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Glasgow, United Kingdom
An illustrator and games artist living and working in Scotland. I have various hobbies: coding, travel, art and games; and I enjoy writing about them.

23 March 2013

The Witch Baby Development Sketches

Once all the cobwebs and cliches are successfully purged from the mind some interesting concepts start to develop. I am not too worried about making it look uniquely Russian just yet, because as we established time and time again the true character lies in the small details. At the moment I am concentrating most on the general shape and interesting design.

A note on structure of these blog posts. In my process the first step is always to look for inspiration and reference first. This is extremely important because designing without knowing your topic will result in mediocre and cliche designs. However, because blogger displays the first uploaded image as a thumbnail I always post the most recent work first, thus making it seem like I'm doing things in the wrong order. I hope this helps.

Anyway, let's have a look at the final sketch of the Witch.

Which is an extremely quick (20minutes max) painting of this image.

The round shape suggests a friendly and positive character, however the scary details and graphic content creates a stark contrast. More on the nuances of character design and the meaning behind shapes can be found in Tom Bancroft's book "Creating Characters with Personality". Do not be put off by the simplistic design and cheap price. The book is a collection of work by the top industry professionals ranging from Mark Hem from Disney to Peter de Seve from Pixar. It also has some helpful insights into the world of character design and the theory behind it.

Anyway, here are some of the designs that look cool but were unsuccessful due to reasons I will describe later.

There is really no great theoretical and academic reason why I discarded this design. It all comes down to knowing what has been done and what won't work. The main piece on the page above looked a lot like this character from Studio Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle. The Witch of the Waste.

The Witch of the Wastes, Howls Moving Castle, Studio Ghibli (2004)

The other drawing reminded me too much of this character from Left 4 Dead 2. The Spitter.

Spitter Special Infected, Left 4 Dead 2, Valve and Turtle Rock Studios (2008)
All in all I am fairly happy with the design. However, more work needs to be done in adding those little details that will make her unique and add a Slavic feel to the character.

The Witch Baby Silhouettes

The next character on my list is the horrid witch with iron teeth.

The motif of iron teeth can be traced back to Ancient Greece. When depicted in her bad form Baba Yaga often has iron teeth that make terrible sound and she eats children. This is a Russian fairy tale character. Moving southwards towards the Mediterranean, in Bulgaria and Serbia there is a character named Ala. Ala is a demon of the bad weather who steals children. The demon also has iron teeth.

Now we're going a bit into linguistic differences of the different cultures. The Greek demon Lamia is also known for eating children. She doesn't have iron teeth, or she might be there are no accounts of it, but the word Lamia exists in Bulgarian as the word Lamnja, which is synonymous with the Serbian word Ala (Slobodan, 1981). So now the chain is complete.

Zečević, Slobodan (1981). Митска бића српских предања. Belgrade: "Vuk Karadžić" : Etnografski muzej.

I suddenly had a realisation that inserting the actual Baba Yaga into the story is a little bit pointless due to the fact that her and the Witch Baby are essentially the same character. However, my Baba Yaga is a nice old lady witch that lives in the swamp. The Witch Baby is a horrible monster that eats people. Therefore I'm going to run with it.

Initially I visualised the Witch Baby as a dry old woman. But that spot is already taken. Thus I let my imagination roam.

I want her to be properly repelling and terrifying. She gluttonously ate an entire kingdom. She devoured the Prince's parents and the entire court. She is going to be big and nasty. An amorphous blob of half digested bodies and rotten flesh as far removed from humanity as possible.

I started with some sketches.

Here we see two methods of silhouetting. One is with a traditional black marker. Please note the level of detail created with seemingly random strokes. The second one is digital. This looks a lot more smoother but at the same time loses some of the rhythm and flow the original has. Both methods are valid and both are widely used.

This stage I find the most fun and interesting of all. That is when you get rid of the cliches and start developing new and interesting ideas. As I draw I remember bits of stories or images that inspire other ideas.

It is important to have a large mental library of images you can use in your art. More on the topic of visual library can be found in this Feng Zhu tutorial. In it he describes the importance of having something to fall back on in your design and how to distinguish between an amateur and a professional.

In any case, here are some images and and bits of inspiration that popped into my mind as I was drawing these thumbnails.

BPRD Ectoplasmic Man One Shot, Art by Ben Stenbeck.
Brood Mother, Dragon Age, Bioware (2009)
Excellent mix of Russian imagery and modern concept art. Little details like wooden dolls and white/blue colour scheme adds authenticity. (2010)
Gluttony, Dante's Inferno, EA Games (2010)

22 March 2013

Perseption of Female Beauty in Games

Due to illness not a lot of posting was done in the last week. Let's change that.

