Concept Art: My Journey Towards Visual Art

by Angelica Macias

I was introduced to the art of drawing at a very early age. I slowly progressed from drawing simple geometric shapes and stick figures to still lifes and portraits. After seven years of art classes, I was able to draw almost anything and have it resemble the actual object or concept intended. However, no matter how realistic or detailed this image might be, I came to the realization that art and drawing in itself is more than creating a copy, or a picturesque representation of the real deal. No matter how detailed or colorful my artwork was, it seemed to be void and empty; at times, it even felt purposeless; there was something missing. It was not until I commenced my college career that I was able to realize what was missing exactly from my art. Up to this point, I had created art that lacked expression- a story, something that allowed the viewer to contemplate, reflect upon, or even relate to. In college, I had just learned about effective visual storytelling techniques and ways of self-expression through art, but I could not find a way to successfully add this touch of emotion into my work. Thus, I decided to take a break from drawing for some time. 

Despite the fact that I was no longer actively drawing, the gears in my head kept turning. I began filling my head with my very own stories and creating characters that I could relate to. Before I knew it, I had mounts of different stories stuck in my head. Unfortunately, those stories were stuck in my own imagination. I did not know how to share them with those around me effectively. For me, words have never been a successful way of communication, especially for my stories. It was not until I came across The Tree of Life featurette and the documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness that I learned about different ways of introducing an idea for a story. 

In the behind-the-scenes featurette of The Tree of life, I learned how the director of this film, Terrence Malick, did not provide a typical script for his team. Instead, he provided a recollection of different objects, letters, and photographs. He then used those objects to explain the story. What I learned from watching The Tree of life and the filming techniques Terrence Malick used to make this film was the essence of pure cinema. Every frame, every unprecedented movement made by the actors, every angle and the pure essence of natural lighting; all of these choices were made to tell a story visually. Each frame in the film told a story. In a sense visual storytelling or cinema becomes a sort of music for the eyes. 

In The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, I learned about the well known animator Hayao Miyazaki’s unique work process. He would first draw out the story, in others words storyboard the story, and then he would simultaneously write the script. I also learned that the reason that his work and in general anime, is so effective in communicating a story, is that every frame is representative of a painting. In this, movement is not necessary to provoke an emotion. Each frame is emotionally impactful due to the close attention to framing, colors, and lighting of each. These three elements when used with intention are enough to provoke a type of emotion in the viewer. Therefore, Terrence Malick’s style and anime have a similarity in that they both seek to tell a story visually. What Miyazaki’s and Malick’s story making process have in common is that both use visuals first in order to explain a story. For a person like me, who struggles to express through words, knowing how these great storytellers reversed the story making process in order to explain their idea provides a sense of hope as an artist. Moreover,  as I delved deeper into the world of animation, I came across concept art. Concept art is used for all types of films; from live action to animation. It is the art that sets the path towards which an idea is set on. Concept art is the vision of an idea coming to life.

I had finally found a different way of expressing an idea of a story, but with this came a new problem. Now I needed to find the time to actually draw out my ideas. However, with the pandemic and having to adjust to a new schedule with virtual classes and with the cancellation of many events and cities closing completely, I found myself emotionally impacted just like everyone else around the world. I was, fortunately, able to find the silver lining in all of this; I now had the time to draw. I used this time to distract myself from reality and I decided to put my time to good use and draw out my own worlds and realities.

As I began drawing out my ideas, I became a bit frustrated; visually there was no depth or reality to the images. The characters looked very flat and the backgrounds were nowhere near reality. None of the drawings I had created were close to what I had envisioned in my head. I looked into more concept art for inspiration, but the more research I did, the more I felt discouraged. I saw all types of concept art, from The Mandalorian to video game concept art, such as Zelda. All the concept art I saw was filled with detail and a sense of realism mixed with fantastical elements. In other words, the concept art that I saw had one thing in common; it all visually transported viewers to a make-believe world that through an effective use of color, lighting, framing and detailed art styles allows the viewer to feel like those worlds are no longer fake, but rather a possibility. In order to accomplish this, I began to relearn art techniques and learn which techniques worked best to my artistic style. I took all that I had learned in my cinematic art courses and what I had learned from the art process of Terrence Malick and Hayao Miyazaki and decided to draw. 

The practice of drawing for the sake of drawing allowed my art to feel a bit free and not tense like it used to feel.  As I drew more and more, I not only sharpened my drawing skills but also my communication skills through my drawings. Of course, my concept art drawings are nowhere near as detailed, intricate and realistic as the professional concept art that is used in the entertainment industry, but the few drawings I’ve made have helped to at least introduce an idea to those around me. Even though at times I might get frustrated with my own drawings, concept art is a type of art that I have really come to enjoy. I hope to one day create those still images into an animation. 

Angelica Macias is a CNMA student that spends most of her time lost in her thoughts thinking and envisioning new ideas which rarely come to life. During her free time she enjoys drawing, listening to music and most importantly spending time with her family.

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