Saturday, December 14, 2013

Colour scripting

Before I begin working on specific storyboard sequences and character/environment designs, I've decided to capture the look and feel of the film I'd like to achieve through a series of colour scripts.

The Dreamworks website actually details the steps of their production process, and they begin work on storyboards before the visual development (or more likely they have two teams working on each simultaneously). As I'm working on this by myself, I've personally felt like I'd like to capture the look before I work on the storyboards. In order to create good storyboards that make the most of the characters, and tell the story in the way I want to, I feel I need to establish the general idea properly first through my colour studies. Many production designers create separate concept sketches for this sort of thing, for example Mary Blair's work on classic Disney films like Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella:

The aim of this sort of concept work is to work in larger shapes that indicate a solid foundation for the idea, rather than worrying about detail, and to capture the atmosphere and mood of the scene. Nowadays it's also more common to create long comic-like panels that show the whole film and the transitions between the different colour schemes. 

This one is from The Incredibles: 

The artist here has used strong, geometric shapes to give a clear idea for the feel of the film. Generally in animated films colours are much more vibrant and exaggerated, but there is still variation on which ones are used for certain types of situations; danger/action scenes most often feature warm shades of red and orange, everyday mundane scenes are usually quite desaturated to reflect reality. Fear and uncertainty is usually shown through low lighting, night-time settings or overcast weather, while joy and hopeful scenes are usually bright and vibrant. (Lighting and weather have a huge impact on this as well).

Personally I like the idea of subverting some of the usual tropes, and maybe having bittersweet/happy scenes that take place in low, desaturated lighting, or betrayals that take place in bright weather, etc. (which actually happens in the DB&NG story Photogen abandons Nycteris in the daylight). There's certainly lots of opportunities to experiment and not just use the expected techniques as 'rules'.

I created some rough frames for part of the introductory scene to my film. I have changed the original story a little bit, and instead of having Watho the witch lure two women to her castle so she can steal their children, I've had her find some kind of secret scroll (after years of searching) which is a sort of 'recipe' for crafting a being made from light, and one from darkness. So Photogen and Nycteris are more like her 'experiment' and will have physical characteristics that show them to be unnatural beings that set them apart from ordinary humans (more on that later). 

Anyway, so I thought the intro would be Watho finally finding the scroll after a long period of hopeless searching - she enters a gloomy cave within a forest that is lit with a sort of super-natural light which gives the scene a mysterious, magical quality. These purple/green shades are contrasted by yellow/orange lamplight, and also a shaft of light crossing the chest in order to make it stand out from the background. I have also experimented a little with shot composition (where elements of a scene guide your eye to where the focus should be) by having the chest entangled in roots which all curve towards it. The scroll is vibrant and yellow, indicating how Photogen and Nycteris are actually going to be good, moral beings who ultimately defeat Watho, who's pale, blue undertones to her skin and greying hair contrast the scroll and highlight how she has suspect intentions. 

I placed a Photoshop artistic filter on the storyboards so that the focus is more on the colours themselves rather than drawing/colouring technique. The first frame is supposed to show Watho, hidden in a cape, walking through the cave with her lantern. She sees the chest, illuminated by light, and approaches it. When she opens it and sees the scroll, she lowers her hood triumphantly to reveal her face and hair fully to the audience.
I will eventually create 'snapshots' of each scene in the film, not in this much detail, and link them together into a long panel like The Incredibles one above to show the transitions between colour schemes.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

CoP Practical Progress!: The Day Boy and the Night Girl

My CoP project has evolved since my last post, yet again - I am now focussing my research on how a knowledge of film theory and techniques, such as a good understanding of cinematography and mise-en-scene, is an almost crucial aspect of becoming a great concept / visual development / production design artist.

For the practical side of the project I will be adapting a fairy tale into a finished colour script, set of character sheets, and set of storyboards (storyboards/conceptual illustrations showing key moments in the overall story, and then more detailed boards detailing movement and character acting of one or two specific scenes).

After much research the fairytale I've chosen is "The Day Boy and the Night Girl" by Scottish author George Macdonald.

This story tells the tale of a witch who molded two people from birth by restricting and controlling their environments; she steals the babies of two different mothers, and raises them from birth. The boy, Photogen, is raised to be strong and fearless, and to never experience the darkness; the girl, Nycteris, is kept locked in a chamber where she is allowed to see no light other than that from a single lamp. 

One night, at age 16, Nycteris manages to escape from her chambers and discover the outside world, lit by a full moon. Around the same time, Photogen, a determined hunter, disobeyed the witch by following a big cat (a nocturnal beast) into the forest surrounding the castle. As the sun sets, he becomes increasingly afraid and terrified. Eventually they come across each other and Nycteris comforts him and reassures him that the night is nothing to be afraid of.

As the sun rises again, Photogen's courage is restored and he abandons a now terrified Nycteris, who finds the light blinding. That night, Photogen tries to prove his courage again by venturing into the forest, only to discover he is still too afraid. He realises how selfish he was to leave Nycteris in the daytime. 

They come to realise that they can use their strengths to support each other's weaknesses, and in realising this they manage to defeat the witch and escape her cruelty. They come to celebrate their differences (even reaching the point where Photogen prefers night and Nycteris the day) and get married.


There are are a few reasons why I was inspired to choose this story.

Visually, the fact that light and darkness, and daytime and night-time, and the interaction between the two are such significant themes gives the opportunity to experiment a lot with the styling, colouring and lighting of the environments. In the narrative, Photogen and Nycteris are described as having such contrasting physical characteristics that it will be an interesting challenge to design them in a way in which they still manage to compliment each other.

However I found the fairytale most interesting because it actually subverts some fairytale cliches. Firstly, the witch, named Watho, is motivated by curiosity, not evil. She desires to know everything, and sets up this peculiar experiment really as just a way of satisfying her warped curiosity rather than for any specifically malicious reason. She is actually more of an evil scientist character than a traditional witch, as she demonstrates no magical abilities.

