Monday, October 12, 2009

Yep. Wordpress.

So, I did it. I switched over to Wordpress since Blogger shoots me with an internal error every time I try to upload my artwork. As one might expect, this is spectacularly counter-productive. So, go read my new blog! It seems Wordpress is better than Blogger for other reasons as well, so I'm kind of glad I made the switch. I'll try to get some new stuff up as soon as possible. Go check it out!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Blogger Hate

Blogger won't let me upload images. I am seriously considering switching to Wordpress or something. This is such a pain in the ass. I'll put stuff up as soon as they sort out their "internal errors" that I keep getting. Bastards.

Monday, September 28, 2009

My apologies!

Holy crap. Holy crap. It's a good thing no one reads this blog, or I'd be getting angry emails daily asking why I haven't updated. However, I don't want to disappoint the four of you who do read this blog, so I'm going to post new stuff here quite soon, I promise. I just have to spend an afternoon with the Scanner of Doom and we should be good to go. I've done a lot of drawings recently, and I'm thinking about doing a followup post to the Art Direction in Video Games article. New stuff coming, really!

Friday, July 10, 2009

As it turns out....

Pardon my mild profanity up there, but it's five in the morning and I've been up all night slaving away at this piece of work:
I drew the original in a fit of inspiration yesterday evening. I really liked the pose, and when I went to manga studio today (or yesterday, I suppose) I showed it to Jake and he said "It needs color." So...Thursday evening at 10:00 pm I sat down, fired up GIMP, and worked for six and a half hours straight coloring this with an old tablet. I listened to large amounts of Metallica, Black Tide and the Lord of the Rings soundtrack to keep me going. I was tapping away on that tablet for ages.
When I finished it, I looked at it and said "OH SNAP! THIS IS AWRSUM!" or something along those lines. I'm REALLY happy with how it turned out. I'd never tried any serious drawing on the computer before, and the fact that this turned out as well as it did on my first try is very encouraging. Anyway, I'm rather ecstatic but also fried to the bone, so I'm going to go get some sleep now.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Importance of Good Art Design in Games

