Week 01

Week 1: From Comics to Animated Films by Valzorra

After my thorough investigation into different styles of graphic novels and how they have developed over the years, I thought it best to continue by exploring two-dimensional art styles in other forms of media. One of the first places I turned to was the traditional and old-school animation style of classic Disney films. As they essentially pioneered animation technology and were the creators of numerous successful and iconic characters, it seemed worthwhile to have a look at their distinct style.

The proportions of Disney characters are shifted and exaggerated, yet their characters are structurally sound

Disney films are very friendly, sweet, and welcoming, they do not feature any harsh outlines at all, while all of their protagonists have been designed with smooth and curvy outlines in mind. This contrasts the line art in quite a few comic books discussed in Week 1: The Start of Semester II as they focused on cross-hatching and realism, which is not present in the Disney style. Additionally, I am very fond of the use of basic geometric shapes and proportions in the Disney characters. They accentuate the most crucial elements of the character and help create a memorable silhouette. For example, oftentimes the heads of their characters tend to be rather large in comparison to the rest of the body, as the most emotion can be conveyed through the face and the eyes. This is what makes these characters so memorable, the fact that their most important features are exaggerated and make a focal point. However, even though the proportions of Disney characters are rather shifted and exaggerated, their characters are structurally sound. Similarly, in my own work, I will strive to play with anatomy, while still making sure that each character is believable and has a solid shape behind them.

Character Sheets and Concept Work for Aurora, showcasing the soft and curvy lines Disney tends to prefer.

In addition to the line work and the stylistic choice behind classical Disney heroes and heroines, I was also quite fond of the way they lay out their character sheets. They are essentially representative of sketchbook pages and show different poses and facial expressions of each character, all the while maintaining their proportions and some key angles. What’s more is that thanks to these layouts other illustrators would be able to learn how to create the characters accurately regardless of what they are doing in the specific scene. Overall, I think this is really good practice and I would love to do it with my own character sheets once I arrive at that stage. There is so much I could learn from the Disney method of character design and animation and I am very pleased that my research has taken me into this direction.

Character Sheets from Disney showcasing the characters with a variety of different facial expressions.

Moving away from the very distinct style of Disney, I went on to explore some other popular animated series. Specifically, I took a look at Castlevania and The Legend of Korra as they both seemed to share a very similar style. Their specific visual aesthetic focuses on very clean and very thin lines that only indicate where different objects and characters are positioned. The line work is even more discreet than that of Disney and its color changes depending on the scene. The characters in both of these shows are very anatomically correct and do not exaggerate proportions greatly. For the most part, they aim to be realistic and are much closer to the comic book art styles discussed in the previous post. The artists and animators of both of these shows have used vivid and vibrant colors while their shadows are more like blocks rather than gradients. I reckon this style would be quite difficult to replicate, but nonetheless it is good to at least explore the possibility.

Examples of scenes from both Castlevania and Legend of Korra

Whereas the last two examples I discussed were very much focused on realistic proportions and discreet outlines, there are a series of other animated series that take a more cartoonish approach. Both Marvel and DC’s Animated series are somewhat of a mix between the Disney style and the Castlevania/Legend of Korra style. Their shows combine the style of line work with Disney’s approach of exaggerated proportions and geometric shapes for many of their characters. This could be great for As It Lies, because the game very much fits into those themes and ideas, therefore, using a similar visual style might help with targeting the right audience. I am especially fond of the way Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy have been constructed in this style, as they have very distinct shapes and silhouettes, making them visually exciting. At this stage I am considering adopting this style, perhaps in combination with the comic book style, because of how visually distinct it is and because it has been used in thematically similar settings.

Examples from Marvel and DC Animated Series

The last distinct visual style that I explored is commonly used in concept art pieces and sketches. This style takes the cartoony and exaggerated approach even further, making characters and artifacts even more stylized and exaggerated. I think this might be taking the concept a step too far, simply because Zeta’s story is somewhat serious and can be requires focus from the player. The style showcased below is more adventurous and rather lighthearted. It would not require focus from players, but is rather best suited for telling a story. Nonetheless, I rather appreciate its visuals and how distinct and memorable it is. Although this style would not be appropriate for As It Lies, I appreciate it for its shapes, its quirkiness, and I can definitely see myself trying to create artwork of the sort on my own time.

