Thursday, October 25, 2012

Studying Anatomy

One of the main focusses of my drawing recently has been trying to make my figures appear more anatomically correct. I never really thought about this properly up until relatively recently, when I realised that even if you wish to have a stylised approach to drawing, a solid understanding of anatomy and the structure of the body really does help give your work that little extra polish and professionalism. For game concept art it'll be crucial to understand muscle structure so that I can create believable characters, or exaggerate features in the correct way.

I have decided to go about developing my anatomy in two ways: doing more drawing from life, and studying anatomy from books, tutorials, etc. (I briefly went into this last year).

One book that I've bought is Dynamic Anatomy by Burne Hogarth. Hogarth had a masterful grasp of anatomy which he demonstrated in the Tarzan newspaper comic strip, and this book is regarded worldwide as a classic text on artistic anatomy. 

It was first published in 1958, so the language isn't as simple and easy to follow as modern how-to art books, but the extensive range of drawings and detailed description of muscle groups makes it a very valuable reference.

I've learnt a lot already only from scanning and reading a few chapters; I've tried to correct the way I structure the head and facial features, though I find it a bit difficult creating the shape of the head that Hogarth describes, particularly from a low angle. and my faces always seem to end up looking to cramped towards the centre.

I'm also aware that I really need to study and practice the structure of shoulders, arms, legs, and just about the whole body... 

(I'll put scans here soon)

I went to a Life Drawing class here at the college (I hope to start going regularly - I attended whilst studying A levels and it was an invaluable part of my portfolio). It was a little strange drawing from life for the first time after so long, and it was fairly clear that I need to practice this more as my figures' proportions were completely off at first. I enjoyed working with white chalk on a black background, and generally allowing myself to be expressive with the medium - it's good to get away from digital art every now and then.


I'm hoping that after I learn more about the muscle structure of the body, my life drawing will become more lifelike.

I'm going to start carrying a small sketchbook around and drawing from life whilst I'm out and about - it'll be a good way to pass the 1-2 hour commutes to and from uni every day (although I get quite self-conscious whilst drawing in public). Learning to quickly capture the features or stance of a figure as they are in motion is an important skill to have for animation and storyboarding. 


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Steampunk Machinima cont.

Development of the main character for our game cinematic, from initial coloured design ideas to the finished turnaround. 

I thought I didn't need to completely render out the dress as the details of the patchwork design will most likely change when we come to create the textures, this is mainly so that we can get started on the modelling as soon as possible. I'll need to create a more detailed design for the goggles as that will be a fairly intricate part of the model. 

I wanted to make sure that the outfit was suitable for her character - she is a lab assistant, so I didn't want her to be too prim and pretty like many steampunk female characters. I also didn't want to overload her with accessories as that'd be impractical. Yet at the same time, her outfit needed to be eyecatching and stand out from the surroundings, so I thought I would add a patchwork and green striped design to her skirt.

Hopefully I haven't been too ambitious and will actually be able to model this!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

SWOT chart

In our PPP session we used a SWOT chart to define our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. These are a valuable way to gain insight on what you can do to improve your work and develop as a practitioner.

Here's mine!

From this chart I've realised that I really need to showcase my art more, and also present it at a more professional level. I need to take part in more events/competitions, and also in particular work on myself as a person and develop my self-confidence and communication skills. In this industry, you can't just sit back and expect other people to come to you and offer you work - you have to be out there, searching and ready to deal with whatever comes your way, whether that's rejections, critiques or work opportunities, and you need to have the confidence to get through it all and not give in.

Steampunk Machinima: Development

We've decided what groups we'll be working in for the machinima cinematic project. Our group (Alex, Ryan and myself) is fairly well-balanced: we each have a speciality, but would also like to branch out to try all aspects of the project. So, we've so far come to the conclusion we'll each be working a little on the modelling, rigging and possibly animation stages.

For the concept work, after brainstorming all our ideas together and deciding roughly on what the characters will look like, Alex and I have taken one main character each to work on in more detail. I will also be working on rougher storyboards for him to refine and tidy up.

We had to choose one narrative theme "prompt" from which the general story of our 1-minute film would revolve around. These were "exchange", "stolen" and "surveillance". We swapped our initial ideas and settled on an "exchange" story which takes place in a steampunk-style world, and features a young female as the primary character and a giant, malfunctioning robot as the secondary character.

We decided fairly early on we'd like to work in a cartoon style reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Maker. A realistic or more detailed style would be a bit difficult to render well at our current skill level, and we thought that a bright, clean look like Wind Maker would be more suitable, as although it's simple it's still very effective.

Here are my initial sketches. I experimented with varying levels of stylisation - the top left shows a somewhat more Disney approach, inspired by Treasure Planet. We decided we preferred the character to be wearing a dress, so from there we tried different heights and body proportions. All-in-all we thought that the top right was closest to what we were looking for at this stage. My next steps will be drawing up some outfit/hair variations and a T-pose.

