Monday, May 22, 2017

Timeline of a speedpaint - part 8

This is an interesting stage of the speedpaint, because I know I want to add something more, something "human" that we can connect with, but I'm not sure what yet. At this stage what I DO know is that I want to push some of the background further back - once again, using atmospheric perspective to do so, while still finalizing details here and there.

One extra detail that I wanted was a couple extra streams of water falling, one from the main structure, and one just below it and to the left. This helps diversify the colours a bit more in this spot, and spreads the values around just a little more.

Next, I wanted to refine this spiral shape even more. I pinched it in on both sides, to try and refine the shape and make it more interesting than the rather blocky form it had. I also add yet another layer of stone features in the empty spots of sky, just to keep things of a fairly uniform density.

To the foreground stones, both on the left hand side and the cliffs to the right, I add some rim lighting, which helps to make them pop a little against the scenery behind them. The spire on the left here got some extra attention, taking it from a boring, straight vertical line to a rather curvy, interesting form. I'm always looking for interesting forms like this when I paint, and if I can accentuate them, I like to do so. It adds some nice variety to the shapes, and a bit more visual interest.

The final step is to add a faint layer of red to everything in the distance, pushing it further back. This might seem odd, but I know I want to add something eye catching as a feature in the foreground - at this point, I was trying to decide between some sort of flying vehicle and a human figure - and reducing the contrast of the backdrop is a good preparation, knowing that I want my foreground object to stand out the most. Next time we visit this scene, I'll be roughly choosing where and what I'm going to add for this foreground feature!

Friday, May 19, 2017

A look at graphics: framing an interactive painting

My writings over on Adventure Gamers have been mostly about directing the player in various ways - whether in feeling or focus - so far, something I think is especially important to consider as an adventure game artist, and this month's article is no exception. This month's topic, of filling up the rest of the frame, is something I have struggled with, wondered about and tried to figure out for years, and hopefully my thoughts on the issue will make some sense.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Timeline of a speedpaint - part 7

This is the major detailing pass on the focus structure, and I also neatened up a few little areas in the composition that were annoying me. Overall, I'm getting ready to move onto the foreground here, but I'm just cleaning up a few things that need my attention before I can.

This main structure needs the most details because of a phenomenon I like to call 'Contrast of density' - that is, most dense details in one section than the surrounding sections. This, like most forms of contrast, will draw our attention to the area that's different and stands out, and give us more to look at. Another form of contrast I want to do more of is something I've mentioned earlier - the contrast of angular lines against the largely horizontal and vertical lines that surround the structure. To this end, I add pipes and struts, which also helps improve how interesting the silhouette is, another powerful feature.

A big thing that's been really annoying me, too, is how convenient the composition of the area around the path is - it's just a wide open area that allows us to see most of the path, and that feels too arranged, too fake. To combat this, I work in another two layers of rocky features, covering up large sections of the path, trying to make sure I don't make any tangents with the details of the path, the rocky features behind the path, or the rocky features in the very foreground. Overlapping layers feels great - a more natural, candid way to present a scene, and it also covers up that large stretch of bright value that was a little distracting.

Finally I work on some of the rocky features framing the city - both those in the foreground, and the feature behind it. There's nothing major to talk about here, I was just trying to clean up some of the duller and more rough parts to get rid of any bits that I didn't like the look of. You can see there's a tangent here, between the foreground rock, where it juts out about 3/4 of the way up, and the rocky feature behind, one that's been here for the last few passes. This is something I fixed in the next pass.

The way the silhouette of the main focal structure is about how I want it now - detailed enough to draw my eye, and interesting enough to form a cool silhouette. The next pass has me pushing these details all further back into the distance, in order to start thinking about adding a human element, and giving a bit of a story to the scene.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Timeline of a speedpaint - part 6

The washed out appearance of the darks and mids in my last version of this scene wasn't very nice - it didn't have the punchy, vibrant feel I wanted from this scene, and this adjustment is my attempt to fix this. It might seem a little strange to spend almost a whole 5 minute slot getting this right, but this is pretty close to the palette I'll be taking through until the end of the speedpaint, so it's worth getting it mostly right now.

