Author Topic: The visual power of pure form  (Read 494 times)  Share 

ThreeOhFour

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The visual power of pure form
« on: 06 Jan 2017, 21:43 »
Hey all! I wrote a post about form and silhouettes in art, and the power they can have!

Here's the link! :cheesy:

Mandle

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #1 on: 07 Jan 2017, 04:50 »
A very interesting read, mate. Cheers for sharing.

One example for me of what you are talking about that springs instantly to my mind is:

(Hidden because of large size)

(Minus the text of course)

This full-reveal shot and the individual close-ups of the different cells feel so iconic to me even though I've only played the game once quite a few years ago. I think this has to do with many of the factors you write about: Bold and unique forms made even moreso by the angle of the shot. Also the contrast of the simpler block-like cells mixed with the more complex organic and curved forms is really striking to my eye.

ThreeOhFour

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #2 on: 07 Jan 2017, 05:17 »
Thanks Mandle! Interesting example, and I think another factor that helps these forms stand out is the lack of clutter behind them. This really prevents them from being lost in visual noise, and therefore helps them read clearly. Thanks for sharing! :)

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #3 on: 07 Jan 2017, 11:42 »
Hey all! I wrote a post about form and silhouettes in art, and the power they can have!

Here's the link! :cheesy:

Very nice article!

And Another World is my favourite game of all time :)

ThreeOhFour

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #4 on: 07 Jan 2017, 12:43 »
Thank you! I also love Another World. :)

selmiak

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #5 on: 07 Jan 2017, 12:54 »
Silhouettes can be sexy. Is that Edna?


I recently finished The Last Guardian, the fantasy architecture is breathtaking in that game, every building and tower in that archaic world has a unique form and is instantly recognisable. Or Maybe it's more the fine textures than the final form, gotta investigate that :)
 

Misj'

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #6 on: 07 Jan 2017, 22:19 »
One thing that is - I think - often forgotten (at least by me), is to approach background-elements from the standpoint of character-design. And in the context 304 is talking about, that means that just like it is with a character, a silhouette should instantly recognizable and at least to some extend understandable.

I think that in general there are four types of background elements:
  • Landmarks (or centrepieces).
    These are elements that are meant to grab the player's attention. We want them to explore them, or at least remember them. These are the most important to approach as true characters of the scene. Of course designing them as such is easier in some cases than in others. Trees are an obvious example as are - by their nature - statues. But similarly, other man-made structures should reflect the character of their creator, and homes should reflect the character of the people living there. A single room should of course not have that many of such landmarks, because having multiple landmarks lowers the impact of each individual element.
  • Directing.
    Backgrounds are the playground for the player, but you generally want them to stick to a predefined path (without them feeling too constrained). There are many ways to to direct a player or viewer. Again, this can be done with colours, brightness, contrast etc. But another way to do it, is to (subtly) use shapes and lines as if they were arrows. In the Full-Throttle you have of course the very obvious tracks leading up to the house. A special case of directional elements are landmarks from other backgrounds that are seen in the distance. They tell the player that there's something interesting in that direction but should not distract the player from the landmarks in this particular area.
  • Atmospheric.
    Many elements in your background are there just to create some sort of atmosphere. You shouldn't use the same tree-shapes for a haunted forest as you do for a picnic-area. Looking merely at shapes and not colours, lighting, contrast, etc., it makes sense to use similar tricks as you would in character-design to convey whether someone is (on the outside at least) good or evil. E.g. soft edges are benign while hard angles are evil, round shapes can be trusted while triangles are untrustworthy.
  • Filler
    Fact is, part of the background will just be filler. In many cases it would be wise to keep their shapes simple and mostly generic so not to compete with any of the above. Filler elements are often not bogged down by a lot of details.

Now of course I do have to say that I take the comicbook-approach (line-art), not the painting approach. As a result I spend most of my time sketching and inking and end up with a pure black and white image. Colours, shadows, and lighting are some of the last steps in my process (and are - I am ashamed to say - sometimes almost an afterthought), and the fundamental design has to be good before I even get there. One disadvantage is that I might 'fall in love' with my lines and be unwilling to lose some of my details in the shadows later on. On the other hand, if they disappear in the shadows than they clearly weren't important for the story I wanted to tell, so I should have spend that much time on detailing them.