Following our talk on big women in the crit I decided to explore that path. After doing some research, I agree that the standard "sexy" female image in video games is a tale as old as time and is getting outdated with the ever growing demographic of female gamers. The first and most famous example of the "sexy" in video games is the Lara Croft franchise, which launched in 1996 and revolutionised video games in terms of how female characters are seen and designed. There is a body of evidence online that supports the argument that the "sexy" perception of women in video games is dated. Here are two examples. One is an IGN article on the Lara Croft series that explains the various design choices and that impact it had on the public's perception of female beauty in video games. The other is a Geeksaresexy article named "Why Video Game Designers Are Missing The Mark With Women" which describes how female demographic suffers due to the over sexualisation of women in video games.

"Woman in cyberculture is primarily created and represented by men, leaving women less and less interested in cyberculture artifacts. Female pleasure machines and haglike monsters proliferate digital culture; there are now more female protagonists in popular computer games, for example, than in cinema and these protagonists are prone to rigid styles of representation based on men's fantasies"

Booth, A. 2002. Reload: Rethinking Women + Cyberculture. Cambride, MA: MIT Press.

However, since my project is about the use of Slavic aesthetic, folklore and mythology in concept design, and as outlined by the critical framework proposed in semester one, this topic falls outside the scope of my project. Thus I will not be looking into it any further.

15 March 2013

Crit 2013

This is the presentation I made as part of my crit session this semester. A lot of work has been done since Pitch and this is an excellent way to summarize it.

The theme of the presentation was "working on feedback" and I went over what has changed since the last time. I skimmed over the critical framework and the list of literature. Skimming over these topics was a mistake and it was commented upon.

The structure was also mentioned. It would've been a lot more beneficial to put the list of inspirations and processed before the showing the final result, and not the other way round like I did. Also more in depth exploration of the topic and really interesting cultural nuances would've been great.

My greatest failing today way forgetting that what is painfully obvious in my head is not necessarily obvious to the people I'm presenting to. A lot of comments included phrases like, "It would've been nice to see the process" or "Where did that thing come from?".

Some suggestions were also given. Like making the Sun's Sister fat and exploring the peasant art motifs more in my work. These mostly deal with things that concerned the peasant class at the time: harvests, passing armies, seasons, hunting etc.

For my final presentation, the one I present to people that are not familiar with the project I will need to go a lot more in depth and explain a lot more.

Overall it was a pleasant experience. I know they are being critical because they love me. But seriously, the criticisms received today were helpful in identifying my weak points and preparing me for the big presentation later in the year.


14 March 2013

Portrait Study

I recently identified a major hole in my skills. It is to do with painting faces. It's not that I completely dislike how I tackle them, it's that, coming from a comics background, my figures and faces tend to be very stylised and I would like to head more into realistic side of things.

So here is.

12 March 2013

Sun's Sister WIP

After scanning in the artwork I put it into Photoshop onto a layer of its own, set the layer to Multiply (70% opacity) and started to paint underneath.

Here is the result after 4 hours.

Here are the previous steps. The reason I'm doing it this way is so you get a nice thumbnail on the main page.

2 hours in:

At this stage I am establishing lighting and local colours with large, sweeping strokes. Things are very rough looking and the linework is still visible.

And 3 hours in:

Here the linework is gone, the colours are finalised and it is safe to move into detailing. The arm looks a bit weird, so time to fix it a bit. Another hour passes and we end up with the first image in this post. There is still quite a lot to do. I need to make the values really stand out, add highlights, work on small details like patterns and effects. I'd say another hour or two and it'll be finished.

Keep an eye out for the final result tomorrow.

11 March 2013

Sun's Sister Final Sketch

Here we go. Having taken into account critique from Ryan I thought about her in detail. What does she like for breakfast? What do gods like to eat anyway? So I present to you the Sun's Sister, or Dawn. In Slavic mythology she is the youngest daughter of the sun god Dazhbog. Nothing else is known about her so I allowed myself to add some interesting character traits for her.

Her archetype is the healer. She is the first light after a long night, she is the gentle summer morning, she is gentle, yet strong, proving protection and hope to what is dear to her.

Today I finally got a scanner, so here we are, a decent scan of my work. The futuristic looking thing on her front is the sun pattern from the weapon sets, just to tie in the design into the general aesthetic of the Sun Castle.

Here are some references I used for this drawing.

Keep Calm and Create Some Art Wallpaper

I made a wallpaper for myself and thought it'd be nice to share it with other creative types out there. It's 1600x1200. Feel free to use this!

10 March 2013

Baba Yaga's Swamp Speed Painting

A very hasty, initial sketch of the Baba Yaga's hut simply to establish general mood and character. I was envisioning something more grand and impressive than a simple hut in the forest, but sometimes less is more.

