Archive For "Art + Design"

Returning to Cold Valley #1


It’s been over a year, but I’ve still got a soft spot for Crossing to the Cold Valley. With pressure on me to make the entire game in less than four weeks, the product I had to call ‘finished’ at the time was as polished as a lump of coal. I told myself I would really give it that spit-shine it needed over the summer, but other (maybe more serious) projects had to take priority. Many months later, I’m finally back with Cold Valley on the operating table. And what an insight it’s been forming into. We rarely have an opportunity to revisit and improve our old works, but I’ve had the space to really rework and reconstruct the game’s art and music to a level I hadn’t anticipated. I sat down with the original artwork of the bridge, prepared to just tweak it here and there, but concluded that a touch-up wouldn’t suffice. Primarily because I originally created the game at 720p – I can’t for the life of me think why I settled on that resolution at the time, even for most of today’s phone that’s low-grade. So I would go back into it using a 1080p resolution, but also the knowledge of drawing and the patience I’ve developed over the last 12 months.

And when you spend a long time on something you learn about the things you don’t know just as much as the things you do. With so much time, you get to spend longer getting frustrated at the imperfections, at the colours you just can’t ‘quite’ get right, at the shapes not feeling confident enough. I’m sure, even now, I could rip these up, start over, and create something better. But life’s too short, and you have to let that white whale go. These illustrations aren’t perfect, but hopefully they match the tone of the story well enough. Most importantly, however, is how much of an improvement they are over my last attempt, and how far I’ve come.

So, for the morbidly curious – I invite you to go back and compare.

What Happened To The Summer?

Last week I was chosen to be the debut illustrator over at The Illustrated Singles Club – a new blog looking to find the visuals in new and upcoming music. The blog selects a new single and an illustrator and gives the illustrator freedom to interpret the song as they wish.

A week ago today I was given Tom Forest’s single ‘Summer’, which almost couldn’t have been more perfect a choice. The song is densely nostalgic – whimsical, but also completely sincere. Forest sings that, should he ever return to his days as a child, he will have ‘died and gone to heaven’. It’s poignant, while also being lifted by the rose-tinted childhood memories many of us can relate to. If there’s two themes I’ve ever loved exploring, it’s nostalgia and death.

I knew exactly what I wanted to draw by the end of the first chorus. The first few notes of the song immediately brought to mind a vast, baking desert with cracked earth – a single road running through. I soon knew I wanted that road to be lifting from the ground towards the sky, as it brings its travellers toward a ‘heaven’. The plodding bass at the beginning lent itself perfectly to a large, giant-like figure moving through this environment. Importantly, I wanted the sense of thick heat of the scene to lend it a feeling of hazy, drugged up magic – rather than something more apocalyptic.

Lastly is the queue of different characters climbing aboard the bus, mostly just everyday people, but toward the back some childlike fantasies and idols – maybe even human accomplishments – that eventually fade away much like we do.

With only a week to produce the piece, having smaller and less detailed features and characters worked in my favour. The piece was also a good excuse to get a firm understanding on Krita, an open source paint software I’m working towards transitioning to. I think it’s hugely important that artists feel as though they own the tools they use to create the work they do, and supporting open source where I can is an important part of that. There are still a few quirks I’m learning and things to iron out, and rendering feels a little slower than I’m used to (especially on Windows), but for every hurdle I’ve discovered something to keep me coming back, which is fantastic considering I haven’t paid a penny.

This was a brilliant project to get involved with, and a great excuse to produce something a bit more left of field than my illustration typically takes me. I hope I’ve done the blog proud.

I Scream For Ice Cream

Some character designs from about a month ago, submitted for Wildseed Studio’s ages 6-11 demographic. A set of characters that have been in my head for a good few years, the core concept being a Vampire that owns an ice cream stand, but due to his delicate skin complexion – can only open at night. A daft idea, enabled by the surge in popularity of absurdist cartoon shows – Adventure Time, Rick and Morty, Regular Show. I wanted something a bit less cynical, a bit more funky.

I really feel as though my vector illustrations have hit their stride in only the last six months or so. I’ve begun to favour rich, contrasting colours that I might have normally avoided. You get some incredible tones when you begin playing around with how shadows and highlights are coloured. Perhaps more importantly is my approach to line drawing. It’s so important that when you draw a line that you mean it. So much life and foundation is formed when the lines that form the image have a real sense of confidence. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we can erase a line instantly and redraw it again and again until it feels just right. Sometimes its hard to make that judgement. On reflection, there’s some parts here that I would go back and give another shot, but life is only so short. They stand well next to each other, and I would love to see them come to life.

Kingdom Ka #3 – Show, Don’t Tell

It’s been a short while since I last posted. Kingdom Ka has come along way in the past handful of weeks. I’ve more or less been building the parts of the game that peak my interest in spots, so everything exists as just bits and pieces at the moment. I’m eager for that moment when I put the final puzzle piece in and everything can start flowing, but I’m far away from that still.

