Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Games Republic Mascot Competition

A few months back I created a games republic mascot to be used as branding for the event. As the event was being hosted at our college, we were fortunate enough to be given this opportunity to have our work seen by hundreds of industry practitioners. The rules were that we had to stick to the colour pallet provided (blue, black and white), and our character had to have some reference to gaming. I chose to create a mean looking outlaw, holding a console controller like a revolver:

I was quite happy with the composition, the circular backdrop tying the image together create a logo. I was trying to consider the mascot as a small voting slip header or t-shirt design. Perhaps I could have utilised the white more to make the image pop, as it feels quite flat. Also maybe I could have been more expressive with the pose or used a more interesting perspective. This would have certainly made my image more exciting.

Overall, I am happy to have taken part. This graphic design work was a venture away from my usual concept work, and it pushed me to consider branding.

Indie Game The Movie

Indie Game the movie documents the journey of three different indie game developers. This particular clip shows Edmund McMillan discussing his childhood. McMillan was reclusive, and loved to draw monsters. These two aspects of his childhood are reflected in the indie game 'Aether' which he discusses in the video, symbolic of his feelings of detachment. We see how deep and personal this indie game is to the creator, far apart from large game titles designed by huge teams. The film shows the indie developer as an auteur, with full creative control. Perhaps the speculation as as to whether the auteur still exists within film and game, is challenged with this very personal art form. What makes indie games so interesting is that they are created by tiny teams (sometimes one individual) on low budgets, so they rely on innovation and originality, as appose to extravagant hyperreal graphics. The film follows the drama surrounding the devotion, trials and tribulations that producing a title with such little resources brings, yet also the rewarding outcome. 

however, I feel the question can be raised: 'how long will indie gaming remain a personal and expressive art form?' I am reminded of points raised during our context of practice module, discussing the idea that every subculture begins as a movement, but is eventually branded and exploited to the masses. An example used was punk music, which began as a form of music anyone regardless of having no musical training could pick up a guitar and start a band. Eventually record labels began capitalising on this movement until punk became a novelty, creating profit for the business minded. This new app generation is seeing small indie game developers find success in a very personal creative industry. In the future will larger developers see they money in creating apps? Perhaps as android technology grows more advanced, larger teams will be required to push the boundaries and smaller indie developers will no longer be able to compete. This will be both an interest and scary development.

To finish on a less pessimistic note, Indie Game The Movie was very captivating and moving documentary with some beautiful cinematography.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Susan Everett and Character Development

We recently had a talk from scriptwriter Susan Everett. She wrote a short film titled 'Mother, Mine' in 2008, about an adoptee who loses her foster mother, and attempts to reconnect with her natural mother. The film was very dark, and Susan spoke of how he she likes to explore ordinary people being pushed to extreme measures. She spoke of characters having layers which can be peeled away, and how she likes to give her characters baggage. This discussion on creating characters interested me, particularly with my interests lying in character development for games.


The troubled Girl in 'Mother, Mine' was a killer, yet we as an audience felt sympathy for her, as she tried to find a mother figure to accept her. This got me thinking of other complex characters and the layers that create their deep personalities. I am currently watching the Showtime series 'Dexter', and was reminded of Michael C. Hall's lead role as the killer turned avenger by Susan's adoptee character.

'Dexter' is a blood spatter analysts working for Miami Metro. We learn in the series that when he was a small boy, his mother was executed with a chainsaw right in front of him. Police detective Harry Morgan found young Dexter in a shipping container filled with his mother's blood. Although Dexter barely remembers the ordeal, it leaves him with a obsession with blood, and the desire to kill and chop up his victims. Harry Morgan, who sees this killer inside his adopted son Dexter, enforces a code, teaching him to kill only those who deserve to die. The series follows dexter as an adult. His stepfather Harry has deceased, yet his code still keeps Dexter's 'dark passenger' (desire to kill) in check. Because of this, Dexter becomes something a vigilante, an antihero. What is challenging about this concept is that dexter doesn't desire justice when he kills serial killers, he simply has a thirst for blood, yet has been taught how to channel it into arguably doing good.