As Mike Yamada said in Skillful Huntsman, these initial sketches are important to get all the cliches out of your head. This image is what appears in my mind when I hear "Baba Yaga's hut", so it is extremely useful to get it out of my system.

I also used this exercise to explore the possibilities that become available when using non standard composition methods. Instead of normal rule of thirds I used the Golden Ratio, or the Fibonacci spiral. Here it is in action.

Although I hate putting my work next to other people's, because usually mine is more rushed and unfinished. Here are the images I used as inspiration and reference.

I'm going to call it a night at this point.

Here is a list of tasks for next week: Do as many sketches of the witch and the Sun's sister as possible. Prepare for Crit. Also, tomorrow I am supervising a crit session for some of the first years. Should be interesting. It's quite depressing that some of those guys are starting to get pretty good!

Weapon Sets

Today I worked on some weapon sets for our prince, as well as the final version of the prince himself. Here are the images.

The weapon skins are available from different areas of the game and reflect an element of the story. As Ivan travels to the deepest part of the forest to find Baba Yaga he will pick up the swamp rifle. As he reaches the witch sister the witched weapon becomes available. For the final battle he receives the sun skin and for the final showdown with the witch the dark weapon becomes available. The different weapon skins were inspired by Alice: Madness Returns.

Also I present to you the final sketch of Prince Ivan.

In retrospect from now on I will not create a black and white sketch first. I will go straight into painting with light. There are a few reasons to that. First of all, it eliminates an extra step and thus takes a lot less time. Secondly, when using an overlay layer for colours the colours turn out washed out and the values don't appear as good as on the black and white sketch. Finally, the second method produces more interesting and impressive results, like can be seen on the weapon skins.

Creating the weapon sets first was an extremely good idea because now I have a general aesthetic for each character and location clear in my mind. For example the Sun castle will be painted in greys and blues, with an accent of warm colour to represent the raw power of the elements and strong character. The swamp will be nauseous green, the witch castle will be mysteriously purple and the final showdown will be painted in black and red, like a volcano. 

The Skillful Huntsman

Many people talk about this book, and many think that this book is the best thing since peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but with all this hype somehow no one bothered to write about it in detail. Considering that this book was the main inspiration behind this project I think it's a huge mistake. In this post I will write a short overview of the book and explain why exactly it is so inspirational and informative. I will analyse the artists' pipeline and workflow and explain how it fits into the bigger framework of video game creation.

So let's talk about what this book actually is. This book is essentially a sketchbook, filled with development work by three talented artists on a Brother's Grimm fairy tale. Three artists are showing their process in creating characters, props, vehicles and environments for an imaginary production.

The process begins with pages and pages of thumbnails. Mike Yamada says, "I often start a character design with quite a few quick exploratory sketches. I use it as a way to get all the cliche and preconceived ideas out of my system.". If you look at one of my earlier sketches of the prince you will see how samey and cliche most of them are. A truly unique design emerges towards the end of the process.

Once the artist is happy with the thumbnail and how abstract shapes appear next to one another he is ready to move on to the next stage, which is sketching.

Khang Le explains this stage, "Once the basic silhouette is established, the next stage is rough sketching. These drawings are larger, so the smaller details can be given more attention. Everything the character carries can help tell a story about him. Story suggests design, and design can also spark new ideas for story."

Finally the artist is confident in the design and chooses one sketch as the final concept. This is then coloured and presented.

There can be one or two variations on the basic silhouette, with one of them chosen to be the final one. Each stage poses a thousand possible deviations and directions. That is when an art director role comes in. He would work closely with PR Staff, the producer and the director to pick the best direction for the art to go into.

As you can see the artists' methods and pipelines are discussed in detail, sometimes with some great insights into the technical nuances of concept design. Most memorable for my was when Khang Le was talking about how to create forests. More on that can be seen in this post.

According to the critical framework proposed in semester one, which states that a piece of work is to display a strong sense of authenticity and "place" in its aesthetic details, this book fits right in. It is invaluable to see how different artists interpret the same story and how each of them creates an authentic world filled with life and interesting characters. This book is the main inspiration behind my project, along with Alice: Madness Returns art book.

9 March 2013

Supervisor Meeting and Final Ivan Sketch

Yesterday I spoke to Ryan about my project. I raised a few concerns about how I am juggling work, motorcycle lessons and honours and get roughly 6 hours of sleep a night. Uni is always a priority, of course. He said that thing ain't gonna get better, only worse. So it's time to bite the bullet and do some work.

I am now considering narrowing down the scope of the project to only 3 main characters, some props and a few locations, rather than doing the full cast and all the environments. It is still a huge body of work, but also achievable in the 3 months that are left of the year.

