Sunday, February 27, 2011

Overcoming an Artist's Creative Block

Jen has shared some comments from her students and has told me a few people have been asking how to overcome an artist's creative block. It's something that happens to the best of us, whether you're an amateur or a seasoned pro, so don't feel like it's expected that you always be capable of busting out a great idea on cue. Most artists produce some quick random sketches and doodles to warm up. These don't always have to be original or make sense to anyone except yourself. Drawing at a smaller scale allows you to bounce around more quickly from one idea to the next, and you don't need to concern or frustrate yourself with perfect anatomy or unnecessary details.When you hit a creative block, throw all plausibility and functionality out the window. At this point you can drop all the rules and limitations of reality and push more toward the strange, abstract and completely random ideas that are more aesthetically pleasing or iconic and graphically designed in shape. Tiny doodles that almost appear as stick figures or jellyfish can be turned into something more plausible and functional at a later point in time. I find that cropping portions of these quick sketches, duplicating them, flipping horizontally/Vertically and mirroring the image can sometimes quickly spark ideas to use as a base point for a more detailed concept.As artists our minds constantly work overtime (which is why it's generally common that artists have trouble sleeping or develop Insomnia as a result); Our minds are never at rest. We wonder then why it is that we stare at a blank piece of paper incapable of coming up with even one good idea. This is just a normal reaction to an overabundance of thoughts; in essence it's the same as bursting a metaphorical bubble, in this case it's our creative bubble that bursts leaving our minds blank. Surround yourself with your own work and other artists works. Pin some of your favorite imagery up on walls. As you're drawing it will generally help to keep things simple and loose while trying to overcome that creative block. Try creating a few variations of one similar idea, leaving each new sketch on the screen or on the same canvas or sketchbook page for reference and inspiration. This way you immediately skip past the trouble of coming up with something completely new and you can work with what you've already produced, letting those doodles and sketches continue to evolve and develop.First and foremost, never try to force a drawing if you're coming up with blanks and expecting some profound concept to just burst out of thin air. The more you force it, you're more likely to become frustrated and feel like giving up. This usually results in some of the most uninspired and generic designs.Never stare at a blank piece of paper. Don't assume that you're going to see a great design floating around in your mind and you'll easily be capable of translating that down on paper. Most artists may have thousands of ideas pass through their subconscious on any given day. My suggestion is to get up and walk away from the sketchbook or the computer. Go for a walk, listen to music, read a book, watch a movie, play a video game or check out other artists works on Art Forums. It doesn't hurt to take a 10 minute break or even an hour or two. Below are a few good art forums worth checking out:
If you want a simple solution to jumping that imaginary hurdle we call a creative block, just simply begin writing down ideas in your sketchbook as you would write your random thoughts down in a journal. If you wake up and had a crazy dream, make sure you have a small book available at your bedside to grab it and write it down. The same goes for watching a movie, or talking to a friend. As soon as an interesting concept or illustration idea pops in your head, realize that you don't need to take the time to draw the entire thing then and there. The frustration that might come with trying to jot it down in such detail at that very moment might sabotage you. You merely need to just write a few sentences or key words, or at the very most a tiny doodle of a thumbnail as a reminder. This type of artist's journal can be a resource similar to an encyclopedia worth of inspiration and material that are your own original thoughts and ideas, something you can refer to at anytime when you feel like you've hit a block. It's often more affective to write out a little description of a back story for your design so you have something to work with before you begin drawing. You might also try revisiting old sketchbooks and producing updated versions and re-designs of old concepts.Another simple solution is to use a topic generator. One of which was made very popular by artists Hydropix, Vyle, Viag, Sparth and Barontieri called 3CH. You can download the 3CH topic generator here: You'll see a few sample topics below.
  • A gigantic golem embraces a woman in a desert.
  • An ectoplasmic scorpion flees a sentinel in a landscape of bubbles.
  • A dark shaman bombs a carnivorous plant in the abyssals zone.
If you've ever stared into the sky and seen images in clouds that don't really exist the same principal goes for staring at patterns in decorated rugs or photo textures - Mayang Texture Library - of things like mossy grass or dry cracked dirt. We're capable of seeing "something" more than most other people because we can 'connect the dots' so to speak. We can more quickly identify what appears to be an eye, mouth, nose, a body of an animal or a cartoon character and other similar imagery. All we need is a vague starting point in order to begin the creative process. So why do we stare at a blank white page? By taking this same idea and incorporating it into your sketchbook or your digital canvas, it will help to get the creative juices of your mind flowing. You can see some samples below that use what I like to call "Cloud Lines" or photo textures which you can use in order to get past that white page. Anything to break up the blank white space will help.
Draw a bunch of very light scribbles, doodles and random fluid or geometric shapes. If you're doing this digitally, you can just continuously duplicate, free-transform and paste these scribbles and shapes all over a canvas as a starting point. Aside from this Cloud-Like effect as a base point to start with, you could either use a photo texture and just obscure the imagery, pattern or what have you, and then lower the opacity, flip and rotate or modify the original content so it no longer becomes recognizable.Simplicity is key. In using a simple silhouette of an inanimate object, or merely drawing a simple oblong shape you can give yourself a challenge or a little puzzle to exercise your brain and your imagination. Take this oblong shape and try to determine what could be a head, where the main torso is, what can you add to it at this point to continue the process? In the process of trying to create a living creature out of a random unplanned shape you've already overcome the dreaded blank page and creative block that causes so much frustration among artists.Where are you more likely to be inspired; In a stark blank white room with no doors or windows? Or out in the open at a zoo or park surrounded by animals, people, vegetation, colors, life, noise and motion? Perhaps take your sketchbook outdoors rather than inside a quiet room you've become used to. You can find inspiration by talking to people, reading a good book, heading out to the park for a walk or a jog, interacting with life, observing indigenous animals, how light affects the color of leaves, plants, flowers and trees. The way shadows fall on surface textures of bricks, cracked stone, pebbles and bark. Expose yourself to new surroundings.Abstraction, Subtraction, Addition & Imagination; It's better to sketch anything at all over just waiting for ideas to pop in your head while staring at a white sheet of paper.