Secondly, as blogger Mari Ness writes in an interesting analysis of the story: "...for a Victorian novel, the book offers a startling reversal of typical Victorian gender roles, with Nycteris, not Photogen, doing the initial rescuing. Admittedly, even in rescuing, she retains the ideals of a Victorian heroine: she is beautiful, nurturing, and comforting, not the fighter and hunter that the manly Photogen is. But for all that, she is braver than Photogen, and she is the one to persuade him to step beyond his fears of the night."

Thirdly, the entire story is quite morally ambiguous. Darkness does not simply signify evil and ignorance, and similarly light isn't necessarily a symbol of goodness. Both characters are flawed and incomplete until they learn to love each other. Cynthia Marshall has written an analysis of the fairytale and Macdonald's writing which is viewable here.

" Not only does the split between Photogen and Nycteris lack any obvious ethical significance, but the final point of the tale is the necessary joining of the realms of darkness and light. Ordinarily in fairy tale, a plot in which the good, beautiful, and clever triumph affirms a basic antinomy, but in this case the tale confronts, questions, and ultimately destroys its own distinctions. Despite an initially apparent polarization, "The Day Boy and the Night Girl" reveals intense moral ambivalence."

Despite being quite obvious as an allegory, I think it's still an interesting tale to explore as there is a lot of development in the two titular characters. Photogen starts off the story as a typically hard-headed guy who's only interest is hunting, but there is a lot of opportunity for development of his character after he first discovers the night - learning to accept that he is allowed to experience fear and weakness without necessarily completely overcoming it, is quite a relevant and important emotional story. Similarly, though Nycteris is very comfortable at first to just explore night-time, she comes to realise there is a whole other side to life that she has been ignorant about, and in essence she must learn to have the courage to leave her 'comfort zone'.

"The three main characters each seek progress, but through different channels. Watho attempts to gather and subjugate, Photogen tries to conquer through ability, and Nycteris uses her imagination to further her understanding and knowledge of the world to better see how she fits in it. The Day Boy and the Night Girl is essentially a tale which depicts MacDonald’s belief in the imagination’s ability to take the focus off of self, thereby opening the imaginer to a world of companionships which can lead to true wholeness." (from Wikipedia)


The first step to adapting this into a practical outcome is to define my approach; what will the tone and style be, and what will I be using as reference for inspiration? To focus this, it is important to define a target demographic - or, if age is too limiting, to define what sort of response I wish to evoke in the audience. 

I spent some time deciding whether I would like to experiment with a more serious, impressionistic design with the aim of being more visually interesting, experimental and artistic, or a more light-hearted tone that balances strong, clear designs, illustrative backgrounds and emotive storytelling (basically the approach of the classic Disney fairytale films). 

After getting the opinions of my tutor and classmates I've decided on the second approach as I felt more naturally inclined to do something more characteristic and appealing as opposed to a "fine art" animation. I'm not going to simply imitate Disney, but to experiment with styles and take inspiration from a range of sources and art genres, including Brian Froud, Arthur Rackham, Ray Nielsen, Edmund Dulac, John William Waterhouse and others.

I would like the direction of the film to be fairly fun, charming and approachable whilst still being multi-layered and emotionally resonant. Light and darkness are clear symbols for people's strengths and weaknesses and I find this to be an important theme to explore, but in a manner that avoids moralising or patronising. I'd like for it to be quite gender-neutral with a good balance between Photogen's and Nycteris' qualities, and suitable for kids of around age 5 or 6 upwards but sophisticated enough to appeal and engage teens and adults as well. 


On a side note, I found there is actually an opera based on the story by Jordan Corbin Wentworth Farrar. One performance, directed by Louisa Jonason, is on Youtube. Unfortunately I can't understand a lot of the lyrics (I don't understand how people follow operas!) so I'm not sure how exactly they've developed the characters. It'll be interesting to see how they've adapted and built upon Macdonald's story.


Time is a huge issue at the minute and I'm hoping to have broken down the story into key sequences, and have done some thumbnails and rough exploration of colour and environment by the 30th.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Progress and general thoughts

I have so far managed to focus my CoP3 title to something along the lines of: "how narrative, personality and mood is reflected through character and environment design for animated films". Although I think it sounds a little plain, I feel that this title is broad enough to allow me to study a range of films aimed at a range of audiences to really expand my understanding of the process and how different artists have entirely different work patterns. I will then be able to study more in-depth the reasoning behind designs, how history/technology/culture informs animation design, and the deconstruction of common tropes in cultural and historical contexts.

I will possibly be looking at the evolution of animation design and how it has evolved from being created for purely entertainment purposes to something more nuanced and artistic. Modern technology now allows for a wide range of animation methods: hand-drawn cel animation, stop motion, computer-generated 3D animation, Flash animation, etc. and each requires different approaches to design. For example, as stop motion requires the construction of actual puppets and sets, character designers need to take into account the three-dimensional aspects of the design and the manipulativeness of their expressions. I would possibly like to look at a selection of films that use entirely different animation methods so I can further investigate these differences.

As animated films frequently fall beneath the speculative fiction genre, and it is something I am very much interested in, this will probably feature as another over-arching them. I would like to compare different films' approaches to fantasy, sci-fi and/or the macabre within their narratives and how it is expressed in the film's tone and style, particularly the contrast between the depiction of mundane, 'normal' settings and supernatural settings. For example, films like Paranorman and Corpse Bride take place in some Earth-like town which becomes overrun with undead creatures. In Corpse Bride, the underworld is much more vibrant and fun than the normal world - similarly, Paranorman designs potentially frightening elements like zombies and ghosts to be more fun and amusing than scary.

This is to probably make the film more light-hearted and suited to younger audiences, but compare this to a film like Coraline, which fully exploits the contrast between mundane reality and the surreal, imaginative world to make the 'Other Mother' and her world very creepy.