Through the series, Dexters bond with his girlfriend Rita (original sought out as a disguise to hide Dexter's detached and monstrous true self) and her children grows stronger. Harry convinced Dexter that he was monster through his childhood. He made him feel damaged beyond repair. Dexter grows gradually more human through the series, and begins to ask himself whether he is destined to kill to keep his darkness at bay, or whether some day he can be rid of the dark passenger and live like a normal human.

With Dexters complex character comes various themes: Is there a dark passenger in all of us sitting dormant? Who deserves to live or die? How well do we know the ones close to us?  We all have our secrets and Dexter's character really explores these key themes.

Tom Evans

We recently had a talk from Tom Evans, who gave a 'Top Tips for Getting ahead in the Digital Industry' talk.

Tom has spent 8 years in the industry, and is currently a creative freelancer. Bellow are the tips he shared with us regarding pursuing a career in the digital industry. Although some may seem to contradict themselves, collectively the tips were both informative and inspiring:

1. Specialise.

2. Diversity - don't specialise too much.

3. Don't expect to get a job instantly.

4. Work experience is awesome.

5. Work experience can also be rubbish.

6. With work experience, be sure to make an effort (ask questions, make an impression).

7. Don't expect your first job to be glamorous.

8. Practice being fast.

9. Keep learning.

10. Think about what you want (research as there are more roles than you know).

Tom advised us to wait until you are ready to go freelance. This seems to be the general view shared also by digital tutor Antony Ward. He spoke how it can feel more creative for some, but not necessarily everyone. He advised us to learn to talk and write intelligently, and to be able to discuss our ideas. He explained that recruitment agencies can be 'iffy' as you don't know what they are doing on your behalf. It is also important to be proactive, and not to wait for work to come to you. This could be Blogging, entering competitions, setting up websites etc. He also advised us to network and meet interesting people who could potentially offer jobs in the future. He advised against working with friends, and to always agree a price upfront. Finally, he told us to enjoy ourselves and not to give up.

We have been very fortunate to receive talks from people who have found success in the industry, and have shared with us their journeys and wisdom on getting ahead. It seems that finding work is never an effortless and straight forward venture. You may find yourself doing less glamorous work and having to work your way up to a job that your are happy in. It seems that the ultimate outcome is to be able to work as a freelancer, although this isn't necessarily the case as some may prefer working within a company with support from a team. It seems that experience from working within companies is valuable in improving your skills as a practitioner, and making friends within the industry who could later offer you work.

Antony Ward

We recently had a talk from freelance digital artist, animator and digital tutor 'Antony Ward' ( He spoke about his beginnings working in his bedroom with an Omega computer, right up to his work as a digital tutor.

Anthony spent two years studying Art & Design, where he actually used 'DPaint Anim' for his final project. He later dropped out during the second year.

He first joined 'Freestyle Software', a small games company based in Chesterfield, and then later Sheffield, where he took his Omega in to work with him. He left just as 3D came into the industry.

He also worked for 'Krisalis Software' based in Rotherham, who were working on an ambitious 'Lego Fantasy' game, which was later canned.

Next, he moved to 'Gremlin' in Sheffield, the first project he worked on being 'Wacky Races.' With this project we had out first introduction to Anthony's programming capitulates, as he created a piece of software called 'Creature Tools' speeding up the process of rigging 60 characters. This made Antony head of the creature department. This innovativeness demonstrates how a broader understanding of the industry pipeline and versatility as well as specialty skills can help within the game industry.

After this, Antony moved to EA, where he worked from home. In 2004, he published his first book 'Game Character Development with Maya'.

On his work with Sumo Digital as lead artist on 'Outrun', Antony spoke about how his higher role compromised his artwork input and meant he spent more time organising his team and working with spreadsheets. This may suit some, but Anthony left to peruse a freelance career.

