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  • An Approach To Understanding Art Styles

    - Ricardo Bess

  • Great, but is any of this useful?

    I believe so! An artist working on a production environment (like games and animation) will face some problems regularly. You get into a production and you have to draw in the same style as everyone. Or you need to explain how you achieve certain visual quality to other artists. Maybe someone asks you to draw some qualities from the work of other artists. Or you are in the beginning of a project and you need to figure out what style best suits the movie/game you are going to do.

    In any of this cases, being able to label images, realize why they worked (what was their appeal) and how could I extract their essence (or sometimes copy it) was essential.

    A practical example

    In order to visualize this better, let's pretend we are making a game, we a have a prototype and now we are going to try to visualize the art direction.

    To represent the prototype, I'll pick a screenshot provided by Unity of one of their tutorials. It shows a racing game.

    We can see that though this image has some consistent light direction (which generally 3D softwares provide easily) the style lays between cartoon and stylized. Though the image is representational (and not abstract), most things are represented on a simple way. The sky is a giant striped box, trees are mat green primitives and so on.

    To make the comparison easier let's keep some things the same for all images: Its a 3D game, it has to have a driver on a kart, making a left turn on a race track, close to a "checkpoint", during sunset.

    Taking the considerations from section (b), what should we change to have a REALISTIC image?

    • All objects have to be close to a 1:1 proportion
    • Light must have not only a coherent direction but also behavior. Materials have to interact with light accordingly.
    • We can add artifacts like grain, vignette, flare and motion blur to simulate a real camera.
    • The overall values are bellow 50% and saturation must be tone down (though I increased the contrast and saturation a bit to make the image more appealing).
    • We need to add details (like bumps and scratches).

    How about a CARTOON image?

    • Objects proportions are exaggerated, simplified and rounded.
    • The overall values are brighter (even though it's almost night)
    • VFX (fire and smoke) are clearly drawn.
    • Details on the asphalt look hand-painted.
    • Light direction doesn't relate to the time of day.
    • If I wanted to go full-cartoon, I believe I'd gave to draw a more flat, 2D image.

    And at last, the "STYLIZED" version:

    • Every object is simplified to some geometric representation
    • Some elements are completely abstract (like the trees and mountains). We also insert graphic interventions (like triangles texture on the track or abstract shapes on the sky).
    • To go full "stylized", I'd probably have to leave the representation idea of kart, race track and have a more abstract image.


    I hope this has helped you understand a little more about art and how to get away with it. Remember, there's no right way of doing it. This just happens to be how my brain organizes everything and how I happen to get my work done. If you have questions or if you think I missed something, please get in touch and let's chat (you can find me on instagram @ricbess).


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