How to get better at Conceptual Design ?

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  1. #1
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    How to get better at Conceptual Design ?

    I look at some portfolios and its page after page of well-designed stuff:
    every metal plate fits perfectly onto a wall panel, every bolt on vehicle in
    just the right place, every curve appropriate to the aesthetic of the
    game-world in question, and so on. And I'm thinking how does he/she
    consistently come up w/ this endless flow of design?

    A big part is clearly just having a bank of design vocab in your head, and this
    (probably) comes from assimilating lots of data (studying architecture,
    costuming, engineering, or transport design for example). I also find it's
    important to draw on various areas of life, not just existing game/film
    /whatever design. And of course the most obvious part: lots of practice.

    But I was wondering if anyone can talk about rubber-meets-the-road
    methods for improving design capabilities? Is this something that's taught, as
    a separate discipline, in an entertainment design program maybe? And if so,
    how would they go about teaching it? Any specific techniques, methods,
    drills or course for improving?

    And, to be clear, I'm not talking about improving art technique; just
    design. Thanks in advance for any help you can offer.

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  3. #2
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    Simply: understanding what you're drawing, at least visually.

    Then again, i came up with that on the spot, and I don't know much about conceptual design, so don't listen to me.

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    Helioth: Thanks for responding, but I'm looking for action steps here. Any
    specific, skill-building exercises? Or maybe resources to learn from, like books or
    courses?

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    What I do is, take a big ass roll of paper, like an a3 size CURTAIN and then just get a book on the subject I'm researching. Just draw and draw and draw. fast, lines, silhouettes, mass, whatever... just keep studying

    As far as excellent resources go, or skill building exercises, I don't really know.
    I think you're still looking for a trick, there is no trick, to understand you need to: visualize, draw, understand and draw... meh, just my 2cents.
    There's like... books on "training the creative imagination" but those are just rants too, not techniques to apply. More about how important it is to develop it.

    I'll give you some sites i dive into (which you'll probably know): http://fineart.sk/index.php?s=32&cat=14
    http://www.wga.hu/index1.html
    http://www.scott-eaton.com/
    http://www.posemaniacs.com/pose/thirtysecond.html

    And of course this site we're on is a great resource in itself.

    Maybe ask on IRC, conceptart channel if anyone has any great resource compilations or book suggestions, I'm "all out".

    I guess I can say: think of machines as having body's and just make their skin out of metal... ??? Invent parts, just play around with them.

    Edit: Look into what industrial design students actually study? I'm not sure but there are probably even courses in concept design now so yeah, go for those too. If that yields unfruitful, You can always look at manuals of actual machines.

    Edit2: Sorry I couldn't be of more help.
    If you do find some resources on specifically what you're looking for I'd really appreciate a Private Message.

    Edit3: There are two books I thought of which might be of some use to you: Anatomy of a robot by McGraw Hill as a purely theoretical referrence, nothing to do with the visual arts, interesting none the less, and, http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw...design&x=0&y=0
    fheng zu, , sparth... not real ref books but, by artists none the less.
    I guess you've probably tried amazon though.

    Last edited by Helioth; February 2nd, 2009 at 02:08 PM.
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    The problem is you can't simplify learning design to some simple exercise like drawing ellipses or something like this. It requires lots of guessing, experimenting and relying of trial and error, learning on mistakes. Every design problem is completely different. There are certain guidelines which may help.

    There are generally two qualities that good design should have - aesthetics and functionality. Both are linked and dependent on each other and it's good to balance them. You can put mor emphasis on one at the cost of another.

    When it comes to aesthetics, you could write tons of books about that but there are certain constant things that contribute to it like for example composition. You can apply it to three dimensional object in a same way as you apply composition to flat picture. There is for example something like principles of design - rhythm, emphasis, economy, movement, balance, variety, unity, continuity and so on.
    Long time ago Jason Manley created thread where he wrote more about this - http://conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=56493
    You can also take look into book Maitland Graves "The Art of Color and Design." Can be downloaded here although illustrations have really bad quality - http://conceptart.org/forums/showpos...&postcount=128
    Try experimenting with this stuff by throwing onto paper some abstract shapes and arrangeing them according those principles. Look for repeating patterns in nature and applying to your designs. With time you will know what works and what doesn't. It's all about seeing it first before you can make next step.
    I was also reading some book on architecture by Polish author (not translated unfortunately) where he distingushes form into two types, cohesive form and loose form and there is human's tendency to gravitate towards this first one. It's all filled with many principles and theories but I think lead to very formal design. It gives so many variables at disposal while just arrangeing few simple gemetric shapes that sticking to that in the task of designing million-part transformer type of robot would be just confusing. You can read tons of that but ultimately it's just theory and if it looks good then it looks good .