My main focus here was to eliminate the blues - they felt dry and cold, and washed out in a way that didn't really work for me. An overlay layer makes pretty quick work of this, without affecting the existing reds too much - you have to be careful with overlay layers, as they can severely boost your already bright colours, but here I got away with it.

With the main colour scheme made more vivid, I wanted to focus on my two main focal points, and bring them to light a bit more. I thought that a red/green palette might work nicely, and provide some strong contrast, so I used a slightly green yellow on another overlay layer to wash over the highlights in both areas. I ended up pushing these a bit closer to orange by the end, but it was a decent starting point.

After being a little tired of various rock details, I decided it might be nice to try turning the one in the top left corner into an angled building, like a half collapsed old skyscraper. This would keep a nice angle in this area, but provide a different set of textures and help give some story to the world, the idea of a cityscape in ruins. I actually regretted this idea towards the end - I didn't have the time or patience to really give this detail the rendering it needs to sell the concept, and it feels rushed and unfinished in the final version. It's hard to say how easy this would have been to fix at this stage, but my best option would've probably been to leave this area as a rocky feature and move on. Nevertheless, this is the decision I made at the time.

By now I'm halfway through painting the scene, and basically everything is coming together. My next step will be to add the final details to the background scenery, because after that I'm going to start thinking about my focal feature in the foreground.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Timeline of a speedpaint - part 5

My values are better, my composition is roughly laid out, and I have a rough colour scheme. It's time to focus on the actual painting! This is usually the most fun part for me, after the concentration of trying to get a decent composition and some decent colours, it's just enjoyable to paint "stuff" - not in any sort of detail, by any means, but with slightly more care than the rough scribbles I've been using up until now.

The first order of business is to fix that nasty tangent that connected the left stone spike here to the details in the background. Pushing it much further up fixes this - with a tangent, we're just touching something, and we can either fix this by pulling it back, so it doesn't touch at all, or push it way further past, so it overlaps a big chunk of the object behind it. I also painting over the rather bland placeholder rectangles that made up my city until now, taking the science fiction idea further by adding a slight angle to one of the two larger structures, and adding some nice, bright lights to add a bit more contrast. As we saw earlier, this city exists right on the intersection of two thirds lines, and because of this I want to emphasize its presence as a focal point.

That done, I focus on the area above the city - it's a little dull and formless in the area directly above, so I add another layer of distant rocky features to break up this area, working quickly and letting a mostly random shape form. I also increased the contrast between the farther rock forms and the sky by adding some "cloud" details with a lighter value. This makes the cool spiral stone feature stand out more, once again, without the new feature taking too much of the glory. I liked this spiral, and I wanted it to be noticeable still.

While adding layers, I go to the light below the main focal point and add some rough stone forms to cover its source. I add finer distinctions between individual spires of stone - this layer is closer to the viewer than the areas I was working on just before, and it makes sense to have them more detailed, and I also want to encourage more varied silhouettes for the shapes in this focal region - the more unique the silhouette, the more interesting it will be to look at, and the more attention grabbing it will be as a result.

Up in the top left third I start fiddling around with this stone form, trying to figure out what I'm going to do with it. I lighten the sky behind it, and try some ideas to make it more visually interesting. I like the idea of a hollow part here, but later decided against it, as it was forming a straight, vertical line right next to a series of straight vertical lines of light - a weird bit of repetition that feels off.

Finally, I'm worried about those vertical columns of light, too, because they're such a focal point, but they don't really say anything, or add anything. I decide it might be cool to sketch in a little idea - a jet craft of some sort, flying into the light, leaving a trail of smoke/glow/something. This helps to break up the silhouette a little, and I like the way this looks. I don't actually take it any further than this when finishing the scene up, but I'm glad I added the detail and broke up the repetition of the columns of light slightly.