I’ve been sharing and showing parts of the game to whomever’s shown interest, and I’ve had such positive response so far. The general consensus is that while I there seems to be this ‘grandiose’ vision of what it’s all supposed to mean, everyone’s always curious about exactly what I’m trying to accomplish with the piece. It’s funny that while some love the ambiguity, others find it frustrating. And time and time again I’m reminded: I’m a designer – what is it I’m actually designing? Because I don’t want ‘Kingdom Ka’ to be ‘art’. I have high respect for fine artists, but I’ve had to work hard to demonstrate that Kingdom Ka isn’t colours on a wall. It isn’t representing anything emotional, and it isn’t a personal response. I think it’s geekier than that, it’s a bit more like an essay. It’s taking the points made by other people at other points in time and drawing a conclusion – I’m just attempting to show those points rather then tell them. I can’t afford to have a moment that feels like it isn’t rooted in any kind of concept or history, because then the audience will just cut right through it.

We were fortunate enough to have designer James Langdon come to give a lecture, and he brought up a few points that I really admired – particularly regarding his fascination with designer Norman Potter (who I didn’t realize was one of the founders of my own University space). Potter was a designer but had an almost jaded poetry in his approach to his work and design. Potter writes in his infamous ‘What Is A Designer’:

Should a designer design for a factory in which he could never imagine working as an operative? Is design social-realist art? Is it handy to be in a state of moral grace when designing a knife and fork? Does design work justify its claims to social usefulness, or is it a privileged form of self-expression? Is a profession a genteel self-protection society with some necessary illusions? Should a designer be a conformist or an agent of change? Those who feel that such questions are diversionary and a waste of time, should perhaps put this book down; others read on, but not for easy answers.
Amazing stuff. But Potter also wrote his own stage play, titled ‘In:quest of Icarus’. The play itself is drawn from Potter’s own fascination of the Greek Myth – wherein Icarus flies, well, too close to the sun. And so there’s this incredible dynamic where James Langdon decided to re-stage the play, but was incredibly cautious not to fly too close to the sun himself, and ruin this source material that he respects so much. Of course, below that, I’ve no doubt Potter felt a weight to do the stories, hundreds of years old, enough justice to honour them as his inspiration.
Langdon described it as – you’re an explorer whose just uncovered a long lost ancient tomb. In the tomb, there’s a moldy loaf of bread. Do you eat the bread? Well, I think most people can tell its moldy by looking at it – you don’t need to tell them.
Some more development so far:

Also, has a new look, which you can check out.

Kingdom Ka #2 – Establishing Tone

Writing music for my pieces is my guilty pleasure. That is, I spend longer on it than I probably ought to, and deep down I know it’s still probably procrastination at times, even when it’s still technically work. But I’ve learnt that music is also a very powerful tool in discovering the tone of a piece. As such it’s been very valuable creating music this early on, as music tends to more abstractly convey a sense of emotion and mood compared to a written narrative. Music has always been a great source of inspiration, and I’m sure that’s a universal truth. It plants moments and characters and thoughts in your head that simply theorycrafting couldn’t. Music gets inside your gut. And while it’s probably typical to have music composed for a piece towards the end of its development, I’ve found it might just be best to get working on it as soon as possible. Okay, sure, certain moments will need very specific music – you can’t just compose a few tracks and glue them onto every situation – but once you have those first few refrains down to begin with, I think it’s really helpful as a guide for the visuals and story.

Kingdom Ka already has a wider soundtrack than Cold Valley (if it’s appropriate to compare), and I’m kean to take it even further. I’ve been working with a trained cellist to help record some of my compositions to help really give them that sound of authenticity. I’m so happy with some of the results, and believe these pieces to be some of my best work. As it stands, I’ve built a very traditional soundtrack, with mostly strings and piano (inspired mostly by Thomas Newman, Yann Tiersen and Mark Hollis), but since Kingdom Ka will feature more abstract imagery, I’m hoping to create some more glitchy and unplaceable tracks as I move forward, incorporating electronic and modern sounds. I’ll also be looking to create some more ambient tracks, the kind that sit behind and aren’t designed to be noticed, but help keep the mood rolling. Anyway, feel free to listen to what I currently have available on SoundCloud:

In push for presenting my ideas at a sort of mini-exhibition my tutor group held, I spent last week building the first part of the game that would introduce the player to the setting and the world. It was well recieved, which was a relief because as it stands it throws the user the deep end with very little explanation. And that would be its main criticism, which is fair at this point, and I’m working on ways to make it less obtuse while holding onto its ‘mystery’. Still, it was selected as the piece that felt the ‘most finished’ (which we agreed was slightly ironic as it’s about a tenth of the entire thing!), but no one could really give a definitive reason why they felt that way. What was certainly highlighted as a strength was the visual style. And I think the direction I’m taking is one of the most interesting I’ve attempting yet. Combining black and white pattern work with faded colours of real world photography has been really successful so far, especially when combining live action footage into the mix. I feel like I’ve only skimmed the surface of what I might be able to do with the art style, but so far it’s worked best when the collage chosen is unusual, but not entirely out of place. The beauty of it is when the characters move around it like it’s entirely normal, and when the photography starts to feel like a relic or memento of our own world and culture.