Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dragon inspiration

My friend Joe recently linked me to a ZBrush Central thread by an artist who has so far made 55 sculpted dragon heads:

I'm totally loving their head designs, to the point that I was inspired to draw my own 2D one, and make it look 3D. It's more like practice than anything. Can I draw something which could fit in beside those other dragon heads? We'll find out soon enough. For now, here's my work in progress:

I have a long way to go, but that's the fun part!

Take care,

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day 3

*sings* On the third day of conference, GDC gave to me... a one-gig bullet flash D.

Actually that was the second day of GDC, but I forgot to mention it. It's a pretty sweet flash drive even if I had to disassemble it for airport security. I got it while standing in line at Blizzard - a website representative from was handing them out and chatting with us as we waited.

Highlights of the day...

Amnesia: the Dark Descent
- Met the guys who made it
- - - Even though I've rarely considered horror to be one of my favorite genres, Amnesia has become one of my most favorite PC games ever. I'm especially impressed by the game's lack of animation, design choices, artistic style, voices, gameplay, suspense, and story. They did it all so well that the game felt seamless (and therefore, more terrifying).
- - - A few of the guys who made the game were at the indie games booth with an Amnesia demo. Amanda and I went here first and talked directly to them, asked them questions, and watched people play the demo. One of my questions was 'How did you make the monster sound?' and he replied 'Well.. it'll ruin the scariness when you find out, haha. But there's a video on Youtube of our sound designer making all the sounds.'
- - - And sure enough:

Artist Roundtable Part 2
- This was the third and last session for the Artist Roundtable, but it was my second attendance. This time I dragged Amanda along, and she took much better notes than I. On this day, a lot of topics were repeated, but of course it had a unique flare. We talked primarily about communication (with marketing, artists, tech/tools/programmers, etc). This time around, however, we dove into some specifics, such as:
- - - Communicating that art/preproduction is important
It not only saves money and effort, but time as well. You don't want to start making a game only to find out that the prop designs horrendously clash with the characters'. Concept art is valuable in that it can quickly, efficiently show the visual result of the game so that everyone is on the same level. Reiterations of design for the characters, assets, vehicles, gameplay, and environments, can be rapidly gone through to find the most effective one.
- - - Getting reference for an art bible so everyone's on the same page
One of the attendees described his studio's setup. The artists printed out and placed gorgeous, inspiring concept art all over the walls of the work area. This allowed even the technical-minded to see what the eventual goal is: it gave them aim and drive.

Blizzard chillin' and Heavy Rain
- Amanda and I decided to go to the Heavy Rain talk after this. It took a bit of exploring to find the right place, and in our hectic search we met and began conversing with Chaz Head, a lead environment artist at Blizzard who worked on StarCraft II. After the talk, we (joined by Joe) received amazing portfolio reviews from him. He gave each of us an individualized, focused critique that helped us in our respective goals. Amanda's review is of course on her blog.
- The Heavy Rain talk itself was pretty eye-opening. I had no idea they used that many actors, animations, and effects in the game. Amanda, again, describes it in better detail because I was too busy staring dumbfounded at the screen, and listening to a French girl talk on her cell phone next to me (she eventually left). I don't think she realized I could understand her..
- At any rate, portfolio advice from Chaz:
- - - Keep going with the loose under-sketches, flowing forms, connecting shapes/movements
- - - Work on more color variety
- - - Liked the sketchbook more than the refined portfolio work. Good for concept art - include this ideation in the portfolio!

Overall, GDC was an amazing event that I almost can't believe I'd never been to before this year. It's incredibly valuable. One of the aspects I like most about it is the opportunity to be on your own. It's you, your art, and your dreams, all in a venture with some of the most brilliant minds of the industry. You are suddenly, abruptly, and temporarily thrown into the field. It was amazing to see how we behaved and reacted. The entire trip was fruitful, not only to learn about our prospective career, but about ourselves.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 2

And so began Day 2...

