PIPELINE TECHNIQUES: Art Direct and Plan a Successful Project
Simon Fenton on properly planning for a 3D project
creating compelling portfolio work is a vital part of your tool set in demonstrating to potential employers that you have the right skills. however, it’s not all about tools and techniques, without a strong sense of art direction and the correct planning your work could feel weak and miss that personal touch that makes you stand out.
This tutorial takes you through some of the key steps of creating a game environment, from pre-production through to finished project.
starting with the initial brief and creating style guides, we also discuss the impact of scheduling and blocking out through to environmental storytelling and finally lighting and post-process. At escape studios we were very fortunate to have ian Palmer, art director at supermassive Games, mentor and guide our students. ian’s keen insights helped our students stay faithful to the source material and add their own personal touches. By the end of this tutorial you will be able to apply these steps to your own projects and create rich and detailed game environments
Project brief Writing a project brief is essential, it gives you the chance to create a narrative and flesh out ideas that will make your finished work more interesting. Ask yourself questions such as, what are you making? What time period is it set? What is the mood you are trying evoke?
These details can help you decide on everything from set dressing ideas through to lighting direction. This in turn gives you an idea of the scope of your project and if it is too ambitious. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on forums, a little extra time spent on your project brief will save many wasted hours of production later on.
At escape studios i created a brief for a group project called The Last Of London and it was designed to enable students to be creative whilst staying faithful to naughty Dog’s vision. They wrote a whole backstory about the people who inhabited the space which in turn informed them of the scope of production. Add some initial images to your brief to help for reference points and sell the idea.
Create the style guide style guides define the look and tone of the project and each object in it, this visual art bible is the guide that all artists must follow. A style guide should contain pages for every prop, textile pattern, graphic design through to lighting and post-process choice. Basically you shouldn’t have any questions about what things look like when you start creating 3D, all of the answers should be in the art bible.
We use Adobe Photoshop’s Artboards as they provide a really flexible approach to creating style guides. Artboards are a special type of layer group, a bit like sorting images on a table. When you decide on the images you want the Artboard clips the contents to the file size.
To create an Artboard in Photoshop, just go to File>new and in the new dialog box, specify a name for the document, then select one of the Artboard pre-sets. in this case i chose Film and video/ HDTV 1080p. Don’t forget to tick Artboards. For easy viewing i recommend exporting as a PDF. Go to File>export Artboards To PDF.
Watch this fantastic presentation by art director Robh Ruppel to help you with your image research: bit. ly/2whb6et.
Schedule and time box your work even if you are working on your own it’s important to schedule your work. it’s difficult to know how long something will take so if you are making an environment create a couple of objects first to define your time scales then schedule accordingly. There are lots of tools that you can use from good old-fashioned pen and paper through to online solutions. At escape we often use Trello as it is really easy to use and track development.
Try to create a priority order for your task: p1, p2, p3 and assign no less than half days. An important prop, for example, is priority 1 and will take four and a half days, whilst a very basic far distance object is priority 3 and will take half a day to complete.
Time boxing your work based on priority ensures you’re working on the most important things first.
Look at 5 Ways to Boost Your Agility by nathalie Goh-livorness as it is a very good introduction to task scheduling in game development: bit.ly/2cfc5cg.
Block out This is great fun and is a highly iterative stage in your project, sometimes called white or grey boxing. This is where you define the basic version of your scene, test and refine it. We use unreal to develop with and it is very simple to change the position or scale of an object and replay until we are happy. This is where you utilise modularity and is a vital stage in terms of deciding the scope of your project. Walk through your scene, decide on the area that you are closest to and work outward in terms of detail, closest objects should have more time spent on them, as a result you may well find you have to revise your schedule a little. in the Piccadilly scene the block out went through many revisions and the students realised the scope of their project was too big and had to find ways of blocking off their level. check out this fantastic resource called Blocktober: twitter.com/blocktoberld and check out the blockout progression for The Last of London at: youtube. com/watch?v=bw2ikli12n0.
Environmental storytelling and set dressing in The Last of London there are many devices used in the levels to allow the player to gain a deeper sense of narrative and history of the space, from missing people posters on the wall, arrows embedded in a tree to newspapers and photos on tables. Think about the environment’s impact on your scene. in the pub level, mould, dirt and bird poop are details that sell the fact that 20 years have passed and the pub is falling apart.
using set dressing allows you to tell the story in a nonlinear fashion, you’re leaving clues that the player finds, which helps build their own experience. sound also plays a part, and perhaps the most important, whether that’s through recordings you can turn on, sound effects or music.
Lighting and post-process Lighting is something that can make or break a scene. in the Piccadilly level the art direction called for an overcast London day but it just lacked emotional strength, so the decision was made to go with a more dramatic feel. Relighting was difficult but based on ian’s feedback the level was relit and it was a big improvement. Be prepared to iterate and change – one of the fastest ways of doing this in unreal is to use post-process volume and Luts. Basically you screen-grab your scene and take the image to Photoshop where you apply Photoshop’s tools to adjust colour and tone and then apply those changes to a special texture called a LUT.
This is a very effective and powerful workflow helping you grade your scene and bring everything together.
For full instructions on how to use Luts go to this link: docs.unrealengine.com/en-us/engine/rendering/ Postprocesseffects/usingluts.
There are many devices used in the levels to allow the player to gain a deeper sense of narrative