He spoke about freelance work being a 'scary move', as there was no regular guaranteed work. He did receive more varied work, some where the poly limit he he'd grown used to within the game industry was not present, giving him more freedom. Fortunately, because of his experience in various companies and the contacts he had built up, Antony was able to find good work. he recommended gaining some experience with companies before going freelance, as experience gained from a skilled team can be valuable, and friends made in the process may be offering you work during your freelance career.

Antony published another two successful books, and now creates tutorials and video guids for '3D World' and 'Digital Tutors'.

He spoke about what's next for him, hoping to become a better artist, particularly with his drawing skills. It is inspiring to see someone with such a successful career in the creative industry, still striving to improve their craft.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Interesting Perspective

I wanted to create a final render showing my hero in his environment. Instead of a generic straight eye level angle, I wanted to attempt something more dramatic:

I chose a low shot looking up at Ram standing on a dirt mound. I gave my hero a folded arm posture, leaning over slightly creating a sense of intimidation. Again I worked with grey values and applied the initial colour using blend layers and masks. Composition wise, I almost feel that this piece has a comic book cover approach. This is due to the dark line art and crisp bold highlights. Still my perspective needs work, the character not quite sitting in the composition. It almost feels as if he is jetting out at an angle, not conforming correctly to the perspective of the environment around him. When I presented this piece in a final critique, it was suggested that to become more accurate with my perspective and even anatomy, I begin working from reference. It was also suggested that I show John Ramsey in his home:

As I want my character to contradict the tradition western superhero, Ramsey doesn't live a large mansion with a huge secret lair for his superhero actives. John lives in a trailer, which he tows from construction sight to construction sight. He keeps his RAM uniform in the chest at the far end of the room. He has basic living appliances such as stoves, a sink, a toilet and a bed. I found an online image of a trailer with his high perspective looking down. I imitated this same angle for my piece. In complete contrast to the other image in this post, this trailer scene shows Ramsey in a more vulnerable state. Like some heros who have vast wealth and in their true identities are great public figures, Ramsey is very anonymous construction worker.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Construction Site Environment

I wanted to create an environment that reflects my hero. As he works in construction, I thought a city construction site would be appropriate. In the context of gaming, this location could perhaps contain a safehouse where the player can rest and save his game progress. Cinematically, I liked the idea of having the scene set at dusk as the sun descends in the distance.  By day this area is lively and occupied by busy workers, by night there is only John Ramsey, preparing to disembark into the night and confront his corrupt adversaries:

With this piece I wanted to try and improve on my perspective drawing. To achieve this I set up a grid layer with a vanishing point. I also created a separate rule of thirds grid layer for composition purposes. I grabbed reference from the web of construction assets such as scaffolding and diggers and of course reference for the portaloo. I worked in greyscale initially to lay down the values (light to dark). Next, inspired by previously mentioned concept artist Erik Ryan, I applied blend layers to introduce light to the image. The orange light from the sun exists on a 'vivid light' blend layer, where the blue shadows are on an overlay layer. Together this creates a nice cinematic orange and teal colour bridge used often when colour grading film. I needed to add further colour dodge blend layers to add the turquoise tint to the portaloo and the subtle red tint to the barrels in the mid ground. The light layers were knocked down to around 30%, whereas the asset layers were knocked right down to around 10%. This maintains a gritty desaturated feel to the concept piece, reflecting the bleak 'anti-hero' theme surrounding my arguably unstable character.

Defiance 'Groundbreaking' Transmedia Innovation

Whilst researching 'transmedia storytelling', I found an online news article talking about 'Syky' channel's ground breaking convergence of television and MMO (massive Multiplayer Online) gaming.
Within the plot Villain 'Rynn', when escorted to a Las Vegas Prison, will apparently 'enter the game world', and unleashes a new enemy called the 'Hellbug' for players to defeat.

This demonstrates expanding the narrative outside of the hour long television spot. Once the show has ended fans of the online game will be able to continue building their own experiences, keeping them immersed in this fictional world.