We spent the hour chatting about the main character and how he would fit into the game. The Sun's Sister was also discussed and I am now back at the drawing board with her. She has to compliment the hardened prince with her gentleness and otherwordly god like presence.

The coloured sketch you saw in the previous post is too complicated to be the main character, who has to be sort of plain looking for the audience to project as much as possible onto him. Those are Ryan's words, which I thought about and produced this sketch.

Absolute not at all finished yet, but getting there. I like his plainness, his weary gaze and almost lanky proportions. He is but a boy who is forced to see too much horror in his life. He will have nothing but a pair of torn shoes, a rusty sword and a bag of food. This is the darker direction I am going into and I'm loving it. Things sort of clicked into place.

7 March 2013

Sun's Sister

Today I worked on some initial sketches for the Sun's Sister. As we discussed previously, she will closely resemble Dawn (or Dusk), one of Dazhbog's daughters, since in Slavic mythology the sun deity did not have any sisters and I want the story to connect to mythology behind it.

Also, she has to compliment Prince Ivan, since she is going to be his co-op buddy. She is a strong and would take a lot to lose her cool. However when she does, he temper flares up like the sun and takes a long time to subside. These character traits are there to represent the slow raise of the sun at dawn and its slow disappearance at dusk. Obviously, she is a goddess and must reflect that other-worldliness in the design. Without further ado, I present to you the final design for Dawn. I do apologise for the poor quality of the image. I will get it scanned in properly when I get a chance and update the post.

Let's look at the process. To start with I wanted to get all the cliche ideas out of my system. To do this I switched off my mind and started doodling.

Then, some patterns started to emerge. I ditched the Russian traditional head dress in favour of a more military look. I also experimented with a younger version of the character however with time constraints, did not pursue the design further.

Finally warmed up I pushed the military design further, ending up with the following results.

I absolutely loved the white eyed portrait I doodled and decided to use it in the final design. The reasoning and inspiration behind the choice to push her into a more military style came from the idea that Dawn can be thought of as the messenger of the sun. Appearing, leading the sun's warriors in their first charge.

Here are some images I used as reference or found inspiring.

Some nice reference for drawing female body in the comic book style

I love tank girl. All that detail is interesting and the anatomy is accurate.

Russian Hussar coat of 1812

More reference for drawing female characters
Tomorrow I will finish the pencil drawing and paint her.


5 March 2013

Prince Ivan

Still adjusting to having a bike back in my life. The weekend was spent riding around Dundee with complete disregard to freezing cold.

In any case, over the weekend I had a chance to play Stacking by Double Fine and absolutely fell in love with the Russian aesthetic in that. I also dug up an ancient image from a time long gone. Back in 2nd year I worked on a concept for a game set on a different planet far in the future. The game was a mix of traditional sci-fi and a Napoleonic historical drama.

The image above is a mock up. A composite of two screenshots (Guild Wars and Killzone) and a model gun found on eBay.

It was obvious that my early sketches started to lean slowly towards traditional fantasy, and that is the last thing I want. I want to adjust the setting to appeal to contemporary audiences, and contemporary audiences tend to see traditional fantasy as a cliche (check out this list of Everyone's Most Hated Fantasy Fiction Cliches for more detail). Also, by shifting the time period a little we are presented with more variety of weapons the main character can use and interact with. Everything from canons to more industrial gadgets, like a walking mech suit, if it comes down to that.

So here is a sketch of Ivan, which with some work done to it will become the final one.

As you can see Prince Ivan is sporting a Napoleonic Russian Hussar coat, as discussed in the previous post.

However, I am a picky art director. Probably the kind that will be hated by all employees in the future. I am still not happy with it. The sketch doesn't portray the personality of the character. He is a well traveled, beaten by the fates, homeless man who suffered the destruction of his entire kingdom. He would probably be practical and weary looking, as shown in the portraits in this post.

1 March 2013

The return of the bike

I had a whole day set aside for nothing but work. I was going to do a final sketch of Prince Ivan and start on painting.


My bike returned from service, all shiny and clean. Considering that the last time I rode was over two months ago, I was overwhelmed with the urge to go out and ride until it ran out of petrol. So nothing got done.

Here is a sketch I did in the morning. It's extremely loose, but it gives you a general idea of how things will look like later on. I changed the design slightly to fit with the idea of him being a prince. He has more ornaments on his clothes, riding trousers and boots and an overcoat which was popular with Russian Hussars in Imperial Russia. I am aware that I'm doing a lot of time period jumping here, but that's what I've been wanting to do since the start, so all is part of the process and exploration.

Tomorrow I'll get on the actual painting. Promise! A personal note to Ryan Locke. I'm sorry I wasn't there at 1500 today. I was somewhere between here and Perth doing dangerous things on a motorcycle.