Project Evaluation – Fitness for Purpose

My speciality within the Games Art spectrum is as a concept artist, and as such, I’ll be evaluating it on the basis of its effectiveness within an industry standard.

First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s fairly difficult to actually get a view into what concept artists working actively within game studios actually do day-to-day. This is down to a few different factors:

  1. Studios don’t want to show off early development versions of their titles – this is understandable, they want a tight control of the ‘feel’ of the game and to make sure it gives off the correct vibes to potential customers, so as to avoid being accused of false advertising. If there was a grand epic scene that was concepted and it was shown around the internet, with lots of fans and enthusiasts getting excited about it, only for the scene/level to be cut due to budgeting or time constraints then there would be understandable issues.
  2. Studios don’t want to give away their ideas. The mantra usually goes something along the lines of ‘ideas are cheap, execution is key’ and whilst this is true to a certain extent, there are certainly competitors who are making games within the same genre (e.g. first person shooter games, developers such as Activision making ‘Call of Duty’, and EA DICE making ‘Battlefield’), and so they’ll want to keep those ideas from other companies vying for a proportion of their market share.
  3. It often doesn’t look very pretty. The bulk of concepting work is iterating and generating multiple different ideas for how things work/look/act/fit together and so there’s a lot of sketching involved as opposed to the highly polished finished product that we, as consumers, are used to seeing. Studios don’t want to release that work as it may lead to preconceptions about the final product, and early ideas may not be representative of that, and certainly not in terms of quality.
  4. Concept art that is released to the general public tends to be something slightly different. Either it is not actually concept work, but more marketing illustrations developed to encourage ‘hype’ for an upcoming game, or it is very late stage concept work that has obviously taken a huge amount of time investment to get it up to that stage.

So it then begs the question – if we, as a general public, are fed something that isn’t actually ‘true’ concept art (for the reasons listed above), then how am I meant to evaluate my own work against an industry standard? Unfortunately that’s where things become tricky.

Ultimately my content creation process is very much in a supportive role – my ideas are nothing without the execution of them, and as such I have to get active feedback from my peers who I’m working with on this project – Lee Devonald (Character/Technical Artist) and Joe Hobbs (Environment Artist).

As I have noted in my production document, the final deliverable for me will be a production document full of my concept designs and processes. Therefore the effectiveness of this could be judged as how religiously the final product adheres to my original concepts.

But this is difficult to judge as often times there are problems with regards to performance issues, as well as artistic nuances that don’t quite make sense that arise when in 3D when in engine that are either completely non-apparent when concepting in 2D, or not something that is obvious enough.

There’s also the factor to take into consideration that the work that I’m doing is “more of a set of guidelines than rules”, and due to the iterative and interpretative nature of our workflow (Lee and Joe, and any 3D modeller, will always add their own touches and tweaks to a design to make it work best in engine), it’s not fair to objectively judge my work on that basis.

Ultimately I’ve produced a set of core ‘ideas’, some of which will be more closely adhered to than others, and their effectiveness can be judged on a series of factors

  1. Originality of design – although as a side note, different for the sake of being different doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good design. A bright pink dragon that farts rainbows and breathes bubblegum instead of fire is an original idea, but it’s not suitable within the tone and overall setting of the game. It’s important that my designs are within the expected ‘realm’, but not lifts from other games. This can be tricky with prop elements like barrels and crates, but those are secondary detail items.
  2. Clear and concise breakdowns for production modelling – as much as loose paintings and ‘speed art’ are popular showcases, they don’t communicate a whole lot of design very clearly.
  3. Artistic execution – the presentation of the ideas is obviously extremely important as my whole job is the visual communication of an imagined aesthetic. This is an objective measure, but there are multiple sub categories within this (light, colour, perspective, anatomy – the list goes on).

Target Audience

So, for the reasons listed above about the public facing concept art (and why what we see as a general audience is skewed), my target audience is different from Lee and Joe. Whilst they are creating content that is public facing, my behind the scenes work is production based, and so I hope to use it in my portfolio to get a job/secure freelance contacts. Thus my target audience is HR managers, those involved in the hiring process, as well as Art Directors and people within the creative field. I need to be able to demonstrate a professional capability to those people.

Target User

The target users of my work are Joe and Lee, as they are actively using my designs in their workflow.

How my work will be disseminated/distributed

As detailed in my project proposal, I’ll be compiling my work from the module within a ‘Production Document’ – of which there will be 2 edits:

  1. Version A: Showcase a highlighted reel of work from the module that is the best, and final designs for everything, and a comparison to the in game assets (by Lee and Joe) where applicable.
  2. Version B: All work for the module, which will be presented at hand in, concisely edited together. This is a more in-depth version that is available upon request, should someone hiring wish to see more into my workflow.

