Thursday, March 14, 2013

Box O Zombies Entry II - Creating a Universe, One Shack At A Time

Narrative Through Environment
(Featuring the pixel art of Eddie Einikis)

     Something as minor as a Latrine says a lot about a community. How much spare time it has, what materials are available, how much they value privacy, how clean things are kept. These things only begin to skim the surface (seriously, no pun intended). In order to build a successful universe, for even the smallest details, levels of thought and practicality need to be applied. So yes, even a Latrine has to make sense and has the ability to break a piece of the universe. Leaving it floating there in still waters (...This is a very serious analysis).
      When constructing the buildings of this makeshift community, there has been and continues to be a lot of tweaking and revisiting. Partially due to new design information, but also due to the art team's determination to really push the level of informative detail. Sometimes we put too much in, over building objects and making them a little to advance for the initial levels of the game. 

 (I was excited about Eddie's first iterations, but it was pushing the construction a little too far for level 1. I asked for something a bit simpler and primitive, we ended up with something that better fit the level of advancement found in the first level of the game. The old asset is kept on ice, ready to be used for later levels if needed.)

      We just don't want to create your typical post apocalyptic shanty town, we want it to feel unique and representative of a world that is a little different than the norm. In the first level things are pretty straight forward, but as the levels roll out more and more twists will be revealed. Revealing more and more of the malleable character that is the survivor camp grounds.
      Not only do we want the buildings to actively and interestingly inform the player of the game's universe, we want them to seem practical. We want each phase of upgrades to make sense and not feel like a magic button turned wood into bricks. They need to exist on the border of disbelief in order to create a sense of discovery and wonder. So there may be a moment of disbelief, but through design we can bring the audience back in and have them rationalize what they are seeing. The way we went about this was establishing a style guide early and the process deconstruction.

      In a way we stumbled upon our approach. One of the first buildings we made was on target but a bit too advanced. So in order to make sure things didn't get out of hand we worked backwards. Stripping the building down to make the lower levels. This helped create a nice blueprint. So even if future buildings were built up the chain of levels, it established a mindset on how to make the buildings feel natural and connected.

Visual Hierarchies and Handles

     We also need the buildings to serve the game functions as well as the platform. The primary platform at the moment is the iPad and iPhone. The assets are a low resolution art style on a high resolution platform, they need to be designed to make the leap. The buildings need to read clearly, in regards to their function, status and position on the map. The player has the option to zoom in and out a good amount. So players will want to keep tabs on all the game elements at once. This creates problems with even more details lost at the most zoomed out state. We approached this with a few layers of detail, hue and saturation coding. I was also told this can be referred to as a visual hierarchy so now I'm saying it's that thing. VISUAL HIERARCHY (credit to Matthew Board, professor at Columbia College for the additional vocabulary).
(The logos for cooking and hunting will probably change. After so many generations of games, player's develop a preconceived notion for certain icons. Looking at those logos makes me think, archery and potion. We may also push the color saturation to make that distinction pop more.)

     The base layer is saturation in context. So the ground detail, like rocks, grass and dirt, are a little less saturated than the buildings (not seen here as the ground is under construction). This provides a foundation that will help with the initial pop of detail. The next tier of identifiable detail is color and familiarity. There are a series of tents that serve different functions. In order to translate that they serve a similar purpose in a larger context, (perform fundamental functions for running a community), we made them share a general structural design, but varied them a bit. So they don't look exactly the same, but are familiar, maintaining uniqueness within the larger context. Similar to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers or Swedish people.
     On top of that, each tent is color coded providing a player sort of a visual handle bar. So rather than trying to remember what the Lumber Mill looks like or it's location, there eyes can scan the screen and grab onto the color. This has been a bit of a tricky process so far, color balance against the colors of the environment poses some challenges. An additional UI icon system is being developed to further assist with this system.
     The third tier, serving as an accent, is key items with in the tents. We tried to design and layout specific items that pop visually from the other tent details. This not only helps create uniquness amongst similar tents, but also helps clearly and quickly translate the different levels. Again, it is kind of like another handle for players to grasp. The more handles, the easier it is to.......HANDLE.