The robot has required a bit more time to finalise the design. We experimented with a more human-sized, female-looking robot, though we thought that if it was much bigger than the girl it would offer a more interesting visual contrast. Here were some of my sketches (Alex has taken the design further and is coming up with the finished concept). The main influences here included The Iron Giant and also the indie game Machinarium.

Machinarium in particular I think captures a rusty steampunk atmosphere which I think will be a great reference when we come to making textures and the environment.

That's all for now!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Skills I want to develop

Although I will be learning a lot of valuable skills as part of the modules on my course, there are still other software packages I'd like to learn about and techniques I'd like to explore.

At the moment, the range of skills I'd like to learn about is rather broad and probably too ambitious, so I definitely need to narrow my focus if I want to really develop.

- Digital painting. I'm interested to learn more about the tools of Photoshop that I haven't yet got my head around, such as masking. I'd also like to have a look at other programs such as Corel Painter (which is rated #1 in a 2012 Digital Painting Software Comparison!).

- Drawing. I need to practice drawing and colouring anatomy, landscapes, buildings, scenery, non-human creatures. Storyboarding, sequential art... Anything that's involved with it, really.

- 3D Modelling. I'd like to learn more about creating models in Maya, and also try software that allows more organic sculpting like ZBrush or Mudbox.

- I'd like to become more involved in the online art community, by creating and uploading more work, taking part in competitions, etc. as I think this is probably the main way to discover opportunities, meet potential clients or collaborators.

- I definitely need to become better at "putting myself out there" and having the confidence to establish relationships with other people working in the industry. This will also involve attending local art-related events and meeting contacts that way.

These are the main ones, though I'd also like to explore:

Writing. I'm very interested in writing stories but I don't really know all that much about it. Studying what makes a great story or character would be very useful.

- Traditional cel and stop-motion animation 

- After Effects for 2D digital animation, I've also been interested in digital compositing, i.e. blending CG footage with real-life footage to create interesting effects.

- Traditional art. Particularly painting, I think that would help me learn more about colouring as I wouldn't be able to use digital shortcuts. I'm also curious to try sculpting clay models or making puppets for animations, but I'm not sure if I'll actually get the chance to do that. Another thing I've always been curious to try is creating prosthetics / costume make-up, but again, I don't really have the space/resources to try this.

As I said I know time will be strained so I'm not sure how I'd try all of these things, and it'd be more effective for me to focus on only a couple of new software packages. It's going to be a busy year...

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Part of PPP this year is to get involved with events and competitions that can help us develop as practitioners.

I'm definitely interested in taking part in Thought Bubble this year. Although at the moment I've mainly been focussing on developing my digital painting skills and software skills for my course, I would at some point like to learn more about sequential art and creating graphic novel art. There are a number of panels, live events and also portfolio reviews at Thought Bubble that I think would be a great opportunity to learn more about the industry, about the professional's working and creative process and to even get feedback on my own work.

I haven't got my head around the entire program yet, but I'm interested in the SelfMadeHero Drop-In Portfolio Critique, and the Titan Comics Portolio Reviews. There are other critiques available from Marvel and Image Comics, though these require advance bookings and for your portfolio to be chosen. Getting advice from working professionals, especially those who's job it is to keep an eye on new talent, would be an invaluable part of this event for me, and if it lead on to an opportunity to work then that'd be a huge bonus. 

There is another event called Sketching Spotlight where artists draw live on stage and talk through their creative process. I think that this would be a fascinating opportunity to learn some ways that I could expand my drawing skills.

Another notable event is a panel about Women in Comics, where they talk about the presence of female writers and artists in the comic industry. I've always seen the graphic novel and comic world as male-dominated, so seeing the female perspective from a panel of professionals would be very rewarding. 

Otherwise, I think I'd like to develop my skills more before taking part in competitions, but I will be keeping an eye out on sites such as DeviantArt, CGSociety and the various other art websites for small-scale competitions or opportunities to work with other artists. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Game Art and Machinima

Our first module this year revolves around Game Art and Machinima. In groups, we will be creating our own one-minute films using models created an animated in Maya, then controlled in Unity.

Up until now I had only really thought of machinima in terms of fan-made films made in-game, recorded either using a separate program such as Fraps or in-game recording tools. The main series that comes to mind for me is Red vs. Blue, which was made from games in the Halo series. I used to watch the show a lot when I was younger, and what struck me about it was that even though the animation itself was very limited (all the characters ever really did was run and "bob" their heads to indicate they were talking), and the only distinguishing features of the characters is the colour of their armour, you still manage to get a strong sense of their personality thanks to the great voice acting and scriptwriting, and as the series progressed, the recording and editing techniques became more advanced and cinematic.

