Graphic Designs

Completion Date:

Environmental Concept Art

Concept digital artworks inspired by various briefs from a University assignment with the purpose of creating comprehensive themes

Software

Affinity Photo, Blender

This university project aimed to consider various themes and concepts related to castle designs, mixing environments and game-level props to create compelling world-building. The project involved generating concept artwork by initially sketching ideas in a physical notebook and transferring them into raster-based software like Affinity Photo for final digital renderings. The process of ideation and transforming concepts from the physical to the digital realm was left up to individual interpretation, offering a chance for creativity and experimentation. Blender was utilised to 3D model certain aspects of the artwork to aid with perspective, size, and shape. Additionally, the project encouraged using various mediums such as charcoal, watercolour, pen, crayon, and pencil sketches to facilitate quick and effective ideation.

Themes play a significant role in any form of media design as they help to communicate various world-building elements and create immersive designs. Fully exploring and ideating these themes can result in engaging and unique aspects that draw viewers into the piece. The design process can leverage themes to reimagine otherwise uninteresting or mundane elements and create compelling designs. In concept art, themes are fundamental as they provide a clear vision and a framework for shapes, colours, and other elements that make up the concept. As concept art aims to quickly and easily explore multiple themes and ideas to determine the final design, it is essential to understand how themes can impact the design process.

During this project, secondary goals included researching each brief, keeping written working journals of information gathered, and preparing small review presentations every fortnight for peer feedback. The concept art had to be designed in raster-based software with a standard digital resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. As the fortnightly presentations were the focal point of the assignment, project management software like Trello was not utilised for documenting progress. To ensure the quality of the artwork, it was recommended to research well-known and established designs for each brief topic and take inspiration for use in original concept art.

During the design phase, extensive research was conducted on the provided briefs to gather necessary information, including their history and interpretations. A range of strategies was employed to facilitate the research, including creating dot-pointed lists, using a thesaurus to identify associated words with the prompt, and sketching mind maps to organise the information and synonyms visually. For example, when designing the Death Cart Prop, the mind map featured initial branches of vehicles, death symbols, black death, and medieval, with child branches listing materials, objects, facts, places, and other associated concepts. With the thorough research and mapping complete, a high-concept paragraph was drafted to describe the idea, the chosen themes, and the emotions the final concept should embody. This approach helped clarify and focus the design process while ensuring the final concept was well-informed and thoughtfully developed.

After thorough topical research, the design process progressed to creating thumbnails and silhouettes. This progression aimed to generate thought-provoking and idea-giving concepts rapidly. Through physical drawings, many design elements, such as shapes, composition, and colours, could be explored in diverse combinations. Numerous alternative themes were tested and contemplated in the thumbnail sketches for the cheese castle design, ranging from a cactus castle to an ice cream castle and even an alarm clock castle. Notably, no silhouettes were drawn for this particular concept piece since it became evident that the cheese castle possessed a distinctive and captivating shape and outline, which ignited an exciting and dynamic design.

In the pre-selection phase of idea development, a preliminary version is designed to simulate the final concept art's potential appearance. This involves experimenting with various physical mediums, such as coloured pens, watercolours, and charcoal, to evoke diverse atmospheres and styles with minimal detailed effort. For the cheese castle design, pen illustrations were used to achieve a cartoon aesthetic, and four different designs were explored, including cactus variations. In the case of the alien wasteland concept, watercolours were utilised to create a landscape piece, as the medium allowed for broad, sweeping strokes that effectively captured the vast emptiness of the wasteland. While a more refined design for the Mayan snow concept was initially explored from a thumbnail sketch, the final concept emerged from another thumbnail piece. This shift occurred as the quick polished design revealed that the final piece would appear too simplistic.

... Cheese castle polished options with design choices
... Alien wasteland watercolour preliminary polished design
... Mayan snow watercolour polished alternate designed

The development of the final concept pieces started with the cheese castle, with the first step involved converting the refined thumbnail designs into a three-dimensional (3D) environment using Blender. By reconstructing the designs in a 3D space, it became easier and more efficient to reference perspective, as all castle elements could be accurately scaled and positioned relative to one another. Throughout this process, the design underwent a revision to enhance the composition. Notably, a castle tower initially placed in the background was brought to the forefront, while another tower was added to the left, providing the inner castle with greater depth. In addition to the established dairy theme, a picnic theme was introduced, symbolised by including the well-known red and white checkered blanket. This picnic pattern was incorporated into the 3D space, allowing the pattern to refract through the milk bottles, as it was intended to be a prominent feature in the final illustration.