Artist of the Week

This weeks artist was inevitable considering the entries topic, Eddie Einikis. He is an extremely talented concept artist with some tools in the 3D realm as well. His adaptation to pixel art has been incredible, producing high quality, unique art in a short amount of time. He works as our primary environment/structure pixel artist.
(Some early iterations of buildings. These are not to scale and are sized for presentation purposes.)

      This concept process is usually through description, reference photos, conversation and iteration. Most of the time I give him the designer's description as well as my interpretation, sometimes with a few specific details I would like to see, and he get's to work. He has done a stellar job at not only building assets but also contributing effective ideas for visuals and production pipelines. In short, he is good and a artist who I imagine will continue to create really cool stuff. Below is a bit of what he has to say about the process.

"I was not familiar with pixel art when I first joined the BoZ project, but I'm glad to have experienced and learned it. I've enjoyed creating buildings with function and personality, and it's cool to see them implemented in mockups and early builds of the game."

Check out more of his work at:

Stay tuned for next weeks entry:
Entry III - Hello World, I Am Real Now: A Toy Pipeline
Featured Artist: Anthony Sixto (Hey...THATS ME!)

Monday, March 4, 2013

George Carlin

     This is another sketch that was dusted off and refined for the blog. This was done a little before the Batman illustration I posted in the past. It follows the similar idea of laying in the background and pulling the colors from that using the eye dropper. This time I challenged myself to do a more of a portrait with more of a realistic rendering. This one was picked at briefly here and there. Although it was approached loosely and meant for a little break, I still try to get some practice in technique and interpretation.

     Carlin is one of a handful of artists that provide countless hours of soundtrack while I'm working. I have been listening to him since I was probably too young too. He has had a great influence on me and is the inspiration for a indie comic strip I did from time to time called The Front Row (which can be found here: So it was cool to work on a portrait.

     I chose to go with a a rusty, moderate pallet somewhere in between the lands of orange and yellow. I wanted a warmer temperature to match the feel of Carlin's routines, but I didn't want to overstate it by making the colors too hot. Carlin, although passionate and fiery, always had an underlying calmness. Even if a bit had him flying off the handle, there was always a great sense of control. I tried capturing this by keeping the colors a little subdued. Although, depending on your monitor's color settings it will probably be slightly different than I intended, so my attempt at precision goes to shit. Hopefully it gets the general idea across.

     This a render of some different phases of the painting. I'm still having a bit of trouble transfering the energy of earlier, rough strokes in the final rendering, slowly getting there though. I'm done wasting your time after this...last......word.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Box O Zombies Entry I - New Life for the Undead

     The next phase of the Box O Zombies line involves taking the art style and narratives in new, fresh directions. Rather than starting from scratch, we are playing off the first run in order to really expand the sense of discovery and unpredictability. We are starting this new universe with the iOS game and a new line of toys focusing on survivors. The two will interact with each other in a very cool way. The narrative of the game and the new art direction, really help us contribute to the genre with diverse characters that begin to feel a little different from the norm. As we begin to roll the world out, it will open up to more possibilities and unexpected turns. Hopefully, the plan will be executed in a manner that people can appreciate.

The Road to C2E2

      The path has been set since late October. C2E2 is down long stretch of road. A production plan has been roughly blocked out. New toys and a game must be ready for the masses roaming the maze of pop culture t-shirts, comics, action figures and if we are as lucky as last year, Bubble Man! (or was that wizard world in which he graced us with a booth?). It is at C2E2 where the Box O Zombies game, and how it works with the new toys, will be demonstrated. The new line will not only be cool little sculpts, they will be game pieces. So scanning a figure into the game using NFC data, will unlock a character and some special abilities.
      Now with that made clear, new challenges are presented for art direction. On top of an overall update and improvement on the art style based on what we have learned, the art direction has to walk a fine line, pleasing two mediums. It has to create a feel and temperature for the universe while working for a pixel art game. On top of that it has to make sense for a 3" printed figure. This has been a challenge but incredibly fun. The concepts have to be consistent, meaning that they characters can't feel dramatically different as pixel art, concept art or a sculpture. Otherwise the sense of connection to the characters across the mediums will be lost. So there is a fine balance of creating interesting detail that builds a character history and design, while still being able to translate key details with simple pixels and more complex sculptures. Where as too fine of detail, will lead to quite a bit being lost in the two different conversions.