This will either be hosted online on my portfolio website (ArtStation), or compiled and saved as a pdf document and emailed to prospective employers.

I will look at the possibility of printing and binding this document to send out to studios as a physical self-promotional piece, but that is not an academic focus, as it’s another piece of admin to manage before the hand in that it non-essential.

An Evaluation of my Learning Process

At this stage in the course my learning of new techniques is fairly limited. I’ve taken the modules leading up to this one to hone new skills in software, in particular introducing and improving my proficiency with 3D tools in my workflow.

As such, I do not have a main goal with this module to learn, rather I see this as an opportunity to put those acquired skills to the test and push myself to achieve more and produce a higher level of quality work.

That said, there are some innate learning processes that as a concept artist one must keep up with.

There’s an old proverb about two lumberjacks – they both decide one day to have a wood-chopping competition and see who can collect the most wood. They both set out and the first lumberjack goes hell for leather, and keeps looking over his shoulder at the other one. Every now and again the second guy goes back to his camp for 10-15mins at a time. Surely, thinks the first lumberjack, I’m going to win this competition – I haven’t taken a single break all day, all I have done is work, and this guy keeps going backwards and forwards.

At the end of the day it is the second lumberjack who has much more wood in his pile. The first is dumbfounded – “what did you do? I kept seeing you going back to camp and taking breaks all day – how did you end up with more wood than me?”

The second man looks at him and says simply, “I was sharpening my axe”

Although it’s a cheesy metaphor, it does illustrate the point fairly neatly that it’s important to stay ‘sharp’, and for me, that means maintaining a few core principles:

  1. Keep studying – I’m constantly drawing, every single day I post an image on my Instagram account. This keeps my drawing skills honed, and also my knowledge of anatomy, perspective, colour, light and the rest of the fundamentals.
  2. Keep building my visual library – I could write a whole blog post on the visual library (and probably will), but I constantly have documentaries playing on a second monitor next to my work. Often times it’s about a related subject – so for this current project I’ve been watching a lot of medieval documentaries and talks about castle defense and weaponry, but it’s often unrelated information that my brain picks up interesting facts on. Recently I watched about 6hrs worth of videos about crustaceans – whilst not directly relevant, as a concept artist with a particular interest in creature design, that sort of information and learning picked up in the background is invaluable.
  3. Reading! This is one of the best ways to maintain an active visual imagination, as all of the effort that goes into reading is put (for me at least) into visualising the fictitious worlds that these stories are set in. I actually listen to a lot of audiobooks, so I can get through them at the same time as drawing, and I find this to be a great extra stimulant.

So for those last two points, my learning process is very much done via. osmosis almost. I surround myself with visual information and absorb much of it passively. This obviously doesn’t work for specific types of learning – e.g. learning new software skills, but for design and iteration where much of the work is left to your own imagination, it’s very good to have a big backup of all that ‘stuff’ in your head.

…plus, it comes in useful during a pub quiz!

The first point covers an active effort on my part to sit down and study a given topic – for example this post on 28th June where I just decided to study crows for an evening:19477503_10154659065527011_3524578779511859363_oLooking at those forms and shapes gave rise to a more developed creature design. It’s not a crow, it’s based on a plague doctor from medieval times, but there are the same/similar ‘shapes’ – the talons and the beak.tudor-morris-d

So I think that’s a fairly concise look into what I consider my learning process – it’s a constant and ongoing quest for me that is not restricted to the technical skill of drawing/presentation of ideas, but rather the expanding of my overall knowledge to combine new shapes and forms into original designs.

Documentation & Evaluation of Creative Process – Ballista

So I’ve been at Childwickbury Arts Fair along with Lee and Joe, showcasing the work that we do and the effort that goes into making a game. We were doing live demos to crowds of people from 10am – 6pm Friday – Sunday, and it offered the opportunity to get a significant chunk of work done.

I turned my attention to one of the more important prop assets for the project, a huge Ballista, and in this post I hope to showcase my creative process behind that.

