DESIGN & BEAUTY: A LOOK AT ART DIRECTION

Black guy found writing.

  • Ghost
  • 08/17/2012 08:09 AM
  • 11762 views




Hello humans,

I rather enjoy sitting down and writing out some of my thoughts, it really helps me reflect and
express myself at the same time. Two birds with one stone (I’m a monster). By the way, I stole this article title (not the subtitle) from a self help deck of cards by Tom Peters. I haven’t actually read them but I did like the name. So thank you Tom, for helping me with the title of this article!

Anyways, let me move on to topic I wanted to talk about.

Art Direction

This is a topic that sort of popped up a lot recently (for me) as I was working on a few things. I wanted to talk about music direction, game design, and a lot of topics at once but I decided to talk specifically about art direction instead. It’s often an overlooked and underappreciated topic. So what is Art Direction? well here’s one definition,

“The process of managing or overseeing graphic design”

Seems simple enough right? You might be wondering why this is so important, we know first hand by creating things ourselves or by being part of some sort of creative process, that we are ALL often influenced by some higher goal (desired art direction) to some extent. We often strive to achieve some look and feel. Something that would be aesthetically pleasing yet complements other areas as well, if applicable, such as music direction, writing, animation, and so on. The most ideal goal is to satisfy YOUR OWN GOALS or your TEAM GOALS. There’s one thing I always stress and that is to not pander to your audience! Your goal should be to explore your own concepts first before you start considering what may interest your audience. Think of the later as a treat, something you would consider later. By doing this you’ll stay true to your own vision, it’ll help keep you motivated and working steadfastly on your project(s).



Studying art has amazing benefits, I don’t just mean picking up a pen / pencil and learning how to draw. I don’t mean grabbing a mouse or tablet and learning how to create pixel art. You can pick up a brush and splash paint on a canvas all day, without some level of observation it would be darn right impossible to improve. Despite what I just said, physically practicing art and learning has huge benefits and would provide a unique level of understanding that is unattainable otherwise. I found that helpful for me personally and even the process can be fun and fulfilling.



However, I feel it is crucial to yet again reiterate that a keen eye for art is necessary regardless. If you’re not going to be creating anything yourself then you should at least learn to identify qualities that make up good art, the ability to study and NOTICE each intricate level of design is truly magical. It’s amazing to have a sense of understanding how things were created... Even if we can’t pinpoint all the finer details. It allows you to truly understand and appreciate the work. Even more so, this skill allows you to analyze your OWN work and apply your own magical touch, giving it a unique appeal. You ever notice how some art appears to look bad but has values that still make it interesting? These artists sometime aren't as refined at the mechanical process (not yet) but they may have an understanding that is above their physical capabilities. Perhaps they understand art direction, using the set of graphical assets in a unique way that "works" with their project.

They are two separate skills you can develop, this is what I’m trying to highlight in this article. That being creative and brainstorming ideas like selecting unique locations, steering away from typical settings, spending some time at adding cool things in the background or playing with the perspective of an image or scene... These things go a long way.



So why is Art Direction so important?

Some of us just shrug it off and decide that achieving their IDEAL goals are too hard, with regards to the visual art of course. For example, some game designers opt to just focus on gameplay and stats and what not. This isn’t a problem at all. For those people who love to argue that games are about “gameplay” I would actually like to challenge that statement. I feel games are about the experience. How do you provide a better experience in a game? Practically any factor of a game can make it appealing, the writing, the art, the music, there are people out there who can appreciate almost any element of a game. What the game designer should be striving for is to explore a concept and remain true to their concept while ATTEMPTING to add their own flare, even in areas they aren't experienced with. If your goal is to create a game that focuses on gameplay then more power to you.

I want to stress that though this is a perfectly normal and admirable goal... I really feel that it is NOT an excuse (in itself) to totally ignore other areas of the game. With a good sense of art direction for example, a trained eye for art... One can make massive improvements to their game’s visual appeal with very little effort. The more effort you put in and the more skill that is acquired AND applied, the better the results. Though, if you or your team aren't fond about working on visual appeal, then there are things you can still do to at least make your game stand out.

I hope my message is getting across, you can do a lot really. I.E: editing resources, creating resources, maybe adding little details like animations or perhaps selecting UNIQUE settings that really improve the experience overall.