Examples of the Cartoon Concept Art Style

Thoughts and Reflection

Over the course of this week I have conducted a thorough investigation into a variety of different art styles ranging from the many different types comic books over the years to Disney’s classical films. After reflecting upon everything I have seen and explored thus far, I believe a modern comic book style would be most appropriate for the game.

A modern comic book art style is something Zeta would engage with the most.

The reasons for this decision are rooted in Zeta’s personality and world. From all of the different art styles, including Disney, Pop Art, Realism, and so on, a Comic Book Art Style is something she would engage most with. She would be interested in comic books, superheroes, and that whole aspect of geek culture. Therefore, Zeta’s story in 2D would best be told in a medium that she is fond of. What’s more is that comic books have long explored the idea of different superpowers and how one represents them in 2D, which is why they would be a fantastic reference for As It Lies. Additionally, from all of the different comic book styles discussed in Week 1: The Start of Semester II, I thought that going for a rather modern and generalized style would be best. After all, Zeta’s story is set in the future and as I cannot possibly account for potential future visual styles, it would be best to go with something rather modern and universal for the genre that will likely withstand the test of time. For example, comics from the Dark Age and other examples such as Casanova or Ashe: Warmother might be suitable references.

Week 1: The Start of Semester II by Valzorra

Once I had submitted my Game Project Proposal, I had some time to reflect on everything I had written about this project thus far. I had the opportunity to take a step back from the detail and examine the game from a more general perspective. Additionally, I was also able to think about the time I had left until the due date and how I could best convey the essential experience of As It Lies within that time. Through this reflection and a series of discussions with James, I realised that perhaps I should I step away from 3D and instead focus on making this a 2D game that is dedicated to conveying the essential problem-solving experience. What’s most important about As It Lies is the set of mechanics, the exciting levels, the numerous solutions to each problem, and incorporating chance into them. There is nothing inherently superior about making this project 3D, other than the specific visual and low-poly style I was going for. Although this transition would introduce certain aesthetic limitations, As It Lies could function very similarly in a 2D environment. Therefore, as I am a more experienced illustrator and as I have only about three months to complete this project, I thought it would be most feasible for me to transition from 3D to 2D. This has simply been another step in the iterative process that will hopefully lead to a better and more complete game. In any case, I thought it would be something worth exploring.

Visual Research: Graphic Novels

Knowing Zeta would be an absolute geek, I thought she is very likely to be really into comics.

Having made this crucial design alteration, it was important to explore potential two-dimensional visual styles that would suit As It Lies. That is why I began exploring a variety of two-dimensional art forms, most notably different comic book and graphic novel styles as well as different styles of animated films and cartoons. Knowing Zeta would be an absolute geek, I thought she is very likely to be really into comics, so first I had an extensive look at the different illustration styles in that media. I am addressing the visual style based on what my protagonist is likely to enjoy and engage in. The first chapter in the history of comic books is known as The Golden Age of comics. Throughout the Golden Age of comic books, the differences between heroes and villains were very stark and it was rather obvious who the audience should be rooting for. Additionally, those stories would get political at times, with superheroes overpowering famous political figures. In terms of illustration, the art style features light and clean outlines with blocks of shadow in the appropriate places. Due to the printing technology of the time, colors were rather flat and would appear quite muted. Backgrounds in these stories were not very detailed, but rather focused on actions and characters. The panels of Golden Age comic books were in the form of a rather standard grid and did not focus break from the structure frequently. Perspective was also rather limited, as panels would most commonly feature one-point perspective as that was the easiest one to produce technically. Overall, Golden Age comic books were primarily concerned with conveying their story, rather than their illustrations.

Examples of Golden Age comic book panels.

The next chapter in comic book illustration history is known as The Silver Age of Comic Books. The illustration of these comics was more varied and sophisticated, as artists explored a more abstract style. The pages of Silver Age comics would feature surreal scenes, representing the character’s mental state in a more metaphorical manner. Colors became much more varied and had different gradients, while the outlines and shading differed in thickness and intensity. In terms of storytelling, the stories became a bit darker as the horror genre was just starting to take off in this medium. Heroes and villains were still very distinct from each other and characters were still rather archetypal, however, writers began to slowly break from that. Overall, illustration during The Silver Age of comics greatly improved, adding more variety and abstraction, while the types of stories they were telling evolved in terms of genre and some of the concepts explored.

Examples of Silver Age comic book panels.

