Art Direction: Writing A Concept Brief
By Neil Blevins
Created On: Aug 27th 2020
This lesson is about how to make a "Concept Brief".
Concept Brief is a document that a client / art director makes for the
concept artist to explain what they'd like them to design. It includes
information like what the object / character is, what format the art
reference images, etc.
You have two choices with this lesson, watch me discuss the issue in
the video below, or read the full text.
So I've received many concept briefs over the last 20 years from Art
Directors, and this has given me a general feel for what information
helps the most inside a brief. And now that I've been art directing a
few of my own projects these last few years, I decided a few months ago
to make a formal
Concept Brief template, so that the briefs I make in the future will
follow a common format. So these briefs are a combination of some of
the best briefs I've received from art directors in the past, along
with a few of my own ideas on information I feel is helpful for an
artist to have.
I hope this lesson can be helpful in two way, if you're an art
director, you may want to use this template as a starting spot for your
own briefs, or if you're an artist, this may give you a few ideas on
extra details that might be worth asking of your art director when you
receive a brief.
The most recent briefs I've made have been for my
Book Project, where I have a set of 6-7 artists
helping me painting illustrations of enormous megastructures.
So I went and took
one of my old briefs
and redid it using my new format. You can see it below. So this would
be what I would hand off to an artist who was working on the project.
Click either image to see a higher res one...
Breaking It Down
So let's discuss what each part does...
The Dyson Sphere Example
- Title: The
title of the brief. The project name and the specific concept name from
5 Ws: (you don't have to specifically split this up, it can
instead be just a "description" paragraph, but make sure your paragraph
has all 5 of these questions answered)
If designing a character, this is telling the person about who the
character is. If designing a prop, this is who would use this object.
What is it? How does it work? If designing a character, this might be
describing the character's job. If designing an environment or prop,
this is the description of the thing itself.
Location of the thing being designed. A little more context on how the
item works in the film / game. For example, if you're designing a
crate, will the crate be in a specific part of the game? Will it be
If someone isn't familiar with the project, it's important to know the
time period of the object. Like if you're working on a military
shooting game, is it civil war era? World War I? Modern? Near Future?
Far Future? That key bit of info will change your approach a lot to how
What is the purpose of this character, prop or environment in the
project you are making. If the what is a spaceship, why is describing
the purpose of the spaceship.
- Emotion: What emotion is the design supposed
to convey? Anger? Fear? Joy? Like if you're designing Darth Vader, this
would be "Scary" or "Power".
How big is the object? How tall is the person? Are there other
dimensional metrics you need to know like how heavy the object should
be? Or does the handle on a weapon need to be a specific size to
accommodate the character being able to grab it.
What you want to see from the concept artist. Is the final deliverable
a detailed painting? Do you want to see 10 thumbnails before approving
one before doing the final painting?
Should the final painting be whimsical?
Should the final result look photo real? Should it look flat shaded
an old comic book?
Sometimes this is more specifically outlined in a contract, but
generally it's a decent idea to say something in here like "Due July
1st", or 5 days of work on this, etc.
Res and Aspect Ratio: Does the final painting have to
conform to a specific aspect ratio? And what's the minimum resolution
the imagery should be? What final image format (TIF? jpg?)
- Art Period:
A few words describing the overall artistic style of the world. Most
projects can be broken down into a word or two that tells you the
style. For example, is your world is a cyber-punk gothic style? A
post apocalyptic solar punk? An accurate representation of ancient
Materials: A number of images to use as reference. A few
notes: 1) Also
super helpful, a little note on each saying what the reference is for.
As an example, if I include an image of a forklift because I like how
the rust covers the metal, but I don't say that's what I like the
image, the concept artist may think it's the overall shape of the
forklift you like. 2) When possible, I try and include the credit for
reference images. Not only is it the right thing to do to credit the
original artists, but it gives the concept artist a start looking up
further reference from the sources. 3) I try as much as possible to
include reference of photos, as opposed to other artists work, since
using original source references helps avoid just reinterpreting
exactly what has been done before.