However I still haven't really considered it a form of filmmaking I would seriously look into, mainly because I feel it's a little difficult to manipulate game characters into moving or posing in a way that fits your idea without extensive use of mods.

But our first lesson was spent looking at game cut scenes, and I realised that there is a lot more to machinima than what I previously thought. As games and films become more closely intertwined, with games achieving a highly advanced, cinematic quality, finding ways to progress the story in similarly cinematic ways - without necessarily resorting to extensive cut scenes with no player interaction - is becoming increasingly important.

There are a few different ways that games approach cut scenes, extensive dialogue and progressing the narrative. I'm going to have a look at a couple of different examples and explore the effectiveness of each.

Metal Gear Solid - Grey Fox's Death Scene

Metal Gear Solid has been praised as one of the most innovative and immersive video games to ever be released, and a forerunner for the stealth genre. It has a complex, emotional storyline which is expressed through extensive cut scenes. Even though the PlayStation 1 graphics are relatively limited and simplistic, the combination of effective pacing, dynamic editing, sound effects, music and voice acting still makes it highly engaging and affecting, even more so than many games nowadays that can take advantage of more advanced graphics.

This particular approach to cut scenes is very much like a film. The protagonist, Snake, is visible and can speak and contribute to the story with no input from the player. The player simply puts down the control and enjoys the dramatic unfolding of events before them, until the next interactive segment arrives.

Although this approach does work well for telling a story and illustrating characters (and works well for games with excellently-written stories and characters like MGS) nowadays games are a becoming a lot more interested in how the player's choices effect the narrative and develop the character in their own unique way, and as such interrupting their experience of "being" the character by showcasing lengthy third-person cut-scenes can potentially be jarring and break the player's immersion.

Portal 2 - Introduction

 (specifically from about 1:24 onwards)

This video demonstrates a very different approach to cut-scenes. Valve have been called "experts of the silent protagonist", with mute characters such as Gordon Freeman from Half-Life and Chell from Portal being the character through which the player - from the first-person perspective - experiences the games' universes. This fact is even humourously played upon in this scene, when Wheatley asks the character to speak at around 2:40.
So how would a narrative progress without any vocal input from the player character?

I find this scene (or just about any from Portal 2) a wonderful example of how the first-person perspective can intensify the game experience. During the cinematics you never break the immersion because you are the character, and you are seeing what they are seeing at that specific moment. Also, whereas many games seem to be fairly clearly cut between cinematic cut scenes and interactive action sequences, here you always remain in control of Chell, which adds a whole new engrossing element to the game so that you never lose interest. When I was experiencing this for the first time, it gave me that adrenaline-filled, happy feeling you get when you know you're experiencing something great.

The other characters, whether they be the robots or recordings you discover as you explore the world, are excellently voiced with memorable dialogue, and it is entirely through them that the story unfolds - you barely notice that your player doesn't say a word. And once again, music and sound effects plays a highly important role in bringing together the whole experience.

Heavy Rain - Interactive Cut Scenes

Heavy Rain expresses narrative through interactive cut scenes using quicktime events. As a cinematic scene plays out, you still have to interact with the game by pressing a button at a specified time. Whether or not you choose to press the button can sometimes dramatically effect the narrative's outcome. This method has altered people's perceptions on what constitutes a video game, as Heavy Rain seems more akin to an interactive film. Breaking down expectations of video games and creating new, novel ways to experience a story made this game particularly exciting, and it seems more and more games are being made that act as more of an interactive story or film experience, such as the indie hit Dear Esther.

Quicktime events can occur in fighting or other action sequences, where the buttons or controller movements emulate your character's movements; punching/kicking or breaking free of your enemies grasp, driving a car, or doing slightly more mundane things like sitting/standing and household tasks.

As well as this, at some times in the game, you can press a button to see your character's thoughts or possible dialogue options. Their emotions effect the way in which the words float about their head, meaning that if the character is feeling high-strung or scared, it will be more difficult to see the available options and pick one, which makes the player share the character's frustration.

This is a rather unique approach to video game interaction, and I feel it really intensifies the emotional quality of the story - in this particular scene, the awkwardness felt between Ethan and Shaun, as although Ethan cares for and loves his son, they severely lack communication. This means that any happy moment from Shaun feels like a small achievement, and you feel happy for Ethan, no matter how short-lived and bittersweet it might be.

I think all three of these methods can be highly effective, although I like that games are exploring ways to make a game interactive without necessarily using violence, or to express a story without just using pre-rendered cut scenes.

Games which involve killing targets still seem to be the most popular, as it offers the ideal combination of narrative, challenging gameplay and clear objectives. But those like Portal and Heavy Rain raise questions on different ways in which we can interact in these environments, or gain valuable insight into the psyche of the characters, and it's refreshing to see something different.