There are also animated films that feature fantasy elements with a more realistic and (sometimes) serious tone, most notably from Studio Ghibli. I'm interested in finding some more animated films that seem to be directed towards a more general audience and seeing how this effects the tone and 'feel' of the film. 

Of course, this is the first mention of a film that isn't American - undoubtedly I will be referring to the cultural inspirations behind Ghibli films and what it is that makes them so uniquely visually appealing. An issue I'm having is narrowing my focus of films to a selection of case studies - should they all be from different countries to expand my experience of animation, or should I keep it to what is generally the most familiar and popular? (Which does generally seem to be American, Japanese, with maybe one or two from the UK). 

In terms of research I really need to make progress on my reading - I have collected numerous 'Art Of' books and books on general character design. I will also look at DVD special features and interviews with practitioners. I'm not sure of methods of primary research yet - I would like to interview practitioners myself but this seems a fairly daunting task. There is Leeds Thought Bubble coming up in late November which would give me an opportunity to talk to some successful artists, who although work for graphic novels still have to think about aspects of character and environment design. 

In a recent lecture we had on organising our project, we were told to really consider the purpose behind our project - what am I trying to achieve by studying this question? What do I want to get out of it?

I suppose I am interested in it as I feel that animation has the power to be a profoundly visually inventive experience - my very first moments of considering character design as a career came when I was a fourteen-year-old Tim Burton fangirl, poring over the pages of the Corpse Bride 'Art of' book. The drawings were so charming and stylised that I spent much of my youth trying to emulate Carlos Grangel's interpretations of Tim Burton's style. 

Since then I've been amazed at the inventiveness of animators and filmmakers - notably the sequence in Coraline where the Other World begins to collapse, and Coraline is rushing to the door as the garden and house slowly falls away into nothingness. Laika amazed me again in Paranorman when Norman confronts Aggie in one of the most emotionally (and visually) intense sequences I've seen in an animated film. 

I'm constantly aware of design choices in animations nowadays and I really enjoy investigating the intentions behind the 'look' of a film - after all, a film is a purely audio/visual experience and getting the look of the characters and environment right is extremely important. If I want to work in this field when I graduate, I have to really expand my knowledge and understanding of the process of creative visual development.

I'm not sure if this is enough to give my CoP project "purpose"... It really is mostly to build my knowledge of this field and to arm me with the tools to improve my own work, which will hopefully be apparent in the practical element of the module.

This is going to be a very big research project... I'd best start making some serious progress!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Resource 2: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Another film I'd like to look at is Sony Pictures Animation's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. This film is much more 'traditionally' cartoony than Paranorman; the conceptual artwork is very gestural and smooth. Most of the information on the film's design will probably be found in the art book, which will cost me quite a bit, but will surely be worth it!

In an interview with the director:

CS: I was wondering about the look of the movie because Ron Barrett's art from the book has a very specific look, but you guys went for something different, which I'd almost say is influenced by the Muppets. Is that possible?
Lord: For sure it's influenced by the Muppets. That was a very deliberate thing, because the Muppets are really simple characters, they're really well-designed, they work great in 3D and they're really expressive and those are all the things you want in a cartoon. I remember watching "A Bug's Life" and having it click in my head, "Oh, it's puppets. 3D cartoons, it's about puppets."
Miller: The thing about human characters is in CG, if you make them look too realistic, they get kind of creepy looking, so early on, we definitely knew that we wanted the character designs to have a more cartoony aesthetic so one of the many sources, including the book and classic '50s and '60s animation, was the Muppets, and that went across for all the characters, especially Flint and Tim with his monobrow. 


The directors wanted simple, well-designed characters like those found in classic animation and in the Muppets. I think in this particular example the appeal of the characters comes from their extremely exaggerated movements and traits - leaving their designs relatively simple allows more room for the over-the-top, classic style of animation the directors were wanting.

Resource 1: Paranorman (2012)

I wanted to look into the design of Paranorman because I found it's visual style to be unique and appealing in a 'wonky' sort of way.

I found an online interview with the film's character designer, Heidi Smith, which goes into a lot of detail about her intentions behind the design work. The film was Smith's first major project after graduating from the California Institute of the Arts in 2008. Her style features distinctively shaky lines and organic cross-hatch shading. 

Chris: The ParaNorman crew said they hired you because your work looked “scrappy and unhinged,” and had a bit of “nervous quality.” How would you compare the portfolio you got this job based on with the kind of work you ended up creating for ParaNorman?
Heidi: Because I worked on ParaNorman for so long, I think the style I used changed a bit as the project developed. My style changes, and I think that’s natural for an artist. You change and you grow, and I think that you get stronger. Your observational skills get stronger; your inspirations change.
Maybe in the beginning with that portfolio and my first bit of work forParaNorman my work was kind of more boxy; it seemed a little more rectangular and boxy. As time went on and I worked on it with the others, my style became more organic, especially in the line-work.
Chris: How would you describe the aesthetic in your work onParaNorman?
Heidi: It has a lot of asymmetry. That’s one of the things they told me they liked about my portfolio coming into this project; they liked the asymmetry and “nervous line” of my work, as you said. It had a scratchy looseness they were looking for. One of the things they pointed out that they liked was that, for instance, in a character’s eyes one pupil might be bigger than the other. They liked it being different.

The asymmetry is one of the things that drew me to the film's style.  Smith's art in general has a very loose, exaggerated quality which I really like - she also seems to work only using traditional mediums, most commonly pencil, charcoal and pastels. See her other work here .

Something I've noted about her blog is how it is an endless stream of small character designs - nothing time-consuming or fancy. I should really follow this sort of work pattern, and work more with traditional media, as I think it suits my style of working more (I struggle with spending long amounts of time on single pieces).