So yeah, just some thoughts I had after reading yours.

ps. And as with characters and silhouettes...don't loose sight of the anatomy (or structural nature) of the element you're drawing.

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #7 on: 08 Jan 2017, 01:05 »
Interesting breakdown of elements, Misj'. One element I'd add, mostly because it doesn't quite fit into any single one of the other slots, is elements included purely for balance - whether a rock added far off in the distance to fulfil a typical "steelyard" composition, or a miscellaneous object/highlight/texture placed at a particular spot to make a triangle happen in the composition. I guess these are largely considerations of a landscape painter.

As for filler, I think it's quite okay to use a lot of details, providing the contrast in them is low enough that the more essential elements stand out. Full Throttle does this very well:



Plenty of detail there, but you can see how the fuel can and photograph have been given different hues to help them stand out. The hose hasn't, however, and is much harder to spot. Once Ben's bike is in the scene, also a different set of tones, most of the detail doesn't stand out too much, despite being admirably dense.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Edit: since Selmiak mentioned The Last Guardian, it's worth noting that if you want to study creature design with super interesting silhouettes, Shadow of the Colossus is a good place to begin! Here's a pretty good example!
« Last Edit: 08 Jan 2017, 04:20 by ThreeOhFour »

Misj'

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #8 on: 08 Jan 2017, 21:22 »
I agree that compositional objects should probably be on that list...although, to be honest, I think that nine out of then times they are (at the same time) a sub-category of the above four. Then again, that still leaves us with 10% when it isn't :)

As for your Full Throttle example, I'm not sure I agree. I'm not saying it's devoid of details (let alone stuff), but...well, to explain my thoughts, I recreated its line-art. As you can see, the image works perfectly well in pure black and white, and this way we can take a different look at the image, without getting distracted by colours, hues, lighting, etc.

Funnily enough, the bike makes the scene less dense, because it obfuscates most of the elements on the back-shelf (and the boxes and chests that you still see have only few details). And while the bike itself has some detail, this is not a problem, because the bike and Maureen are (together) the center-piece of the scene (this is also enforced by Maureen being animated).



Horizontal and vertical lines, as well as intersections of objects, contrast, and arrows (the shadows towards the hose e.g.) help you find all hotspots in this room (indicated in red and blue). The hue is certainly helps, but it is obvious from the line-art that it's not the main, let alone the only, property of the image that does. The objects in the room perfectly guide you towards these three items. Interestingly though, that when you enter the room, Ben will (fully or partially) cover these items: he's standing right in front of them. I think that was deliberate, because we don't want the player to see these objects just yet; we first want him to talk to Maureen.

When I was writing this post I started thinking: are Ben and I talking about the same thing when we say details? - Because to me, most of the image is not that detailed. Yes, there's a lot of stuff, and that stuff tells a story (Maureen is more of a patch-upper than a fixer), but most of it is not that detailed.

What bothers me though in this image, is the big, beautifully rendered, highly detailed thing on the left. Why does it bother me? - Because it's merely filler while it looks like a center-piece. Even worse, I can't even interact with it, even though the amount of detail tells me that I should (even if only to get a 'no' or an 'it looks complex, better not tough it'). In my memory that was one of my major gripes with this excellent game: in many rooms all these detailed elements told me two things: 1. there's a lot to see in this world, and 2. there only little to do in this game. As a result, this filler object - due to it's overly detailed rendition - pulls me out of the game-world rather than giving me something to explore. And that's why I think you should very careful when you add to much detail to filler elements (that have no pay-off for the player).

I'll end with a link to some screenshots from the upcoming Full Throttle Remastered. There's also a high-res interpretation of Maureen's house.


EDIT: This also made me think about backgrounds and backdrops. To me a background is something the main-character can interact with, while a backdrop is just a pretty picture with a walking area. The player character is clearly part of the same world as the elements we see in the background, but a backdrop is just there for a player to look at...if that makes sense.
« Last Edit: 08 Jan 2017, 21:31 by Misj' »

ThreeOhFour

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #9 on: 08 Jan 2017, 21:44 »
There's a lot to process here, but it sounds to me like you're trying to make a distinction between "interesting features" and "visual noise" or "greebling".

