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_o

Looking 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.

Assisting Asset Production Pipeline

So a big part of this project has been actively assisting Joe and Lee in the asset production pipeline. I just thought I’d write a post based on our dynamic workflow, as for this Gate Doorway asset in particular, it has been adjusted whist actually in production.

First of all we started off with some rough 2D concepts, which Joe then began to model:

GATE

Taking Joe’s in game asset (top left, based on my original concept) which was a WIP, but the main structure and materials had been figured out, I could then add additional elements to it. I guess this isn’t technically concept art (in the traditional pre-production sense) as it’s part of an active production, but the timeline on this is so tight that I’ve had to adapt to a more dynamic workflow, and tweaking the look is it’s own form of iterative design.

DOOR ADJUSTTop left original door asset WIP (Hobbs, 2017)

Screenshot of the final asset in game:vvnliuk(Hobbs, 2017)

Doing this kind of work has definitely made me feel more ingrained and involved in the process. From discussions with people more technically versed in creating production 3D work (i.e. everyone else on the course!) I’ve learnt a lot about respective pipelines and how my designs can be better tailored to implement those. Maintaining a flexible attitude and remaining open about working practice has also helped a lot – I would never have thought that modifying a WIP asset was something that I would end up doing, as I assumed that I would be in a more rigid pipeline of having a sole focus on pre-production.


Image Bibliography

Hobbs, J. (2017). Gate Asset. [unpublished].

Elf Weaponry Development

Weapon prop design is something that I haven’t really focussed on in the past and so after I had worked on the Elf armour I knew that it was something I wanted to incorporate into my portfolio.

When researching concept art weapon design I came across the work of Johnson Truong a concept artist formerly working on the game Wildstar. Although this is a completely unrelated game in terms of subject, I thought that the weapon designs in particular utilised design traits that I wanted in my project – not in terms of copying the design, more the logic that went into them.

This image illustrates my point nicely – it’s very clear that all of the pistols here are part of one ‘set’ and that they are linked to a particular character build in the game. Despite being very different designs, they all share a common aesthetic – the colourations, decals and shape language are uniform.

I guess it’s the same principle that make an Apple product instantly recognisable.

johnson-truong-johnson-truong-wpn-05(Truong, 2016)

So my goal was to create a weapon set that had a uniform aesthetic and also complimented the design of the already existing armour. I began with the sword, as it is the ‘classic’ hallmark fantasy weapon.

Initial thumbnail designs, hilt & blade variations:

01 ELF WEAPONS

Once I’d established a form language that I was happy with (influenced by middle-eastern scimitar) it was then easy enough to use the colours and textures from the armour and paint up the design. Thinking about how the character would be equipped with them is also of importance to me as a designer as we had said from the start that we wanted to create a realistic feeling armour that had the main feeling of practicality.

02 ELF WEAPONS

With one element designed, it was easy to create variations and make different weapons, using the sword as a base, I actually was able to crop out and re-use elements (e.g. the grip).

03 ELF WEAPONS

And presenting them in context also helps illustrate my point that they are very much part of the same ‘set’ that the armour is as they follow the same design aesthetic.

04 ELF WEAPONS SPREAD

I think something to consider when comparing my work to top industry professionals is a lot of them are using 3D with paintovers for this sort of thing. It seems to be a fairly common practice to block out the base shapes in 3D. The following image by Bryan Flynn (Concept Artist at Id Software) demonstrates this technique.

bryan-flynn-weapon-shotgun-burst-mod(Flynn, 2017)

However, I would argue that in the case of these bladed weapons, which are very long, thin and don’t have a huge ‘depth’ that the viewer cannot see, there would be little/no benefit from a concepting point of view to design them utilising this technique. I feel that for the purposes of this blog it is enough to demonstrate a knowledge of the technique without actually using it as there are more suitable methods.


Image Bibliography

Flynn, B. (2017). Doom Combat Shotgun Mods. [image] Available at: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/w4WaY [Accessed 15 Aug. 2017].

Truong, J. (2016). Concept art of Bandit weapons for Wildstar. [image] Available at: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/oWdV4 [Accessed 15 Aug. 2017].

 

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.

I would also like to note that due to a request from Joe, the design time that would have gone to developing a Dragon Harness has now been re-invested in this asset. As we are working on a live game project, it is natural that there would be artistic elements limited/cut, and the actual player control of flying on the Dragon has been one of these elements. As such, Joe requested I re-invest the time developing an Environment ‘hero’ piece that he can spend some real time creating for his portfolio.

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.

Plague Wraith Design

I’ve begun developing the designs for the Plague Wraith and am re-tweaking elements of the design that was in my original production folder.

Original Design:

Revisited Design:

Naturally it’s fairly normal to make some alterations when re-visiting an older design. The new one incorporates more human elements into it for two reasons…

First of all, as my knowledge of the game production pipeline has improved vastly over the past few months (thanks to the obvious saturation of it around my life), from a rigging and animation point of view it means that there could be a potential re-use of rigs and animations. If there is a set of predetermined animations bound to a rig (e.g. idle poses, attack pose etc.) then it is optimal and efficient from a production standpoint.

