What is it like to be a concept artist for video games? Meet Marina Ortega

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Concept artist Marina Ortega has worked at indie games studios including Pixelbomb Games and Endnight Studio. She’s done freelance work, full-time work, and she’s worked on games from the very start. She tells Mookychick about the joys of being a concept artist…

Being a Concept Artist for a games studio is one of the most sought-after roles in the games industry, with serious competition, high standards and limited openings – ask anyone who’s ever applied. As alternative jobs go it’s a doozy. Marina Ortega talks about her work journey, concept art career tips and the joys of geeking out…

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Marina Ortega’s oncept art for Beyond Flesh and Blood, Pixelbomb’s mech-shooter game set in dystopian Manchester. Click image to see in full

What inspired you in art, as a child?

I’ve always enjoyed art, especially sci-fi, fantasy and horror art. I’ve never been the kind of kid that had to go early to bed or go away when blood, monsters or anything magic appeared on the screen. I remember watching Aliens with my parents when I was so young that I could barely understand anything. Also I remember playing graphic adventures like Discworld, the first Diablo and Starcraft when I was around six. And I was in love with Conan the Barbarian. So really, everything has inspired me! I will always thank my parents for letting me be inspired by these things.

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Click image to see in full

What made you decide on art as a career?

The magic moment came when I was playing Final Fantasy VIII (I was nine then, so FF VII came later for me, but both games were definitely my starting point). I was that in love with that world, with that perfect mix of sci-fi and fantasy, and that story between the characters, that I decided I had to do something with that, and earn a living in some way with this.

Which artists do you enjoy today?

Tonnes of them – nowadays everything is more and more connected and almost each day I discover someone doing awesome things out there. But I can mention some at least, like Gerald Brom, Greg Capullo, Matt Rhodes, Eytan Zana, Maciej Kuciara, Jonas de Ro… It would be easier for me if I mention games and include the whole concept art team probably, hehe.

So… Mass Effect, Remember Me, Last of Us, Diablo, Dragon Age, Red Dead Redemption, LA Noire, Gears of War

Tell us what you like in video games and fantasy worlds.

I like games and worlds that are not real and boring, that inspire you in real life and somehow always have a connection with it. I love to discover new worlds with new environments and new people that are, in fact, an image of the creator’s mind. They are stories, like mixing books and films together, where you are part of them.

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Click image to see in full

What do you enjoy doing best as an artist? Characters, sketches, environment…or do you enjoy all of it?

I am relatively versatile, and I can do and enjoy a lot of things (sometimes even depending on the project and my personal life), but I truly feel myself with environments and props, mainly.

What do you enjoy about working with a new game like Beyond Flesh and Blood?

Apart from the art style of the game, it was great being able to work so closely with the Art Director and the team, seeing how each person accepts the challenge of producing a high quality realistic result, even in a new start-up company. I was learning and enjoying a lot, and I felt responsibility for the project due to the size of the team.

Imagine you had a gallery of your own. What would you fill it with and why?

One of my goals is to have a space at home full of bookcases with “The Art of…” books, so, if I can have a gallery I would like to put there tonnes of printed concept art, and maybe a bunch of landscape paintings. And posters!

What helps you to feel creative and be in the right mind for your art?

Uhm, probably when I have a break from drawing. Then I go and play games, watch new films, go and visit places I’ve never been, or go to a museum. And it’s good to talk and spend time with my partner – he is not an artist in terms of his career skillset, but his soul is, full of great ideas and advice. He is always a big help and support for me.

Which are your favourite pieces of your own work so far?

I try to ensure each new concept I turn in is my favourite. It doesn’t always work, but at least I try to improve in some way each time. My answer to this one would also depend on if you ask me for the best design, the best technique, the best storytelling… By the time you read this, I will probably have another new favourite, hehe.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in concept art?

Don’t give up, never give up. If something isn’t working, try another thing, find another source of learning. Nowadays, you have online schools, free tutorials, communities, people… a lot of things to learn from.

But you won’t make it if you don’t believe you WILL be a concept artist. You’ll need to keep improving and learning forever, and you won’t be always happy with the result, but you need to keep trying. You will need to accept the critics, the negatives and keep searching for your place. Never avoid trying because you are afraid of failure. Everybody is… but success goes to the one who really tries.

And keep in mind the difference between concept art and illustration, too. Do the things you think the companies want to see, the companies need, the things you enjoy seeing in your artbooks and games, and focus on that.

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Oh hai Marina! Thanks for sharing your story xxx


write for Mookychick