Chris: What’s it like seeing your drawings come to life — not drawn animation but as maquettes and puppets for this kind of stop-motion production?
Heidi: I thought it was amazing. It’s been amazing to work with Kent Melton, who sculpted all the maquettes. He was just as passionate as Chris Butler, and his work inspired my own work. He wasn’t afraid to take risks, which pushed me to do the same with my drawn work. I felt like he not only captured the spirit of the characters I designed, but he made them look better in his own way.
Chris: How did the process work between you two?
Heidi: Well, he would take a drawing and work from that. Sometimes he’d come to me and ask me to do a turnaround of a character to help him, usually of a specific feature like a nose or a helmet. He and I went back and forth to figure out what he needed, and for me to see what was possible with his work. We developed a really good communicative relationship.
Chris: I’ve been told that for the puppets, Laika went so far as to study the textures in your drawings for the clothing. Can you talk about the detail you put into those drawings and it being translated to actual fabric and puppets?
Heidi: One of the more memorable parts of this project for me was when Chris Butler asked me to do these sketches of textures. They would take those drawings and print them out and use them as fabric and what not in the costumes and sets.
Deborah Cook, ParaNorman’s costume designer, was amazing to work with. She would sometimes bring in interesting reference material she had found and bounce it off me to see how I could use it in my designs.  One instance that I distinctly remember was her bringing me this classical painting and she asked me to study the tree bark in the piece and develop a texture based on that. She really encouraged me to do really weird and interesting textures, and not anything I would’ve thought of on my own. It was really exciting to work with everyone at Laika.

Although Smith mainly works in character design, she contributed to the environmental design so that the designs were consistent. I do feel that as an artist I need to push my boundaries and start to work beyond my comfort zone; I particularly need to start practising drawing anything that isn't a human - buildings, animals, plants, etc. as I could be required to work in these areas as well if I were to work on a feature.

It would probably be necessary for me to invest in a copy of The Art and Making of Paranorman, as no doubt there will be much more info there than I can find on the internet.

Third and final year begins - CoP3

It's been a while!

This term we are doing the Context of Practice 3 module which involves a combination of research and theoretical writing in an extended essay and a practical artefact that relates to our writing. We were to spend the summer deliberating over possible ideas and come back and present to the class what our chosen subject will be.

Originally, as I was going through a phase of playing a lot of The Elder Scrolls games, I thought of using that as a potential subject - specifically the mythology and religion of the in-game cultures and how they relate to real-world mythologies.

Here's some of the slides from my presentation giving a rough overview of areas of interest:

Although I went into some depth whilst researching the topic I have actually reached a point where I want to completely change the direction of my subject. It should be relevant to our professional area of interest (which for me is probably character design / concept art / illustration, even though I still want to experiment with other things). So I'm probably going to abandon the whole mythology/religion context and think of the extended essay as more of a case study exploring the sorts of practical techniques I'm interested in. 

I've decided to look at stylisation in character design. I'm not 100% sure on a specific area to explore here: I have so far thought of narrative-based character design (where a character's appearance relates to their story rather than simply categorising them as an archetype); narrative-based design in fantasy RPGs, for example The Elder Scrolls cultures; types of stylisation, different ways of pushing designs and how they create a specific 'feel' for a film; character design specifically in relation to animated films; studying the entire visual development process, including storyboarding, design, animation tests, etc.

For the practical side I would probably create a series of design artefacts including concept art and turnarounds, expressions, storyboards and possibly hand-drawn animation tests for a character or a range of characters. The only problem here is writing the character - I'd probably have to write their backstory/personality/etc. myself which would leave less time to focus on the visual aspects (this is what severely effected my Responsive project last year). 

At the minute everything is a little bit up in the air, although I'm feeling more inclined to explore design for animated films rather than games. Animated films tend to be extremely stylised and vibrant, often in unique ways. A recent film I particularly liked was Paranorman, so I'm considering looking into that as some sort of case study, and perhaps comparing it to another film with a different stylistic aim (maybe Cloudy With a Chance Of Meatballs? And/or Tangled.....)

I'll write more about three practitioners/resources relevant to my topic in subsequent blog posts. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Character designs: Kukru, etc.

I haven't been able to establish the other characters in as much detail as the previous post... I also haven't been able to complete a turnaround for the others (although I suppose Signit's isn't a proper turnaround).

Nevertheless I do have general ideas, which I'll write below. It's better than nothing!

The Kukru

As I've written before, this rainforest-dwelling race are non-human - I wanted them to have anthropomorphic qualities, but not be too human in appearance. I took inspiration from a range of animals, including birds, reptiles, monkeys... Here were the quick silhouettes I drew out to think of different, dynamic shapes.

I like the visual features of marmosets, and used this as reference whilst developing concepts from these silhouettes. I studied aspects of their facial design, ear shape and fur growth and incorporated it into three rough concepts. 

I wanted to draw a male and female, but for now, I only have an iteration of a male design. No doubt they would vary greatly in appearance in terms of colouring, fur style, etc. so I'd have liked to have drawn a larger number of variations. I also haven't been able to develop the Kukru culture and history, so haven't been able to incorporate this into the design through items like jewellery, ornaments, clothing, etc.

I'm disappointed at how little I've managed to develop these, as it was a lot of fun drawing non-human concepts for a change, and it's something I'll experiment more with in the future.

Other characters

Willen is actually supposed to be one of the main characters, but I haven't really been able to write about him at all.

This sketch was derived from one of the rough Romerri drawings I produced, though doesn't really reflect what he looks like at all as I haven't established his personality yet. He looks a little too much like a teenaged Goth here...

 I've so far thought of him as a sort of typical rebellious, wisecracking ex-guard type - one who worked as an apprentice or initiate guard (or an older, more experienced guard) in the cities but who grew fed up of the misery there and ran away.

Again, I'm quite sad I haven't had the time to develop the Romerri as I have such a strong idea of their style and presentation...