With a fairly uniform detail pass, I'm getting a better sense of the feel of the scene, and what I want to do with the main elements. In the next step I'm going to take another look at the colour scheme, and turn my initial colour pass into more of a final palette.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Timeline of a speedpaint - part 4

With some colour in the mix, the next thing I wanted to focus on was some greater value diversity. This basically means making the lights lighter, and the darks darker. I mostly did this on the extremities of the palette, focusing on making the lights shooting up into the sky much brighter, and the framing features much darker. Most of the midtones I left for now, planning to focus more on those once I had worked out the darks and lights.

You can see here how I used a single, light brush stroke over the painting, with pure white, on an overlay layer, to brighten this section up. I'm not worried about being neat at this point, I simply want to bring in more extremities, and some of this will most likely be hidden in the final mix anyway.

With the lights lightened, and the cliffs darkened, my next worry was that the way the cliffs framed the distant feature was a little too convenient, and a little too unnatural, so I wanted to break this up, and have some cliff features that overlapped part of the distant scenery. To try and accomplish this I painted some simple rock spikes jutting up, from the foreground, covering some of the path, and some of the city. This helps to give the illusion of depth, and multiple layers, and makes for a more pleasing composition overall. The rock spire on the left here forms a tangent, which is something I noticed and fixed later.

I also tried to fill up some of the sky detail that I painted last time with another, even further back rock detail, helping to frame the focal building once again, and also filling this section in a little. I had noticed that the large section of rather red sky was slightly distracting, drawing my attention away from the focal building just a little, so this is a decent remedy to counter that.

With the rough composition laid out, the basic colour scheme decided, and the values pushed a little more, the scene here is ready for me to start thinking about painting in some actual details, which is what we'll be taking a look at in the next step!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Timeline of a speedpaint - part 3

With a basic composition done, it's time to start thinking about colour. At this point I'm thinking a nice, warm red for the sky, and some cool blue for the cliffs, so I shift the browns of the palette into this. Using photoshop there's a number of different ways you can achieve this over a value study - levels adjustment layers, curves adjustment layers, gradient maps, etc. All of them work pretty well for an underpainting like this - this isn't intended to be my final colour scheme, just a way to put some basic colour in before I start using 'washes' to colour it by hand.

With the basic colour in, I put some time into adjusting the less organic looking parts of the cliffs. The straight lines here in the previous stage are a little too straight - I've decided that my straight vertical lines should be limited to the lines of light coming up from the main structure, and having this form repeated in a simple framing element like this isn't ideal. An angle that comes inwards at the bottom, starting above the little city, helps me 'catch' the city in this element, breaking this part of the cliff more away from the upper part of the cliff, and a gentler, more natural angle above this narrows up nicely for the lumpy feature in the top right third.

Again on the other side I cut into the very plain angle of the cliff, hacking my way in with sky colour, getting rid of that plain, straight line of highlight that felt like a repetition of the angled highlight further below it on the same cliff edge. Once again, repetition of forms visible in a focal element isn't super ideal, so cutting it up made me more confident that this would now exist more as framing detail, rather than something eye-catching.

In the distant rocky structure above the city, I noticed that my random painting made for a shape that's almost like a stone spiral wrapping around another stone feature, so I spent a little time playing around with making this idea more apparent. I'm quite fond of making random marks with the brush and seeing what shapes emerge from it - a little like looking for shapes in clouds. I also brought some of the lighter, cloudy/hazy details that I'd added to the other piece of sky over to this part of the sky too, helping me define this silhouette a bit more clearly.

With the basic colour scheme in, and a basic composition decided, the first 15 minutes had me pretty confident that I had a workable design to go from. Next time we see this scene I'll be focusing on adding some more value contrast, to make it a bit punchier and a little less muted, and from there, onto adding some further details!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Timeline of a speedpaint - part 2

One of the harder things, once I have a rough sketch down, is starting to add detail without taking away from the purity and clarity of a sketch. When a detail is just suggested in silhouette there's very little that can look "wrong" in terms of rendering - our imagination does a lot of the detailing work for us. Once actual rendering starts, some of that clarity is lost, and there's a lot more space for things to be "off", or look slightly wrong. This is something I'm always mindful of when doing paintings like this, especially in early stages like this, where it's easy to focus on slight details and get lost adding too much to them, ruining the overall cohesiveness of the piece.