Although these assets probably won’t make it to the stage where they are game ready, I believe that thinking in this way and designing with these limitations in mind is good professional practice.

This has been one of the big benefits of working with a team of people from different disciplines – I have picked up and learnt about their workflows and practices via. ‘osmosis’ (i.e. listening to them talking about their work), and so now I’m much better equipped to tailor my own workflow to those who come to adapt my designs later down the pipeline. This is quite obviously a hallmark of those at the forefront, as they are artists already working in active production, and so this thought process behind their design is considered from a very early stage.

Secondly I wanted to more closely emulate the visual aesthetic of medieval plague doctors, and dialing it back to a more human figure removes some of the ‘beastly’ elements of the original, but makes for a more interesting design. It’s also easier to warp human anatomy into new forms and interesting silhouettes then it is to create new anatomy and worry about it being convincing. That takes a great chunk more R&D.

Overall though, I think that having taken the time in earlier modules to create the game ready assets, and now working with others in a real pipeline has put me at an advantage in the professional field over other artists who may have just focussed on the core aspects of their own practice (concept art).

Gargoyle Development

Initially I begin by just drawing a very ‘default’ and basic Gargoyle design that has all of the classical traits and aspects that you’d expect. This was a quick scan from a sketchbook page with an overpaint.

Gargoyle dev 1

Once I have that base sketch I begin examining variations on the shape – how certain elements can be changed around to give something completely different, and so using the same method as with the Elf Character Development I utilised the symmetry tool and began looking at different graphic silhouette designs.

Gargoyle dev 2

Elements from those silhouettes were then extrapolated and enabled me to polish the following, which have a vastly different shape language.

Gargoyle dev 4

I brought in elements of each to a final 2D design – one that encompasses something more akin to a Mandrill and I felt that this was a successful look for what I wanted to achieve. Knowing that I was going to be producing this in 3D, I drew orthographic projections for use as reference in ZBrush, and left any colouring out as I knew I would do that on top of the model.

Gargoyle dev 5

Here blocking out the base shapes in ZBrush using the above image as reference.

Gargoyle dev 6

Putting the hours in on each individual subtool (horns/eyes/head/teeth/body/legs/arms) and going in defining the form. I utilised an exaggerated and ‘carved’ looking muscular anatomy as I feel it really helps with an aggressive look. With regards to some design nuances, I’ve utilised repeating shape elements (spiral forms) to balance out the composition of the Gargoyle.

WIP GARG

I then went back to 2D with the design as a fast problem solver. I wanted to see what the design would look like with the addition of bat-like scalloped wings, as they are one of the ‘classic’ gargoyle design aesthetics that you might expect to see. Rather than take the time to figure out wing placement and how that would affect the rear musculature anatomy (something that I’ve blogged about before – the problematic 6 limbs), I instead took a screenshot and did an overpaint in Photoshop.

Being able to maintain a fluidity of work through both a 2D and 3D pipeline has opened me up to developing concepts like this. I feel that now it’s not just a process that remains in 3D once the sculpting started until a final render, because at the end of the day my work is just design. Now I’m more open to thinking about problem solving by taking a WIP 3D model and experimenting with 2D paintover, something that would take moments to do in 2D, but much longer to implement, so there’s less ‘risk’ in terms of time investment in unused concepts.

Which is good, because the wing idea went undeveloped – we didn’t want these being confused with ‘mini dragons’ and since silhouette design is so important in games (when a player has to make a snap decision about whether or not to attack/run etc) we didn’t want any conflict between them and the main Dragon design.

19144116_10154618267047011_7735683109797479861_o

Lastly the model was finished up with a base and then taken into KeyShot for some render passes. I applied a series of different materials to it (cracks/grunge/rust/decay etc) and then brought these ‘render stacks’ into Photoshop and masked them out  with some textured brushes to compile the final image.

Another variation then is to paint on the damaged version using photo textures and some smoke effects to show how the creature would look when destroyed/broken.

Gargoyle dev 1

As a personal reflection on my learning process I feel that I am now far more comfortable with this method and way of working. Developing my 3D work has actually helped my design skills a lot as it means I can quickly develop ideas and showcase them at a high standard of ‘visual polish’, where it would take longer to manually paint a 2D image to the same level of quality vs a 3D render.

I feel now that in relation to the forefront of my field, I do now have a working familiarity of a large amount of the tips, tricks and software that the top industry professionals are using (speaking solely in terms of creature design). What obviously separates me is a quality bar, which my work will get closer and closer to as I continue to develop and study anatomy, lighting, perspective, composition etc.

I was introduced to this technique by Anthony Jones, who, amongst other artists, use it very widely in their pipeline – the below image is a basic ZBrush model with paintover (all the cut lines). He is considered one of the most ‘fluid’ users of this technique, as you can see from his ArtStation gallery he has a very good understanding of form, both in 2D and 3D. He often talks about how concept artists should be using any and all tricks available to them, and this is definitely one of the better ones for fleshing out a design.

anthony-jones-51(Jones, 2015)


Image Bibliography

Jones, A. (2015). Zbrush screenshot with Paintover. [image] Available at: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/XgwlR [Accessed 15 Aug. 2017].