How to work like a games artist

Con­cept artist Remko Troost re­veals how he cre­ates char­ac­ter as­sets for games in­clud­ing As­sas­sin’s Creed Unity and the up­com­ing For Honor

ImagineFX - - Contents -

Remko Troost on the process of video game art.

Of­ten when try­ing to land a job as a con­cept artist in the film or video game in­dus­try we con­cen­trate on art sets. Of course, skills and un­der­stand­ing what you see play an im­por­tant role in our work, but there can also be a lot of dis­cus­sion be­tween sev­eral peo­ple in the pro­duc­tion process. You’ll have to find so­lu­tions to con­straints and needs that come from dif­fer­ent de­part­ments and di­rec­tors. Your art may have to fit the game­play, story, an­i­ma­tion and cre­ative vi­sion, all at the same time. A lot of de­ci­sion tak­ing and break­ing hap­pens be­fore the fi­nal art goes public.

Here, through some tips, notes and tricks, I’ll try to show you how to cre­ate easy recog­nis­able, orig­i­nal and read­able char­ac­ters quickly… all by solv­ing sev­eral in­dus­try de­sign prob­lems!

In the end you’ll need to cre­ate a work­flow that will en­able you to quickly solve your client’s vis­ual needs and/or prob­lems, all by – most im­por­tantly – keep­ing your in­ner-child and pas­sion for cre­ativ­ity alive!

1 Work on your workspace

The more fa­mil­iar you are with your dig­i­tal workspace, the faster you’ll work and over the years us­ing it will be­come sec­ond na­ture. I like to keep it as sim­ple as pos­si­ble. I mainly open my colour pal­ette and layer win­dows, and even­tu­ally my brushes when ex­per­i­ment­ing with tex­ture or painterly brushes. I use the Tab key to make them dis­ap­pear while I paint. And re­mem­ber to save your workspace. I cre­ate a folder called ART-TOOLS, where I name and save my colour pal­ettes, brushes, tex­tures and so on, in or­der to use them when needed and avoid hav­ing un­wieldy, over­loaded pal­ettes.

2 Thumb nail­ing and sketch­ing

You need to be able to quickly com­mu­ni­cate your in­ten­tions with the team or your client. Some artists will do thumb­nails, oth­ers quick sketches or speed paints. This is not the mo­ment to show off your skills or get picky about de­tails. Keep it sim­ple and go for read­abil­ity, and clear and recog­nis­able shapes and forms, which you can use to ex­plain your first ideas. Share and show them be­fore you go fur­ther, to avoid wast­ing time on ren­der­ing.

3 Lim­ited sam­ple

Avoid do­ing too many thumb­nail sketches. Your client is busy and giv­ing them too many op­tions isn’t go­ing to help. I ask some ques­tions and in­vite them to put key­words on their ideas. I usu­ally do two or three it­er­a­tions of a char­ac­ter, like in this speed paint­ing for Vik­ing re­search in For Honor. Then get back to them to see if we’re head­ing in the right di­rec­tion. The more you know about your client’s vi­sion, the more pre­cise your de­signs will be and the less time you’ll waste.

4 Va­ri­ety keeps things fresh

To main­tain co­her­ence, my fi­nal works are of­ten ren­dered the same way. But when I start on a new char­ac­ter I like to switch styles and experiment. Some­times I’ll do colour speed paint­ings, like the Vik­ing re­search. Some­times I’ll start in black and white or on pa­per. Other times, like this one, I’ll work with strong out­lines.

Each ap­proach forces you to think dif­fer­ently and helps keep the pas­sion for cre­ativ­ity and dis­cov­ery alive. It’s also a way of chal­leng­ing my­self. This is early Vik­ing re­search for For Honor. I started with pa­per and pen, then scanned it into Pho­to­shop.

5 From car­toon to ren­der­ing

This is a de­sign for So­phie Trenet, a for­mer as­sas­sin from the game As­sas­sin’s Creed Unity, and it’s a good ex­am­ple of my pre­vi­ous point about lim­it­ing the num­ber of my ini­tial con­cepts. I found out as much as pos­si­ble about her char­ac­ter and then put down a few sim­ple thumb­nails, to com­mu­ni­cate my ideas to the team.