If you still find it intolerable and frustrating to come up with anything at all; When in doubt just do some research and studies. It's important to draw studies of human or animal anatomy to begin with, so it may help to drag 3 or 4 photos of various animals on to your screen and observe their anatomy. A little exercise that comes in handy is to draw two animals with reference and then a third animal or "creature" based off of what you just learned from the two studies you produced. It works best if you draw two animals from completely different "Classes" in the Animal Kingdom IE; A water buffalo - Class: Mammal & an Anole - Class: Reptile. In this specific design I used anatomy of Iguana, Cattle, Water Buffalo etc.
I'll touch more upon the Animal Kingdom, on mixing and matching various animal anatomy and how important it is to use reference, to research and read, study and observe and understand the biology of these studies rather than just trying to re-draw line for line what you're looking at in a photo. (We'll get to that next time). A few other subjects for future topics will include body structures, line weight, use of color, skin texture & patterns, thumbnails, Sketch to Final Color, symmetrical & asymmetrical designs, Focal Points, Use of Silhouettes etc..

Guest blogger Mike Corriero is a character, creature, and conceptual designer and illustrator living in New Jersey. Since graduating from Pratt Institute in 2003, Mike's client list has included Breakaway Games, Fantasy Flight Games, Allied Studios, Kingsisle Entertainment, Radical entertainment/ Vivendi Universal Games, Liquid Development, Zynga Inc, Challenge Games, Paizo Publishing and Hasbro Inc, among others. Mike's book "PLANET to PLANET creatures and strange worlds" includes hundreds of his sketches of creatures, robots, alien life forms and their environments. I recommend it for students focusing on visual development for games, or anyone who loves creature design. - J. G. O.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shane Glines

Character designer, illustrator and animator Shane Glines never anticipated his own success. The Oregon native's career got it's start in 1992 when he sent a letter to Spumco animation studios, along with a few samples of his work, asking for a little advice on where to get the best education and how to then break into the business. The reply he received in essence told him that the best way to go was to ditch the classes and seminars and come on down to Spumco to start working as an intern on the "Ren and Stimpy" show.

