Brian Thompson’s Tips for How to Be a Better Game Artist

Posted by Big Fish Games on October 17, 2013 in Game Art -- Share:

In the interview with Brian Thompson on how he got to become a game artist and later an Art Director he provided us with a very specific list of tips to follow. We list them here below for anybody that should be interested out there.

Do you have any ninja skills or secret tips that would make a game artist jump a little higher on the trampoline in the daily work or career?

Ha! I wish I had ninja skills. Sadly no, but I do have some tips that I think could be useful. First of all, concentrate on the fundamentals of art making and good illustration:

Story-
Identify what you want to “say” in your piece. The more you can put this into words the better. It sets a goal for yourself and all the components of your piece should serve this statement.

If it is an illustration try to remember this:  You are always painting a moment. Something has either just happened, is happening, or is about to happen. This will make you look at your piece differently and will bring a richness and depth to the subject matter that it might not otherwise have. Oh and this can be subtle. You don’t always have to show the blast of a bomb before during or after its explosion.  Rather this could mean a quiet forest about to be trampled by an army or visited by a meteor or simply a little bird. Or did that army just walk by? Cool to think about, right?

Composition-
What is your subject matter? What is the situation? Is the piece about a character, an environment, or both?  Remember- treat an environment like you would a character. It should have a personality and mood, weight, gesture, and unique details all on its own. If you have identified what you want to say then you are more than halfway there. Your composition is the first big stroke of how you communicate your statement.

You might think a street scene is full of horizontal and vertical straight lines. Look again and you’ll see that one building is leaning in toward the other slightly, the window shutters are haphazardly hanging open, that air conditioner belches steam into the smoggy air, the logo on that big truck is a faded name, the broken down car is jacked up on one corner and turned at a cool angle, the power lines are droopy and alive in the breeze, the cloudscape of the sky is surreal and ominous, the pavement stains and trash create surprising shapes and textures.  Be aware of these details and bring them to life in your own vision of this street.

Shape language-
Again, what is that statement from above? What does the piece call for? Should the shapes be passive and still?  Aggressive and angular? Soft and rounded? Ideally there will be a combination of these with the dominant driving your statement. Don’t underestimate this part; it goes a long way in separating you from another artist.  Most people don’t use shape enough as an essential tool in your toolbox.

Perspective-
Ideally the scene will draw the viewer into it. Utilize all the tools of perspective to communicate your message and to direct the eye to feed your composition.  Linear perspective is essential. This doesn’t always mean straight lines going toward a vanishing point. Unless you’re painting something mechanical, the lines will be organic like a stream or winding path, clouds, birds flying, repetitive shapes receding like trees, fence posts, rocks etc… If your piece doesn’t have something like this in it, then you most likely need to add it.

Overlap-
This is really a part of perspective but I wanted to call special attention to it. When planning a piece most artists will carefully layout the elements and not think about overlap, even subconsciously avoid it. Try to keep in mind all of the times you have stood anywhere and remember how your sense of space is dependent largely on discerning foreground from middle ground and middle ground from background. Think of your eye or (viewpoint in the image) like a camera lens.  The objects before you must overlap for you to have a sense of space.  The best way to do this that I have found is to draw through the forms. What I mean is don’t stop your lines when they encounter another object. This will insure that the overlap feels natural because you will be thinking about the whole object not just the part that goes in front of or behind the other objects.  Again this should be used to tell your story as much as creating a believable sense of space in the image.

Value and lighting-
It seems obvious but remember, the same subject matter can have a thousand faces depending on how it is lit. You should already have an idea of lighting and mood from your original statement. The time of day, light source(s), should be determined early to drive the tone of the piece.  Lighting is a tool for the illustrator to tell his or her story.  Liberties can be taken and not every lighting situation needs to be 100% real or believable but make sure it is grounded in the basic rules of how light falls. Does your piece call for long dramatic shadows or soft pools of light? Is the area flooded in light or draped in heavy shadow?  Again this all comes from, and in return, drives that first statement.

Color-
As with value, color breathes life into a piece. It is a component that touches the viewer in a totally unique way. Color drives a strong emotional reaction and causes the viewer to subconsciously reach into their own life experience.  Warm, cool, strange, nostalgic, happy, alien, exotic, fear, etc… Color, as with value, will drive your piece’s ability to evoke a feeling.  Plan your palette by first doing rough color sketches and experiment with color combinations. Be bold, these are small and don’t take much time. The success of the final image might depend on this stage. Also, look at other artists whose use of color really strikes you. Examine why it does. You will find some cool discoveries when you start looking.

Above all, have fun with your art and paint what you love! The more you make this a core component of your identity as an artist the more successful and happy you will be in your career.

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