Final Alien Tomb by Kenny Callicutt

Finding Balance with Concept Artist Kenny Callicutt

PixelSquid is pleased to welcome our guest author, professional concept artist Kenny Callicutt. Kenny previously authored a post about his technical process. This time Kenny’s demonstration is of his creative process and how he uses his tools to bolster creative balance between his professional artwork and his personal artwork.

For the last 10+ years, I’ve worked as a concept artist on projects ranging from short-films for Gatorade to, most recently, the video game mega-hit Fortnite. I have experienced periods where every few months I am working on a new project in a different style, and then focusing on a single project for two-plus years. Whether I am in the blue sky phase throwing ideas at the wall, or in production creating designs to expand an established vision, I find personal work a daily necessity. Working as a creative professional is collaboration and compromise among many other things. This, in conjunction with the freedom to do whatever I want in my personal work, keeps me balanced. I learn a lot through interactions and compromises professionally and the same can be said for when I follow my own ideas down a rabbit hole unchecked.

“Working as a creative professional is collaboration and compromise among many other things. This, in conjunction with the freedom to do whatever I want in my personal work, keeps me balanced.”

While my itch to create personal work never quite subsides, I don’t always have an idea of what I want to create. When this happens, I will usually just start doing a study and sometimes an idea will begin to form. Thats what happened with the project detailed in this post. This piece began as a skull study to practice sculpting in ZBrush. As I roughed-in details, I made a few marks around the sockets that reminded me of vines and shortly after, the idea snowballed into scientists investigating and then harvesting energy from a humanoid giant in an overgrown burial chamber.

After this idea occurred to me, I exported my ZBrush sculpt and quickly mocked up a scene in Blender using the real time lighting engine (Eevee).

Scene mockup in Step 1

At this point, I perused the newly expanded PixelSquid catalog and was really excited to see so many new People Scans. I was able to quickly add more flavor with the scientists in the Hazmat suits and get across the overgrown idea using the PixelSquid Ivy.

Placing PixelSquid objects in step 2

Once I had this composition mocked up, it really served to excite me and spark more ideas. A thing that has bled over from my professional experience into personal work is asking myself: How can I +1 this or play “yes and” with myself (like the improv technique comedians use)? In this case, it quickly led to the question, What would this giant dude be wearing? I started thinking about pharaohs, or maybe he’s decked out like a bejeweled catacomb saint. Answering these types of questions is what I enjoy.

Character Designs in step 3

I worked up 6 thumbnails using symmetry mode in Photoshop. I find it useful for ideation because it’s a bit like a Rorschach test and I can just make marks and react to the shapes. I liked what was going on in thumbnails 4 and 1 and expanded on those with sketches A and B. I decided I liked the feel of A more and moved back to ZBrush to bring the design into 3D.

Option A Gif

After I had my alien fleshed out in 3D, I started to play with other compositions and variations. I built my scenes in Blender, exported the renders to Photoshop, and finished the pieces there by painting over and adding my PixelSquid elements. I could have possibly done the ivy and the hazmat scientists in 3D as well, but these elements are not as important as the giant, and building them in 3D would have made my scene heavier and more tedious to work with.

These are still exploration and I want to invest just enough time to sell the idea and then move on and the PixelSquid assets help me do that. I like using PixelSquid because of the ability to rotate the object. I can get a lot of use out of a single object by just changing the angle and transforming it a bit which also helps with speed.

Composition A

Composition A

Composition B

Composition B

Composition C

Composition C

Composition C Breakdown

Composition C Breakdown

I liked all three of these directions and almost went with composition C, but decided on composition B because painting details into the giant’s face excited me more than exploring the environment he’s in.

Final Process Gif

Pursuing what excites me like this keeps me balanced, and I would encourage anyone else to do the same for themselves.

Kenny Callicutt is a concept artist with over a decade of experience in video games and film. He is an Alumnus of VCU and the Academy Award-winning Moonbot Studios. More of his work can be viewed at

A previous article authored by Kenny can be found here.