Alex is a freelance concept artist living in Cambridge whose clients span the likes of EA Visceral, Sony, and MPC to name a few. She has contributed design work to projects including AAA games like Battlefield, as well as feature films like Guardians of the Galaxy, and we are thrilled to share her thoughts on the five main stages of design with you.

Stage 1

Learn everything you can about your target. At least a day spent googling research is time well spent. Study its habits. Fill pages with images of existing examples, learn how they work, study they way they look.Your decisions later are informed by this comprehension.Watch videos of your target in action, download free 3d models of similar designs, get to know your prey. What are other people doing? You want to bring something new to the table and avoid retreading something other artists have done. Study what makes the art you like work so effectively. Add in images of influences you want to add. Want to make it gothic? Add gothic arcitecture art and costume, to prime your mind. Your final work will be a synthesis of these ingredients, so shop around to find the highest quality produce.

Fast pen sketches based on research.

Stage 2

Now you know how to recognize your target, and the hunt can begin. I usually go running or do some manual chore so my body is occupied and my mind can wander to the problem. Sketch out arrangements of key components in your mind. Does one block another? Move it. Title each one idea and make a note of the titles or quick sketches if needed to recall them back at the desk. Stir in your other influences; how do they influence the colour and shape of your design. With a well-trained imagination, you can do a lot of work in your head first. After my run and some coffee and social media time wasting I sketch my ideas and start building simple 3d models. Block in major components and striking shapes; the details can come later I usually have about 5 key ideas and these then merge and separate in successive sketches till I have like 3 contenders. Pick the coolest one.

Fast 3D sketches. I pick the one that strikes the best balance between being vaguely practical and looking like a weird old biplane crossed with a spaceship. 

Rebuild it more carefully, tuning the shape bit by bit and trying things out till it looks ok. I spend 2 days on this at least - and tweaks continue through to the end. 

Stage 3

Now that you've caught the idea its just a matter of honing the model. I'll make a wishlist of things I want to hit and then go down the list. Rinse, repeat. An art director giving you a list of red-line changes would expect you to do the same so its good practice.

I'm old school and self-schooled, so my 3d modelling is uniquely crappy, I just make my stuff from polys usually; subdividing surfaces, beveling edges, extruding faces, moving vertices, mesh smoothing it so round it off. Shaping a hull or piece of equipment, painting some textures for it, installing it. Its slow methodical. I usually watch watch movies or listen to podcasts. Nudge it toward something that looks cool. This is a fun part of the work.

Do this for a few days if you have time, just nudging & making different versions, pondering, letting new ideas occur to you, correcting glaring flaws, gauging the impact of the design. After a while I arrive at a final-ish design I like and do a bunch of renders and sketch over them. Is anything bugging me about the designs? Is any flavor underrepresented? Salt with more hard angles to make the design more aggressive or beef up the chunkiness to seem stronger, pepper with small widely spaced details to make it seem bigger etc. Eventually its time for some nice high resolution renders.

Along the way, assess how it's going and figure out what needs fixing. Painting textures is great fun.

Stage 4

I like a mix of descriptive and dramatic views; the object on display and in action. Study great real world photos for tips on how to set up your renders. Paint those renders. Add in real-world detail and asymmetry, tweak the colours and contrast.

And in third-read details for dedicated viewers to discover. In car design, the last stage of a marker render is adding the jewelry, fine functional and decorative detail, and the bird shit, the specular highlights on the glossy paint.

An illustrative render of the design with a setting to show scale.
A more dramatic, artsy one. 

Stage 5 

Feel free to keep churning out renders and sketching on them. Now that you've built the thing, shooting cool pics of it is easy.Put the object into a situation so it becomes contextual background to the scene, that's always fun. It amounts to playing with your toys! Have fun!

Now the asset can be used in other scenes! What would it look like unloading some cargo, for instance? In this image, I broke the fuselage apart to show it opening, also used an old space-plane model I made earlier, posed a few people, and rendered it.

We'd like to thank Alex for sharing this awesome insight - now go explore the 5 stages of design!