Asquith is supposed to be one of the more unfortunate characters. He was inspired almost solely by the lower photo of the fashion model on the bottom image. I found something about his look very intriguing and evocative, although I haven't quite managed to capture it in drawings yet.

Half-Shai, half-Romerri, his father was one of the more adept crafters, who built an extensive library in the Cities - practically the only resource of knowledge of magic. Following his death, Asquith, his only son, inherited the library, though he has little use for it as he possesses no magical inclinations, despite constantly being influenced by his father. He struggles with intellectual pursuits, and things such as reading and writing, and has thus grown up with a considerable inferiority complex. As a result he is mostly sullen and glum-looking, and desires strongly to be the 'intellect' that his role as librarian suggests, though he is incapable of it.


Aaaand I think that is as far as I got with this project. It's been an influx of ideas, but poorly executed (as is probably typical of a beginner at this sort of thing). I'll be carrying on throughout summer, hopefully working on finishing designs and looking into sculpting them - I don't particularly want to leave it as unfinished as it is!

Character design process: Signit

Throughout the process of sketching rough concepts I was thinking of this character's personality. I knew one particular point of their story - when they are discovered and revived in a snowstorm - but little else. In these images I thought she looked quite fierce and lone-wolf-ish, so I thought this could be an interesting route to look at considering how at odds it seems with her people's culture. I knew that Signit would have to be strong to withstand the world around her, though at the same time it was important to think of her internal conflicts, motivations, vices, etc.

I pushed the personality, as written below, in her design through the use of a dark red and black colour scheme - colours that evoke danger, independence, passion, anger, blood. The muted, dark tones fit the overall style I'm going for in these designs as I want to push the idea that none of these characters are clearly benevolent or malevolent - everything is a little murky.

For most of the story she is accompanying another character, Willen, who is in appearance very much the opposite - white-pale, white-blond hair and light eyes. As I mentioned, I wanted the Shai to be darker in complexion to visually counter the other groups of people. I made Signit's brows and eyes particularly intense to express this part of her persona. 

Her outfit hints at the luxurious textile-work of her people, but in a subtle way. As a skilled textile artist herself, she prizes her more fanciful clothing, though prefers to wear loose-fitting garments to cover her, both to keep warm and act as a symbolic 'shell'. 
A long-winded character sheet (I should probably make these more concise...)

Name: Signit Minoha
Race: Shai
Species: Human
Age: 25
Physical description: Of average human female height. Slim frame, wider at the shoulders than the hips - body is made of more straight angles than curves. Skin is a pale, greyish peach tone. Her hair is raven, and long, thick and messy. She often wears it in a long plait. She is mostly seen wearing an embossed, lace-up shirt, dark side-split skirt with ragged leggings underneath, and a thick burgundy knit shawl. Her face is not typically feminine - she has thick brows, a slighty hooked nose, and intense, shadowy eyes. 

In movement, she is somewhat aggressive, though not intentionally. 

Personality/Traits: Signit is serious, driven, fearless and independent, and sees everything and everyone as either 'good' or 'bad' even though she lives in a world of very hazy morality. In any dispute she gets straight to the point, and never hesitates to fight until there is a fair resolution. She prizes fairness above all else. She hates feeling stagnant, or as if events aren't moving forward; she must always be pursuing some sort of goal. 

Others perceive her as fairly intense, complex and brooding, but she feels she has little choice when faced with a world where the majority of her people and culture have been lost. In true Shai nature, she doesn't consider herself as having a 'place' in the world, but must be constantly dismantling and rebuilding her life in the pursuit of something better. She doesn't believe in having a 'destiny', though ultimately longs to find some sense of peace.

She struggles with the conflict between her Shai upbringing as a pacifist and a desire to lash out against the obvious mistreatment of her people from other groups, particularly the Romerri. Over time, as she becomes more aware of the world, she becomes increasingly manipulative in nature in order to achieve her desires without resorting to violence. 

She generally tries to refuse to acknowledge the dying of magic and it's impact on her. Although she suffers the typical symptoms - moments of faintness, hallucination, confusion, and general illness - she never lets her concern over her own mental or physical wellbeing show.

Secrets: She battles an ongoing to desire to learn to fight; she sees her physical inferiority as her biggest weakness.
Shai people in general are very opportunistic, and rarely harbour ill feeling towards others - as such, she desires to hate the Romerri and avenge her people, but at the same time is curious about them and wishes to immerse herself in their world. 

Background: Signit is a member of the Minoha Shai clan, a group who, following their escape from the Cities when under siege, settled in a camp South-East of the cities near Skeltin. Skeltin is a Shai village that has largely been abandoned and left to ruin, though the Minoha were intent on rebuilding a life there. 

When crossing the wilderness north of the Restway, the clan were caught in an unexpected snowstorm; many froze to death, and Signit was trapped alone inside a small cabin, where she collapsed. Fatefully, that night, a rebellious Romerri traveller named Willen was crossing the area. When the weather became too much for him to bear, he sought shelter in Signit's cabin and discovered her body. Through considerable effort he managed to revive her, and they had no choice but to accompany each other on the road after that.

Skills: Her role in the clan was as a textile maker. She is skilled at sewing, and initially doesn't see herself as capable of much else. She finds great satisfaction in giving gifts of garments, either as an act of charity or as a way of expressing her gratitude or loyalty to a person (however rarely that might occur). 

5 Common Pitfalls Of Concept Art & Illustration Portfolios

Although I think it's quite early days for me to thinking about my portfolio, the link above goes into detail on a few key points to consider. I'll summarise them here.

1. Unprofessional communication

How you communicate says as much about you as your art does. It might seem like common sense, but make sure to pay a lot of attention to spelling and grammar when communicating with potential recruiters. Keep your standards high and be concise and efficient but without coming across as self-entitled - "Humility and gratitude create a strong foundation of true relationship. And true relationship is the foundation of true success."