If you’re using free resources, there is literally nothing stopping you from editing them in SOME fashion, this is probably the easiest thing to do, you can mix and match resources if you don’t actually physically want to create assets, this takes a little tact though and some editing to make sure everything fits. What you can also do is arrange the graphics in a unique fashion, find your style, experiment (try). Perhaps maybe give sprites additional animations. Animations bring life to sprites, one of my friends believes animations is the number one way to bring life to a game. Moving on, perhaps adjust colors and add obscure objects, they don't even have to make sense just experiment.

Adding your own flare is important, you don’t have to be the greatest artist... Developing a trained eye for art can take you far alone, it isn't easy but when you are absorbing in media... Animations, Film, Games, Art... Take the time and study them. Ask yourself a bunch of questions regarding the medium used, what's happening with the perspective, or the colors, etc. Learning how to create art is made easier when you’re talented, but art itself is a practice that can be learned through studying. Obviously this isn’t always the case but you can improve regardless, that’s the point.

The reason why I wanted to talk about this topic was because I felt that art direction is a powerful tool, that once grasped, can take you light years ahead and improve your visual aspect of your work... Thus improving the experience which I mentioned is what game designers should strive to do. Let me reiterate, I'm not saying games need to have good art to succeed. I'm saying good art direction goes a long way, and it hardly goes unnoticed. If it does, email me and I'll raise hell.

Ocean recently wrote an article analyzing “Photo realism”. You can find his article here:

"I agree with what that Ocean loving hippy thurr says about dem real life looking gams duur" - Ghost



I feel that this false idea that achieving photo realism is what is necessary / ideal for future of gaming... It’s ludicrous, uninspiring to say the least and I’m truly not looking forward to it.



A friend of mine (Ciel) pointed out that since Xbox360 / PS3 generation, commercial games have become streamlined into this blur of sameness. I agree wholeheartedly, instead of games with actual gameplay what we’ve seen time and time again are games infested with brain dead tutorials, boring art direction (a sea of brown terrain, ugly filters, and horrible attempts at implementing "photo realism" elements). Even the gameplay has suffered as the majority of console / ported releases have almost no gameplay, and when they do they aren't very entertaining. Instead, what we now often see are scenarios that have the player simply moving forward and occasionally experiencing the ever so popular quick time events (QTE). Yeah, and a bunch of prerendered cut-scenes.


The amount of realism or polygon inserted does not bring life to a game. I’m a firm believer that art direction is so much more important when it comes to visual prowess. The setting, what is occurring, the art style, the general vibe, these all contribute to improving the experience.





You enjoyed the read, ne?

Let me know how you guys feel as well alright, yeah. Please do that alright ALRIGHT?

If you have any specific questions you want to ask me, feel free to email or visit my blog (contact info there as well).

http://vibrantsea.tumblr.com

"WHEN YOU STARE INTO THE ABYSS, THE ABYSS STARES BACK AT YOU"




Posts

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Moral of the story: Do the exact opposite of anything Amano does since all his shit looks the same. Is it Celes? Rosa? Cecil? I can't tell. Oh that's right BECAUSE THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME.
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
18722
Ghost
For those people who love to argue that games are about “gameplay” I would actually like to challenge that statement. I feel games are about the experience.


I like this.
author=Ghost
However, I feel it is crucial to yet again reiterate that a keen eye for art is necessary regardless. If you’re not going to be creating anything yourself then you should at least learn to identify qualities that make up good art, the ability to study and NOTICE each intricate level of design is truly magical. It’s amazing to have a sense of understanding how things were created... Even if we can’t pinpoint all the finer details. It allows you to truly understand and appreciate the work. Even more so, this skill allows you to analyze your OWN work and apply your own magical touch, giving it a unique appeal.

