Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2

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The Importance of Concept Art
By Gigazelle
Do you have an awesome idea that you're just itching to get into TF2, but lack the knowledge of 3D modeling, texturing, and/or how the Source Engine works? If so, this guide is exactly for you!
After submitting a few items to the workshop, I noticed people started adding me, wanting me to "make their awesome idea they thought of!". I know for a fact that many other workshop artists experience this same thing, and since so many people have left a sour taste in their mouth, most of them no longer accept friend requests from random people.

This guide is designed to set several things straight:
  • Your ideas alone are not what's going to get you listed as a contributor to a workshop item.
  • There is a wrong way to go about getting listed as a contributor, and a right way.
  • Plenty of resources are available for you to utilize in becoming a solid concept artist.
They really, truly, are. If you have an idea for a cosmetic in Team Fortress 2, I guarantee that at least a dozen other people have thought of that EXACT same thing. So, what's going to set you apart from all those other people, and get you a sparkling self-made?

Action. Initiative. Execution.

Chances are that out of all those other people that have the same idea, none are willing to get off their butt and do something about it. Your idea + execution trumps everyone else who just has an idea alone - you're the one who gets the self-made while they get nothing. However, following through all the way is key.
The Concept of Concept Art
In order for you to bring your concept to fruition, you must convince a 3D modeler that your idea is worth their time. How do you convince an individual to spend an entire week's worth (or more) of their precious spare time devoted to modeling an idea you came up with?

Concept art.

Concept art is an integral part of making videogame assets, and cosmetics in TF2 are no exception! They give modelers an idea of how it is supposed to look, and lets them use their skills to bring the idea into a 3D environment. Almost every modern game in existence has concept art; your favorite games existed as 2D sketchups before they were realized in 3D form.

Here are some examples of TF2 cosmetic concept art that has made it into the game. The concept art is on the left, and actual model is on the right:

The Colonel's Coat:

Cute Suit:

Rugged Respirator:

Toy Soldier:

Antarctic Researcher:

All of these concepts were made so the modeler knows exactly what to do. You can illustrate your concept in any way you'd like, just make sure your art represents and sells your idea well! Remember, this is what is going to convince modelers to invest time in it. If they don't think it's going to make it into the game, they're not going to invest the time modeling it.

Another thing also worth noting: you do not have to be an amazing artist to create concept art. As long as your picture creates a vision of your idea, and is able to convey that vision to others, you're doing it right.

Mistakes to avoid
Out of all the strangers who have added me "wanting to collaborate on an item", I have modeled exactly zero of the ideas they pitched me. You can also probably guess how many of them were prepared with concept art.

DO NOT DO THESE! They will only cause animosity between you and the individual you interact with, and is why many workshop artists don't accept random adds:
  • Send an unsolicited friend request to a 3D modeler with the intent to pitch an idea: Every 3D modeler has different tastes, texturing styles, workload, schedules, and experience levels. The chances that the modeler you add just happens to have the free time, like your idea, and has the proper experience to execute is slim to none.
  • Try to explain your idea in words alone: If you want workshop artists to model your idea, they must have a visual representation of what it would look like in-game. Attempting to describe it does not do your item justice. This is why concept art exists!
  • Use Google Images as concept art: Looking at a fashion model wearing an article of clothing does not give an accurate visual representation of a TF2 mercenary wearing it. There are colors, bodygroups, and proportions that all play a key factor on how well an item fits.
The Correct Process!
So now that you know you shouldn't start adding top workshop artists saying "I have this great idea!", onto revealing the correct process!

To draw your concept, you'll want 1) an image editor; and 2) reference images.

Here are some image editors you can use:
Adobe Photoshop CC Trial[] (requires an AdobeID)

Here are some reference image resources you can use:
Class Images v2[] (compiled by fuzzymellow)
Class References v3[] (compiled by VernoGuy)

Have the reference image on one of the bottom layers, and illustrate your concept on one or more upper layers. That way you can use the eraser tool without altering the reference image. For a more in-depth guide on illustrating concept art, see Good Looking TF2 Concept in Just 5 Steps by IJCT.

Reference images are not always needed - some of the above concepts were drawn by hand and scanned in. As long as your drawing effectively conveys what you want the item to look like, you're doing things just fine.

Keeping an album that stores your unclaimed concepts is extremely beneficial in the long run. Each time you publish a new image, you can make a subtle plug to this album so modelers can easily see all your concepts in case they missed it the first time you posted it.

Here are some online album hosting services:

Now that you have a concept art album with at least one piece of art in it, it's time to join a community! Instead of adding a single modeler who most likely won't claim your concept, you put your concept out there in front of many artists to see what sticks. It doesn't matter how good your concept art is if nobody sees it - you must put as many relevant eyes on it as possible. Many TF2 modelers (your target audience), texturers, and concept artists frequent the same forums. The more you establish a reputation in said communities, the more likely someone's going to be interested in your work.