Waaaay back in the long-forgotten archives--that is, my first post back in November 08--I mentioned I might occasionally review a book, comic or video game on this blog. That never happened. I don't know why. But anyway, the reason I bring this up is because I've decided to write something related to both games and art--graphics technology and art design in video games. It's a subject that's been bugging me for a while, and this is the main reason--games these days have tendency to look bland and uninspired and still require a ridiculously good computer.
It seems that over time, as graphics technology grew more powerful, many developers seemed to decide that their games didn't have to look "good" per se--if they slapped on some specular and dynamic lighting, they could make any piece of boring crap look photorealistic. This led to the rise of games like this--
This is ArmA 2, a game that came out in the recent months and is another victim of the Dirt, Camo and Concrete School of Game Design. Many recent games feature graphics with grey and brown as the predominant colors. Developers try to push that this looks "grittily realistic", but the truth is, the real world, even in a warzone, features all the colors in the spectrum. Before the age of fancy lighting effects (see the shadows on that soldier's pants? That kind of crap) developers actually had to find ways to make games look good without highly realistic effects. But before we move into the subject of games that actually fall into that category, I'd like to cover something else first.
Namely, the system requirements of PC games in recent years. You'll notice that the screenshot I posted up there looks less than spectacular. "What is this tomfoolery?" one might exclaim. "This scene is hardly phtorealistic!" And it's true. The ground is flat, there is a distinct lack of shadows projecting onto objects, and that tarpaulin or windscreen or whatever the hell that is in the back looks like it was airbrushed in Microsoft Paint. Plus, although you can't tell from the screenshot, the image is fuzzy, stretched, and pixelated, because I have to run the game at a screen resolution far below that of my actual monitor. This is what the actual game looks like:
So, shadows, and a higher detail tarp/net thingy. You'll notice it's still all grey, brown, and olive drab. I believe this is supposed to be on a sunny day too. So not only are the graphics rather uninspired even at high quality on an amazing computer, here's the kicker: even looking as crappy as that first screenshot did (the game was running at the lowest settings) it still never reached framerates about 5 fps. Imagine a movie with four out of every five frames taken out and you can imagine what this looked like. Everything was choppy and incredibly slow. Chances are good if I could turn off whatever that damn effect is that make that damn guy's pants all wrinkly, the game would run just fine and I would be able to turn on things like foliage and high-detail objects, which would make it look a hell of a lot more realistic than having a guy that looks like he's made of plasticine have wrinkly pants. The problem with modern graphics technology is that modern games are built with incredibly subtle effects that have a huge effect on performance.
Moving on. One might hink I just have a crappy computer--no, not at all. My PC is less than a year old with a setup that would put many computers to shame. Here's the evidence:
There! Doesn't that look amazing? In fact, the detail in the various objects makes it look close to realistic. Oh wait, the chick on the left doesn't have wrinkly pants. However, that's probably a small price to pay, considering the amount of work that went into the looks of this game. Half-Life 2 (which is one of the greatest games ever made) manages to draw you in to a quite believable world without the use and abuse of vertex shaders, antisoptric filtering, and excessive bump-mapping. (No I don't know what that stuff means either.)
You'll notice that the designers have noted the value of color--there are multicolored posters and sticky notes on the walls, the computer screen displays a shade of blue quite common on old computers, and there are those big giant glowing orange tubes of awesome in the back there. And this is in a game where the evil Universal Union, an interdimensional alien empire, is sucking Earth's resources dry and turning the planet into a wasteland. So it has more reason to be grey and brown than most.
The developers of HL2, Valve, knew how to make a game look good without fancy effects. This was also before most modern graphics technology--this game came out in 2004, five years previous to our mud-colored military friend above. The methods they used were new and revolutionary but also quite noticeable. They paid special attention to the texture of objects--I'm pretty sure that back wall was modeled in the game using an actual photo of a brick wall. That makes it look very realistic. In a modern game it would be just as likely that the game engine would render each brick artificially and individually, which would not look right at all. Likewise, although you can't tell in the screenshot, the motion of the characters was animated to look very human, based off of actual human movement. Combined with the intense detail in the faces of the characters and the impressive range of emotions they can show, the headstrong resistance fighter and the absent-minded scientist in this image feel far more human in-game than those rubber soldiers up there.
The difference between HL2 and ArmA 2 is that the developers of the former had to hand-design everything that went into their game whereas the developers of the latter had a computer do most of their work, generating shadows and textures. The difference is clear. ArmA 2 is designed to look good only with top-notch computers, and even then has an uncanny fakeness to it. Half-Life 2, due to the extensive work actual humans had to put into it, not only scales down far better on less-than-perfect PCs, it also manages to feel immersive and interesting, and draws you into a world that doesn't have to look like a photograph to make you feel like it could actually exist. Hooray for outdated technology.
There's one other category of games I haven't mentioned yet: games that don't even try to look realistic in favor of artistic design. Blizzard Entertainment has done this with the majority of their games. Observe:
No attempt at realism was made here. This came out the same year as HL2, so it was certainly in the developers' power to make this game look more realistic. World of Warcraft, despite its annoying addictiveness and its complete mutilation of the Warcraft series' storyline, looks very interesting artistically. The trippy elf city above is designed to look beautiful and impressive, rather than like it could actually exist. The features and stances of the characters are exxagerated and the foliage is oversized. There is also a ridiculous amount of detail, seeing as you can count the petals on the flowers and the swirly things on the woman's armor. The game boasts a very unique art style, and focuses on using color to bring about a certain association with each area of the game.
For instance, the kingdom of the above elves is filled with gold and bright colors which emphasizes their flamboyant nature. Even the sky is tinted a bright shade of yellowish-pink--no, of course the sky isn't that color all the time, but it's intended to make the elves look vibrant and slightly over-the-top in their natural habitat. Here's another example:
The orc city of Orgrimmar. The predominant colors are brown and red, which allows the player to easily associate with the orcs' fierce, tribal nature, as well as their desert habitat. Here's one more example:
This is the magical elf forest of Ashenvale. The other elves, the ones who have beards and druids and are purple and aren't anime-inspired like the first ones I mentioned. The developers used purple and teal--two colors found rather uncommonly in nature--not only to make the entire region look like a giant acid trip, but also to accentuate the fact that this is a magic forest. It didn't grow this way naturally, it got this way by being around the magic-using elves for thousands of years. So, Blizzard knows how to use color to their advantage. It's part of the advantage of games that sacrifice realism for art--besides just looking awesome.
Whew, that was a long post. I hope it made sense and didn't just seem like a big long rambling rant. Anyway, I say more games featuring artistry and attention to detail and fewer games featuring specular lighting and wrinkly pants.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Attempted Realism

\Well, my computer still has not returned from the dead yet, accounting for the distinct lack of posts, but like three people read this blog anyway, so I doubt anyone minds.
Anyway, I recently felt like trying a more realistic style. I'm still working on really getting good at drawing people, so I thought if I drew some actual people things might improve. Both images below were based off photos.
I decided it would be best to start with a self-portrait so as not to embarrass anyone else. Fortunately, it turned out remarkably well, in my opinion.
This one, not quite as well. I find that the smaller I draw people, the less detail I can add, the harder it becomes. Interesting. These are some of the students--as well as the teacher--from my Advanced Video class.

My computer should be back soon, and hopefully more posts will arrive.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Time for another update + some fan art!