Wacom Pester-session
- To start the day off, I decided to give the Wacom booth a visit. They had a few example Cintiqs sitting there, just waiting to be used, so naturally I took it upon myself to stand there, drawing, for two hours on end.
- This actually ended being a great idea. A lot of people stopped and watched for a while. Eventually, the Wacom staff told me to draw the logo in with the dragon I was drawing, so I did. The more I drew, the more people stopped and talked to me.
- I gave out so many business cards that I kept my little card box next to the Cintiq rather than putting it away each time. I met countless students, freelancers, lead artists (a group from Bighuge Games watched for a good while), and even a man from Barnes & Noble.
- If Ringling has their own booth next year, I will strongly urge them to have a Cintiq for students to draw on, as this seems to be an amazing method for instantly catching the eyes of all who waltz by.

Blizzard review

- I had about an hour to kill between pestering Wacom and the Lead Artist Roundtable I planned to attend soon, so I decided to give Blizzard a visit. They had two art staff giving portfolio reviews when I stood in line: Ben and Seth. As soon as I got to the front of the line, Seth (Art Manager) looked at me and said...
Seth: Err, I'm so sorry, I have to go to a talk I'm giving now.
Me: Aw man, really? Wait, is that the artist roundtable?
Seth: Yep, that's the one.
Me: Can I come with?
Seth: Um.. you know what, yeah! Let me just get my things. In the meantime, please let Ben review your work.
- He waited for my review to finish, but he ended up having to go and set up early. Regardless, I got a fantastic review from Ben:
- - - Great creatures, concepts, and colors. Very bold, recognizable, original designs.
- - - If you want to be a concept artist, leave out the 3D stuff (but keep it in your resume!).
- - - More silhouettes, explorations. He was happy that I had a few for my 3D character.
- - - We then geeked out about Wayne Barlowe's creations and books for a good 10 minutes after I mentioned a similar project I'm working on. He told me if I want to specialize in creatures, I could definitely do it. Should that be the case, my portfolio must include a huge variety of creatures and explorations, each one boggling the mind as much as Mr. Barlowe's.

Artist Roundtable Part 1

- After the review, I rushed to the Lead Artists' roundtable Seth Spaulding was conducting. I got there early because Ben understood a review from Seth was important. He gave me similar advice, but still valuable:
- - - Less local colors
- - - Keep the pieces I'm passionate about; leave out the ones I'm not
- - - Keep refining environments to have more, smaller detail
- - - Mention 3D/game design/programming work by spoken word and on the resume, rather than including it with the concept art
Seth particularly liked the green beast, which also appeared on the back of my business card:

It attracted a lot of attention during the entire conference in general.

During the actual roundtable, I mostly sat quietly and listened rather than spoke. The room was filled to the brim with lead artists, art directors, and specialists who wanted to share knowledge of how to manage the job. We discussed:

- - - Asset tracking
It's important to keep tabs on assets. Many of the art leads had issues when several different employees would make the same prop, or would have one of their props handed off to be improved upon without being told. Because of - and as well as - this, they had to make sure all the assets fit together in the game world. If an asset didn't fit, the game would not be uniform. For this reason, they discussed having a good amount of consistency for workflow as well as aesthetic result.

- - - Communication w/ the tools team
The art team can greatly benefit from the tech or tools team, but lack of communication has hindered a lot of potential here. Some artists spoke of their experience with tool creators who had an amazing tool, but no artist was told about it (simply that). The same goes vice-versa; an artist will want a tool but never ask if the tech has something like it, or can create it. In one scenario, the tool was ready and available, but no one knew about it.

- - - Scope control from design & Level of empowerment of artists
Some lead artists had the issue of their underlings doing too much amazing work. They would come up with brilliant ideas and designs which would unfortunately magnify the scope of the game. They had to reel in the creative flow of their team and make sure they stayed on track, but without destroying their imaginative thinking.

- - - Budget
Staying within the confines of the budget. This was a pretty basic topic.

- - - Vertical slice
I had no idea what a vertical slice was at the beginning of the roundtable talk, so I was a tad confused at first. A vertical slice is like a preliminary progress update to show the people investing in your team 'Yes, we can do this, and here's all the cool stuff we have so far to prove it!' Many of the artists had stories about vertical slices. One story involved the vertical slice going too far - they basically had to make the whole game in order to appease. When they needed to make changes, all that effort had gone to waste.