One thing to mention: don't worry about someone stealing your idea. Remember, ideas are worthless, and you've already done the legwork in creating concept art. Workshop artists are going to give credit where credit is due if they see an item they're interested in modeling.

Here are some forum threads you can take your concept art to:
TF2 Emporium Discord[] - Post your concept art in the #unclaimed channel. There is also a #tutorials-and-help channel that provides additional resources for you to learn how to make TF2 items.
Facepunch's TF2 Emporium[] - Find the Emporium thread on this page and post your concept art in there. The first post in the Emporium thread also contains additional resources for you to learn how to make TF2 items. Forum rules are fairly strict, so make sure you read up on them before diving in and posting.
You can also try Polycount's TF2 Workshop thread[] and the Steam forums, however those are less reliable for concept art exposure.

Post each image only once, unless you've made significant alterations to an existing one. Workshop artists are some of the most chill people you'll meet; but if you don't show a desire to improve and/or a willingness to listen, you'll likely be ignored.

Once you've posted your image(s) to a community, be prepared for and open to criticism. Feedback is a good thing! If you genuinely want to contribute to the TF2 workshop, take the comments from others, and work to improve both on your existing concepts and new ones you create in the future. Sometimes your ideas are impossible to implement, or require significant alterations to be viable - don't be afraid to redraw existing concepts multiple times. Often something as simple as a modified color palette or other minor tweaks is all it takes for a 3D modeler to see your vision of it being in-game and claim it.

If someone claims your concept, ROCK ON! The hard part is over. The modeler will do their thing, involve a texture artist if needed, ask you questions on details, and get it all ready to submit to the workshop. Be patient with them; often it takes several weeks, a month or even more for the modeler to finish it depending on their schedule. If you think the modeler has forgotten, don't be afraid to follow up with them, and put your concept back into your online album if they've changed their mind (yes, it's unfortunate, but sometimes it does happen).

When the item is ready to be submitted to the workshop, you get to discuss revenue allocations. Just to make sure you walk into this scenario with the right expectations, concept artists generally receive 5-15% depending on the quality of concept art (maybe a little more if the concepts are REALLY good). This number is wholly dependent on how much you contributed to the actual project. Again, ideas are worthless; it's the concept art that you're getting allocated revenue for.

Once you've accepted revenue allocations, the workshop item is submitted. From there it's up to the community to vote on whether they like it or not, and up to Valve to accept it into the game.
To wrap everything up into a simplified list, remember these:

  • It's all about how you contribute to a workshop project, not about your idea.
  • The easiest way for ambitious first-time individuals to contribute is by creating concept art.
  • Draw your concept, keep your unclaimed work in an album that modelers can reference, show your completed work to others, and get feedback to constantly improve.

Hopefully this guide has provided some value to you! If you know of any image editors, reference sources, image album services, or communities not mentioned, please feel free to leave them in the comments! I'm happy to update this guide with resources others have found successful.
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Mits Jan 30 @ 5:52am 
Very nice guide, thanks for sharing. :phoenixheart:
FailBucket Nov 2, 2017 @ 3:14pm 
Thanks, this was very insightful!
Juan Pablo GIMENEZ May 16, 2017 @ 4:55pm 
Juan Pablo GIMENEZ Apr 23, 2017 @ 11:24am 
Emerald Oct 23, 2016 @ 2:04pm 
Hey it's me again, back with yet another question. Recently on Reddit I saw videos of Disney animators acting out their scenes side by side. Would SFM artists take video of yourself acting out the taunt as concept art?
Gigazelle  [author] Oct 17, 2016 @ 2:56pm 
Yeah, the Rugged Respirator here was hand-drawn and scanned in. As long as the concept conveys your thoughts well enough, any medium can work!
Emerald Oct 17, 2016 @ 1:22pm 
I just was wondering if in the lines of concept art people take photograped paper. I have a steady hand and keen eye with a pencil, but not a mouse...
Dr. Pestis May 5, 2016 @ 11:59pm 
Fuck, I had an idea for a Mayann Update sniper rifle weapon, but I am terrible at drawing. I could give a written decription, but I doubt that'd work.... Since you said. My idea is officially fucked.
Super Ninja Fat Feb 11, 2016 @ 11:07am 
I've posted a ton of Portal 2 map concept art for a workshop series that I've been planning and I'm looking for people who can help. Know any places I can post my stuff? :p2aperture::p2chell:
Goodnight Girl Jan 10, 2016 @ 4:00pm 
Would you say that this same process can also apply for maps? (TF2 included but ideally any game.) Most map collaborations that I see are done by people who are either already popular or those who know eachother through other means.

I apologize if I'm asking the polar opposite of an answerable question to you. Peace!