I find a good way to keep track of the whole image, as well as balance things out is to use a grid of thirds, something I've discussed before. You can see here, especially with another 5 minutes worth of progress, that each quadrant is used for a slightly different thing. The top left has a mixture of cliffs, open sky, and some roughly sketched in haze/cloud detail. The top middle has the vertical sky beams, as well as the distant rock features, while the top right has a mix of foreground cliffs and sky, the sky showing through some of the cliff to show an interesting silhouette. The middle left third has cliffs that frame the main structure, while the very middle third has the main structure in one corner, balanced by a vague city (now made brighter) that sits right on the middle of the junction of thirds. The right middle quadrant has cliffs, which in this third I tried to add some slight lateral detail to. The bottom left is mostly framed in by foreground cliffs, complemented by a curve in the road, the bottom middle is all road, with all the angles they bring, and the bottom right is almost entirely vertical cliff.

The new sections added to the main structure are mostly introducing some more contrast, to help it stand out and be more visually interesting. The large angled support stands out among the many vertical and horizontal lines, and the two new "waterfalls" and the divisions in the wide "window" add what I like to think of as "contrast of density". This effectively means that this comparatively large amount of detail will make the object be more visible compared to the less detailed areas around it. I discussed in a post about contrast, our eyes are drawn to things that stand out from their surroundings, and this is a fairly interesting way of achieving this.

If you compare the city and the roadway to the previous version of the image, you can see I added much more contrast here, too, with brighter values really helping these to stand out in the composition. This really helps highlight the s-curve, which I want to feature fairly strongly, and also helps balance the image, which was previously a little more focused on the left hand side. I also tried to made the framing a little more interesting around the city, with the cliff now jutting out slightly, to "catch" the city, rather than the cliffs running all the way downwards past it.

The other adjustment here is that I tried to start filling in this patch of blank sky. I used very quick, messy strokes to scratch in my ideas for a loose gradient of colours, from the glow shown at the very bottom of the main structure all the way up to the sky colour. This ends up being a sort of hazy, cloudy kind of detail that doesn't mind being a little messy, and fills up some of this dull, flat sky with some visual noise that's not too distracting, but not dull and flat either.

And that, with a little more fiddling with some of the rocky features, is the end of the second 5 minute snapshot of this speedpainting. The differences between this and the last mostly represent me focusing on getting a composition I like, and making sure each section of the image is fairly well balanced, and works with the rest. With this basic composition at a level I'm roughly satisfied with, my next step was to start thinking about colour, which is what I'll be looking at tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Timeline of a speedpaint - part 1

Speedpainting is a very specific type of practice, something I enjoy doing for a number of reasons. Firstly, it forces us to stop focusing on details, as there simply isn't a lot of time to draw detail, and focus on bigger problems. Considering that it's pretty common for artists to focus too much on particular details, as opposed to compositions as a whole, this is a great way to force the focus back to the whole picture. Secondly, it's a very free form of drawing - normally when doing a painting I have to think about where characters will walk, how they'll interact with things, etc. Doing something like this, just for practice, means I don't have to think about any of that. Thirdly, I usually limit myself to an hour or so, meaning that I'm not spending too much time, and which means if I want to try something weird and unusual, and it fails, then I haven't wasted a whole day.

I recently did the speedpainting above, in roughly an hour, and saved snapshots of it at 5 minute intervals, tweeting each as I went. I'm going to go through in further detail now, though, and try to explain some of the ideas that went into making this rough sketch, and how some of the pieces of art theory I've discussed on this blog helped me make decisions while drawing this.The fact that most decisions need to be made in mere minutes mean that having mental points of reference for colour, composition and design is very handy, and allows you to make confident decisions without worrying too much about whether they'll end up working or not.