This wouldn't be the first time that the platform of television and gaming have crossed over. 'Walking Dead: Survival Instinct' was a game released as a prequel to the Walking Dead TV series (comic book adaptation), where you play as Daryl Dixon, and realise his story prior to finding the group of survivors that feature in the television series. It seems that the player is given choices, whether to be stealthy or high profile, ad which survivors to join or leave. In a sense the player is given the ability to shape Daryl's back story within the timeline of the zombie apocalypse, expanding on the universe outside of the platform of television. Where this differs from Defiance's approach, is that the MMO includes enemies that are currently dictated by the plot of the weekly TV spot. In this sense fans are in the moment, experiencing and existing within this fictional narrative.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Turnarounds and Colour Tests

As I am developing a character for the platform of game, I produced some turnarounds which in theory could be handed over to a 3D modeller. For me this was a challenge of accuracy and consistency. My past turnarounds have been subtly floored in the past when taken into Maya, so I really tried to focus, using the guides in photoshop as reference. I also looked at muscle anatomy:

(image found online)

I combined elements that I liked form initial Ram designs. I liked the simplicity of the brace wearing concept, whereas I thought the utility belt form the first design would be a practical place for my character to store interrogation tools and makeshift explosives. I also amended the anatomy, taking a less top heavy approach. I do feel that the side on view appears as if the character is slightly leaning forwards. Perhaps I should have had hi less blot up right and sitting more on his lower back for a more natural relaxed pose. I also produced a turnaround for the head:

I experimented with a pressure sensitive charcoal brush for the shading with this piece. Although ultimately it gave good results, I found some elements of it to be unefficient. For example when applying pressure to create a dark shadow, once lifted, the decreasing pressure on the stylus would leave a tiny light bleed on top of the shadow.

Using my front perspective full body image, I began some quick colour tests:

The primary red and blue with a pastel-like saturation was an obvious choice. The second design looks too kaki and holds military connotations. I ultimately went for the final colour scheme. I began with the subtle greyish blue and brown scheme. I wanted to include a third interesting colour to complete the colour scheme, so confronter 'Adobe Kuler'. I found a blue and brown colour scheme with the inclusion of green, so added a very subdued green to my design. I also added a final subtle purple tint to Ram's shades to tie the design together.

Head Development and Dynamic Poses

At this stage, I wanted to turn my focus on to my hero's head. I began with some sketches:

I chose to go with the belt buckle headpiece and glasses design at the top right. Although this doesn't offer  much disguise, I feel it is memorable. When intimidating his targets attention will likely be drawn to RAM's demonic horns. The laziness of Ramsey's disguise is also a testament to his boldness. He doesn't fear his wealthy and powerful target's, and also there is nobody close to him that could  be hurt through his masked activities if his true identity were to be exposed. Perhaps the glasses should have arms to rest on Ramsey's ears as although the minimalistic glasses look stylish, perhaps they don't meet my realistic game approach.

I also wanted to consider Ram's movement. I needed poses showing his aggression when confronting his adversaries. I used silhouettes to do this:

I had the idea of equipping Ram with a handheld double wrecking ball. I thought this would be an interesting way of giving my character a range attack whilst reflecting his interest in demolition. Notice also that I am attempting more varied angles inspired by Don Bluth's character explorations. I feel that by doing this the character becomes more three dimensional. I also began to do this with facial expressions:

Although I haven't presented my work in the form of a character sheet, I feel I am beginning to demonstrate my character's personality through these dynamic poses and expressions. I feel that my understanding of facial anatomy needs improvement. I like the top three expressions, as they present interesting angles as well as portraying personality. I feel that the Bottom two designs don't meet their captions, the 'snigger' looking more like an over emphasised grin and the 'in pain' expression looking more sad and mournful. Perhaps if time permits, I could compile my design work into portfolio worthy development sheets.

