PIPE­LINE TECH­NIQUES: Art Di­rect and Plan a Suc­cess­ful Project

3D Artist - - CONTENTS - Si­mon Fen­ton bit.ly/2od31jm Bio Head of games at Es­cape Stu­dios, Si­mon has 24 years of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the in­dus­try, in­clud­ing 10 years at SCEE cre­at­ing en­vi­ron­ments, char­ac­ters and lead­ing teams at a se­nior level.

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

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