2. Your portfolio doesn't fit the job your applying for

Customise your portfolio to suit what is required of the job you are going for. For example, if you are applying for a storyboarding job, your portfolio should show mostly storyboards with maybe some of your other very best work at the back. Taking the extra time to do research into the position you're applying for, and presenting your work suitably, goes a long way.

3. Ambiguous intent

You should decide where you fit in the industry, not your employer. When asked "What kind of job are you looking for?" avoid saying "Anything." If you're unsure of where you fit in, seek advice - but not in a job application.

4. Unprofessional presentation

(This is probably my biggest issue.)
A portfolio should not show your growth as an artist - it should only show your best work, and reflect your potential as "an artist and human being". If it is unprofessional then you will be unprofessional. Be creative and take the time to make it look its very best.

For Digital Portfolios (Website, iPad, PDF etc.) :
  • No haphazard collection of JPG or PSD files.
  • No pixellated, low-res images.
  • No huge PDFs (manageable file sizes only).
For Physical Portfolios:
  • No loose pages.
  • No original work.
  • Website address on every page.*
  • Design it like a nice “Art Of” book.
  • Try to maintain consistent design from page to page.
  • Leave space on the page to let the art “breathe.”
5. Too much art

Less is more. If you don't have enough work, get a smaller portfolio (or make more work!). Around twenty five pages is the limit. If you have too much work to show, it will be overwhelming and confusing - it's better not to overstay your welcome.

Chris Oatley has a lot of other articles of this nature on this website (like this) - it's an overall excellent source of advice. 

I certainly don't think I have enough work finished to my highest standard to put together a portfolio, and I'd like to avoid filling one up with unfinished and/or mediocre work in the meantime. I'd prefer to put more time into creating good work so that it will reflect me in my best light. I also still really need to work on the presentation of my work - have some sort of logo/signature maybe, and a consistent font to give brief titles on my concept pieces to give some sort of context. 

A big focus for me next year will be on making my art appear more neat, presentable and professional.

Books on Character Design and Development cont.

The Art of Game Characters by Leo Hartas takes a look at the range of popular character types we see across the medium, and features interviews with a variety of practitioners and more technical insights into the processes of creating concept art and models.

Whereas the last book I mentioned seemed to strongly hold the view that stereotypes should be avoided, this one states otherwise: the book is in fact organised in categories of character stereotypes and archetypes, including the "sexy and sassy" female protagonist and the "avenging muscle-bound hero". - these characters barely need explaining before you can get a general idea of what they're all about. However, although the book says that featuring games with stereotypical characters can be a shortcut to commercial/financial success, it is at the cost of them holding no surprises, and "very rarely results in a hit", so the general view is still that it's always good to play with audience expectation and fresh concepts.

This book overall is more relevant to me at the moment as there is a lot of focus on the visuals of games. There's pages of colourful rendered models and concept drawings that cover a range of styles and genres. Sandy Spangler, who has worked in the industry for over ten years as an artist and animator, gives a lot of valuable and practical advice on the process of character creation. (The only part I disagreed with was where they said that character customisation in a game is pointless - that personalised characters are reduced to soulless avatars. I think on the contrary it opens up wonderful creative opportunities for players who like to write their own characters, particularly in vastly open world games).

Unfortunately I've messed up fairly early in the process by not solidifying my character's backgrounds and personalities before moving onto drawing up designs. This has all been due to an overall lack of time, and I'll make sure in the next project I'm more understanding of just how much is involved in that part of the design process.

Important advice on creating concept art:

- Less is not more - more is more. "A true concept artist has a flexible style and can create dozens of very different versions of a character." That isn't to say artists with a stronger and more limited style can't work in concept design, they just need chosen more carefully to suit the style of the game. I hope that my style is broad and general enough to cover a range, from cartoonishly exaggerated games to slightly more realistic ones.

- The character concept-art cycle
1. Generate the first round of sketches. These should be rough but expressive, and should be created very quickly with lots of variety.

2. Narrow down which ones have features that work well. Get multiple opinions on this to help ensure broad appeal.

3. Do another round of drawings, a bit tighter this time and combining the features that were selected from round one.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you have a 2D version of the character that seems to work well. Expect at least three or four rounds of artwork, not including colour tests. The final version should include colour and a 'turnaround' view showing the character's front, back and side.

5. Get feedback on the design, through focus testing or internal company review. Make any needed adjustments in response to feedback. One or two people, usually the Lead Artist and/or Lead Designer must have the final say.

6. Put the character into its final state; usually this means modelled and textured in 3D. Ensure that the character's integrity and appeal are maintained.

- If a character is effective, players will remember it long after the game play has ended. This maximises the potential success of sequel games as well as a possible future in other media. From a cultural standpoint you will be providing a richer and more meaningful game play experience for thousands, possibly millions of people, as well as making a positive contribution to modern mythology. It's high time we in the games industry took some responsibility in that. 

- Ultimately, characters should come from the heart, not a spreadsheet. If you, their creator, don't understand their inner workings and believe in them, no-one else will either. The world is full of empty characters; do not create more. 

Reading this has made me realise just how important the role of a concept artist is. It defines the game in many ways, and could make or break it in terms of commercial and/or cultural success.

The points above touched on how if a character is memorable enough it increases the chances of them appearing in other forms of media, which is what this module is focussing on - how to make our projects transmedia. In this case, I would hope that if I design characters that are richly detailed and believable, it will be easy to envision them in other mediums, such as cinema or graphic novels, as this undoubtedly seems to be the route that modern media is going.

Looking back at the 'character concept art cycle', I can see that I haven't followed this as successfully as I should - again due to lack of time. I certainly don't have the volume of work I should have, showing a range of experimentations between different designs and styles. I will, for now, have to settle on some designs for my deadline, but then perhaps continue working on the project afterwards and produce art more like what I envisioned at the start of the project.