    When it comes to functionality it's always different for every subject. You gotta take into consideration weight, different material qualities, their economical use, ergonomics and other things. You can learn that by also observing how is everything constructed and why.

    Hope it helps. I could write more theories but I still suck at this stuff when it comes to practical side so giving more in depth answer would just lead to misinformation.

    EDIT: My english is not good enough to explain certain things so I constantly edit this post to make it more clear. Sorry

    Last edited by Farvus; February 2nd, 2009 at 03:18 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Farvus View Post
    The problem is you can't simplify learning design to some simple exercise like drawing ellipses or something like this. It requires lots of experimenting and relying of trial and error, learning on mistakes and improving. Every design problem is completely different. There are certain guidelines which may help.

    There are generally two qualities that good design should have - aesthetics and functionality. Both are linked and dependent on each other and it's good to balance them. You can put more emphasis on one at the cost of another.

    When it comes to aesthetics, you could write tons of books about that but there are certain constant things that contribute to it like for example composition. You can apply it to three dimensional object in a same way as you apply composition to flat picture. There is for example something like principles of design - rhythm, emphasis, economy, movement, balance, variety, unity, continuity and so on.
    Long time ago Jason Manley created thread where he wrote more about this - http://conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=56493
    You can also take look into book Maitland Graves "The Art of Color and Design." Can be downloaded here although illustrations have really bad quality - http://conceptart.org/forums/showpos...&postcount=128
    Try experimenting with this stuff by throwing onto paper some abstract shapes and arrangeing them according those principles. Look for repeating patterns in nature and applying to your designs. With time you will know what works and what doesn't. It's all about seeing it first before you can make next step.
    I was also reading some book on architecture by Polish author (not translated unfortunately) where he distingushes form into two types, cohesive form and loose form and there is human's tendency to gravitate towards this first one. It's all filled with many principles and theories but I think lead to very formal design. You can read tons of that but ultimately it's just theory and if it looks good then it looks good .

    When it comes to functionality it's always different for every subject. You gotta take into consideration weight, different material qualities, their economical use, ergonomics and other things. You can learn that by also observing how is everything constructed and why.

    Hope it helps. I could write more theories but still suck at this stuff when it comes to practical side so giving more in depth answer would just lead to misinformation.
    Thanks for posting, good info.
    I remember there's an andrew jones video tutorial about shapes and how to use them in the way described, maybe this will help you Armored Gorilla?

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    One of the most important things to remember is that form follows function, this is very important for your design to be believable. Remove all elements of your design that don't further it's function, detail is good, but don't apply detail for the sake of detail.

    Often artists put details on their designs to cover up their weaknesses with clutter, like Rob liefeld putting 25 pouches on a character to distract you from the fact none of his heroes have feet

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    Yea. I agree but I think the "Form follows function" needs a little further explanation. It's sort of direction that appeared in more modern design. If you look into Wikipedia here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Form_follows_function you'll read something like this:

    Quote Originally Posted by Wikipedia
    Form follows function is a principle associated with modern architecture and industrial design in the 20th Century, which states that the shape of a building or object should be predicated by or based upon its intended function or purpose.

    In the context of design professions form follows function seems like good sense but on closer examination it becomes problematic and open to interpretation. Linking the relationship between the form of an object and its intended purpose is a good idea for designers and architects, but it is not always by itself a complete design solution. Defining the precise meaning(s) of the phrase 'form follows function' opens a discussion of design integrity that remains an important, lively debate.
    This whole "Form follows function" and "ornament is a crime" thing was response of modernist architects to 19th century architecture filled with decorations that basicly didn't have any purpose and killed the clarity of form. From modernist times however the design trends changed a lot and now it's treated much more loosely.

    More importantly as concept artist you're asked to design some things that mimic objects from many different ages so it's much more beyond this type of principle. Nowdays some sculputre on building could be considered kitch according to designers but in medieval style fantasy world ornamentations on clothing or buildings can for example show social status. Feather and horns on helmet didn't have any function but could make warrior look more imposing or threatening. Therefore "form follows function" is not some ultimate rule but I think it should be used only when it's some specific design problem - for example machine for some hard s-f world.

    Also sometimes there are some devices where you can't really show everything in form. For example case for desktop computer is filled with such things as motherboard, hard drive, DVD-rom, graphics card and so on. Outside you got only simply boxy shape with few slots. Not all functions are shown beacause it would complicate everything too much. Simple box is much more economical. Even more hidden function is for example in such iPhone which looks like some plain piece of shiny plastic.

    ......so what I'm trying to say that it's not that obvious as it seems .

    Last edited by Farvus; February 3rd, 2009 at 07:19 AM.
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    Very good point, Farvus

    I don't think ornamentation and unnecessary details are the same thing though. More often than not, ornamentation has a clear function, such as signalling status, rank, affiliation etc.

    I think that when you design something, f.ex a gun, the form of what you are designing needs to fit it's purpose. Is it a heavy weapon for attacks on armored vehicles, or is it perhaps a light sub-machine gun that is meant for close-quarter combat. Is your costume meant for combat, seremonial use, or casual wear. What I meant was if you are designing a character who needs to do hand to hand combat, unless you are doing a Conan comic, don't give your character a leather tissue for protection. And if you are designing an assassin, don't give him a flashy hat with purple feathers and a claymore just to make him look unique or cool, give him a neutral appearance

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    I think that when you design something, f.ex a gun, the form of what you are designing needs to fit it's purpose. Is it a heavy weapon for attacks on armored vehicles, or is it perhaps a light sub-machine gun that is meant for close-quarter combat.
    What you're talking about here is general proportions and size. It's not necessartily affected with detail. For example you could attach to your submachine gun design some additional LCD screen with two buttons so you can play favourite mp3 songs when shooting terrorists. It's of course ridiculous but more ridiculous would be single hand pistol with the size of rocket launcher. But then even size depends on technology level and materials used. (I'm saying the obvious things here, hehe)

    The coolest example of form follows funtion you got in "Men in black". Will Smith with "heavy weapon" for attacks on armoured vehicles. If you haven't watched the movie, I recommend seeing this small thing in action .

    How to get better at Conceptual Design ?

    Last edited by Farvus; February 8th, 2009 at 08:38 PM.
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    Exactly, you take something that has form differing from what you expect from its purpose and it becomes a joke.

    Also, is proporsions and size not form? Hehe, but yeah I think we are on the same page. The clue is that we recognise design with a clear function as believable, which is a good idea if we're trying to get our audience to buy into a concept.

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    Great to hear your thoughts guys; thanks for chiming in. Form vs function is
    an interesting topic in gaming... Sure we have some realistic games, but then
    there's Warcraft, where almost none of the armor or weapons would actually
    be usable (huge shoulder pads anyone?)

    But yeah, Art and Design are very different (though obviously complementary
    skills), so Farvus I definitely agree that drawing ellipses doesn't make
    someone a good designer. And Helioth, thanks for those links, but they're
    definitely more Art related (i.e. Loomis, anatomy, pose reference, etc). A
    couple thoughts on what I mean by design skills...

    An artist I was looking at a couple nights ago is Paul Richards < http://autodestruct.com/concept.htm >
    One day Paul went into work and someone said "hey Paul, design some
    doorways for Quake 4." So he sat down, and bam, out came these perfectly
    appropriate doors:
    http://autodestruct.com/images/quake4_door1.jpg
    http://autodestruct.com/images/quake4_door2.jpg
    http://autodestruct.com/images/quake4_door3.jpg
    http://autodestruct.com/images/quake4_door4.jpg
    Look at how the panels are incised in just the right way, how the bolts are
    the right size and shape and in the right place, how edges are beveled just
    so, how the lock is this cool mechanism we can imagine spinning and
    unlocking in some really cool way. Paul was also able to do this with
    computer consoles and body armor for Quake 4, Romulan architecture and
    alien plantlife for Elite Forces 2, rocket troopers for Jedi Academy, and so
    on...

    Or check out some tech designs from Darren Quach < http://dqsketches.blogspot.com/ >
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_9sjSJdVuv1...k03_Demo01.jpg
    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_9sjSJdVuv1...03_Demo01b.jpg
    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_9sjSJdVuv1...02_Demo01a.jpg
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_9sjSJdVuv1...0-h/dq_arm.jpg
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_9sjSJdVuv1...h/Mech02d2.jpg
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_9sjSJdVuv1.../FlyCar03a.jpg
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_9sjSJdVuv1...-h/RFOM_02.jpg

    or the amazing Carlo Arellano < http://chainsawart.blogspot.com/ >
    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_3p_Az9Y1-d...ercenary11.jpg
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_3p_Az9Y1-d...-h/Friends.jpg
    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_3p_Az9Y1-d..._sketch(4).jpg
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_3p_Az9Y1-d...ot_Costume.jpg
    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_3p_Az9Y1-d...onslayer_3.jpg

    Look at how all the hydraulic pistons, the metal plates, the drive shafts, the
    valves, and all that stuff just meshes together, looks plausible and very cool
    as well.

    So what I'm getting at is that these guys aren't just 'creative', they're
    clearly skilled at doing this. They can sit down and make this happen,
    day in and day out. That's their job. And of course they didn't leave
    highschool (and probably not even art college) knowing what a futuristic
    socket joint on a giant robot should look like. So, they must have acquired
    this skill, somehow or other, over time. And that's what I'm trying to figure
    out:

    Assuming that adequate art skills are a given, how does someone train the
    ability to consistently and efficiently pump out quality design for game, film,
    etc?

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  17. #13
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    Draw a bit of everything. If someone ask for something you haven't drawn before pull up some reference and start working on it.

    Helps us on our journey. Comments and critiques are welcome.

    Sketchgroup

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  18. #14
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    What you're talking about ArmoredGorrila is basicly knowing the right proportions. You can learn that by drawing lots of different things from nature and observing carefully small things. Different types of people, different types of animals, airplanes, cars, helicopters, ships, motorbikes, scooters, guns, engines, chairs, plants, armors. You don't learn these things to draw exactly the same airplane like on photo but to use shapes from them to boost variety in your design. Also visual library is not just what you're able to draw but it's also visual library of pleasant looking proportions.

    I can tell from my experience that after drawing all above things my design greatly improved.

    Last edited by Farvus; February 3rd, 2009 at 06:21 PM.
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    Thanks all, especially Farvus for your thoughts and insight. I expect there will
    be more to it than just studying proportions, but that's a great place to start,
    thanks much

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    I scribble wierd object sometimes, Look at it for a while, maybe even turn the page around, to see what it looks from that perspective. heheeeh.

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    Those samples are awesome. But I'm sure the first futuristic door or mech design these guys did weren't anything special at all. They're able to work at this level with apparent ease because they've been doing it for a long time. The most fundamental thing I think is just doing a thing over and over for a long time. The more techno mechanical stuff you draw the more you find what shapes and lines work and build up your mental library and get better at it.

    You just draw what you want to get good at. If you have no idea how to do a cool mech arm/gun, copy one that you like, then afterwards you'll retain a bit of it, like how a certain group of shapes looked cool or looked sleek or powerful. Then next time you draw you call up that memory and draw a crappy version of it. Keep doing it for years and then you're drawing cool stuff.

    The same principle applies for everything, you basically just do it, want to design functional looking cool gadgets, design them, they'll suck for awhile but the more you draw the better you get.

    So I'd say if you're not happy with what you come up with, copy stuff you wish you could do. Then eventually you'll develop your own sense building off of what you like.

    You said,

    Assuming that adequate art skills are a given, how does someone train the
    ability to consistently and efficiently pump out quality design for game, film,
    etc?

    I think the answer is pump out designs, and after a few months or years you will start to develop consistency and quality. But if you are totally starting out, copy what you like (from drawings, photos, life), figure out what you like about it, then incorporate that stuff into your own work.

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  22. #18
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    fuck CONCEPT DESING, JUST GET IN THAR AND START MAKIN SHIT

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