I can definitely appreciate that there ought to be a distinction between the two. But it's a hard word to work around - even you in the space of two paragraphs have said it's not that detailed, then gone on to say that the amount of detail has you wanting to interact more. Perhaps we should adopt more specific terms if we're going to be discussing this distinction!

There's more to process here, but I need to read over and think over it a few times before I can respond in a considered way, so I'll leave it here for now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

In the interest of comparison, I'll link to my analysis of the scene from last week. It's a bit poorly compressed by Twitter, sadly, but I'm planning to compile them all into a PDF once I've finished! Here it is!
« Last Edit: 08 Jan 2017, 21:47 by ThreeOhFour »

Misj'

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #10 on: 08 Jan 2017, 22:26 »
haha, originally I had about 10 paragraphs trying to explain a thought (while separating the right and left side of the image). That didn't help, so I shortened it...maybe bit too much. :-D

Your thoughts were interesting to read though, and made me think. So I will certainly follow up on this.

EDIT:
After some thought I decided to create a Detail-map for this piece. Yellow is low details, while red is high details. This is mostly how I perceive the details in this piece. It's different from a density map, because you can have a very dense piece with lots of items, and still few details (or few details in those items). If you compare this to the areas you can interact with, you will see that most of them (with the somewhat exception of the hose) are quite detailed, while the rest of the areas/objects do not display that much details. Exception to this is the left-most object that stands out detail-wise (but is just a filler-object, and - in my opinion - as such misplaced). Also, when the bike is there, most of the other details in the piece are covered; creating a landmark but also lowering the overall details (and clutter) somewhat.



(as I said, this is my - somewhat exaggerated for the purpose of explanation - perception of this piece).

EDIT2: Detail in this case is also somewhat related to 'interesting form'...it's a mixture of the two.
« Last Edit: 09 Jan 2017, 22:32 by Misj' »

ThreeOhFour

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #11 on: 09 Jan 2017, 23:35 »
I think what your lines mostly prove, here, is the true power of light and colour for establishing focus. In your lines only piece, the image feels VERY imbalanced - even with the knowledge that Ben is going to be there makes it hard to "get", hard to read, and even the figure (which *should* automatically draw focus, being that human beings are always the most interesting thing to us) gets really lost in the mix.

Seen in the original format, however, the detail on the left is much more obfuscated by being all dark midrange to dark in colour, Maureen stands out beautifully because of her contrasting hues and the composition feels much more balanced. I honestly think it's very easy to overestimate the power of stuff like spokewheeling (such as your suggestion that the shadow draws the eye to the hose) because it's often a subtle effect, and if we really want to draw the eye to specific stuff, subtlety can be a mistake. That hose is super hard to spot, making it similar in colour to the fuel can would make it massively easier to see.

Interesting stuff - though really we're getting a bit off-topic, which is probably still fine. Though it's cool to see the image without "being distracted" by the hues and colours and shading, as you say, it's also essential to remember that this isn't how our eyes see it, and that colour and light probably lend more visual gravity to these features, at least in our initial impressions of a scene, than those different densities of detail ever will.
« Last Edit: 09 Jan 2017, 23:39 by ThreeOhFour »

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #12 on: 10 Jan 2017, 07:10 »
Yeah, I agree with Ben that lighting makes a big difference here. For the big cylinder thingy, I think most of the detail disappears in the murk. It's really only that little panel with the dials at the bottom that stands out, but no more so than the rest of the stuff on that wall (although of course that is hidden by the bike).

Misj'

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #13 on: 10 Jan 2017, 08:11 »
I find it interesting how differently we look at this piece, and I kind of feel that it has to do with the 'if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail'-principle. We approach the drawing process of backgrounds vastly different. Me using a comic-book approach, you using more of a painting-approach. Your assertion of the hose is - to me - an example of this: you say "I can't see the hose, I can easily solve this by changing the colour" whereas I say "the hose stands out in the line-art, your eyes are guided towards it (there are several subtle things there that direct the viewer), the reason the hose is lost in the final piece is the addition of colour". So our solution would be similar (change the colour), our assertion of the problem quite different.

