Telling a Story with Visuals
Published 5 years ago
how design and narrative come together to form storytelling imagery
Moving on with our talk about OLOGON: Edlen`s Wrath, I`d like to start this post addressing some basic concepts when it comes to creating concept art.
There are times for all types of imagery on concept art: exploded views, cut outs, thumbnails and line drawings, but for me it`s when concept art has to tell a story that things get critical. First, because you now have more than one selling point: it`s not only about the cool character wearing the cool amor and how the buckles come together to form it, you have to add on top of that a cool backstory - one intuitive enough for the viewer (your client) to take what he needs out of the image. It is something very hard to pull of and I will try to show you how I go about thinking out this type of stuff.
So as an example, I will be walking you through a work in progress piece (keep in mind that concept art is 90% of the time a WIP) I have been developing for the past weeks and explain my thought process and design ideas. Let`s start with a briefing from the game designer. Dalcin (our game designer/programmer/know-it-all) approached me to create a sequence of images that would help tell some of the lore in between levels on the game. This image should show Halley Edlen and his henchman after they conquered the planet prison where Sanguine had left the High Admiral to die. After some talks with the team I had a clear direction to go: a wide shot with Edlen and his henchman on the foreground, showing the army of prisoners they set free on the background. They both are in a hangar of some sort and there is artificial red light streaming from one of the sides of the frame. The challenge though was having Halley Edlen in the foreground and inside the game we gave the player the choice of gender and ethnicity, which meant two things: either we would have to make each shot design with a different face for the main character (which would increase production costs and time heavily) or I would have to cheat the lighting to make Edlen always be some sort of silhouette. I chose the latter for obvious reasons and, as every illustration I do, I began thumbnailing my scene in my sketchbook. 
I usually do my thumbnails in pencil in my sketchbook and I usually don`t show them when I`m freelancing, but working in-house means I have to deliver a lot of ideas as fast as I can. Since I`m there to explain what I was thinking, the sketches don`t need to be so detailed. I talked to the 3D modeller in the team, Lucas, about building a hangar in 3D so we could reference this location at a later time and be accurate about it. Here it is:
I asked him to add little boxes to simulate the scale of a human compared to the ships, on the foreground and the background. We went back and forth working on the model and when it was done, I began crafting the color comps below:
During one of our weekly meetings I presented this image to the team and they were pretty happy about them. Using 3D renders can greatly improve the concept workflow when needed, specially if you need to retain accuracy. Once we voted on the color scheme that best described that moment of the story, I enlarged the image and began rendering like so:
One little note about the thought process on the lighting and colors chosen. One thing I picked up after following the blogs Muddy Colors and Gurney Journey, is that simplicity of values is king. You have to compose your image controlling where the eye goes through contrast, edges and overall design (you can check out a series by Matt Kohr about this that will greatly help you). The main constraint for me in this image was having Halley Edlen somewhat of a silhouette in the image, so I had to key my lighting off of that. I wanted his silhouette to pop, so I added a secondary red light source shining the hangar behind him. I chose to eliminate the green rim light on Edlen as it was messing with the overall read of the image. One trick I do often to check out my read is to turn the image black and white and apply a filter called Dust and Scratches (something I picked up from Nathan Fowkes). Here`s the resulting image:
It reads much better. Another thing that was bothering me was having Edlen be only a silhouette: I wanted to shine some light on him without messing up my value structure. To check, I applied a simple threshold filter:
Finally, color wise I chose a color scheme that played well with Edlen`s blue uniform and his henchman`s yellow shirt. The red spaceships and red light shining through work as a memento of what`s behind him now: Sanguine`s menace.
I hope you enjoyed this text.
Stay sharp,
Tamires Pará
Lead Concept Artist @ Young Mind Studio
Pedro Dalcin