How Do You Maintain Art Direction?

polycounter lvl 5
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Jack M. polycounter lvl 5
So this might very well be a silly question, but it's something I've struggled with for a while. That is I have difficulty maintaining art direction (probably something I should never mention if I want an industry job). If I'm making suburbs at times I veer off and make a sort of farm house, making sci-fi I veer into cyberpunk... etc.

So I guess my question is how do you guys maintain the look you're going for. Is there particular strategies in maintaining a visual style? How do you set your foundation before ever stepping into a 3d app? Do you use the same base textures in all of your metals/concrete/etc. to help maintain visual cohesiveness? Or is it mostly sticking to references/"post cards" that help you maintain a look. If you feel like you're veering off course from what you have previously made or the visual style you need to maintain how do you go about refocusing?


  • BagelHero
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    BagelHero polycounter lvl 5
    A master material set would probably help but for me it's all in the planning.

    If you want something cohesive, stop going off and doing whatever you feel like doing at the time.
    Put together reference documents (like a design doc. Feelings and colors and references to existing art and games for you to draw on), and a moodboard of reference images. Plan out exactly what's needed in a scene or for a character and pull references for that from the mood, time period and feel you need.

    You're making a farmhouse? Choose a time period, "feel", maybe come up with a small story for the scene to portray and collect references for those things and write/draw out the specifics. Before you model ANYTHING check it against those references and make sure it fits and makes logical sense. Then you can model it.

    That's just me though, and can be limiting/suck the fun out of it for other people. For me a good chuck of the fun is in that planning though. :)
    Just try to keep yourself in check-- if it's all the same area, make sure resources could all be garnered from the same places (eg, don't have 500 different types of wood in a medieval scene where you only show one type of tree, don't have items that don't exist on the continent or in the time period), make sure the archetecture is similar unless there's an effect you're going for (eg a bunch of huge skyscrapers with a lonely little farm house inbetween them)...

    But I digress, a little planning that you can compare to further down the line couldn't hurt.
  • Jack M.
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    Jack M. polycounter lvl 5
    Thanks for the comprehensive response. I think my planning may very well be the core of the problem. I'll definitely be taking your suggestions to heart, and I'll be changing my workflow to facilitate better planning in the beginning before jumping into a 3d app.
  • lotet
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    lotet quad damage
    Do actual design, or rather, create or at least have a style guide.
    find and analyze the shape-language of a certain style. like what type of curves do people usually use in Sci-fi, what colors, what materials, what patterns?
    start thinking about these things and every time you see a design you like, look at it and analyze it.

    art direction is about rules, put as many of them as you can on yourslef.
    ex, I can only use these 5 materials, and these 3 main colors, only use certain shapes and so on.

    good luck and I hope this was usefull!
  • Deathstick
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    Deathstick polycounter lvl 4
    ^^What everyone else is saying.

    Art direction and cohesion is about making an established rule set and sticking to it. A really simple way to look at it is how corporations use the same sets of logos, brand colors, and typefaces and apply that to all of their documents/videos/print/websites/etc. such as something like "Whenever there is a quote use all caps using the "DIN OT" bold font in black, use the 3 color logo on white backgrounds and on any background that is colored use the inverted all-white logo" - basically establishing stuff like that.

    3D wise it's more what types of shapes are you using, are you repeating any structural motifs like repetition, blatant symmetry, asymmetry, are the doors rounded at the edges or are they perfectly angular, is the wall straight or is it curvy, are items like food realistic proportions or are we dealing with giant turkeys of impending gluttonous doom.

    How you handle creating your textures and post-processing will of course have a huge effect on it as well. (Notice retro sci-fi tends to go with subtle noise grain filters, hyper-reality/dream like tends to use color saturation at higher levels and an exaggerated bloom, JJ Abrams lens flare the camera to hell, depressing military tends to use a lot of browns, Bioshock used a rich vibrant color pallet contrasting with dark silhouetted and dramatic shadows, the Vanishing of Ethan Carter is about photo-realism etc.

    Basically visual motifs. Just think about how you can basically tell immediately whether something was done by Tim Burton or not, even if it's not stop motion.

    As an added note, art direction also can extend out to the actual areas of gameplay. I can not think of playing a Half-life game without some sort of train station for example. Half-life 1 had a whole lot of tram stations and sequences, Half-life 2 you arrive on a train and drive along it's tracks outside City 17, Episode 1 the end destination is a train to depart the area, Episode 2 starts off in a crashed train and involved going underneath a train and mine shaft tunnel system...

    Come to think of it someone at Valve really likes trains. steam... valve...... Half-life 3 confirmed!
  • DWalker
    One thing I like to do is have a separate Photoshop file that contains common colors & elements for a given project - or part of a project.

    When I'm working on WWII aircraft, for example, I have a file that contains color swatches for each country, and another with common insignia and even notes on proper fonts. It saves time, and I know that the aircraft will match even if they are created months apart. (Aircraft let me go a bit farther - I actually have a MAX file of common airfoils. :P)

    As far as not getting distracted and wandering off to a new or different project, that's really a matter of self-discipline, and I can say from personal experience that professional artists are not immune to the siren song of working on something new & different.

    Planning does help, even to the point of setting schedules for personal projects. Try to determine ahead of time how long you have for a piece, and then break it down to time spent on the concept/block-out, modelling, texturing, and exporting/importing. One of the biggest differences between junior & senior artists isn't skill, but efficiency; I've known artists who can crank out models in a day that would take lesser mortals a week or more.

    A personal problem I have is knowing when to stop looking for additional references and adding details that nobody will ever even see. Being able to see the objects in-game helps, or, failing that, setting up a camera that closely approximates the game's camera.
  • Chimp
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    Chimp interpolator
    During prototyping we establish a basic visual style through the production of lots of, well, prototype assets and shaders exploring and demonstrating the ideas for the visual style. As the visual style starts to emerge we begin to focus in on it and at some point it gets soft-locked.

    Then, later when we enter pre-production we create a number of high quality test scenes, these will demonstrate the visual style in all of its variety as best as possible - these will become the art bible that are worked from during production.
    These scenes will generally be reiterated 20-30 during pre-production until the visual style is perfected. During that process, shaders are improved and the art is improved, but its generally further in the direction initially set by the prototype. Once it is perfected and pre-production ends, lock in the visual style.

    Finally during production lots of assets are created to the visual template of the test scenes made during pre-production.

    That all said, things do change during development, I've overhauled things mid-production before - I don't recommend it but these things happen. But yeah, thats the general process.
  • Jack M.
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    Jack M. polycounter lvl 5
    Thanks for all of this incredibly valuable information. I'll definitely be analyzing my previous works to pin down the issue... but I think the issue stems from a lack of restriction on myself (time limit, etc), proper analysis of the concepts I use (finding the shapes and analyzing the design to find the style and guidelines of the scene), and most of all I really just haven't been making up stories for my environments so a lot of the design decisions I've made have little logical connection to their outcomes.

    Thanks again everyone. All of your explanations has helped me a lot in seeing what I'm doing wrong.
  • marks
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    marks polycounter lvl 10
    With extreme difficulty, lol
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