I of­ten sketch these thumb­nails on a low-res­o­lu­tion can­vas. For my out­lines I of­ten use a hard-edged Round brush, leav­ing Pen Pres­sure unchecked and Opac­ity set to 80 per cent. Then I ap­ply flat opaque colours with ei­ther no or min­i­mal amount of shad­ing or gra­di­ents.

Once we agreed on her de­sign (on the left), I in­creased the can­vas res­o­lu­tion to be­tween 5,000 and 9,000 pix­els and then started paint­ing in light, shad­ows, de­tails and so forth, un­til I was happy with the fi­nal im­age (right).

The more you know about your client’s vi­sion, the more pre­cise your de­signs will be

6 Look into my eyes...

You don’t need to de­sign a whole char­ac­ter to cap­ture the essen­tials. Much of a char­ac­ter’s al­lure and per­son­al­ity comes from the head, its po­si­tion, the face, and es­pe­cially their ex­pres­sion and their eyes. Of­ten it’s about what he or she re­flects when you look them in the eyes for the first time. Shoes come later, once you all agree on what re­ally de­fines the char­ac­ter’s per­son­al­ity. This was early re­search for For Honor, where I tried to catch the spirit of an old, proud and pow­er­ful war­rior.

7 Body lan­guage

You’ll of­ten use static poses when con­cen­trat­ing on char­ac­ter de­sign. But static doesn’t have to mean bor­ing and some­times it’s their body lan­guage or pose that shows what they are all about. This rev­o­lu­tion­ary for As­sas­sin’s Creed Unity needed to show fight­ing spirit, so I tried to vi­su­alise this in his pose, ex­pres­sion and body lan­guage. Try­ing dif­fer­ent poses also averts the dan­ger of rou­tine get­ting into my work­flow too of­ten.

8 Be what you draw

I got asked to re­design the leg­endary as­sas­sin’s blade on As­sas­sin Creed Unity, as well as their other weapons. I felt hon­oured and ex­cited.

I imag­ine sit­ting there in my black­smith’s forge and these as­sas­sin dudes walk in and ask me to de­sign weapons for them. I like to imag­ine how I would have done it if I had to de­sign these weapons for real. By do­ing this I al­ready know what it should look like be­fore I start to draw.

For Arno’s Phan­tom Blade I made fake tech­ni­cal de­signs, inspired by clocks, try­ing to make them look like they could re­ally work. How could an as­sas­sin kill some­body with a hid­den blade from afar with­out a noise… A mini cross­bow blade! The Phan­tom Blade was made for real in the Man at Arms YouTube se­ries. It was a blast to see it work!

I’m sit­ting there in my black­smith’s forge and these as­sas­sin dudes walk in and ask me to de­sign weapons

9 Make it look real

These weapon con­cepts were done as early re­search for For Honor. When de­sign­ing weapons, char­ac­ters, props and so forth it’s im­por­tant to make them look real. Think about them as ac­tual ob­jects. What have these peo­ple or weapons been through? In this case, I ask how long have the char­ac­ters been fight­ing with these weapons? The shields, for ex­am­ple, would have been hit a few times al­ready and so they should show cuts, dents and scratches. For the swords, their me­tal be­comes less shiny through time per­haps, and if a char­ac­ter has been in a bat­tle re­cently he prob­a­bly won’t look at all clean and shiny ei­ther. Scars, dirt, ripped clothes, scratches and so on make your de­signs look au­then­tic.

10 Lasso and Pen Tools

As a con­cept artist, some­times you have to tackle other tasks dur­ing the de­sign stage. These can range from mock­ups or sto­ry­boards for trail­ers, to pre­sen­ta­tions and lo­gos, or even ideas for the player’s in­ter­face and menus.

Here I’ve mainly used the Lasso and Pen Tools for cre­at­ing the fac­tion lo­gos in For Honor. I di­rectly draw the shapes us­ing the free-hand Lasso Tool, with Feather set to 0 per cent and then fill the mask with ei­ther the fore­ground or back­ground colour us­ing a short­cut on my Cin­tiq or In­tuos.