Books on Character Design and Development

I picked up two books to read over this module to hopefully expand my knowledge and awareness of both the process of writing/designing game stories and characters and designing concepts: Character Development and Storytelling For Games by Lee Sheldon and The Art of Game Characters by Leo Hartras.

Something I found interesting is the variety of approaches these two books take to developing characters. Lee Sheldon comes from a background as a scriptwriter for television - he has worked on shows such as Charlie's Angels and Star Trek: The Next Generation - and his job is primarily as a game designer and writer, so obviously aspects such as concept art are much less of a focus in his book. He believes writing characters and narratives should not be thought of lightly - considering we spend days on end experiencing a game whilst only a few hours watching a film, it is deserving of just as much respect and attention than it receives in other mediums.

He covers a wide range of topics, including an informative introductory overview of the history of storytelling, from cavemen telling tales by campfires to Aristotle and Homer; references to Jung's psychological theories of the ego, the personal conscious and the collective unconscious, and his writings on symbolism, dreams and myths in Man and His Symbols as valuable sources of knowledge for the writer - "great fuel to fire our creative thinking."; he also covers Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey, or the monomyth, which is said to be found in countless stories from around the world:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

The monomyth is said to consist of up to 17 stages and is a fascinating focus of study in its own right.

On top of this the book covers designing successful and intuitive game worlds, and writing effective and interesting characters that avoid stereotypes and cliches:

"To recognize when you are writing stereotypes, as yourself questions: Does the character look, talk, and act exactly as you'd expect her to? If there are no surprises, you've got a stereotype. Do the concept sketches the artists are making from your description look a lot like the concept sketches from other games? Stereotype."

... "We must give them a life within the game, not just a gameplay reason for being there. We need to choose how they will grow, and how much they will learn about themselves."

It isn't easy avoiding stereotypes. Sheldon gives a few reasons of why we can quite quickly fall into the trap of creating characters of this nature, including us not realising they are stereotypes, which is usually the result from having too narrow a focus on your favourite mediums and genres, and not observing and 'absorbing' the world and as many stories as possible (I'd very much like to keep myself from falling into this).

As an important note, it is fine to use archetypes in a story - it is entirely possible to have "goddesses in leather" or "dashing, romantic hero" and allow players to live out their fantasies, but they have to be turned into "living, breathing individuals", otherwise the experience is hollow.

Another passage which was of interest to me was about the fantasy genre. Of course, my project falls under this definition as it involves creating a fantastical world which bears no real resemblance to our own (no matter how poorly I might be doing it - it is my first attempt!).

Sheldon gives some reasons as to why fantasy and sci-fi are so popular in the game industry:
- The roots of games are in tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons and films like Star Wars which were popular at the beginning of the "personal computer revolution".
- The primary crossover audience from other media is still a fantasy/sci-fi audience -  young males. And with "cross media fertilization" (i.e. transmedia) being a big market focus, companies are bound to feed audience expectation.
- These genres are often preferred by game developers who are attracted to the idea of using technology and interactivity to create "anything our imaginations can conjure".
- It allows a wider range of solutions to fiction-breaking game problems like player-characted death, healing, etc.
- In games set on earth we're more likely to spot details that aren't correct, or shortcuts taken to make it manageable to a game engine. Alien worlds are much more flexible.

(for some reason I wrote a lot more than this but it disappeared, and the draft that's saved is missing it. I don't have time to write it out again, so I will have to leave this blog as it is!)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Looking back at the Xmas Exhibition

Towards the end of last year we hosted an exhibition to showcase the work we created for the Game Art and Machinima module. I wanted to get involved in planning the exhibition - this was our first time showing our work to anyone beyond our own course, let alone the general public, so I wanted to help in making sure we were shown in our best light.

Different people were given different roles in planning; some focussed on naming the event, some on organising refreshments, creating name tags, etc. I thought I'd put my Photoshop skills to use and make a poster/flyer that could be displayed around the college and also given out to passers by.

(I think I actually changed the font of the address in the final iteration in case it was difficult to read)

I decided to showcase all of our models together in the poster; to do this I had to gather as many of them as I could from the class, put them together in a Maya scene file, and render out an image against a plain white background. I thought it'd offer a glimpse into how our course covers a wide range of genres/styles but ultimately our focus is on creating and giving life to interesting and charming characters. I couldn't get the scaling of some of the models right, which is why some of them seem disproportionately large, but I didn't think it would be too noticeable.

I also, with the help of my tutor, printed out a large banner to place on the walls at the event, this time showcasing the characters in a long line so they could be looked at individually.

(I had to take some of Wisdom's photos as I have none of my own!)

The unique aspect of a DFGA exhibition is the interactive element: as well as showcasing prints of our models and concept art, we had a laptop connected to a projector which showed both interactive character turnarounds and Unity-based playable environments that the guest could 'walk' around in. I think this was the most interesting part of the exhibit to people who maybe aren't familiar with the process of 3D modelling and animation, and I think in future exhibitions it would be beneficial to place more of a focus on this part of our medium as it offers something novel and enjoyable as opposed to just having pictures on a wall.

There were a few hiccups for our project - our final cinematic which we gave to the tutor for showing at the event was missing the soundtrack, so it was just silent, which robbed it of some of it's impact. Tabitha's model's normals were also showing the wrong way in the interactive turnaround (which was my own fault - I should have properly reversed the normals instead of just applying an occlusion shader). Regardless we got some positive comments on our work, and it's always exhilarating seeing others looking at and enjoying your creations, especially when it's the result of so much hard work and stress.