Nice article! It certainly is a fresh breath of air against the typical outlook of things being 'over-analyzed' or 'torn apart' whenever somebody tries to point these kind of things out... The quote above is, I believe, the most important, because if people actually made an effort to see the game-making process in this light instead of clinging so much to the idea of all art being subjective and unquestionable, not only they'd stop being so biased against all things visual ("I'm no graphics whore" etc.) but we'd also see a faster evolution in the scene.
Ciel
an aristocrat of rpgmaker culture
243
author=Clyve
Moral of the story: Do the exact opposite of anything Amano does since all his shit looks the same. Is it Celes? Rosa? Cecil? I can't tell. Oh that's right BECAUSE THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME.


it is incredible how much you don't know, about things
I like it when people get talking about the more nebulous and less concrete (yet just as important) aspects of gam mak. Thanks for the nice read.
I whole heartily agree with your article. I spent a great deal of time focusing just on the animations alone as well as the small details. I find that art direction is like girls. If their pretty and good looking you find them attractive and it makes the overall experience of getting to know them enjoyable. But when they are plain and ugly, well no one wants anything to do with them. I know they say inner beauty is what counts, but it's hard to see it when no one will get close enough to do so.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5236
I was kinda hoping this would be more of an instructional article with details about how to choose, design and implement an art direction... not just some rambling about why it's important to do so. Not that I disagree with anything in the article, but I already know that visuals are important. But I'm not an artistic person by nature, and I could always use more guidance on how to actually direct my art. That would be a nice next article.
Some people might benefit a bit more from understanding the why of art design before addressing the how.

I wouldn't call it rambling though, because the article is structured nicely and has a thesis which is supported through evidence and a logical conclusion. Perhaps ghost-kun will create another entry in the series to address the theory now that the design groundwork has been laid.

or maybe he won't and is all design, no theory (sumimasen!!!)
@Lockez

This isn't something you can just be told Lockez. The whole point of the article was to shed light on the topic as it is often overlooked. From there you study and experiment. If you meant like specific examples, then yes I could do a write about that.

The point I was trying to get across was you do not have to be an "art person". In fact, you're limiting yourself by speaking in that nature.

A lot of artists are great artists, but an equal amount of artists lack vision / creativity with regards to concepts. Being great at creating graphical art doesn't always translate to creating memorable, distinguished art. Learning the process is half the battle. Applying art is something you learn by catering to your own vision. What type of art do you like? Look at some examples from other games if you need to. What styles do you prefer? Try to apply those styles, art direction isn't something that should be addressed on its own. It should complement other areas in the game for example, it's better to look at the whole picture. The writing, music, gameplay, etc. These are easy was to fuel yourself with ideas and make it easier to come up with ideas of how you'd like the art to look and feel like.

If you want to learn how to apply art then I mentioned a few general things you could do.

There are various ways you can handle art direction and I felt it would be limiting to sit there and tell you how to apply art. That's like asking a coder how to make a CMS or CBS.

That endeavor is something you learn on your own, or it doesn't start until you set out to improve / flesh your ideas. Set goals, like what would you like to accomplish? Like if you were creating a scene, what emotions would you be trying to convey? What mood? If the character was about to breathe in his / her last breath... What type of setting would you select? What colors would be appropriate? How would you handle lighting?

I don't like telling people how to select art styles or applying them because I think that's something the user should think about themselves.

I apologize if this article wasn't what you were looking for but my goal was to hopefully put you in the right mindset. If you don't know where to start then you're welcome to contact me and let me know the specifics.
I also find to that for myself, with my game. I tried to use a different art direction for each town. To give the cultures distance as well as to make them fresh. Also, because the player spends so much time in the one town that when they return to the different but familiar art direction later it's a subconscious breath of fresh air. Allows them to relax and take comfort. Also helps them feel like they have mastered the game more so because now they are back with progress made and into familiar territory. Sort of like they own the place. I always find that when designing a new area, it's best to find a picture or two of the desired look (like a sleepy town full of Victorian architecture and haunting empty tree with their dying counterparts littering the ground) and literally start to dissect it. What's used in the picture? How are things crafted, built. Take as much as you want fro m this and try to organically implement it into your map. Tweak continuesly until you get the desired effect. I have a tone more stuff and tips if you're curious. :)
author=Ghost
I feel that this false idea that achieving photo realism is what is necessary / ideal for future of gaming... It’s ludicrous, uninspiring to say the least and I’m truly not looking forward to it.

Excellent points and read.
I've noticed that (in most cases) the "better" the graphics are the less content it will have. Art direction is irrefutably important.
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