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A Comprehensive Introduction to 3D Game Art

Creating beautiful 3D game art is a difficult task for many aspiring game artists and designers because of its complexity compared to 2D art. This article will explain some basics for how to create stunning 3D game art.

Examples of Beautiful 3D Game Art to Inspire you

Finding 3D game art in the gaming world is easy in the modern gaming landscape. Many studios who can afford the extra cost and effort of 3D art will choose it over 2D art when they can. Some of today’s most beautiful 3D art include the following games.

Dark Souls

The character Artorias, from Dark Souls is one of the most beloved characters in the soul-crushing game. His broken arm flails limply, and the corruption on his body radiates as he fights the player. Artorias is a great example of a 3D model.

Warframe

Warframe features absolutely phenomenal character models for their titular warframes, and stunning weapon models, along with enemy designs. In the case of Warframe, Digital Extremes has created their own unique art direction and style to use for their game, and it has become iconic.

Bastion

Bastion features timeless 3D art that focuses more on the backgrounds and world than the character designs of previous examples. That being said, it’s arguable if Bastion even is 3D, given how it was developed. The characters and backgrounds were modelled in 3D, and then exported into 2D PNG images that seamlessly shift as the game rotates. You can read more about Bastion’s development here.

With a few examples to look at, maybe you’ve got some ideas of your own flowing, so let’s take a look at where to start.

Major 3D art styles

Before you can begin planning out your project, you’ve got to decide on a style for yourself, or work with your team of artists to pick one that matches your game’s intended style. There are many different styles, but we’ll go over a few of the major ones, with some examples.

Realism

One of the most obvious places to start is to create realistic looks. Many games aspire to this look, including the Call of Duty franchise, and Battlefield. Realistic art styles generally ground a game in reality. One of the most beautiful examples of realistic art would be Metro: Exodus.

Metro Exodus
This game is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful games of our time, and it earns that reputation with its world design, and technical specs. You can find further reading about realistic game art here.

Stylized

A very vague term, stylized 3D game art is hard to define. It essentially refers to art that has some kind of modification such that is has a consistent look, regardless of what’s realistic. It could be seen as opposite to realism in terms of intention. There are unending examples of this, but a good example to help understand the style would be Journey.
Journey
The rare example of an indie game using 3D art, Journey shows beautiful stylization. Its goal is not to create anything realistic, but instead to draw curiosity and instill the player’s heart with similar emotions to the main character, as they explore a world they’ve never seen. You can read more about Journey’s art here.

Journey certainly isn’t the only example of stylized art, and other examples include games like Fortnite or Overwatch.

The pros and cons of stylized and realistic art styles are diverse, and their different purposes are always interesting to try and understand. Some games benefit more from realism than stylization depending on their intended genre, and this article goes into it quite well.

Unreal Realism

This is a fun style, and is often the choice for fantasy and punk-style games. Essentially, these games follow the principles of realism, but expand them to “unreal” creatures or places, like a dragon or an

alien. A classic example of this would be Skyrim.
Skyrim
While the graphics appear real, and have beautiful detail, we all know dragons aren’t real, nor is Dwarven steel, out of which the boy is made. Despite the fact that most of the game’s assets are not real, Bethesda decided to focus in on making things realistic. This can be difficult for some artists since creating realistic graphics without any reality to base it off of can be difficult, but Skyrim has pulled it off masterfully. Skyrim one of the simpler types of 3D modelling, featuring 3D skeletons, with 2D textures over top of them. This simple style doesn’t take away from the game in any way however.

There are many other game art styles, but these are some of the major ones. Others include cartoony graphics, and collage graphics, which you can read about here if you’re curious.

Working with 3D Artists

As with any team effort, communication is important. Once you’ve got yourself an art style in mind, properly expressing that to your 3D design artists, or if you are the artist, properly expressing it to your game director is vital. Many artists can work in most styles, but have a specialized style they may prefer, and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your team can be important.

3D art is composed of a series of 3D models, for which there are many types of 3D modelling styles. Many games use basic skeletal structures for their characters, and then add 2D textures to those skeletons.
Even large game companies like Activision-Blizzard use this technique, and most 3D design artists will be familiar with this style when it comes to 3D models for characters. This is the basis for just about all 3D game art styles. That being said, there are many different 3D model styles and types of 3D modelling that artists can use, and these styles further play into the previously mentioned art styles.

Realistic 3D game art will use proportions that match the real world, while stylized 3D game art will have consistent, but perhaps unreal proportions, like the above example from Overwatch. When working with your artists, using terms they’ll recognize is important so that they can translate your ideas into the beautiful 3D game art your game needs.

Working to your artists’ strengths is important as well. Some 3D artists focus completely on 3D model styles, and their construction, and others on texturing and lighting. The more members of your team you have, the more you can specialize each one for a specific task that best suits their skills. That being said, a bloated team can be disorganized, so maintaining cohesion can be difficult without a skilled art lead. You can make your art lead’s job easier, however, by having a consistent style and being a strong communicator.

If you haven’t got a team though, it might be easier for you to outsource your work to an already established team of professional artists.

How to Approach 3D art

All games need a game design document that outlines the game’s intended genre and style. This document outlines more than just the art, but essentially, create a document that follows a simple, straightforward plan like “X character does Y to accomplish Z.” This way, you can avoid losing focus and keep yourself organized. Game design documents are simple and easy to read, and should include potential characters and settings, gameplay genres, and, of course, art styles.

Once you’ve got a team that understands what you’re looking for, and you’ve got the resources to begin, the first place to start is some concept art. This is the beginning of just about any game art project, or art project in general. Some basic sketches, and ideas that show what you’re trying to make are a great place to start. Characters and important places in the game world can set the tone for the entire project, and with the right concept art, everyone on your art team will know how to handle it.
Rodrigo Idalino on ArtStation
Starting with concept art of many styles can be good for helping you decide the exact direction you want to go as well with your game art. Once you’ve got some solid concept art, your team can start working on actual assets for the game that can be tweaked as they go. The actual assets don’t have to look anything like the concept art theoretically, so long as they match the style and intent you’re going for.

That all being said, sometimes, assembling a team of talented artists can be difficult, and many studios, including AAA studios, reach out to outsourcing teams to do their art for them.

Outsourcing Art

If assembling your own team is something you can’t do, either due to inexperience or a lack of resources, then outsourcing would be perfect for you. When finding a studio to outsource your game art to, it’s important to find the right people.

A studio with a good reputation and a sense of cooperation and communication are the most valuable above all. Experienced team members and a good track record of previous projects are a good sign that an art outsourcing company is worth your time. Proper studios will have a project manager who keeps you informed about what they’re doing, and shows you samples of their work as they go so that you can provide your input and desired changes. Finding good studios can be difficult, since there is certainly a glut of outsourcing companies looking to take money and deliver minimal effort products, but most companies that are successful have a good sense of teamwork and attention to detail, as well as experience working with larger companies.


Expressing your desired style to an outsourcing company is important as well. The studio should be willing to tell you if they don’t understand what you’re saying, or be able to express to you their understanding of your desired style so that you can be certain that they will give you what you’re looking for. A good studio focuses on making your project succeed.

Regardless of whether you work with your own team, or with an external studio, hopefully this article has helped you to understand where to start with your project so that you can make the game of your dreams.
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