That fortuitous offer turned into an animation career that lasted for several years for Glines. He revelled in the creative atmosphere at Spumco, and enjoyed the creative community that worked behind the scenes in the entertainment industry in general.  The decision makers at Spumco had been correct; on the job training was honing his skills through the collaborative atmosphere of the studio.

During a visit to the San Diego Comic Con, Glines met an artist he hugely admired; Bruce Timm. Once again the humble Glines asked for some critique of his drawings and handed Timm his sketchbook. Timm was so impressed that he offered Glines a position on "Superman: the animated series". Glines took the job and ended up working from 1994-2002 with Timm and the Warner Brothers animation team. Projects included "Batman: the animated series"" Batman Beyond",  and "The Justice League", along with the Cartoon Network's pilot for "Samurai Jack". Though most characters passed through many designers hands, Glines was primarily responsible for some of the villains in "Batman Beyond", and, of course, many of the girl characters in various productions.

But despite his many successes and achievements-perhaps because of his success and achievements- art didn't always come easily to Glines. At one point during his career the anxiety that he felt when creating for others became so overwhelming that he no longer enjoyed drawing and considered changing careers. He was so paralyzed by artistic performance anxiety that beginning new work became agonizing. Art itself became a bitter chore instead of being the exciting and fulfilling part of his life, as it had been for so much of it. But Glines fought his way back; using every approach from Tony Robbins books and tapes to studying NLT (Neuro- linguistic programming). Through considerable hard work, a new focus on organization and learning to draw for himself, Glines finally regained his love of his craft.

 Shane Glines' sexy, sultry, and vivacious pinup girls have legions of fans across the globe, and his unique style continues to inspires hundreds, if not thousands, of imitators. Lucky were the few that purchased his 400+ page gallery of work "S Curves: the art of Shane Glines" on Lulu while it was available. But new fans need not despair; brandstudio press is now printing multiple volumes of "Shane Glines' Cartoon Retro".

Shane Glines is currently President of Cartoon Retro and authors the Cartoon Retro blog. Glines continues to mostly draw for himself.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Creature Design for Video Games

As the technology in video games continues to develop and expand, the possibilities of what concept artists are capable of producing also becomes open to a broader range of detail and functions. Still, even as far as video games have come since the days of Super Nintendo and Sega, the In-Game design and models fall short to the fluid movement and amount of detail you may see in live action films (where anything is possible but they need to more strictly obey the laws of nature based upon the subject matter).
A few key elements of design to keep in mind for game designs are a strong silhouette, recognizable color schemes for the creature or character and distinct proportions in anatomy. It's just as important to know the basics of animal and human anatomy when designing a creature for a video game as it would be for anything else, so you still need to study real world animals whether from life or photos. I would recommend visiting local Zoos or even pet shops, studying your own pets and animals outside as well as watching documentaries on TV and picking up photo reference books. A few books I recommend for animal reference are the Smithsonian Institution - Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife & Natural History (Smithsonian) The Ultimate Visual Guide to Everything on Earth. While you're at it, pick up a volume or two on human anatomy as well. Those containing photos and one that is hand drawn and capable of showing the musculature, skeletal and organ systems such as Classic Human Anatomy: The Artist's Guide to Form, Function, and Movement. Human and Animal anatomy go hand in hand when molding and transforming animals, humans, creatures, humanoids and everything beyond and in between.
The primary difference you need to keep in mind when designing for a video game is that there are more limitations as to the amount of functions and fluid movement or details that will be visible to the gamer. With that in mind, you need to utilize other ways to make a strong impact on the gamer even if the creature is seen from afar or only at a quick glance. Game designs especially if it's a fast paced action shooter or an isometric RPG are all about "Concept" and iconic designs rather than fully rendered and polished drawings with tiny details since most of that won't even get a chance to be seen, or in the case of an isometric RPG the model will be so small it wouldn't be worth including certain details as it would go to waste. In an isometric game, details such as fur and hair are often just painted into the bump and texture maps as well as a lot of other fine details that would take up too many poly's to bother modeling at such small scales.
Take the game series Monster Hunter for example. This is a Platform RPG.

Some of the better designs are those with unique body structures and proportions that may look awkward if they existed in a live action film, but they leave the biggest impact on gamers. So the anatomy of creatures in video games provides a lot more leeway and freedom for creativity, since less adherence to the laws of nature is expected in a game world. You're less likely to question why a creature with the body structure of a hippo can fly with wings the size of a hawk because you know it's "just a game" and you're more willing to suspend your disbelief than if it were a live action film. This opens up a huge array of possibilities and ways to design a unique creature without having to explain too much about the function of design choices.
A lot of this comes down to pure aesthetic and eye candy over plausible design. Still, even then it's important to know the basics of anatomy and how your design is intended to function in the game. You'll often work back and forth with the CG modeler to fix mistakes, or explain things that might not communicate too well in 2D once it's transfered over into 3D.

When you design creatures for a video game it's not important to play the game, as you may not have the time, but it is important to research and watch in-game trailers and take note to what is and isn't possible. If you take a look at the game
Monster Hunter the series you'll come across a very broad range of creature designs. The most important thing to keep in mind is the first impression the creature will make when seen in-game. A few of the designs below are concepts that succeed very well in that case. They have strong and unique silhouettes and exaggerated body proportions.
Various types of games restrict details even further, and this is when you really need to focus on what's important in order to produce a design that will communicate and be easily identifiable to the gamer. These type of games are Isometric RPG's such as Diablo 3. Now there has been the advancement where you're capable of scrolling with the mouse to a more eye level view in these games, as well as zooming in at times, but your design needs to focus more on how it will look at a 3/4 top down view and at a thumbnail size. This is where you'll focus very heavily on largely exaggerated proportions and color schemes to really make your creature distinct from a distance. In this sort of game platform, you'll rarely if ever see the underside of a creature. So if you decide to put eyes on the underside of the chest of a quadruped body structure, you may never see those eyes; Just something to keep in mind.
Refer to this In-Game trailer of Diablo 3

The concepts below focus heavily on exaggerated proportions and silhouette. When you take a look at the concepts in the game, a lot of the designs often get lost at such a small scale and this is why it's important to really push the proportions to the extreme. Gravity can't play a big factor here, it's more important that something be almost ridiculously large so it will be seen and register with the viewer rather than fit correct proportions.
This is why it's important to learn to draw your design from various angles, overhead, from behind, at a 3/4 back view and so forth (this is called a "turnaround"). In this type of game you may end up exaggerating proportions of anatomy 3 or 4 times greater than that of a game like Monster Hunter, since the design is seen at a birds eye view in most cases. It's also important to recognize then that tedious details are not quite as important, since skin textures, little imperfections of scars, bumps on a nose or torn ears may never be visible to the gamer. Those are things that can be painted into the bump and texture maps. It's also important to take into account what types of actions the creature or character may perform in-game, whether the creature explodes into 50 tiny eel-like sub-forms or whether it needs to be capable of expanding its body to 10 times the initial size like a puffer fish.
So don't just produce a pretty looking creature that is appealing to the eye from one angle and looks good at a stand still static pose. It's your job as the concept artist to come up with possible attack actions, walk cycles, death and or birth cycles and how these actions are possible based on the anatomy and design of the creature as well as various color schemes and color reactions to what happens in-game.

You should be able to identify a creature in a game as easily as you can identify the type of animal simply based on its silhouette. That's when you know you've succeeded in designing a creature that will leave a lasting impression on the gamer. In the isometric style RPG's the creatures often come and go so quickly and are bunched together in hordes that you hardly have time to recognize what they look like. That's why color, silhouette and exaggerated proportions are key to a successful design.

Guest blogger Mike Corriero is a character, creature, and conceptual designer and illustrator living in New Jersey. Since graduating from Pratt Institute in 2003, Mike's client list has included Breakaway Games, Fantasy Flight Games, Allied Studios, Kingsisle Entertainment, Radical entertainment/ Vivendi Universal Games, Liquid Development, Zynga Inc, Challenge Games, Paizo Publishing and Hasbro Inc, among others. Mike's book "PLANET to PLANET creatures and strange worlds" includes hundreds of his sketches of creatures, robots, alien life forms and their environments. I recommend it for students focusing on visual development for games, or anyone who loves creature design. -J. G. O