I was feeling kind of depressed the other day. My mediocre computer had just crapped out and gone into a coma (from which it has yet to awaken) and I was feeling down, so I decided to liven things up by listening to Black Tide and drawing the most awesome thing I could think of at the time. The music I listen to tends to influence my drawing, so when it's a lot of crazy hard rock/metal this is the result.
I thought: what is the most awesome thing possible? After some pensive mutterings, I came up with the above image: a Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine rockin' a badass guitar solo on top of a pile of defeated Orks and Chaos followers. Perhaps not the most awesome thing ever, but definitely up there. I felt decidedly cheered after drawing this.
I know, it's colored but not shaded. The shading I may do at some point, but the coloring alone took me well over three hours, and I'm not sure if I'm up for another Photoshop marathon. So anyway, there you are, with my latest work.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

NWOC Art Show

Well, the NWOC Art Show that I mentioned a couple of posts ago was on Friday. It was fun but slightly disappointing. Sure beat the hell out of a day at school, though.
I got to school at 8:10 am, and met up with the other students and the art teacher, Mr. Warner. We got on the bus and drove like 20 miles out to Hillsboro and Century High School where the event took place. The artwork of students from eight schools was hung up in the gym. We hung up our work on the areas provided and went to look at other peoples' stuff. If anything, it was a humbling experience. No one who had contributed was older than 17, but much of the work looked spectacularly professional. I was pretty amazed at how good some of these kids were.
Here's some of the drawn art that was there. One of my submissions is the little red-matted one on the left. Not very noticeable next to the masterfully shaded giant on the right :D

After about ten minutes of walking around and making loud, impressed noises, the students from all eight schools were rounded up and sent to seminars being taught by professional artists. I'd chosen some sort of cartography class from someone who had worked for National Geographic. It sounded very interesting. Unfortunately, I didn't know my way around the school and the girl who said she was taking students to the cartography class instead took us all to claymation, then left before I could ask where I was supposed to be. Claymation was fun, but I learned absolutely nothing I didn't already know, and the eight second movie I produced with my group was something I could have done in twenty minutes at home. However, the rest of the class was wowed by my group's epic story of a cactus monster attacking a cowboy and getting shot, and everyone congratulated us afterward. Maybe it wasn't a complete waste of time after all.
When the claymation class was over, it was midmorning and cookies were being supplied in the hall. We all went and consumed sugar and conversed with students from other schools. Oh, and we traded cards.
Artist Trading Cards are playing-card sized pieces of artwork intended to be swapped and traded by artists at events such as the one I was at. Mr. Warner suggested we do a series on a certain theme, so I went with monsters. Here are the ones I made.
In left-to right order, we have Cthularry, a monster hunter, a second monster hunter, a Berserkerfish, a Bone Golem, a Chompabeast, a Scythebug, a Mutant Amphibian, and an unrelated bit of Warhammer 40,000 fan art. You can click and view them larger, but they scanned at a very high resolution, so the enlarged image is way bigger then that 3x4 inch card were. Sorry about that.
Anyhow, I traversed the crowd eager to find some badass pieces of artwork I could add to my collection. The sad truth was this: Trading my cards felt less like fair exchange and more like theft. Here's why. First and foremost, you got entered into a drawing for a new easel if you collected cards from all eight schools, so if you were from Parkrose like me and the other person already had a card from a Parkrose artist, they'd apologetically snub you and move on. Therefore, it was hard to even find people who were willing to trade. When I did, I'd show them my cards and tell them to pick one out. They'd take one and then hand me one of theirs at random, often not even showing me the sheet their cards were in. I had no control over what I got and several of the cards were, bluntly, crap. The girl who got my Scythebug card handed me a sketch of an eye, well-shaded but kind of dead-looking, and the card had stains from soup or coffee something on it. A guy who snapped up Cthularry showed me his sheet and told me to pick any one of his nine completely identical bits of cardboard that had a computer printout glued on them with the word "invasion" and a picture of a split pyramid. It just really bugged me how I had spent at least half an hour on each card over the course of a week to make sure they all looked as awesome as possible, and a lot of these people had clearly whipped out their cards the night before. I'm really glad I scanned mine before losing them to lazy people.
Well, after my cards were robbed from me, it was time for the next class. I'd signed up for large-scale sculpture, and walking into the classroom, I saw a bunch of papier-mache stuff on the tables. The truth is, papier-mache does not interest me in the slightest, so I thought to myself, "Hell, I already went to the wrong class once. Let's find a class that actually looks like I might learn something." So I went into the Drawing Composition classroom.
The Drawing Composition teacher was an old university art teacher. He talked for a while about the importance of creating a mood in art, then had us listen to a piece of music which Blane (also an entrant in the show and sitting next to me at the time) was convinced was the opening theme of the game Gears of War. Whether or not this was the case, the music was very grimly epic and was clearly meant to accompany a battle scene. The instructor had us make abstract marks on large pieces of paper which represented what the music made us think of.
Here we have the tools used and the edge of my drawing on the left. We repeated the process with a much softer, happier-sounding piece of music. (on a side note: Blane, at this point, not understanding the point of creating impressionistic art, was busily drawing giant zombies stepping on people on his paper.) The process was kind of interesting, but in the end all I really learned is that it's important to think about the shapes and lines in your art and how they affect the mood of the piece.
Next was lunch in Century's spacious cafeteria. There was a guest speaker there who supposedly was a renowned artist who could give everyone words of wisdom to remember. However, I found him to be a chronic mumbler with nothing much to say. He rambled about his life, going to rock concerts and drawing the people there, going to the desert and drawing landscapes, etc. etc. It was sort of interesting, but I gained nothing from listening to it. Well, what I could hear, at least. If the poor bastard had just spoken up, I might have been able to hear what he was trying to tell us, fifteen feet from where my friends and I were sitting. I guess being a good artist doesn't make you a good speaker. And his paintings were pretty good.
Here he is in all his mumbliness.
After lunch was the awards ceremony where professional artist judges would name their favorites, and many ribbons and prizes were to be given out. Mr. Warner got a call from our bus driver soon after the event started, though. The man insisted that we meet him out side at 1:50 pm--five minutes from then and we had only just gotten started with the awards.
The Parkrose students and teachers dejectedly left the building, with a brief pause for me and my friend Brenda to jack a couple of NWOC '09 stenciled posters hanging on the doors. We proceeded to wait outside until 2:10 for the punctual bus driver to show up. He threw me a dirty look as I got inside like it was my fault he was 20 minutes late. The drive home was uneventful, but I did some drawing and talked with Mr. Warner about art. Blane fell asleep on the bus and looked exactly like a hobo.
So, overall, fun, and better than spending the day at school. It felt like an event that should have happened over several days, though. Everything seemed rushed.
I'll post my entries to the show as soon as I can.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Another Tablet Sketch + more finished drawings coming