Process for Prop Design

  1. Research & Reference gathering – This is, without a doubt, the most important stage of the whole process as it sets the precedent and builds the pillars for the late stages of the design. As with the other designs that I have done for this project, I start with reading up on the historical elements of siege weaponry and castle defence systems, and watch some documentaries on the subject as well. I also usually set up a private Pintrest board where I collate a series of visual references that I usually have setup on a second monitor whilst I work.
  2. Initial Thumbnails – so, based on the research and ref I will then go ahead and create a series of thumbnails that you can see below. These are based around a combination of things – firstly they have a functional element to them, and their overall form must still convey that they are ballistas. They follow historical and cultural expectations of what they ‘should’ look like (or closely enough for entertainment purposes). I also add my own artistic licence to these as well. As my main strength is in creature design, I have a fairly vast ‘visual library’ of animal shapes stored away subconsciously from years of drawing animals. As such, I pull elements of those creatures and their organic forms into my designs. This is acceptable within the setting as these are not human constructed ballistas, but rather built by elves, so have a slight fantastical quality to them that is to define them as separate from human design. There are various influences here – from hammerhead sharks, manta rays, insect legs, crustacean shells, stag beetle mandibles etc.tudor-morris-01-ballista-initial-variations
  3. Develop Thumbnail Design  – from here, it’s a matter of scaling up the chosen design (in this case from thumbnail no. 3) and really breaking it down to figure out how it looks in more detail. This means figuring out it’s different views, the materials it’s composed of, and it’s practicality – it’s rotation and firing arc. These are developed as a ‘Dragon defence’ system, and so it’s important for them to cover a wide range of firing angles.tudor-morris-02-ballista-firing-arc-and-rotationtudor-morris-03-ballista-orthographic-views
  4. Exploded View – next, once the design and materials have been finalised I will go ahead and break down each composing element of the design and lay it all out clearly and concisely. This type of layout and information is really valuable for Joe, as it removes a lot of questions and interpretations that he may have about the design because I’ve tried to anticipate that as much as possible and present the information as clearly as possible.tudor-morris-04-ballista-exploded-schematics

Evaluation:

Any evaluation on my creative process needs to be done on a means basis, as each design is very different and presents it’s own set of challenges. In this case I feel that I had an effective design solution to a problem (which was: “create an anti-dragon ballista”), and my ideas were presented very clearly through the process of those angle views, breakdowns and exploded views.

Personally I would have liked to have developed one of the more adventurous designs from the thumbnail stage, and that perhaps would have worked better as an individual portfolio piece. However, it’s important to acknowledge the design within context and realise that thumbnail v3 was probably one of the most fitting for the rest of the visual aesthetic for the project and therefore a better design.

Practice 2 Media: Learning Outcomes

The briefs throughout this module have provided me the opportunity to push myself to produce my best work to date, and have been happy with the outcomes. This is not so much what I have learnt specifically studying the module, it’s more what I have learnt in the time period between January – April.

Time management – the first of my learning outcomes is maintaining the consistency of a disciplined schedule. As you may know from one of my earlier posts, I keep an Instagram account where I share a daily image of the work I have done that day. I’ve maintained a streak of this, and achieved the 365 day year milestone a few weeks ago. Managing this alongside my freelance career in graphic design and active lifestyle has been challenging, but rewarding.

Keeping Active – Although not an obvious learning outcome, the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle was highlighted to me back in January when I injured my back and was unable to exercise for 3 weeks. Without keeping active I felt a real struggle to sit down and work for 12hrs straight. Unfortunately this is not a healthy profession, and it is a widely accepted fact that sitting too much is bad for your health.

Importance of networking – I’ve maintained an active sketchbook thread and accounts on both Polycount3DHit, TwitterFacebook, and the aforementioned Instagram. I have also been attending social networking events, such as the London Polycount meetup and most recently the Industry Workshop Demo Day. Meeting new people and discussing artwork outside of an online forum is a valuable experience.

Exterior influences – artists’ 2D Techniques

Scott Robertson – draw-through method and line weight techniques

Although I have before cited his draw-through method as an influence, I especially pushed the technique’s complexity in the live brief project, as showcased here on my Artstation. Every single prop in that room was drawn inside it’s own cube which was plotted into perspective and subdivided down manually in 2D following the perspective grid which was extrapolated from intersecting parallel lines from the 3D blockout.

Environments & Utilizing 3D in my workflow

I was well aware that the live project had a tight timeline and was keen to involve more 3D work in my pipeline. From an efficiency point of view it just made sense to build up a base model and trace over the block-out, and the learnings from this will fully be taken advantage of in my Final Major Project.