Don Bluth Character Sheets

Whilst preparing to study some dynamic poses and facial expressions, I was pointed in the direction of animator Don Blooth. His approach is very stylised and exaggerated, which although contrasting with my desired realistic game approach, really captures his character's personalities:

Bluth's specialty as an animator really comes through in the facial explorations within the top image. You can see a very exaggerated use of squash and stretch. Although very cartoony, Bluth manages to capture a variety of different emotions. He also works from different angles and perspectives, showing all of the contours of the character's head. His Knight concept goes into lots of detail, even demonstrating the characters consistent height in a measurement of heads. We even see some breakdowns of the character's atire and weaponry, as well as footnotes containing measurements and points on consistency. It could be said Bluth's designs are more cluttered and chaotic than those of Thierry Doizon, yet there is still something very visually appealing and presentable about Bluth's creative design processes. 

Development Work of Thierry Doizon

I have been looking at the work of Concept artist Thierry Doizon. What really gravitates me towards his work in particular, is the presentation of his development work. This includes silhouettes and character sheets. It seems he really explores his characters in the development stages, produces an array of different variations within one concept. This piece bellow is a character sheet for 'Harry', a character produced for a Gnomon Workshop DVD:

I love the very stylised yet realistic feel to the work. I am really captured by the anatomy work with the muscle tone and the characters upright confident posture. The silhouette of the character is also memorable, the baggy trousers contrasting with the tight boots and skin tight shirt. Combine with this with the characters wild hair and you have a very strong design. Within the designs we see a turnaround for modelling where the character is positioned efficiently. The main front and back angle at the right of the sheet who's a more natural relaxed pose, telling us more about this cool character. From these design I imaging 'Harry' to have a laid back, witty and perhaps slightly arrogant personality. The sense humour comes through with the slightly smug expression on the characters face in with the main image, which simultaneously suggests an arrogance. In relevance to my transmedia project, we see a very cartoon representation of Harry within the character sheet. While much more minimalist, this cartoon design still captures what I perceive to be Harry's smug and cocky persona, demonstrating a successful translation across to a very different style.

Dozion also demonstrates great creature work:

I really love the experimentation aspect of this design sheet. Dozion is clearly experimenting with the the silhouette of the creature, carrying the same consistent style across vastly varying shapes. It really gives insight into how a concept artists develops lots of interesting ideas efficiently.

Another thing about Dozion's work is that it's very portfolio worthy. Not only does he create great concepts but he lays them out in a way that makes them even more visually appealing. This not only helps entice you in his great painting work, but also gives a sense of professionalism and perhaps organisation. His concepts aren't scattered all over the place, but arranged so that we even begin to understand his process.

Monday, 13 May 2013

The 'RAM' Concept

Building on my horn wielding character sketch, I have begun to consider the character I will be creating in more depth. Here is a short paragraph describing my hero:

'John Ramsey is a Briton living in a Manhattan-like city. Ramsey works on construction sites, operating diggers and other heavy machinery. His left wing views means that he mostly hates his job, often building large corporate buildings. He prefers being assigned to demolition, a passion of his, seeing office buildings torn apart. This obsession carries over into private life, taking on the role of the masked avenger known by his adversaries as ‘Ram’. Unlike most ‘Superheroes’, Ram steers clear of street-level crime, targeting the powerful and corrupt. Ramsey has a very reclusive personality, only when wearing his mask does he begin to express himself. As Ram his personality shifts, and he becomes a very angry and frightening figure. He uses his sculpted horns as a form of intimidation, many of the people he confronts remembering him as a demon-like entity. His horns are also used to force entry through solid walls, and also as powerful weapons should his targets fight back.'

I am currently developing a 'RAM' concept which could be applied in in a game context. I feel that console gaming generally reaches out to a more mature audience. I also feel gamers enjoy a realistic approach, so I wanted RAM's attire to reflect his construction (more significantly demolition) work, as appose to a cartoon-like spandex approach. For this I gathered reference and tried some practical approaches, as well as hi-tech suited option:

I wanted my character initially to have a top-heavy gorilla-like posture, but in hindsight this compromises realism. Of the three I like the middle approach as I feel it is simple yet memorable. I do also like elements of the first, particularly the thickness of the horns and the utility belt. The armoured suit design feels almost insect-like with the large alien eyes. Also, my hero fights against the corrupt who use their wealth to cover their tracks and hide in plain sight. It seems unlikely that he would wear or even be able to afford a hi-tech expensive suit.