So now lets apply this to the Dyson Sphere Example.
- Title: Megastructures
Book Project - The Dyson Sphere
A Dyson Sphere is a structure that encompasses a sun to capture a large
portion of its output energy. The energy would be used for various
purposes by the civilization that constructed the sphere, such as
powering super computers, providing a living area for its inhabitants,
and other industrial uses. A Dyson Sphere can come in 3 varieties: a
Dyson Swarm, a Dyson Bubble, and a Dyson Shell. The Dyson Swarm is a
cloud of smaller satellites that orbit the sun, possibly at a distance
of 1 AU (the distance earth is from the sun), but could be closer or
further to the sun, all the distance would effect would be the number
of satellites necessary to form the sphere. The Satellites could be
something similar to O’Neill Cylinders, which could capture the
sunlight as well as provide habitable area to the population. The
advantage of the Swarm is you can start with a smaller number of
satellites, and incrementally add more as time goes on to capture more
and more of the star’s power. The disadvantage is the work required to
make sure the satellites don't collide. The Dyson Bubble would also be
made from separate satellites, but instead of orbiting, they'd be
statites, satellites with large light sails that would use radiation
pressure to counteract the star's gravitational pull, and allow the
satellites to hover above a stationary position around the sun. This
has the advantage of avoiding collisions, since they remain in the same
spot. The Dyson Shell is a solid sphere that completely encompasses the
sun, capturing 100% of its power output, and provides an enormous area
for people to live on in the interior surface. A sphere built at 1 AU
would have a surface area of 550 million times the surface area of
Earth. Various gates could be constructed to allow space traffic to
leave and enter the sphere. The shell design has a number of large
problems with it though. First, keeping the sphere centered around the
star would be hard since there would be no net gravity from the star
holding the sphere in place. Second, any society living on the inside
surface of the sphere would not be pulled through gravity to the shell,
instead they'd tumble into the star. This could be fixed by rotating
the sphere to create spin gravity, however the majority of the
population would have to live around the equator to take advantage of
the gravity, basically turning the habitable part of the sphere into a
Niven Ring, with the poles of the sphere being used exclusively for
energy collection. And finally, you'd always have noon-time sun,
requiring some sort of sun shield to create fake day and night cycles.
Humans in the far future.
Created in our solar system, or a neighboring one.
Far Future, since creating such a device is far beyond our current
To capture the majority of its output energy.
A bright future showing amazing human achievement!
Large enough to encompass a sun.
at least 3 thumbnails, upon approval, 1 final painting.
Anywhere between Realistic to Photo real.
Due October 1st 2020
Res and Aspect Ratio: At least 3k in the longest
dimension. Either 0.8 aspect ratio (for vertical images), 1.4-1.6
aspect ratio (for horizontal images) or 2.39 aspect ratio (for wide
- Art Period:
Nasa style painting crossed with a photo real effects movie like
Materials: See the Reference Material and commentary I
provided in the image of the brief above. Also note, for this concept
brief, I couldn't include real life reference photos since nothing even
remotely like a dyson sphere exists in real life. Also, in a real brief
there may be 1-2 more pages of reference images, just did 4 to show you
The amount of detail you add to the brief will depend heavily on
who the artist is, the needs and stage of the project, and how much of
the artist's own creativity you want them to bring to the table.
Frequently in the very early stages
of say a film, you have the blue sky phase, where things are looser,
it's more about exploration. This is an excellent time to give looser
briefs to your artist to see what they
come up with. But as the project goes
further along the briefs become more specific because now everyone has
a better idea of what does and does not fit into the world, and those
rules need to be stuck with. So loose or detailed are both fine and
have their place, the
only bad situation is if there are very specific requirements, but the
brief is too loose, that can lead to a lot of frustration for both
the artist and client.
Anyways, that's it. Hopefully it inspires you to make your own custom
brief template. The more precise the communication is between client
and artist, I believe a better result can be achieved, and the process
of getting that result will have far less drama or misunderstandings.