First off there is no hard-line difference per say, however there are big differences between these two titles. I myself, have worked as both and each position is a little different.
The title of 3D Artist usually is an artist who works in a 3D computer program to create dimensional work in CAD or one of the various 3D Software packages [ 3ds Max, Maya , C4D, Sketch Up,etc]. 3D Artists are primarily trained in the 3D Program or programs of choice , and work in a variety of industries to build out, light, texture, and animate their creation they have built. 3D is a dimensional world rather than a flat world like Photoshop and Illustrator tend to be. It is also not required as a 3D Artist to be trained as a 2D or 3D sketch artist, though many do this.
A Conceptual Designer is a trained designer that works on concept art, usually for the film and game industry. The first Conceptual Designer, or Concept Artist I met was back in 1986, Syd Mead. Syd did all the futuristic designs for films such as 2001, Blade Runner and Tron. His path took him through Industrial Design [ ID], and I followed this path myself. ID trained concept artists understand how things are made, and usually are builders in the real world on some level, and this real world training translates directly in the way they do 3D.
Once I saw Syd's work at a presentation in college, and more importantly, heard him describe his work back in Michigan in the Winter of 86'. I knew this was my path, so I transferred to Art Center in Pasadena to complete my training as an Industrial Designer with a plan to do Entertainment Design that last semester in Detroit.
A 3D Conceptual Designer is someone who is double trained in both of these disciplines. And this training takes place both in school and on the job. I have worked as all three, starting my career with 2D Concept Art, and now I do a bit of all three roles depending on the clients needs, but primarily I do 3D now.
The big advantage to being double trained is that, first I am open to more work opportunities, and second the client themselves get a two for one, in that I can design and build my own creations for them, cutting out the most expensive part in the middle of translating a design from one person to another so it can be accurately built as a final product. With me you get both. Finally, as a designer myself I can read and translate other designers work very fast, so I can build other peoples work much quicker and closer to their original concepts.
So today I am posting this link to my Traditional Hand sketching and Marker Rendering work that I do that is the basis for my title of 3D Conceptual Designer.
As a Industrial Designer trained in Transportation Design[ Car Designer], there is a moment in our education that we make a connection between our clay models and sketching. After this connection is made you sketch much more realistic, and accurately as the end product is real and dimensional. This is what happens when I sketch now, I draw more accurately now that I do a majority 3D.
If you have a need for 2D Concept work I still break out the velum, so contact me for a bid.
I have added a permanent button to the right menu like this.
NOTE: Blogger limits file size, so for a full size Image from up top click here.
As to my 2D work here are some specific links for this work.
Phantom 2040 2D Animated:
Theme Park[ some 3D]:
Art Center[ some 3D]:
Frum-Unders 2D Character Development;