February 20, 2024

4 min

Video Game Industry

Juan Jimenez

Marketing Manager

How to Become a Video Game Artist, Part 2

Last time we met, we covered the most common roles in the gaming industry and what you should study to get them. As mentioned, any of these occupations will require in-depth knowledge of digital media and software; therefore, we will discuss industry-standard applications and why they have become paramount in each field.

It is vital to clarify that such information is not immutable; as the industry evolves and the quality of new competing software improves, game companies have become more tolerant and open to welcoming professionals with alternative working methodologies and knowledge into their ranks.

Nevertheless, you can find such" industry leaders" in most job descriptions, so if you are beginning your journey to becoming a digital artist, you may want to consider them in the first place.

We'll also break down all software and related technologies into 2D and 3D tools to better reflect the ideal uses for each. Without further ado, let's get started!

2D Art Tools

Adobe Photoshop


For the general public, Photoshop is the photo processing and editing tool par excellence in the graphics industry. And they are not wrong. Although some paid and open-source tools, such as GIMP, Affinity Photo, Luminar Neo, or Pixlr, have tried to compete directly with Photoshop and grab some market share for themselves, Photoshop has become ubiquitous and fundamental to large-scale image editing.

However, Photoshop's powerful brush tool - probably the best on the market at the time of writing - has earned it an alternate use as a digital illustration and sketching program. Even though, since its earliest versions, the program already contemplated some of these uses thanks to its photo-editing brushes, the adaptability and precision with which a digital artist can change features such as flow, opacity, stroke shape, splatter, and texture of the Brush tool has created entire schools and art trends around it.

Digital art techniques, such as speed painting and photobashing, would have been challenging to implement in the art pipeline were it not for Photoshop's flexibility. Moreover, its support for basic 3D models has given artists significant leeway, allowing them to optimize their workflow by skipping several preparation steps and jumping straight to the meaty parts of art creation.

Although Photoshop is more relevant for concept artists, character artists, and illustrators, it is also an essential tool for marketing artists, thanks to its photo-editing capabilities.


To always keep practising and sketching is one of the fundamental tasks that every digital artist must carryout to achieve high quality in their work. For those who like to do it directly on a digital platform — and have an Apple portable device at hand — Procreate has become one of the most relevant digital painting applications in recent years.

Developed by Australian company Savage Interactive in 2011, Procreate won Apple Design Awards in 2013 and 2022 thanks to its fluidity, speed of use and compatibility — beginning in 2019 —with .abr brushes, the standard Adobe Photoshop brush format. In addition, direct support for Apple Pencil has enabled Procreate to have a sensitivity and efficiency comparable to that of a professional graphics tablet.

These features have made Procreate a weapon of choice among concept artists, illustrators, and poster designers working for the entertainment industry. Recently, the application is beginning to see some use in video game asset creation, and tutorials and courses to master the tool are increasingly available on sites such as Artstation Learning.

Procreate is paramount for concept artists and illustrators, but some marketing artists have already designed posters and other marketing materials in the app with impressive results.

3D Art Tools

Maxon ZBrush


Few software applications have been as influential in the development of game art as ZBrush. First introduced to the graphics industry at SIGGRAPH in 1999 by Pixologic, ZBrush is a digital sculpting and painting tool whose most revolutionary concept is the creation of the pixel: an atomic unit, if you will, of measurement that stores colour, lighting, material, orientation and depth information where a pixel or dot would usually be on the screen.

Although it was initially a favourite program in the toolbox of Hollywood industry make-up and costume artists — in fact, legendary make-up artist Rick Baker was among the first to adopt the software — it eventually saw heavier use in the animation and videogame development industry. Companies such as ILM and Weta Digital relied heavily on ZBrush for several projects in their beginnings.

Meanwhile, the Pixologic development team devised tools and technologies within ZBrush that would eventually make it the industry standard. Tools such as 3D brushes, Transpose, Shadowbox and ZSpheres, along with add-ons such as Polypaint, DynaMesh, and ZRemesher, became common terminology among 3D sculptors and modelers, with a market presence that ZBrush’s competitors, such as Mudbox, Blender, and 3DCoat,can barely rival.

