them by the creator/writer/director who came up with the ideas for the visuals in the first place. Just because the creators/writers don’t draw and paint doesn’t mean they don’t see imagery in their mind’s eye. After all, that’s what the words they write describe–the imagery in they see in their imagination.

Take this excerpt from the Avatar screenplay:

They enter a clearing filled with chest-high ferns. She
signals him to stop, then shows him a creature perched on
a nearby fern.

Josh sees a black, stick-like lizard thing perched on a
frond ahead of him. It is about a foot long and ugly as a
toad. As he approaches it goes SNAP!

A long spine lying along its back snaps around in a
circle, unfurling a bioluminescent membrane of bright
orange and blue… a perfect disk almost a meter across,
opening like a Chinese fan. The rapidly distending fan-
wing imparts enough angular movement to spin the creature
like a frisbee. It glides, spinning, through the
darkness. It floats across the clearing to another branch
where the wing furls, vanishing as suddenly as it

Zuleika runs forward with a sharp cry, plunging into a
large patch of ferns. With an explosion of color, two
dozen FAN LIZARDS snap into motion, and Josh is suddenly
surrounded by luminous floating disks, which spin away
between the glowing trees.

The ugly little lizards become one of the most beautiful
things he’s ever seen. In fact, this world which seemed
so ugly has become one of awesome beauty.

Josh’s face fills with childlike wonder. He looks at
Zuleika, and sees her smiling. Josh notices that the
chromatophores on her body have brightened and changed
color. He looks down. His have too. His own skin
pulsing with colors he has never seen before. He doesn’t
know what it means. But Zuleika does.

Several of the dandelion-seed things float near him. The
humans call them WILLATHEWISPS, and they are more plant
than animal. But right now they seem to be acting with
purpose. Now there are more, circling around him. Some
alighting on him. He laughs as more of them come.
Soon Josh is a pulsing, glowing, fluttering mass of light,
standing in the clearing.

Even if you’ve never seen the movie, the writing in that scene paints a vivid picture in our minds–that is what concept artists work with–descriptions like that.

And here’s an excerpt from the cyberpunk classic, Neuromancer, describing Case, the main character, experiencing the joy of his first time jacking into cyberspace, after years of having lost that ability due to a neurological injury as a form of punishment for him stealing from his employer while working for them as a hacker:

He closed his eyes. Found the ridged face of the power stud. And in the bloodlit dark behind his eyes, silver phosphenes boiling in from the edge of space, hypnagogic images jerking past like film compiled from random frames. Symbols, figures, faces, a blurred, fragmented mandala of visual information. Please, he prayed, now—A gray disk, the color of Chiba sky. Now—Disk beginning to rotate, faster, becoming a sphere of paler gray. Expanding—And flowed, flowered for him, fluid neon origami trick, the unfolding of his distanceless home, his country, transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity. Inner eye opening to the stepped scarlet pyramid of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority burning beyond the green cubes of Mitsubishi Bank of America, and high and very far away he saw the spiral arms of military systems, forever beyond his reach. And somewhere he was laughing, in a white-painted loft, distant fingers caressing the deck, tears of release streaking his face.

Even if the language is dense, the kind of imagery it paints in your mind’s eye is exactly the kind of inspiration and visual seed that concept artists love–it is what helps their imagination and ability to formulate imagery in their heads, which they then can translate through their drawings and paintings into concept art. If Neuromancer ever is finally made into a movie, the concept artists working on it would have to be able to visually represent that specific description, and it is the words that gave them the imagery in their heads.

EDIT: To be clear, I’m just trying to explain that even visual artists should understand and respect the power of words, because so often, visual artists have to do their work based on the descriptive power of words–the words that paint imagery in their heads, and source of the most important ideas in any narrative project.


And that should wrap up the conversation! That’s totally the truth! Lunatique +1


Dear, I am at my 29 and I am a beginner in CG industry. I am still learning digital painting and sculpting in my free time left from my job. Despite getting a descent salary and exciting carrier in UI designing I have decided to switch to my dream job as CG artist.

Pursuing your dream career isn’t late at any stage no matter you are at 20, 30, or 50s. I don’t think it’s too late for me then why it is late for you?

Keep going dude and you will get what you wanted. Good luck buddy.


I agree with much of what is being said here One thing I will say is though, concept artists might be paid to realise their clients visions “story is king etc” but often if you look at the personal portfolios of said artists there is a lot of work that had no pre-existing script or brief behind it. I feel we are being to focused on work for cash which is a huge aspect of a concept artist but not the whole picture.

Going back to Sir Craig Mullins, lots of his paintings contain the basis of an IP he created in a sketch. My personal opinion is by doing that you will end up being a much better hired artist in the end. In that interfacing position you need to be somewhat proficient in world building and coming up with new ideas. the two are not mutually exclusive

Creating IP’s is pretty much a day to day activity for a CA, you wont often get paid for it but if you want to get paid at all you would do well to demonstrate it. Also, its incredibly enjoyable -the field is not like a standard job, where you draw a client specified crate, go home and repeat the process. Most have portfolios of personal work being made in their free time, often with its own IP behind it.


This is something I think is extremely important. When I give critiques to my students and in the WIP forums here, I always try to remind the artists that whenever there’s any kind of narrative or premise or emotions in their images, they must stop thinking of themselves as simply artists who make pretty pictures, and start thinking of themselves as visual storytellers that can effectively portray a visual narrative, convey moods, express emotions, and communicate ideas.

Concept artists generally come in two flavors: one focuses on designing only; they will portray characters, objects, vehicles, environments etc from different angles and show the limits of articulations in joints and hinges, different lighting situations–basically more like industrial design. The other type of concept artist is more like concept artists with the sensibility of illustrators; they help visualize the dramatic moments in the IP’s narrative, painting scenes from the story that captures the moods and emotions that are vital to the IP’s overall dramatic appeal. Concept artists like Jaime Jones and Craig Mullins are more of the second type, while the first type would be more like Hawksprey. And of course the two types aren’t mutually exclusive; artists with the necessary skills for industrial design, aesthetic sensibility, and visual storytelling can do both.


I drew growing up. Then just as I reached the point where I had the mental and emotional discipline to really start learning, I switched to sculpting. Over the years I made a few half hatred efforts to improve my drawing skills, but never stuck with it. A year ago I decided I was not only going to learn to draw well, I was going to learn to paint, something that has always intimidated me.

I wish I had done this years ago as it would have put me in a better position today. But I didn’t so I’m doing the best I can to catch up.


Wow, so true what you mentioned about words Lunatique. Got some new insights about what you said about words.

+1 to Feng Zhu’s channel on youtube… it’s my background noise while working. Very inspirational.


In terms of real world proof that 26 isn’t too late to start: My experience is one of getting started in the industry a few months before my own 26th birthday. Seven years later I’m an Art Director / VFX Supervisor at a major post/vfx studio (Oscar/Emmy winners) and looking forward to more interesting things in the future.

The only thing I’ll qualify that with is that I worked like a demon, especially during the first few years, because I felt I needed to make up for lost time. Passion is a powerful thing and it’s something I look for now when hiring new talent.

Also I think life experience is kinda useful. Teaches you how to deal with people and not be too much of an arse. I hope :shrug: … and communication is important. Among other things it’s the difference between an artist who must be managed constantly and an artist who you can trust to get the work done. More-or-less.


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