This can also be seen in your analysis that the line-art is hard to read, whereas to me it's as easy as the coloured piece (and in several cases even easier). Bear in mind, Line-art is the most fundamental part of all my drawings, colours and shades are the very last step in my process (and sometimes lines are coloured, faded, or removed entirely in that step). So to me it's the foundation of every piece; and as such I'm biased. I have, however, noticed that you and e.g. Loominous sometimes have difficulty to see where one of my pieces is going exactly because of our difference in approach/foundation.

Now I'm not saying that colours, shades, and lighting don't affect a piece or aren't important. They greatly do. I do think you're overestimating it though as the fundamental tool (as opposed to just a tool). Take the hose again. You say it's hard to see because of the colouring (being weak), I say you can spot it at all because of the line-art (being so strong). If I have a piece that doesn't work as line-art (and this one clearly does), I throw it out because lighting and colouring isn't there to fix the foundation, it's there to enhance it. To me the imbalance in the line-art is not something that is fixed by the colours, it's something that is essential and intentional for the scene (and the area-of-action), and the colouring/lighting enforces that even more.

Hmm..it's hard for me to explain the way I look at this. It's like trying to explain the way I perceive the color red to someone (using only text). If you were sitting here next to me I might be able to draw it out. But you would have to look over my shoulder and see the drawing process. This has nothing to do with your point of view, or me thinking you're looking at it 'wrong'...we are just looking at this piece fundamentally different I think. Even though we both greatly appreciate it and see a lot to inspire us.
« Last Edit: 10 Jan 2017, 08:13 by Misj' »

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #14 on: 10 Jan 2017, 08:22 »
I don't want to make it sound like I feel that colour and light are the "Fundamental" device - the fact that I've made this thread to discuss pure form should be an indicator that I believe form is #1. I think the main difference is that I usually create form purely with block shapes and you describe it here with lines and block shadows.

The way I'm used to seeing painted works denoted by lines is Edgar Payne's sketches, which are very different to yours. Clearly Chan's linework is closer to your approach (his website is a treasure trove of design ideas) but I also notice he does more intermediate shading than this sort of block shading.

As for the hose - well, taken from a lineart only perspective, if someone showed me this and asked for advice, I'd tell them off for making it have a bloody tangent with the line above. := Though it might be true that the hose can be seen because of the lines, it would be far easier to see it if the colours were different, right? I'm not really sure what your point is, but mine is simple enough: a blue/yellow/pink/orange/periwinkle/grey/white/anything hose would stand out MUCH more than green on green.

Other than that, it's pretty obvious from workshops we've both participated in together than we have entirely different approaches, which is cool! Diversity is a good thing. :smiley:

(I've edited this about five* times to try to make it obvious that I don't want to take a "you're wrong, I'm right" approach, the entire purpose of studies like this are for my own education, and I very much take the stance of a student rather than master, as you say, I think we're both studying very different things in this one scene)

*up to six now :D
« Last Edit: 10 Jan 2017, 10:58 by ThreeOhFour »

Misj'

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #15 on: 10 Jan 2017, 21:02 »
I think we're both really good at editing our posts...and requiring the other to re-read posts six, seven, or eight times. I think it's a superpower ;)

As I said, we would probably both use the same solution of 'fix' the hose. Either re-colouring it to have a higher contrast with the background, or re-position it to a more obvious location. To be honest, if I were to fix the piece I would probably choose the latter option if only because I don't understand why they chose to have both inventory-items in basically the same spot. But yeah, we come to the same solution...but approach it from a different 'problem'. I absolutely agree that the green-on-green is a design-error in the piece, and it's the easiest fix to make the scene better (I'm still bothered with the far-left thing though, but mostly because I want to click it; and that's not a 'fail' in the image but in the game (in my opinion)). Which is why I really can't for the life of my understand why they chose to keep this obvious error in the remastered version as you can see from this outside screenshot. I understand being faithful to the original, but It's not like they didn't completely redesign Ben's bike.

I think that failures like this - whether due to line-art, colouring, shading, composition, etc. - that cause confusion or make the piece less clear / less readable basically cause a variation of pixel-hunting, and should be avoided at all costs.

As for the tangent lines for the hose...I'm not going to say that tangent lines are okay. They are not. And you should always do your best to avoid them (for those less acquainted with the subject, you can see some  nice examples here). Oddly enough the hose bothers me the least. Although now that I look at it, they apparently really wanted a tangent there, because when you pick up the hose they've created a new tangent line using the colouring/shading.