- - - Hard talk
The art directors mostly spoke here, about how to let troublesome employees go without being too harsh. Sometimes the artist was magnificent at their job but simply didn't do the work / get along / meet deadlines. Other times, the artist was the social butterfly, eager to make the team happy, always smiling and fun to be around... but they didn't do work well enough to pull their weight. (Those were the hardest to let go)

- - - More does not always equal better
Speaks for itself - quality over quantity.

Alumni party
- Later that day, we waltzed over to the Ringling Alumni party. Beforehand we stopped for some dinner at a Chinese restaurant, which was a great way to settle down and relax for a bit. At the party itself, I successfully got Amanda tipsy (yesss), and we yelled about nothing with British accents for a good long while. We met and pestered a few Ringling alumn who worked on Metroid, pestered Jim, and almost got a recent CA graduate to sing. It was, needless to say, a blast.

GDC Notes - Dead Space 2

First, the Dead Space 2 talk by its art director, Ian Milham.

I loved this lecture because he approached the first and second games with an honest self-analysis, an aspect of personal achievement I dearly follow. He discussed:

Art style

- The sweeping artistic theme that can be seen throughout the game is the noticeable darkness. This eventually was embraced and taken further for the sequel. (Some other games and movies purposefully use darkness not only to create suspense in the audience's minds, but to save money.) For DS2, darkness was an artistic choice rather than a cost-effective one.

- Between the first and second games, they improved their utilization of color boards, giving color meaning alongside gameplay rather than just slapped together.


- The art team used Gothic architecture as inspiration for the environment, and as a motif they kept repeating the 'ribbed' pattern as a stylistic choice. Isaac's design is most memorable for the ribbed pieces adorning him.


- Variety in environment
- - - Ian showed us screenshots of different areas in Dead Space, each labeled accordingly. He admitted that even though they called the areas different, the architecture was all incredibly similar. And this was true - seeing all the places side-by-side, it was evidently hard to tell one area from the next. For the second game, they fixed this very well, making it clear where the player was.

- Character development, emotion, connection
- - - In the first game, Isaac's face was never revealed until near the end, and he never spoke once. This design choice was used to give the player a blank slate to enter, rather than imposing a personality. However, this prevented the character from having any sort of say in the matter. He didn't have a voice, opinion, or connection to the player. This changed drastically - and very well - in the second game. They gave him a voice, an expressive face, emotions, and opinions. He developed as the story progressed. In the end, he even changed. In my humble opinion, this allowed for us to really care about Isaac.

- Gameplay
- - - The first Dead Space was a constant stream of action, making it less scary and more like agonizing busywork. For the second game, they changed the gameplay to include epic moments: times and events where the character is immensely focused and/or specifically directed to create tension and suspense. They also included places for the player to relax. This combination gave the game a more roller-coaster-like feel with a grand finish, rather than an arduous hike.
- - - When Amanda played a certain part in DS2, she was too terrified to do it, even though it was one of the simplest parts of the game. All she had to do was [spoiler] slowly, carefully guide a needle into Isaac's left eye. [/spoiler] The premise may be simple, but the execution was so hardcore and suspenseful that she nearly gave up out of sheer terror.

Day 2 will be posted soon!

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Some extremely quick concepts for my next game prepro pitch:

^ This is something I'm actually very excited about. It may not look exciting yet, but it will.

GDC Notes - Day 1

All right. Day One...

One of the first things we did was attend a roundtable for producers, discussing things such as - of course - game production, and a few issues and topics that hound their minds. We broke up into smaller groups of 7-10 people. In our group we had people varying between Martin Murphy's brother-in-law to Patrick O'Kelley, senior producer at Bungie.

Points from this discussion:

- Producers focus and direct the creativity of the team
- - - Good producers allow the artists to create the amazing things they want to create, but also round up and organize them to keep the game on-target.

- Art vs. Advertising
- - - Like games, some mediums weren't considered art when they first appeared either. Books, movies, comics, etc. Advertising and art are similar in that they both require aesthetic appeal to function well, and are used to identify something for the viewer to recognize.

- Teaching games effectively accomplish what they're made for. It involves and immerses students in ways they can relate to and tinker with, rather than the alternate methods of being lectured at and told to sit down/shut up.