The line art stage of the project was a good opportunity to showcase my strength with relying purely on line. Scott often discusses the importance of dynamic line art, and the main take home of his work expressing such strength with only line can be boiled down to a few observations that I’ve made. Firstly is the variety of line weights. Big details, such as the main silhouette of each prop within that environment, has the strongest line which separates it as an individual element apart from it’s surroundings. Overlapping forms must also have a bold line to maintain readability and distance separation. Smaller and ‘high frequency’ detail that tend to be less important have the lightest lines to avoid confusing the eye too much. I feel I handled this well.

These techniques are widely utilised within the industry as a clear and concise way of communicating a visual idea once past the initial thumbnail stages. It’s showcased in much concept art, including the FZD school Design Blog.

Concept Design for Virtual Reality

The Cyberpunk Room project was designed with VR in mind (although it’s not something I’m interested in seeing being developed by a studio without appropriate compensation). I spent a lot of time considering designing for VR, including adopting a cel-shaded and less gpu intensive art style to optimise performance. Creating a relative sense of scale is something that I embraced, and designed a lot of ‘familiar’ props to really place any viewer into the environment. I realise that as the industry moves forward, there will come the demand for more and more VR focussed projects, and as such I have been keeping an eye on the work of concept artists at the forefront of that niche in the industry.

Jama Jurabaev is one of those artists, and has a fantastic technique for design for VR, including a very efficient way of creating panoramic sketches within 3D-Coat. At the ‘IW_Demo Day’ (15/04/2017) I watched a live demo of the teachings in his tutorials on the subject, which were hugely interesting. Had I known about this before then I would have utilised this method to design the environment for the brief, but going forwards I’m happy to know about it.

Creatures & 3D Techniques

I’ve been experimenting a lot more with 3D outside of any officially assessed projects as a way to improve my sculpting and design. The work of Andrew Baker, as well as Peter Konig, and Kurt Papstein are all big influences on this, and their methods of ZBrush sculpting, followed by photo-texturing and paint over in 2D are aspects that I am bringing more and more into my work and look forward to fully utilising in the upcoming FMP.

My initial reluctance to rely too heavily on 3D was down to a weakness in the medium, but challenging myself to do much more creature sculpts has really caused my confidence to increase.

Where to go from here – critiques on my own work and an outlook at the industry

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to have a portfolio review from one of my favourite artists, Noah Bradley at the IW_Demo day. He remarked on the strength of my sketches, but weakness of painting. I’ve received similar feedback from Frank Victoria, although he was not quite as forceful in his insistence that I divorce myself from my beloved linework. As such, I’ve taken a 30 day hiatus from drawing, and instead will be painting in my daily images. Identifying a weakness and working on it is crucial for artistic development.

Industry Workshop Demo Day & Self Reflection

I was at the IW_Demo_Day yesterday and watched a variety of artists doing live demos showcasing their workflows. Needless to say it was inspiring to see the best at their craft, and helped ‘de-mystify’ a lot of their processes.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to have a portfolio review from one of my favourite artists, Noah Bradley at the IW_Demo day. He remarked on the strength of my sketches, but weakness of painting. I’ve received similar feedback from Frank Victoria, although he was not quite as forceful in his insistence that I divorce myself from my beloved linework. As such, I’ve taken a 30 day hiatus from drawing, and instead will be painting in my daily images. Identifying a weakness and working on it is crucial for artistic development.

Here is day 1, and the rest will be on my Instagram as the challenge progresses

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Artist Profile – Ted Beargeon

I’ve been blown away by the amazing concepts of Ted Beargeon, and in particular his approach to the presentation of these designs. As just one good example on his ArtStation profile, his Warhammer 40k Orcs…

ted-beargeon-ork-champion-tiers-sk

He uses symmetry to a strong degree in his work, which makes his iterative process easier. This is something that I have been taking into my own practice with my work as well, I just need to keep practicing my painting skills to reach a higher level of rendering:

6 x30 variations.png

Artist Profile – Pascal Blanché

Pascal Blanché is a Senior Art Director at Ubisoft Montreal, his personal 3D work is pretty striking for its rich vibrancy of colours and materials.

skull_high

In a lot of his work he discusses experimentations with shaders and has a lot of very dynamic usage of colour. In a 2015 interview with 3Dtotal magazine he discusses his process, which is a combination of kitbashing, sculpting and playing with shaders.

I decided to have a quick go at something similar, and kitbashed together a fox skull (from public domain 3D scan data), as well as some ‘splash’ brushes from BadKing and started pushing shapes around in ZBrush. I then imported to Keyshot and played around with material settings.

untitled.90

Although not as bold as Pascal in terms of vibrancy of colour choices, this was my first time playing outside of default materials within keyshot and tinkering with settings, and I feel that I can afford to be more experimental in the future.