After the developments to the medium in the Silver Age of comic books, the Bronze Age further built upon those concepts and presented heroes with new types of enemies. The Bronze Age was famous for its blunt realism and for the first time ever, heroes were faced with abstract problems such as alcoholism, drug use, overdose, and more. The intangible foes offered a new challenge for superheroes and did not lend an easy answer to the issues they were facing. The illustrative style reflected this paradigm shift and was also rather realistic and cross-hatched, oftentimes imitating sketches of the great Renaissance masters. Anatomy became increasingly more important and illustrators aimed to be quite blunt and accurate. The Bronze Age of comic books marked a very significant chapter in the evolution of the medium as both stories and illustrations became much more mature and were tackling everyday issues head on.

Examples of Bronze Age comic book panels.

Although new types of enemies were introduced in the Bronze Age of comic books, it was still very clear who the heroes of the story were and what was the moral thing to do in any situation. The Dark Age of comics completely turned that idea on its head and marked the most significant growth and evolution that the medium had experienced thus far. The lines between heroes and villains became blurred, with both displaying positive and negative qualities and ideologies. One of the most notable examples of Dark Age graphic novels is Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Illustrations became much more sophisticated with increasingly talented artists working in the industry and producing very realistic characters with both accurate and exaggerated proportions. What’s more is that due to advancements in mass printing technology, more striking and bright colors became possible, with higher contrast images that helped the story pop from the pages. Outlines were still maintained, but they varied in thickness and color depending on the needs of each panel. Typography became increasingly more important as it was oftentimes changed to reflect what characters would sound like while speaking. The Dark Age of comics marked a major step forward in their history, resulting in higher quality stories and artwork.

Examples of Dark Age comic book panels.

While there have been a series of distinct ages in the long history of comic books, modern comics and graphic novels do not fit into neat categories, but rather feature an array of stories and styles. They can contain multiple elements of Golden Age, Silver Age, and Dark Age comics, but can also branch off into their own thing that defies categorization all together. Both illustration and storytelling in modern day comic books are exceptionally varied and provide their audience with numerous different experiences. Casanova is an excellent example of a graphic novel that does not fit the traditional comic book illustration style, but rather uses its own distinct visual identity. They favor very thick outlines and caricatured characters with exaggerated proportions. Their color palettes are limited on each page, but work together in harmony and take advantage of known color theory principles to achieve their effects. Overall, Casanova’s visual style is incredibly distinct in line work, color, and characters, which translate excellently on paper. What I find particularly exciting about Casanova is the character proportions and exaggeration.

Comic book panels and cover art for Casanova.

It would be unjust to conduct an analysis of various two-dimensional art styles found in comic books and graphic novels without having a look at at least one notable example of manga. Akira is a highly successful cyberpunk graphic novel by Katsuhiro Otomo, which paved the way for other exceptional works such as Ghost in the Shell and Armitage III. What I find most fascinating about Akira’s visual style is the exceptionally well made perspective shots of the environment and of movement. Buildings and city landscapes in Akira are incredible realistic and accurate in terms of perspective, resulting in some awe-inspiring scenes. They give an excellent sense of space and convey the mood of the environment equally well. Additionally, the lines in Akira are relatively thick and provide exciting high-contrast images in the finished panels. What’s more is that as Akira’s story is set in a cyberpunk dystopia, there are a series of strict mechanical illustrations that convey the overall urban aesthetic of the city. Overall, Akira has a very precise and high-contrast art style that approaches storytelling in a different manner to the other ones discussed thus far.

Perspective shots and panels from Akira.

Thoughts and Reflection

Zeta would be very fond of comic books and she is likely to think of herself and of her solutions in those terms.

I found this extensive analysis of different visual and illustrative styles for graphic novels very intriguing and entertaining. It was a pleasure to explore how different artists have approached stories and mediums that I am passionate about and to try and adopt some of the principles they explore in my own work. For example, I have really enjoyed learning about how different outline thickness and smoothness can result in completely different effects on the page. Thus far, I am very excited to try some of these art styles for As It Lies and Zeta and to see how they would work. Additionally, I think a comic book art style would be rather appropriate for the game as this is something Zeta would be very fond of and she is likely to think of herself and of her solutions in those terms. What’s more is that it would be an amazing guide for the branding of the entire project. Nonetheless, it will now be time to explore a series of different art styles from cartoons and animations to determine whether a visual style from those mediums would be more appropriate for Zeta.