Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
DF Lee

Art Update #1: Creating a Visual Style, Part 1

509 posts in this topic

Creating a Visual Style

Part 1

Hello backers! My name is Lee Petty and I was the Art Director of Brütal Legend and the Project Lead for Stacking. I am currently working on DFA helping to define a visual style for the game. In this post, I'm going to talk about and show some early work in that direction. But before I do that, I have to post a…

DISCLAIMER: All of the art posted here is early, rough work and solely for the purpose of developing the overall visual style of the game. These are NOT the characters or settings from the actual game.

So what is a visual style? Why is it important?

The visual style of a game is composed of many elements, but it can be thought of as the "filter" or "lens" through which the entire game is viewed. A visual style provides direction for all of the visual elements, such as the world, characters, lighting, visual effects, and interface. A successful visual style brings together all of those elements in a satisfying way and also helps give the game its unique identity.

A visual style should support and enhance the themes and play of the game itself. The shapes and colors are content in and of themselves and have a direct effect on how the mechanics and narrative are perceived. For example, if a visual style is based on gritty, dark fantasy art, but the story focuses on romance and the primary mechanic is about picking flowers, the visual style will probably feel quite dissonant with the rest of the game. However, if the visual style for that very same game was filled with pastoral hues and soft, bloomy lighting, some of the theme would be communicated to the player by the look itself.

So that's all nice, but how do you start creating a visual style?

I like to approach the process by first looking at what is KNOWN about the game at this point. In the case of DFA, we know that it is an "old school point 'n' click adventure game." We also know that we are going to be making a 2D game. And lastly, Tim wants to use elements from the fine art style of longtime Double Fine artist Nathan Stapley (aka "Bagel") for the characters and settings of the game. You can check out some of his fine art imagery here: http://www.nathanstapley.com/

When first developing a visual style, some like to spend a lot of time just drawing or painting static images, but I like to get things "in game" as quickly as possible. By putting together even very rough representations of as much of the game as possible, you will see connections between important elements that you might not otherwise realize if you were just looking at static images. With that in mind, I wanted to get a basic scene "up and running" as quickly as possible.

To find a good scene to start with, Tim, Bagel and I looked through some of Bagel's early exploration sketches and found some cool little doodles that he did of a cabin and a forest that felt like they would be a good testing ground. One of the reasons that we liked these images is because they had a mix of man-made and organic structures and felt expansive enough to test a moving camera.

visualstyle1_01.png

Because the game engine and tools are still being developed by the programmers, I used a commercially available program called Adobe After Effects to visualize our scene. After Effects is primarily a motion-graphics animation tool, but has support for several layers and cameras, which is exactly what I needed. One of the early aspects of our world that I wanted to explore was how to incorporate parallax with Bagel’s style. Parallax is an old technique used to give 2d games the illusion of depth by scrolling layers at different speeds as the game’s camera moves around.

Based on those early sketches, Bagel painted a larger view of the scene with the forest and cabin. He also kept many of the elements of the painting on separate “layers” so that they could be assembled with parallax.

visualstyle1_02.png

This painting was then taken into After Effects and put into layers. A simple camera was animated panning across the screen. As the camera moves, the layers of the scene scroll differently, creating the illusion of depth. Here is an early test movie showing that:

[vimeo]40978079[/vimeo]

We thought this was working pretty well, but we wanted to get a better sense of how it might look with a character in the scene. Adding a character to the mix would also let us play around with how the camera might behave. Rather than have the camera "stuck" to the character, we wanted the camera to have a bit more cinematic feel by introducing some spring or lag when following the character around.

Because we haven't designed any of the actual characters for the game yet, we took a Bagel sketch of a stylized lumberjack and put him into the scene. We didn’t want to spend a lot of time animating the character at this point (since this character is NOT going to be in the actual game), so we just created a very rough walk cycle from one angle for the purposes of our test. The following video has our test character walking in our scene with the camera behaving a bit like it might in the actual game:

[vimeo]40978081[/vimeo]

Overall, we thought this scene was working pretty well (rough art and animation notwithstanding), but one thing that was immediately obvious was that the character wasn't "gelling" with the world. This is in part because the scene itself has different areas of light and dark that the character walks through, but the character didn’t get lighter or darker at all. Because this is a 2D game, we are not necessarily planning on having any "true" lighting, but there are a few simple tricks that we can try to help tie the character to the scene.

