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volume 1, issue 6

Today in loonygames:

New!! The Archives have been cleaned up, fead links fixed, and printable versions restored! Also, don't miss the new comments on the front page!

Livin' With The Sims: theAntiELVIS explores the wild and wacky world that is Will Wright's The Sims, asking the inevitable quesiton, "is The Sims the first step toward a virtual life where everyone is Swedish?"

Pixel Obscura: Josh Vasquez on Omikron: The Nomad Soul.

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DRAW, Pardner!

 

By Chris "shaithis" Buecheler

Team

"I classify [an] art team as everyone working on Duke Nukem Forever. I try to exchange ideas and opinions with everyone, not just the art team."
-Ruben Cabrera, 3DRealms

Methods of team communication are possibly the most highly varied aspect covered by my survey. Some of the artists polled spend most of their time by themselves, others are in constant contact with the entire development team, and still others work predominantly with one or two members. Some work from home often, others not at all. It's interesting in that all of these artists have the same basic job description, yet their methods of getting the job done can differ severely.

Mike Miller, concept artist for Ion Storm, feels that working from home is very productive, and wishes he had the chance to do it more often. Other artists in the field tend to feel that working at home is more "different" than "better". Mike Hadwin of Ritual thinks that working at home allows him to focus a bit more on creativity, and a bit less on deadlines. However, this also sometimes leads to the development of new techniques, which is often a time consuming process. Personally, I've found that working at an office helps me stay on top of things, keep track of the project, and not get sidetracked.

Often it's not possible for this to happen (as a contract worker, much of the art I do is done at home, and then sent via the net to the people I'm doing work for) so I've managed to develop some methods which help me stay focused. One of these methods is constant contact with other members of the team. This is agreed upon by most of the artists I interviewed, though some don't spend all that much time working directly with their teammates. Kevin Kilstrom, the sole artist working on world-textures for Monolith's Blood 2, works primarily with the level designers, far more than with the other members of the art team. Rich Fleider (Rogue), on the other hand, spends much of his time working with the other members of his art team (especially on the character/monster models), as well as the Rogue level designers. Jeff Wand, works "for several minutes to a half hour a day [with other members of the art team]. Just enough to have an idea of what others are working on and to compare notes."

It appears that in most game situations, 2D artists spend a good deal of their time communicating within their team and with the level designers. I've found that many 2D artists have only a basic understanding of coding (myself included), which may explain why more direct work is not done with the programmers. Chalk it up to the age-old conflict between math and art, I suppose. This is where all of those fractal-mathematics art fans fire up their mailers and send me hate mail ;)

Techniques

"The method of creation depends on what kind of look I'm striving for. If I'm going for a comic book feel, I'll go it alone and hand generate the texture using reference only as a visual aid. If I'm going for a photo realistic look, I'll use anything, and I mean anything. I usually have to sanitize the scanner after I'm done..."
-Jeff Wand, Ion Storm

So how do they go about creating their textures? We now know a bit more about the tools and communication methods that 2D artists in the gaming industry use, but how about their techniques? Well, for starters, 100% of the artists I surveyed have a background in non-digital, freehand art. That is, they can all pick up a pencil and draw something more basic than a square...and most can also pick up charcoal, paint, clay, and an airbrush and wield them all relatively effectively. I as well, have a background in freehand work. It's worth noting that every company I've worked for, or even contacted about work, has looked to make sure that I did indeed have freehand work on display in my portfolio.

Out of the artists surveyed, 66% had a bachelor's degree in art (of one kind or another), and the other 33% had taken at least some college level art classes. This is a far greater percentage than you typically see in other industry jobs, such as programming or level designing. My personal theory on why this is: I think both level designing and, to a slightly lesser degree, coding are both professions that some people are "just good at", without a lot of professional training. While there are many artists out there who have a lot of raw talent, it's very difficult to refine that talent without professional instruction. This doesn't necessarily make it any "better" or "worse" of a talent than the other two, just one that's often realized differently.

What type of training is good training? Any, really. Most computer artists will tell you that they have a wide background in traditional art types. I personally have experience with charcoal, pastel, acrylic paints, oil paints, collage, mixed media, pencil, ink, pottery, sculpting, layout concepts, and a bit of screen printing. My actual computer art knowledge, however, is almost entirely self-taught. It's definitely a benefit to be diverse, however. Monolith's Kevin Kilstrom has a background in "drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, screen printing, etc." Knowing the basics is important, too. A good background in figure drawing will help any art professional, simply via the discipline and understanding of shape that it imparts. Similarly, work in collage and mixed media often helps today's texture artists understand better how to make their 2D images more closely resemble the texture they're mimicking.