I'll be covering one 5 minute snapshot of the speedpaint per day, trying to focus on the exact choices I made in that 5 minute slot, and why I made them, which means I'm going to start with this:

For the beginning of a speedpaint, I spend the first 5 minutes trying to block out an entire scene as quickly as possible, entirely in 2 colours, a light and a dark. By doing a 'value study' like this, I can use the brightness of the light value and the strength of the dark value to quickly define interesting shapes - the strong contrast makes things stand out, without colours getting in the way.

Back when I discussed the visual power of pure form I mentioned how much visual impact an interesting silhouette can have, and that was my first goal with this scene - to have an interesting silhouette to catch people's eye. I knew that I wanted to have some sort of structure, so I lengthened it into something unusually disk-like and put it on a strange, angled support, giving it a science fiction look. The white line sandwiched between the dark details gives the area a lot of contrast, drawing focus, and lines of light going vertically act as visual pathways towards it.

To frame this, I decided to place large, vertical cliffs on either side of the scene. Because the focal structure isn't central, I put more cliff on the right side, filling up some of that space, while the outline on the left roughly follows the actual shape of the structure, framing it closely in a way that I liked. You can also see me experimenting with a bit of rock texture on the right hand side, just to make sure there's a bit of balance and that the right third of the composition isn't just flat colour.

To fill up the rest of the space, in the focal area of the scene, I decided to play around with the idea of a roadway, going from the far distance into the middle distance. The horizontally running lines of the main structure contrast very well with the vertical lines of the surrounding cliffs, so I decided to continue using horizontal lines here. I've talked about how much I like the use of s-curves in composition, and here it not only allowed me to make the path more interesting, but also fill up the right amount of space in the scene - I even doubled it, to make for an even more dynamic shape.

Lastly, to fill up the little patch of blank sky that remained, I painted some extra detail on top of the little lump I'd sat the main structure in front of, just to give it a more interesting silhouette against the sky. I'm using very simplified atmospheric perspective here to make this seem more distant than the cliffs in the foreground - at this point it's just a shift in value. Eventually I'll make sure they're different in both value and hue, to further help the effect.

And that's it for the first 5 minutes of this speedpainting. Hopefully by breaking it down into small chunks like this, and showing why I made each decision, I can show a practical, illustrated use for little pieces of the art theory I've been writing about, and you can get an understanding of how I personally apply these things to my work. I hope you'll join me again tomorrow when I start refining my initial shapes a little!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Ten gorgeous adventure game scenes from the pixel art era

I was delighted to be asked to select 10 classic adventure game scenes and talk about why I love them over on PC Gamer, and the article is now up. If you're interested in seeing some of my most favourite scenes from the genre, and why I love them, head on over and check it out!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Composition in thirds

A common practice in both photography and art is to mentally divide the composition into both vertical and horizontal thirds when arranging elements, and using these thirds to loosely inform the placement of certain elements. It's common to see objects of interest placed around the intersection of two of the lines, for example, or to set one's horizon line along one of the lateral lines. This scene from Beneath a Steel Sky shows an interesting composition in which the vertical divisions in the composition run roughly down the first and second thirds lines, dividing the picture up evenly, and the placement of the walkway is along the second horizontal third.

The junction of two thirds is an excellent placement for the cockpit of this craft in Space Quest 4 - it's clearly the most interesting object in the scene. We can also see that the landscape is nicely divided into thirds vertically - the top third is sky and distant rock formations, the middle third is the flat path we walk on, which basically doesn't push beyond these lines, and the bottom shows the supporting rock structure and other stony features.

In this scene from Full Throttle we have two focal points - a door that we have to get through and a fuel tower in the distance that we're trying to reach. Here both are placed on opposing thirds - the tower on the intersection of the first thirds, and the door on the second thirds. This balances them both nicely - putting both on one side of the image, or both at the top or bottom would make the scene's weight feel shifted away from this even placement.

This shot from Quest for Glory 3 shows a similar idea but in an opposite configuration - the placement of our hero is around the bottom left third, and the placement of the throne and its occupant is centred around the top right third - even wrapping around it in an L shape that leaves most of the top middle third free to show the throne. Notice also that the pillar runs along the left third - in fact, the whole image feels like it's rather neatly divisible into thirds.