First, we need some way of tinting or toning the character, so as he moves through different parts of the scene he is affected in some way by the colors and lighting of the scene itself. We wanted a very subtle sense of "radiosity" or "ambient lighting" from the world around him. To do this, we created a simple color gradient that is multiplied against the character's "unlit colors." This color gradient is based on the surrounding colors of the world and can change over time as the character moves around the scene. For our initial test, we wanted the character to darken when under the tree canopy and lighten when emerging from the trees. To do this, we apply a green-tinted gradient when the character is in the tree areas and fade it away when he emerges into the clearing. Here are a couple of images that show the basic effect:

visualstyle1_03.png

While the gradient provides some color influence from the world onto the character, we still needed a "contact shadow" on the ground to make it feel as though the character is standing on the ground and not floating above it. Because we don’t have any actual dynamic lighting (and therefore no actual light or shadow angles), we put a simple "blob" shadow under the character’s feet. It is kept subtle, just enough to blend into the scene, and animates as the character moves. Eventually, we may want to do something more complex, but for now this is enough to help the character "sit" in the environment properly. This image shows the blob shadow working with the gradient above.

visualstyle1_04.png

At this point we had a basic parallaxing world with a character crudely walking across the scene, being "lit" by some simple lighting tricks to get him to sit in the world a bit better. But what about that inviting-looking cabin? Having the character walk towards the cabin would be an interesting test to see if we could push the parallax a bit more. In many classic adventure games, characters would often travel "into the depth" of the screen – walking toward or away from the camera. Usually, these sequences just involved scaling the character up or down. But what if the camera could move with the character as well? If the camera could travel "into the canvas" with the character, it might make the world feel more alive and interesting to explore. It might even create some interesting gameplay opportunities along the way.

For the next sequence, we mocked up what it might look like for the character to travel to the cabin with the camera moving in as well. We also incorporated all of the character lighting techniques mentioned above and a few little lighting elements on the cabin itself. As the character nears the cabin, we also change the colors of the gradient to make it appear as if he’s being light from the cabin.

[vimeo]40978080[/vimeo]

At this point, we have a basic approach to setting the world up to parallax, both with side-scrolling and "depth-scrolling." We also have a rudimentary character and applied some lighting tricks to help him sit in the world. And most importantly, we have a very early view of a world that feels like it could be interesting to explore while still preserving Bagel’s distinct art style.

Next up for us is to explore interiors and to add more dynamic elements to the scene to make it a more interactive, living place to explore. Thanks for reading!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I like that look. I'm pretty sure I've seen that character hanging out at Zeitgeist.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Looks interesting, and certainly has its own feel to it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

wow! its looking great already! cheers for this post, that was wonderful!

are you going to try to capture that rough painterly style of nathans in the end? the texture and stuff of the paint I mean.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sweet.

I have named that character Hipster Joe.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow, even just from this rough prototype, it practically oozes with charm. Very beautiful artwork, I'm excited to see how this develops further.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good stuff. I like the way the camera works.

Edit: LOTS of misinformation spreading around the interwebs. Some people are assuming that these mockups are what the final product will look like.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Your videos are getting leaked everywhere

Instead of just stating that, how about sending PMs or e-mails to Double Fine with the places you're seeing them?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That final video made me so gleefully happy!

Since "Lumberjack" Jack Lumber won't be in the final DFA... I say he joins the cast of

REDBOT's ADVENTURE!

Seriously all the testing stuff needs to find a second life in the game or outside the game in some fashion. Unless the folks at DF really think it isn't healthy for consumption!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Your videos are getting leaked everywhere

Instead of just stating that, how about sending PMs or e-mails to Double Fine with the places you're seeing them?

They accidentally posted the unprotected links on twitter. They already know.

theleak.PNG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Man, so awesome to see these tests broken down like this. Especially excited about what you guys might do with the depth-scrolling.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

He's a lumberjack and he's okay. He sleeps all night and he works all day.

er...

Awesome! I never really thought of the visual style being the first thing artists think of with a game. Is it always like that?

Addendum: Also, shame on you, whoever leaked that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey guys, the leaks were actually on us. We set up a new vimeo account for this and it automatically tweeted these videos out without us realizing it. We caught it pretty quick and took them down, but games journalists move quickly! It's already on Kotaku and will likely show up elsewhere. We're figuring out how to respond now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Addendum: Also, shame on you, whoever leaked that.

Can they really be leaks when those videos were posted to DF's public Twitter feed and are publicly visible on the Vimeo account?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Dear god I hope the game looks like this. Love the 2d art style. Just hate the hipster character. He better not be in the game!!!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0