- Addiction: good or bad?
- - - If it's intentionally sought-after (like Zynga, Farmville, etc.) to primarily and selfishly generate profit, addiction is certainly malevolent. If a game happens upon it (WoW, Pokemon), that's the choice of the individual personality. Some people are more susceptible to addiction than others and that's not the fault of the game.

- Money vs. ethics
- - - Questions to ask: Are you comfortable selling it? Is it worth it? Do you really need it?

After this and a quick lunch at Buckhorn, I wove around the career pavilion for a good chunk of the time. On the first day I spoke with Insomniac, Activision, and WB Games. The first two gave better portfolio advice (the WB Games staff was from HR), so here is their input for my work in a nutshell:


- Focus
- - - If you want to do concept art, only show concept art. Larger companies are looking for specialists, whereas smaller companies are looking for generalists. It's most effective to show your best, most passionate work, and simply tell them that you're capable of doing other things, too. (these other things can be said on resumes)

- Paintovers
- - - Show smaller thumbnails of 3D environments/concepts and the paintovers of those. This method is quick, and shows that you can visualize a world/character/creature with accuracy and less effort.

- Good creature design, more environments they inhabit


- Focus (again)

- They wanted more environments than anything else, as their only open internship was for an environment artist

- More beauty shots - from concept art to screenshots, characters to vehicles, give the art a focal point. Give the viewer something intriguing to look at. A piece of art can be infinitely gorgeous but boring as all hell.

I got some sweet input from these guys and it will help improve my portfolio tenfold. Aside from the reviews, I signed up for the Metagame, which I admittedly didn't participate in much (t'was busy doing other things).

Amanda and I also sat in on the Art of Dead Space 2 talk from Ian Milham, where he analyzed the problems and strengths of Dead Space 1 that they carried over into the sequel. I loved seeing how he and his team constantly search for self-improvements, to make a better game and a better experience for the sake of the player. It was uplifting to hear they do a lot of the things we do in school: research, concept art, tests, repetition of form, art direction, and a ready for firm ear for the audience's input.

Afterwards, Amanda and I hounded Ian and kept asking him questions. Other audience members asked mine, but I had a doozy no one asked before:

Me: Who came up with the foam finger gun?
Ian: *jumps in excitement* I DID!!

Turns out, it was decided in a single meeting, rather fleetingly. They wanted to make a special gun for when the player beat the game on the most difficult level. Isaac's hand, however, was modeled into a single position: index in trigger, other fingers curling around the handle. At first they were going to leave it as is and make it a finger gun. Ian suggested a foam finger cannon. It would cover up the hand model and would be hilarious. So, they went with it. Kickass! I've got more notes from the DS2 talk itself, but I'll leave that to another update.

The last events of Day One included the hilarious and inspiring Awards Ceremony. My favorite game, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, won a lot of awards, from excellence in sound to best of show. Boo yah! After the ceremony, we had a pleasant and badass game of Ninja with total strangers. Imagine a huge ring people trying to slap each other's hands in ninja-like movements, one at a time, until the final showdown between two people. It got pretty fast near the end!

That's all for today. Expect a post about the DS2 talk and Day Two soon.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

GDC Day 1

Holy crap.

So, the conference is pretty much fantastic. Every aspect is exciting and enthralling, to the point that I find myself too tired to party once the day is done. I feel like such a lightweight.

Regardless, the first day was amazing. Amanda and I went to a roundtable about game production, wandered around the career pavilion, got portfolio reviews, played the Metagame, talked directly with professionals (Ian Milham from Dead Space 2!), watched the awards ceremony, and played ninja with total strangers.

I'll go into detail later - when I have time - and post some pictures too.

Until then,

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Hello Earth and various people who inhabit it! (Or not. You never know when an astronaut might be watching.)

I'll be attending GDC - the Game Developer's Conference - in San Francisco this week. This blog will be updated with details from the event. It'll be my first time going; an experience to remember. I've never been farther from home. Cool!

Our flight leaves today and I'll be traveling with the magnificent Amanda Cha, my friend and classmate. Be sure to keep checking here for updates and whathaveyou. Expect a lot of photos, too.

Take care,