In this shot from Space Quest 5 we can see something similar - not only is Roger's face placed right on the top left third, but the surrounding landscape appears to have been composed into neat thirds. The right third has an organic pillar running down most of the way, ending two thirds of the way down, the bottom left third is take up almost entirely by another organic pillar's descent, and the middle third is reserved for the distance (and another figure, in a different colour).

This backdrop from The Dig also has stone features dividing the scene - the left and right thirds taken up by tall stone structures - as well as a sky that takes up the top third, but also here the centre third has been lit up warmly compared to the structure around it. This entire scene may have been actually drawn with a grid of thirds, so neat is the composition.

I get the same feeling from this scene in Kyrandia 2 - not only is the haystack placed around the bottom left third, but the top of the stack fills the middle third, the bottom (and its shadow) the bottom third. The top left third seems to be all cliff and trees, with the top left third trees and sky, and the top middle third a mix of all three in an interesting way. The path exists in the bottom third, with a fence running right along the third line, and the forest on either side of the middle third changing right around the third lines. It's not possible to know for certain if this was drawn with a grid, but the image certainly benefits from the clean, balanced composition.

This shot from Simon the Sorcerer feels the same - the owl on the top left third, and the land, trees and sky around it divided neatly into thirds. Each third here, too, feels like it's own little micro-composition, making this composition somewhat reminiscent of the layouts of traditional landscape painters, even if the actual execution is more whimsical here.

The same is true here in King's Quest 6 - each third of this scene seems to contain a very specific element - the sky in the top left, then a small plateau in the top middle and a more distant forested hill in the top right. The middle left has a wrecked ship and stones, then a short cliff and path, then the curving edge of the path and a shrub. The bottom left is sea and wreckage, then the main stretch of winding beach, and then finally a grassy mound in the bottom right. It's fairly neatly divided among these thirds, despite the shapes still feeling organic and varied.

Something I particularly like in this scene from Willy Beamish is how lighting helps divide the composition. Notice how the tree on the right side of the image is in shadow in the top and bottom thirds, and lit in the middle, how the fence is shadowed in the right and left thirds, how the shadow of the centre tree's canopy sits right along the third line. Probably my favourite feature is how dynamic features cut off the bottom third - fence and bushes in the bottom left, shadow in the bottom middle, and flowers and wheelbarrow in the bottom right. The bottom third feels like it's been divided extremely neatly along this line, but the varied nature of the shapes and features doing this dividing means it feels much more natural.

This scene from Full Throttle uses lighting nicely too - the bottom third is dark, with the division along the third line being highlighted in the warm yellow coming from a light source that stops around the left third division. It's a simple trick, but helps to define this section of the composition nicely, and does so in an unobtrusive way.

It's interesting how very organic forms can be grouped into neat compositions, too. The rounded hills of this section of King's Quest 6 seem very loose and rounded, but when viewed against a grid of thirds, it's clear that they have a clear, fairly even cutoff point along the first third line - almost as straight as the stone pathway that ends right along the second third line. Notice here, too, how the knight pieces group with the sections of fence to block in the left and right centre thirds nicely.

One last point of interest to me is the idea of how we view a composition. In the standard gameplay view of Dune, it's clear where the scenery is and where the interface is - and here the composition can be considered to be divided up into thirds extremely neatly. The bottoms of the banners, the floor, the pillars - it's all divided up quite squarely, with the interface not part of the scene.

When talking to a character, however, the scenery is obscured. This seems to bring the interface into the composition, with the actual scenery just being a framing device. This being in mind, I like to think that we can measure the composition of a scene across the whole interface, not excluding the bottom section, and of course we can see that the most important part of any character - the eyes - is right on the top left third here. An interesting consideration, if nothing else.

Thirds in composition aren't a perfect way to get a strong layout, nor are they a necessary tool, or even usable in every composition. They are, however, visible in many, many scenes, and a great way to help balance a composition out evenly. Rather than adhering to the 'rule of thirds' for every composition, I think it's mostly important to be aware of them, and know that many artists do use them, and that their use has helped artists with their compositions for centuries, yet still remains effective today.