(Early concepts of some survivors along side early pixel conversions. Both have since been updated to find the a better balance. This includes updating the pixels to match details, replacing Able's rifle with a flashlight and giving Nathanial a cast. It also includes bouncing back to the concepts and injecting a bolder color design. Illustrator Vicky Kao has done a great job bringing character's to life through pixel art and animation.)

      This time around the characters are pushed towards a more stylized, painterly feel. This was a case where it served an artistic and practical purpose. Now characters can be given more energy and interest with harder edges, simple strokes and pushed proportions. So if we encounter a character who may seem pretty plain in description (Nathaniel for example), we can ramp up his appeal with the art style. It also is easier to convert to pixel form, due to some key components are already exaggerated. A good example of this is Abe's lanky figure, round buckle and over-sized hat (get it, it's an over-sized hat). The simplicity also lends itself to manufacturing, if characters can be strongly and uniquely defined with a less detail, it makes them cheaper to produce. It took awhile to fully develop the new art direction, but eventually we found a nice harmony amongst the many variables of the project.
      Production is at full steam, but it is still a bit too early to reveal game details. The next entry will begin to pull the curtain back ever so slightly, so if you close one eye and look through the slightest of cracks;  you will sneak a peek at what will be shown at C2E2. This includes more concepts, pixel art and introductions to new team members.Over the coming entries the blog will flesh out the overall art direction of the game. Don't stop looking at words yet! More words below!

Featured Artist: Vicky Kao

(Pixel Art done by Vicky Kao)

"Well, before joining this project I didn't have much experience with pixel art. But after doing a few tasks, I think I've really improved with both my pixel art and animation work. It's also been really exciting to see my work get put in with others to make this game come alive. " - Vicky Kao
      The developer Diary will introduce a member of the art team with each entry. It is a small group of young artists, some still students. However, it is an incredibly talented team worth highlighting. They all have great abilities and provide lessons to any artist through their work. 
      This week we have Vicky Kao, an illustrator on her way to graduating from Columbia College's Art and Design Department. She has a great range of anime style illustrations that bleeds into more surreal imagery. She modestly is hesitant with animation, but has a great sense of movement and the ability to capture a character's energy. She is definitely an artist to follow and you can do so by clicking letters, that reference some code that makes your computer show you lot's of cool things. Click the letters below.

Next week we will be highlighting one of our Environment Artists. Stay tuned, or logged in, or whatever makes sense.

The Many Faces of Jim Norton

     I was supposed to be better at posting this year. However, I ended up being a bit more busier than I thought. Between the work on the new Box O Zombies game and updating/prepping a back log of pieces for my portfolio, it has been a lot of work. This post features an old break time sketch I re-opened and touched up a bit.
(Final Illustration)

     These are some cartoon sketches of comedian Jim Norton's odd, creepy characters that can be heard on his radio show, Opie and Anthony. What was once a shock jock duo, evolved into a hilarious arena for some of the best comedians and a brutally honest talk radio show covering current events.

     The cartoons are my interpretations of descriptions and a few visuals out there. This was just a simple approach, keeping the flow of the lines loose and keeping colors simple. I added some textures with some photo blends. The cartoons initially were flat colors, but I decided to add a bit of gradient and color shifts. Still undecided whether I like the flat color or varied color better. 

(Progression from block out, to rough sketch, to inking, to first color pass to final color pass)

     Since all the characters are rooted in the comedian himself, I simply started with  a pass on his comedian persona first. From their I pulled over the original sketch and made rough variations in order to transform him into different characters. They were then inked. 

 (Near final inks over rough sketches set at a lower opacity)

The base colors were also copied over to created quick fills before they were modified to fit the character. This was done with the use of saturation and hue sliders. In a way this was an exorcise in creating variation very quickly, utilizing the advantages of digital tools. It was successful in that it was created very quickly. It is a bit of an older illustration, so in that way it feels a little dated. There are a lot of details I probably would do differently now.