What can you learn from production design for animation? Most importantly, how do you apply these principles from production design for animation to game environment art? As environment artist and level designer, you must absorb knowledge from many different art disciplines. It should include architecture, interior design, photography, film and animation. The hardest part is to find connections and correlations from these disciplines and apply it to your own work.
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What can you learn from production design for animation? Most importantly, how do you apply these principles from production design for animation to game environment art? As environment artist and level designer, you must absorb knowledge from many different art disciplines. It should include architecture, interior design, photography, film and animation. The hardest part is to find connections and correlations from these disciplines and apply it to your own work. For example, you could read an instructional manual on composition and lighting for photography but if you can't translate it to game environments and how it improves your work, then you just got better at taking photos.
The key is to find a way to use practical knowledge in one discipline and transfer it to another. When I was in college, studying computer animation I found a great book that offered insight into preproduction and world creation for animation. Although the book is mainly focused on feature animation from Disney, there is a lot of correlation to game environment artists. The author offers practical advice, insights, tips and uses a lot of image examples from Disney films.
You will also notice that I don't use a lot of image examples from the book, because we need to relate everything back to game environment art and level design. Here are 11 things I learned from Dream Worlds and how I applied it to game environment art and level design. It also includes the research and concept-design based on possible stylistic directions. Research into areas such as architecture, historical environment, landscape, costume and props starts simultaneously.
Concept-design covers all different genres and styles, naturalistic or stylized, drama or romance, time-period movie, children or adult concepts, musical or action film. Visual development for a map or a game environment is no different. Beginning stages are all about exploration. You should spend a lot of time in preproduction phase - researching and collecting reference.
Research architecture, location, theme, story, history and style of the place you want to create. You are exploring as many ways as possible where you want to take your environment to. Only then should you have enough information to narrow down to a single idea, theme and style that you will execute. Outcome of preproduction is to know exactly what you are going to create.
You should see the environment already done in your mind's eye. Because you spent time in visual development, production process will be a lot smoother. How much detail can we afford to show without overloading the images? Do we lose the audience in an abstract visualization because it might be harder to establish an emotional connection to an abstract character? The choice of color depends on the style and genre: fresh and friendly daylight colors for a comedy versus a dark mood and sharp contrasts in a thriller.
And by artistic style, I mean that the game's color palette and style mimics a painting or painterly style. Style will dictate your design of props, your textures, your lighting, the amount of detail you include. It will help to guide your visual decisions, story and theme.
Sometimes it is very easy to get the right reference within a short time; once in a while it is impossible. That's why Disney arranged for research trips for many years for some of the leading designers of a project. Unfortunately, I was not part of the group of artists that went to China for Mulan. In that case you would depend on books, television documentaries, movies and the Internet.
It is the time when you go back to school and learn how things look, and learn how to draw them. During this time, you create the foundation for your style of the movie. The more thorough your research is, the fewer problems you will face during production. During the last stage, there will be no time left for studying. There is no better inspiration and reference collection than actually visiting places similar to the one you are to create.
When I created custom map Hotel Swiss for L4D1 and 2, the idea was directly inspired by a trip to a hotel up in the mountains in Switzerland during a very heavy fog. I understand that it isn't always an option to visit locations around the world just for environment reference. But, next best thing is to research and collect reference from images. You want to collect as much reference as you can. Focus on variety of reference that will help your environment creation.
Author mentions that "The more thorough your research is, the fewer problems you will face during production. Immerse yourself into the environment you are creating. I can only show some of the steps leading to the final product. When I need to develop a new style for a film, I want to come up with a look that nobody else has done before and that means that I should at least know what has been done. So far I have seen a lot of the animated movies from all over the world, and I have a big library of movies and books about animation from the past 70 years.
If time allows, I go through my archives and watch many movies done in different styles. I go through documentaries as well as selected comic books and art books. It may look like I just want to have fun looking at all that stuff. Yes, in a way it is fun, but more importantly, it refreshes the batteries!
It's the best time, like going to school again. And it generates an energy that makes you want to create something. When coming up with a style and theme for your level or game environment look at what has already been done. Play games variety of games with different art styles, gameplay mechanics and genres. Look at old and new films. Art books from different time periods in history. I know your time is limited so make sure that everything you watch, read and play can be redirected and used on your current project.
I found that if I just look at an art books for the sake of looking, I don't walk away from it learning anything new. But if I am in the preproduction stages for a project and I am looking at different art styles, watching and playing for the purpose of discovering a theme and style of an environment that I would want to create, it sticks with me; even if I decide not to use that reference.
The position of the camera and the movement from scene to scene is very easy to plan that way. The floor plan shows where the light comes from and what is important for the continuity during the sequence. You can even choreograph the movements of the characters that way before you translate everything into single cuts. Floor plans are also known as top down layout or top down views. In level design and game environment creation they help to figure out how the environment will look from top down, how the space will be played and relationship between architecture and props.
For stand-alone game environment non-playable map you can use top down layouts to help define a fly-through camera to show off the environment; space and location of objects, focal points and where you will spend time detailing based on what you are going to show. For a level design playable map top down layouts helps to visualize playable space.
You can define spawn points, power-up locations, mission points, AI zones, multiple and alternative pathways and how the player would navigate around your environment. See this in-depth guide on how to create top-down layouts. I spend a considerable amount of time designing my top down layouts; during this process I can't help but visualize the actual place I am creating.
My goal is to always see as much of the environment in detail as I can in my mind before I jump into the editor and start blocking in the map. We want the viewers to forget that it is a movie, an artificial world they are watching. A good story is the most important thing, but it has to be set in a believable world. And it has to fulfill visual dreams that are the same around the globe.
The human brain has some basic understanding of the picture it sees, about the arrangement, the size and the balance in it. In film time it is limited. When you look at a painting you can take your time, get lost in the mood and the tiniest details. Our images are visible only for a few seconds, they have to be very precise in their arrangement. Nothing is accidental. We lead the eyes of the audience. A good composition should have the right selection of order, rhythm and intelligent balance.
That balance is between space, the negative area that is all around your objects and defines their shape, and the objects or the positive form that defines the readability of your design.
Composition and scene arrangement of your environment has to be carefully planned from various points of view. Unlike film, where the screen time is limited, in game art the player can explore your environment.
There are two elements to consider before you start. Are you creating a stand-alone game environment non-playable map or are you creating a level playable map? In a stand-alone game environment , you are creating a scene that will not be played. It is not interactable. Like a painting or film.
Composition will be important from certain points of view. You will only detail areas which you will show to others. In a playable map you will have objectives, AI zones and paths that lead to mission points. You will want to guide the player to the next location or to a mission objective. The composition and scene arrangement has to be used to accomplish that goal. You will need to set up your map in a way that the player knows where to go subconsciously, without being lost.
This is done through framing of architecture, lighting , environment cues, prop placement, on screen direction or AI character direction. Composition and arrangement of your environment should be dictated by your purpose that you want the viewer or the player to experience.
Dream Worlds: Production Design for Animation
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11 Things I Learned from Dream Worlds