I felt a little concerned about the location of the venue. It was fairly difficult to find, and was far from the town centre - many people weren't sure how to get there even with the address given on the flyer. I also found it fairly dark and unwelcoming as the entrance was a tiny, slightly dishevelled looking door and the gallery space looked a little worse for wear. It was also a freezing winter's night and definitely not the greatest weather to attract a casual audience who maybe aren't sure what our work is all about - the cold put a bit of a damper on my mood, so I probably wasn't as sociable as I should have been (as usual!). On top of all this I also think we didn't leave enough time to advertise the event properly, meaning many potential guests probably weren't even aware of it.

As a result of all this I worried that we would get next-to-no guests, and I think in the end the majority of the guests were students' friends and families, but even so it still turned out to be an enjoyable evening - it was good to be in the class' company somewhere outside of college as it always helps develop friendships. It was also definitely a good introduction to showcasing our work professionally somewhere outside of the computer - everything from mounting our prints on card, to being there in person to explain our work to onlookers, was a new experience for me. I now have a better idea of how I'd like my work to be presented in this sort of space, and of how I could attract more guests to a future exhibition.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Developing ideas for the Shai/Romerri

The Shai are people who lived in the northern parts of the particular continent I'm creating (called Algen) . They have been driven from their home - the vast Imbued Cities - and only a few hundred of them are still living. The Shai were the most naturally adept at crafting magic, and many of them believed this to be a sign of their closer bond to the Earth and nature, which they took pride in. They believed in peace, and rarely used it for selfish acts or acts of violence, although they did use it as a means of protection when needed. They were renowned for their skills in creating potent medicines, beautiful clothing and jewellery and, more notoriously in the eyes of the northern world, hallucinogenic substances. Many of them used their crafting skills to create art, perform dance and compose music.

Since the apparent expiry of magic, the Shai have significantly weakened. Many of them died of illness, and the majority of the rest killed by invaders who sought to steal their (now useless) magic artefacts for their own use. Clans of them still exist in tightly-knit groups that travel the lands, trying to adapt to a harsher world without magic and to cling on to a culture which has largely been forgotten.

For their appearance I did take influence from Romani and other nomadic (or gypsy) peoples' culture and traditional dress, and also traditional embroidered clothing from Albanian culture. Since the Shai express their talents through crafting, clothing would no doubt be richly embroidered and coloured and worn in often quite extravagant fashions.

The remaining Shai, following their downfall, would still be wearing these fabrics but they will have lost a lot of their vibrancy, and would now tear and become worn, which will be apparent in their character designs.

So far my designs have unfortunately been a little unorganised. I created some silhouettes for the Shai:

I created the bottom set as I thought the ones above weren't dynamic and interesting enough. I've found it difficult considering interesting silhouettes when I don't want the characters to look too over-the-top and impractical - they will mostly be wearing ragged, heavily layered clothing to express the general downcast 'mood' of the world. I also found it generally difficult to draw so freely without thinking too much.

I nevertheless took a couple and adapted them into some fairly quick concepts of what they might look like. To contrast with the pale skinned and haired people from the snowy northern countries, I want the Shai to be darker in their complexion and hair colours (although I'm aware the guy below is looking very pale...). I think perhaps the Shai survivors will have a sort of muted/greyish tinge to their skin to reflect how an important part of their lifestyle and being has faded. 

This is an example of a generic male/female. I have tried not to be too bright with the colours, and to create more of a ragged or thrown-together feel rather than making their outfits too precise and neat, whilst still adding small ornate or colourful details to hint to their past culture. 

Following this I took some more silhouettes and adapted them to create initial ideas for my Shai character - the one who was discovered in a snowed-in camp and revived by a Romerri traveller. I wasn't sure on whether they should be male or female; at this stage I've settled on female, and below I experimented with different personalities and dress styles - more typically feminine or tomboyish, vulnerable or powerful? Roughly drawing out my ideas while I think of the character's personality helps establish them in my mind and see what works and what doesn't.

I don't actually like any of these very much - I don't think they're very interesting. An outfit like the one on the left would probably be the most practical for someone living on the road, although I do prefer the one on the right and I think adapting to create some sort of combination of the two might work. I think the split skirt is quite striking and recognisable, though I'd probably add some sort of leggings or trousers underneath. The lace-up top shows a feminine side, although I want to avoid making her too 'sexy' so I'm not going to have any obvious cleavage or anything like that - she is going to have a thin frame, slightly wider at the shoulder than the hip, and won't have many curves. I plan on experimenting more with hairstyle and face ideas.

The Romerri were slightly easier to draw up silhouettes for as they are quite 'angular' in their appearance. Something I'm very much aware of at this stage is how they might seem so at odds with the Shai that it might seem infeasible for them to exist in the same world - they are more inspired by contemporary fashion than traditional cultures, and are therefore a bit more modern in their look.

I didn't add as much detail to these as my last rough concepts, so it's hard to get an idea of texture and material - they look a little too sleek here, when I want them to have a slightly more roughed up appearance to suit the somewhat 'post-apocalpytic' tone of the world. I've already shown some of the moodboards I've gathered for the Romerri, but I've expanded beyond looking at 'dark fashion' to 'post-apocalyptic' fashion as well. There's endless inspiration and reference in this particular fashion style that capture what I want to express in this particular group of people.

As I've mentioned I think the heavily layered look, and combining different materials, fits them as they live in a colder climate. Their people are eager to find a means of creating magical artefacts for themselves, often to the detriment of others, but they have yet to accomplish this. They are, in comparison to the Shai, generally considered quite harsh and selfish in their nature, although in reality they have a different sense of morality. Many of them struggle to get by in the harsh cold climate of their home country, and so those who rule over them seek the answer in magic.

The subtle, monochromatic colour palette of their outfits reflects the general amorality of their society - there is no black and white. 

For now I'm going to focus on establishing the Shai character. Tomorrow I will begin working on the Kukru. As these two are slightly more typically 'fantasy', I think if I define what their looks are, I'll be able to adapt the Romerri suitably so that they fit in a little better. At the moment they seem to modern, and not quite fitting for a pre-technological world.