Parallaxing Background

I recently submitted an entry into Stoic’s Banner Saga 2 open-art-test. the assignment was to make a several layered piece that could theoretically capture the look and mood of the game while also functioning as an in-game asset. I didn’t make the cut but I’m still happy with the result. A parallax effect is the thing you noticed as a kid in the back seat of the car. Stuff close up zips by while stuff further away appears to move very slowly. The same effect can be used in 2d animation to help achieve the illusion of depth. With that in mind, I tackled this piece as a chance to add a great deal of depth to a Banner Saga style landscape.

Stoic did a very good job of laying down the ground rules for the contest. They provided a sample scene they would like to see (mostly a value study with the desired dimensions). A caravan to plop in the scene. And a “.psd” of a finished scene to get an idea of the desired level of detail. They also provided a list of references they used when they created the style of Banner Saga. Eyvind Earle, the background artist from sleeping beauty and many other amazing examples of illustration was one of their primary influences.

The Rough Sample:


The Caravan:


The Photoshop Document:


The Eyvind Reference (I used for color palette):

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 1.12.46 PM

That’s one bomb-ass sky…

So essentially I had a ton of information to help drive a 21 hour painting spree spread out over a couple days.

How that went:

I probably spent more time on the back layers than I needed to but the part of my brain that spent time wandering around mountains wanted me to get them just-right. I wanted to make a scene that spoke about “Aftermath”. In the first game, Mankind and Varlkind are on the run from the Dredge, a nearly-indestructible force of nature from another world. I wanted this scene to speak to the hopelessness of the situation. A long-hall lies in ruins surrounded by hastily built fortifications for a Dredge raid that could not be stopped. A recurring landmark in the game are god stones. Essentially, they’re shrines that payed tribute to gods before they all died… mysteriously. I wanted this scene to tell the story of a town that did things the very-wrong way. The god stone was carved away by the townsfolk into a Dredge-head to try and appease the invaders… and now it’s a ruin covered in snow.

The piece layer by layer:

One thing you don’t see a ton of in the first Banner Saga is water, I wanted to harken back to good ol’ viking style boat-stuff with a nice sized lake. I also pulled some mountain reference from Ft. Davis.


Then I wanted some decently sized mountains for the Caravan to traverse so I pulled some mountain reference from Utah.


Next I wanted to have trees but not as much as the low-land banner saga lanscape, this was high up and a pretty good vantage point that got pillaged by the dredge. A less dense wood means it’s much less safe this high up, I wanted to instill a sense of “oh-crap, we might be screwed”.


Here I wanted the scale of the ruined god stone to dwarf the caravan. The town needed to look like it went through a lot of wasted effort to appease the Dredge. I also implied a lone survivor with the lit yurt on the left. I think it would be neat to allow for a possible spooky conversation.


This layer is actually three glued together. The caravan and the layers in front and directly behind them. I combined them here because in game they would all shift together and it’ll make the trick I do later a bit easier to pull off. I wanted the less detailed trees in the background to be given a sense of scale with these mid-ground trees. These need to be some serious-business mountains with some serious-business trees.


Then I wanted to sparse up the front layers. This first one is pretty bare compared to the rest of them just so you can see most of the detail as you look through the landscape.


Then the most sparse but closest to your face layer.


What it looks like parallaxing:

Bonus Ubin doodle!

Seriously, you're so short. I can hardly see you.

Seriously, you’re so short. I can hardly see you.