I've just returned from a trip to San Jose to visit some friends that's eaten up most of my spring break, but I found time to get a little drawing in. I picked up the tablet again and spent an hour on another sketch, which looks far more complete than the last one. Soon I'll put up some more pen and paper drawings, such as the ones I submitted to the NWOC art show. Unfortunately the scanner seems to only work with my mother's agonizingly slow old laptop, which makes scanning my stuff something of a pain in the arse. Still, I'll try to get them up soon, and in the meantime, here's another tablet drawing of mine!

Interestingly enough, this one seemed to come out in a different art style than my standard. I did try to incluse more texturing and shading, and it ended up looking a bit like an ink sketch you might see in some sort of art how-to book. I'm a little disappointed with his face, though, it looks kind of flat compared to tbhe rest of the drawing.
(Edit: hmm, I don't seem to be able to click on the image and view it larger. I'll see if I can fix that; Blogger loves to malfunction at me. Damn.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I'm still alive!

Sorry, that was merely a personal scream of rage at the fact that I haven't posted in two months. And I thought I'd update this regularly :D
Well, anyway, quite a lot has happened in the last two months. We finally got the books back from Jake, and most unfortunately, the resolution was TERRIBLE. The cover and title page looked excellent, but everything else was all grainy, and fuzzy, and crap. Even though it was all scanned at 300 DPI, this happened anyway. I don't understand. Well, this time I asked Jake if I could design the layout of the book, and he said yes. I'm going to do my best to make sure something like this doesn't happen again!
Secondly, I started my project for the next book, a short comic story unlike most other things I've created so far. Let's hope it turns out well. Also, my friend Blane, my annoyingly talented little brother and I have begun work on a collaborative graphic novel. We're still in the planning stages, and hopefully this will turn out. I said I wasn't going to work on any big projects for a while, but the work will be split up and we're taking as much time as we need on it, so we should be fine.
Thirdly, my art teacher selected me as one of a mere 15 artists at the high school to be a delegate for the 2009 NWOC Art Show, where the most artistic students from about ten high schools in the area put their art on display, talk with other artists, take classes from the professionals, and exchange work. It sounds awesome, and it's also awesome that I was selected! Essentially it means I'm considered by the faculty to be more artistic than 98% of the student body, and I'm honored by the fact.
Finally, Jake generously lent me one of his graphics tablets--I've been wanting to get my hands on one for years. I finally have, and I've found they're harder to work with than a pen and paper. I've been practicing though, and my skill has much improved from the senseless doodles of last week. Here is the first sketch I did on the thing that wasn't a big wad of suck. I did it in Manga Studio, an extremely badass program also supplied by the ever-helpful Jake Richmond. It's still not as good as my pen-and-paper drawing, but I'm getting better.
Anyway, let's hope to see more frequent updates in the future! I always get pissed when other people don't update their blogs, and there's no reason to be a hypocrite!