Di­rectly draw­ing shapes us­ing the Lasso Tool and fill­ing them up with fore­ground or back­ground colours is a tech­nique that’s of­ten used when speed paint­ing.

11 Trig­ger­ing emo­tions

These de­signs were done for the For Honor fac­tion web pages. Mood and colour play a big role in how a viewer takes in a char­ac­ter or land­scape, and you can use these el­e­ments to trig­ger or boost a viewer’s emo­tional re­sponse. For ex­am­ple, emo­tions such as fear, anx­i­ety or evil can be trig­gered with dark or washed-out greens and blues. They’re of­ten used in hor­ror films. Us­ing warmer or pas­tel colours could gen­er­ate more pos­i­tive emo­tions. Try to ob­serve which colours are used in films to bring about cer­tain emo­tions, and ap­ply them to your art.

12 More pos­si­bil­i­ties, more char­ac­ters

The next-gen con­soles come with more power and more pos­si­bil­i­ties. One trend that’s ac­com­pa­ny­ing this boost in hard­ware tech­nol­ogy is the end­less choices play­ers have when cus­tomis­ing their char­ac­ters. This means artists have to cre­ate plenty of cos­tumes, weapons and ac­ces­sories for the same char­ac­ter, to en­able peo­ple to cre­ate their own he­roes. These cos­tume de­signs were done for Arno in As­sas­sin’s Creed Unity. Of­ten I start out with a ba­sic cos­tume and then slowly build it up by adding lay­ers, to cre­ate sev­eral vari­a­tions of the same out­fit.

13 Back­grounds and... ac­tion!

Some­times, just like I did here for early re­search done on non-play­ing char­ac­ters for As­sas­sin’s Creed Unity, adding a back­ground can strengthen the sto­ry­telling of your char­ac­ters: where they’re from, who they are, and what fac­tion they be­long to. Fur­ther­more, adding some ac­tion or sto­ry­telling to the scene could show what they’re up to or the role they have in the game. I like to add back­grounds, when time per­mits, be­cause it’s fun and bet­ter em­pha­sises the char­ac­ter’s part in a story. It’s also a way to en­er­gise your char­ac­ter’s pre­sen­ta­tion.

14 The magic of key­words

When cre­at­ing a char­ac­ter from scratch I find it help­ful to sum up their na­ture in just three or four key­words. If cho­sen with enough thought and care, such words will of­ten cre­ate strong men­tal im­ages. For ex­am­ple, what springs to mind when you try to vi­su­alise ‘des­per­ate’, ‘ruth­less’ or ‘schem­ing’?

Dur­ing the char­ac­ter de­sign process I like to ask the client or team for a cou­ple of key­words that best de­scribe the char­ac­ter for them. I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber the words Dan Hay, pro­ducer of the Far Cry se­ries, told me when work­ing on Ci­tra from Far Cry 3. “Remko, think about: bitch, voodoo and sexy mama!” Just by hear­ing those words, I di­rectly saw her there stand­ing in front of me, with­out pick­ing up my pen. In the end, con­cept art is just a lan­guage through which you ex­press your ideas.

By hear­ing those words, I saw her stand­ing in front of me, with­out pick­ing up my pen. Con­cept art is a lan­guage to ex­press your ideas

Char­ac­ters would wrap leather or rope around a weapon

for bet­ter grip. Im­pact on en­emy ar­mour,

shields or other sur­faces would cre­ate scratches and

blows on the axe. Pol­ished and/or glossy wood would grad­u­ally ap­pear more mat

over time. When new leather straps are added, they wouldn’t

be the same colour.

You can ei­ther start out sim­ple then add lay­ers to the char­ac­ter to cre­ate vari­a­tions, or start with more de­tails, as shown here, and slowly

re­move them.

Slots can be used to de­fine which parts of the char­ac­ter can be cus­tomised.

Z ones en­able the player to change colours or tex­tures for even

more vari­a­tion.

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