Choice in school varies wildly between artists, and it appears that there's no specific school good for teaching "game industry art". Several cutting edge art schools are offering "interactive multimedia" and "computer graphics" courses, however, so it's only a matter of time before we start seeing classes like "Textures 101: Building the basic wood" or somesuch. I'm familiar with several New York City area Art Schools. Pratt, School of Visual Arts, and Parsons all offer various types of computer-oriented art majors, with SVA having perhaps the strongest department. Pratt's strength lies in its foundation years, where it forces incoming students to learn not just their particular art preference, but to spend time working in a wide variety of mediums and styles. Parsons, too, offers a wide variety of majors, many of which involve the student in several types of art. The art departments at many "normal" colleges are often excellent, as well, many rivaling the quality of any dedicated art school.

As for individual classes, diversity is the key. Most of the artists I surveyed, however, mentioned basic figure drawing, painting, illustration, sculpture, and screen printing as being a part of their education. Drawing from life is also stressed. It never hurts to go outside, sit down with some charcoal or pastels, and draw the side of a building, or the leaves of a tree. Many "general drawing" courses offer this type of work, and I would definitely recommend that anyone interested in the 2D side of the gaming industry take at least one or two of them. It's much easier to texture if you already have some familiarity of how a texture "applies itself" to an object, and there's no better way to do this than going out and looking for yourself.

Texturing is, of course, one of the main jobs of the 2D artist. In the past, "texturing" meant taking a small palette of colors, and trying to make something vaguely recognizable out of them. It meant two-tone trees and bushes, three-color faces, or even in some lucky cases, 256 *gasp* colors to use on one sprite. In fact, it wasn't really even called texturing, just tiling or "drawing". The concept of texturing as it's seen now, didn't really come along to the PC gaming scene until the weirdos at id (and a couple of other places) got this crazy idea into their heads that maybe building games out of polygons might be a cool idea.

Photo realism is the name of the game these days, making your polygons look as realistic as is currently possible. There are many different ways that people create their textures, due to the huge variety of texture types and styles that need to be made. Many artists have taken to using scanned, photographed, or otherwise pre-made textures as a base for their work. They also spend a lot of time just looking at reference material in order to get an idea of the look they're shooting for. Says Kevin Kilstrom: "I prefer to work from reference materials. It's a lot faster and looks better." He's not alone in this opinion. Mike Hadwin agrees, "If a detailed texture needs to look exactly like the structure of an offshore oilrig, then nothing beats true to life reference materials."

Most 2D artists these days appear to adapt their methods based on what they need. Jeff Wand says that, for him, it always comes down to the same thing in the end: "By the end of the texture creation process, I'm always down to working on a pixel-by-pixel basis." Rich Flieder agrees, citing Dpaint as still his most-used tool. Kevin Kilstrom on the other hand states, "I almost never work pixel by pixel anymore. I did on Blood but that was a different engine." Mike Miller finds a mixture. "In the smaller details, I have to go pixel by pixel. Lower res stuff kind of deems it necessary. Other than that, I let the tools do the work," He writes.

Artists more and more are beginning to work with a scanned image as a base. Both Jeff Wand and Ruben Cabrera state this as a common method of working. Says Cabrera, "I start with a photographic base and work on top of that, but sometimes it's impossible or not realistic to go and take a picture of something, so there are techniques that I use that create realistic effects like broken glass, dirty materials, etc.". I have done some work with scanned images as well, and have found that sometimes it's extremely useful. I needed to make an oriental rug texture awhile ago, and the time I saved by tweaking a scanned image was significant. In the end however, a scanned image almost always needs a decent amount of hands-on reworking. Seamlessly tiling the image, changing the shading, perhaps adding some depth, and many more small tweaks are often necessary. With the advent of 16-bit and higher color palettes, however, 2D artists are finding that scanned images are an excellent way to help avoid the "cartoony" feel that totally hand-pixeled images often have.

 

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Credits: Illustration © 1998 Chris Buecheler. DRAW Pardner! is © 1998 Chris Buecheler. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it...we'll hunt you down, you varmint.