In January 2022, Maxon —developers of Maya's rival Cinema 4D suite — acquired Pixologic, making ZBrush part of the Maxon One subscription service. The suite still integrates with other 3D applications, such as Maya, 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, LightWave 3D, Modo, and Blender, thanks to the GoZ plugin.

ZBrush is essentially a 3D character artist’s primary tool. Nevertheless, environment and asset artists with expertise in hard surface modelling have found ZBrush to be a great ally.

Autodesk Maya/Autodesk 3ds Max


Although ZBrush is the reigning 3D sculpting application, Maya and 3ds Max are the most widely used software for animating and implementing digital assets in animation, visual effects, television, film and video games. Even though both are 25 years old, both applications have been instrumental in the birth of the modern video game industry.

In video game development, 3ds Max is the most popular of the two suites. First released in 1996, 3ds Max popularised polygonal modelling - the most efficient modelling technique before the release of ZBrush - through its use of 3D primitives and the tools associated with their handling and editing.

3ds Max also introduced a tool called NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational Based-Splines), a mathematical-based free-form surface used to model surfaces with complex curves, as long as the technical constraints allow it.

On the other hand, Maya was born from the joint work of Wavefront Technologies and Walt Disney FeatureAnimation, an essential collaboration to create Disney's Dinosaur (2000).Although originally owned by Wavefront, Autodesk purchased it in 2005 after having previously been bought by Silicon Graphics and sold under the Alias brand in 1998.

Maya encompasses the entire 3D asset creation pipeline, from modeling to animation and visual effects production; nevertheless, its primary use is the composition and animation of assets previously developed in other apps and suites.

In the video game industry, Maya is the tool of choice for character artists and animators because of the ease with which you can import, animate and process all kinds of characters. On the other hand, 3ds Max is used more by environment and asset artists because of its greater fluidity and compatibility with several polygonal modelling pipelines and 3D exports.

SideFX Houdini


More graphically powerful video games require more eye-catching and impressive visual effects. Although Maya, 3ds Max, and the most widely used graphics engines, such as Unreal Engine andUnity, include tools and add-ons to create these effects, Houdini has become increasingly important in the workflow of VFX artists.

Created by SideFX in 1996,Houdini is a 3D animation program with several materials, shaders, instructions, and lighting sources, making it ideal for several animation-related tasks.

Although Houdini also has tools intrinsic to 3D modelings, such as polygonal primitives, NURBS, Bézier curves, metaballs, and more, its forte is the particle, material dynamics, lighting, and volumetric simulations — such as clouds, smoke, and fire — included within the package.

The procedural nature of these simulations — whose parameter settings are called "operators" in Houdini — gives this program enormous power when developing visual effects of varying levels of complexity.

And, even though it has two in-house rendering engines — Mantra and Karma — Houdini also supports third-party rendering engines, such as Renderman, Octane, Arnold, V-Ray, and others.

Virtually any 3D artist can find something to love in Houdini, but animators and VFX artists will get the most out of it and should train extensively in this software.



If there is one 3D application that could make us say: "forget the previous ones and study this one", it would be Blender. Initially developed by Dutch animation studio NeoGeo, this 3D graphics suite has slowly become a potent rival to much more expensive and cumbersome 3D applications thanks to several advantages that are difficult to find in a more traditional development environment.

Firstly, Blender is a free and open-source application, thanks to being produced by the Blender Foundation, anon-profit company created by one of the original co-developers of NeoGeo, developer Tom Roosendaal. These unique advantages make Blender a continually improved and bug-tested product with features you would find in more expensive 3D graphics suites.

In addition to including a wide variety of modeling and sculpting tools, Blender contains a procedural creation feature called Geometry Nodes. This tool allows Blender to create complex objects, such as environments with rocks, vegetation, and scattering in less graphically-demanding ways.

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