... Original 3D layout of the Cheese Castle in Blender
... Revised 3D layout with picnic theme in Blender

Utilising the rendered layout from Blender as a reference for the illustration, the next step involved importing it into Affinity Photo. This provided a solid foundation for tracing the individual elements using the pen and shape tools. The design employed flat colours to achieve the desired visual style of an illustrative aesthetic. Although, real-life textures were overlaid on the colours to add variety and enhance material recognisability. This combination resulted in a fusion of stylised and realistic elements. To create the clouds in the sky, Affinity's procedural texture tool offered a convenient solution. Unique and realistic cloud formations could be generated effortlessly using the thin clouds preset. Applying a layer blend of screen to these clouds ensured a seamless integration with the blue sky. However, the milk bottles required additional attention to capture the correct lighting and convey a sense of three-dimensionality. Various gradients were applied, simulating the interplay of light and shadow on their surfaces. Layer effects such as bevel and 3D were also utilised to accentuate their 3D qualities. Although an initial attempt was made to incorporate the refraction of the picnic blanket in the milk bottles, it was determined that the complexity of that feature exceeded the project's scope. As a result, this particular element was omitted from the final design, allowing for a more focused and achievable outcome.

... Draft of the final Cheese Castle concept art in Affinity Photo

During a peer review session as part of the university assignment, valuable feedback highlighted areas for improvement in the castle design. It was evident that the influence of Disney sources, particularly in the pink rooftops, needed to be redesigned to create a more distinct and cohesive theme. Additionally, the design required a more substantial embodiment of its intended illustrated style. Oil pastels were employed to rapidly explore and visualise alternative window and roof designs to rectify these concerns. These concepts were then translated into Blender, accurately representing perspective and scale within the scene. The outcome was a transformation of the castle, aligning it more closely with the cheese and dairy theme, thus solidifying the world-building aspect. Notably, the rooftops were reconceptualised as cheese wedges, adding a whimsical touch to the overall composition. Inspired by the hobbit homes in The Lord of the Rings, wafer-like windows were incorporated, further enhancing the illustrated style. Integrating these unique elements, such as the cheese holes, brought the design to life and set a precedent for the other concept designs' level of detail and creativity. While the other concept art pieces did not undergo the same level of scrutiny, the solutions derived from the refinements made to the cheese castle design were applied to address challenges across the entire collection.

... Oil pastle designs for whimsical windows
... Oil pastle designs for cheese-based roofs
... Final 3D layout with cheese rooftops in Blender

Throughout the creation of the concept artwork, a cohesive style emerged, characterised by a blend of flat colours and subtle real-life textures. Using thumbnails aided in swiftly exploring shapes and compositions to communicate ideas. Furthermore, leveraging the capabilities of Blender to construct foundational 3D elements proved helpful in achieving accurate perspectives and realistic proportions. However, challenges were encountered during the creative process. In the alien arctic wasteland piece, the stars, despite appearing realistic in Affinity Photo, unfortunately, and unexpectedly, became distorted as large square pixels upon export. Additionally, implementing refraction in the glass of milk bottles was overly complex and ultimately abandoned. Within the Mayan in the snow artwork, the temples lacked depth and dimension, which could have been prevented by adopting the 3D technique employed in the cheese castle design. Similarly, the rocks within the alien wasteland piece appeared flat and would have benefited from additional layer effects to achieve a more rounded and realistic appearance. An additional area for improvement lies in the death cart prop. The size of the cart itself appeared too cubic, lacking the intended resemblance to a cart that a horse could pull. A lengthier size would have been more appropriate to enhance the design's authenticity.

Designing these concept art pieces presented valuable opportunities for growth and learning as they offered insights into the concept art process from physical to digital techniques. One of the lessons derived from this experience was the recognition that thumbnails and quick artwork do not necessitate perfection but rather serve as thought-provoking representations of potential scenes. Additionally, exploring Affinity Photo and its array of tools, including procedural textures and layer effects, resulted in further familiarity and proficiency with the software's capabilities. Through this project, a collection of concept artwork for various props was gathered throughout this process. This prop collection can be used as the groundwork for 3D props with minimal creative effort in future projects.

In future concept art of the same style, there is ample room for improvement, such as pushing the design elements of the holes in the cheese castle wall and integrating them further into other designs to enhance detail. Exploring alternative software options, such as Clip Studio, which enables the setup of 3D scenes or objects that can be directly referenced in the same program for 2D design, promises a more streamlined and efficient creative process. When using the same style, careful consideration should be given to balancing the use of real-life textures to create more depth into specific elements and yet restraint to prevent these textures from overpowering the effect of flat colours. Finally, integrating physical techniques into the digital space presents an opportunity for optimisation, reducing the time invested in physical mediums and scanning hand-drawn sketches, allowing for more focus on the design process itself. Overall, this project has allowed the exploration of traditional techniques that can now be used to enhance productivity in the digital workspace.

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