Practically, with the first design I experimented with a Mark Molnar custom brush collection featuring brushes form various artists. This was introduced to me by a classmate and was very helpful in creating different textures. There were soft brushes which worked well for the skin, and plenty of dry media brushes which worked well for fabric. I also applied a rust transparent render to add a grimy effect. 

Friday, 10 May 2013

Erik Ryan: Talks and Guides

While researching new techniques for my own art, I discovered some very helpful videos featuring the film and game concept artist Erik Ryan, who has been in the industry for over 8 years. It seems that one of his unique selling points is creature concepts, demonstrating a very strong understanding of animal anatomy. In this first three part video, Erik demonstrates some of the process behind a 'Darth Vader' character concept he created, as well as critiquing a student's work:

Interestingly it seems that Erik when through a very explorative silhouette phase with his 'Star Wars' Vader concept. From these thumbnail sketches he picked out successful elements to create his final piece. Later in the videos he discusses rendering, collecting images of wounds and cuts from the web and applying them to very transparent blend layers. This adds real texture and depth to image, that would be hard to achieve from brushes alone.

He really demonstrates his ability to create successful creature concepts with a critique session of a students domesticated lizard creature. The student explains that the creature should be predatory and egressive, yet tameable to be kept as a bet. This leads Erik onto to gathering lots of reference images online to refer to. He is very critical of the work, breaking it down extremely thoroughly, commenting n everything from the herbivorous hippo-like legs, to the inaccurate darker underbelly. This enforces the fact that there is a very critical benchmark within the industry. Every concept should be extremely well considered.

It is also great to see an established artist sharing the secrets of his trade. Erik discusses this during the talk, expressing the importance of team work and development through sharing tools and techniques. I have recently been picking my friends brain, who I feel is becoming a force to be reckoned with in terms of conceptual art. He has happily shared with me the new approaches he has been picking up on, and likewise I always try and share new tools and techniques that I discover. Through being critical of each others work and offering advice and pointers, I feel that one can learn far more than being reclusive and protective over your practice.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Studying the Work of Mike Mignola

In my interim Critique it was suggested that I look at the illustration work of Mike Mignola. This is likely as I stated my interest in creating a memorable hero with horns, perhaps Mignola's most recognised character being 'Hellboy', a devil-like demon detective. His work is also very gritty and macabre, which could be on some level informative towards my work as I have decided that I want to present a bleak narrative with my hero. I often take a cynical outlook on society, so am always fascinated by narratives that include political corruption and exploitation of the people. I am considering  the left-wing 'We the 99%' idea as potential focus for my hero's motives, so Mignola's macabre art could inspire my development work:

When looking at Mignola's work you can detect a very recognisable style. Interestingly, on his website the bio section describes his work as containing: 'thin lines, clunky shapes and lots of black'. On a personal development note, I should be aiming to ultimately establish my own style to make my work stand apart from other talented artists within the game art industry. I imagine each concept artist will include personal flair in their designs. It is also important to relfect on the fact that Mignola is an illustrator and comic book artist. The stylised approach to his work exists very well within the flat two-dimensional media platform, but arguably the bold jagged shapes and heavy ink shadows may not translate well in the more dynamic fluid media of animation or game. Perhaps they would need to be addapted. Considering this, I searched to find out if Hellboy had ever been adapted into an animation. In fact there was an animated series, and I found this clip:

As expected, the approach here is different. The lines and shapes although still stylised feel softer and less rigid making the animation flow better and everything appear more three dimensional. These adaptations will have to be considered when I reflect on how my hero could be adapted into different areas of the media, or if in fact get time to visually present my character in two different transmedia formats.