There are, however, several tangent lines in the image that really did bothered me when I drew the line-art, and that I continuously wanted to correct. The worse-ones are from the floor-boards to the mattress. There are some lines that actually continue over two separate objects. The ones caused by the exhausts and the back-plate are quite bad too. I can understand the ones caused at the corrugated sheet. But the exhaust that keeps touching each of the steel-pins in the back-plate really annoy me. As do almost all of the ropes holding the bike (which cause several tangents or near-tangents).

How dare we say this piece is flawed? - How dare we say it's not perfect? - Shame on us :D
« Last Edit: 10 Jan 2017, 23:11 by Misj' »

ThreeOhFour

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #16 on: 10 Jan 2017, 23:31 »
Hooray! We agree on stuff! :cheesy:

It's interesting, I've been checking most of these with a reasonable amount of care for tangents, and not really noticing many - in fact I've been impressed because there's so few tangents between the forms despite crazy amounts of lines (compared to what I'm used to looking at, that is - my own backgrounds).

But you're right, the lines of the mattress and the lines of the floorboards do make some tangents - much more noticeable when you do the linework. Probably the darkness and lack of interest of the mattress meant I never paid the inside detail of the form that much attention.

I wonder if Peter Chan did the bike, and is guilty of those tangents. It's likely, but maybe objects like this were done by another team member. As for the hose, I'd honestly satisfied myself that a programmer put it right there, rather than dare think that my wonderful velvet owl Peter Chan could ever possibly make a simple error like this := . This is because programmers have made tangents that I've had to ask them to adjust for me in the past, so I know their type. The same goes for that background detail - there's been times when I've drawn cool background details and the designer put it in game but never let anybody click on it, which feels weird because if I draw something interesting, my favourite thing is to see what the writer comes up with as a cool, interesting look response.

Artists are pure and flawless! Blame the programmers and designers! :cheesy:

As for the redesign of the bike, I wonder why they took the black tyres away. The game's full of black, I kinda miss them!

Regarding the massive quantities of edits, I mostly want to go back and take out all the bits where I clearly don't know what I'm talking about, which means I have to change huge amounts! I mostly use twitter these days to talk about art, which doesn't allow long posts like these, nor does it allows for edits. It's fun to come back to the good old ways! This is my third edit, hooray! (laugh)
« Last Edit: 10 Jan 2017, 23:38 by ThreeOhFour »

Misj'

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #17 on: 11 Jan 2017, 22:06 »
I wonder if Peter Chan did the bike, and is guilty of those tangents. It's likely, but maybe objects like this were done by another team member.
I actually think he wasn't. Full Throttle use 3D renderings for the vehicles, so it was probably created by someone else, and added there by a programmer (similar to your hose-hypothesis).

Then again, it's also difficult to say what Chan's involvement was exactly for this specific room. While he was the lead artist, both he and Brian Rich were responsible for the backgrounds. I haven't been able to find anything on Rich (in my 3-minute Search Engine Typitype), so It's hard to say. I know that in many comic-books there are regularly three artists: the pencil-artist, the inker, and the colourist. The former normally gets most of the credits. It's very well possible that Chan drew the original design/sketch, while Rich drew the final art and colouring. Or Chan did this piece all by himself. Who could say...

On another side-note...The background made me wonder how I would implement something similar in my style. So I set out to draw a single object (a locker) just to figure out the steps I would take and see where I would deviate from my regular approach. I wanted to keep the hard edges common to both pixel-art and line-art. So this wasn't going to be too painterly (fortunately, because that would have pulled me really out of my comfort-zone). Of course there's much more to these drawings than only single objects, and my locker is far from perfect. But it did make me feel that this is a style I would like to explore a bit more.


Yugh! - Look what you've done. You've made me think and study.

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Re: The visual power of pure form
« Reply #18 on: 12 Jan 2017, 03:35 »
Yeah, I've noticed the other fellow's name, and much to my disgrace, have attributed some of the much more wonky cutscene backdrops to him, simply because I've never seen Chan draw quite this roughly, ever:



This is a completely unfair assumption on my part, though, and grounded in nothing more than conjecture.

Also, cool style study! Thinking and studying is the entire goal, so I call this a complete success! :smiley: