Planning and concepting is a necessary process for any project, and is often just as important as the finished product. It is partly about generating ideas, but equally about analysing choices, making decisions and rejecting ideas that don’t work. The exact steps vary depending on what the final outcome is going to be – producing a 3d model has a different work flow than producing a 2d painting – but the ideas behind the steps are the same. Concepting is an iterative process – that is, each step builds on the last.
In terms of visual design, that means working out the overall composition of an image before starting on the details, and then using those different compositions to start looking at details. When making 3D game assets, this planning is even more important since there are so many different aspects that come together to make a scene, and unlike in a single 2D image, until everything is put in place the concept art is your only accurate idea of what the scene will look like as a whole.
Establishing a consistent method for working through the planning stages is important because it gives you an estimate of how much can be achieved in a certain timescale, as well as letting you set benchmarks for your progress throughout a project.
The concepting stage has been one of the hardest things to get my head around over the first year, and it’s still a bit of a stuggle at times. I’m a visual person, and when I start thinking about a new project I tend to rush ahead and start thinking in terms of the finished piece. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I really began to appreciate the value of planning, and to understand that concepting is not simply documenting your thought process – rather, that the exploration of ideas should be done on paper and not just in your head. I’m still guilty of getting attached to a certain idea, or getting fixated certain scene before I’ve even started doing thumbnails. I find it hard not so see something that seems impressive at the time and think ‘wow, that’s what I want to draw’.
However, I’m getting better at it. By forcing myself to slow down and try different things before I start narrowing down my idea I am starting to see the benefit, even if while I’m drawing the thumbnails it sometimes still feels like I’m just going through the motions. The more planning I do the more I’m finding myself thinking about what I’m drawing, making aesthetic decisions that I might not have thought about, and it’s now at the point where I feel the need to plan things on paper, whereas before I’d want jump headfirst into Photoshop or 3DS Max.
That said, it’s still the biggest area I need to work on. A large part of this is that everything I do is still at least fifty per cent trial and error, even if I thought I knew what I was doing. At this point I just have to accept than anything I do will take at least three times longer than I think it will.