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:

sample_rough

The Caravan:

caravan

The Photoshop Document:

sample_close_travel

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.

Layer7

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

Layer6

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”.

Layer5

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.

Layer4

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.

Layer3

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.

Layer2

Then the most sparse but closest to your face layer.

Layer1

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.

The Art Test

When applying to a company that is looking for artistic talent, there is a relatively predictable series of events that take place. As a job seeker the first step is to send in a custom-tailored application and resume. A candidate’s best bet is to apply to companies that list open positions but in the creative world, it’s always a gamble. Employers may be seeking a very specific style which can lead to subjective requirements for the position that are out of a candidate’s control, or they could be very particular about the statistics on a resumé. Maybe a candidate is perfect in almost every skill category but doesn’t have enough experience in a category that the employer finds crucial. The best thing to do at this stage is to wait and find ways to not get worked up about your application (maybe get a hobby… ever tried model making?)

Wait two weeks, if the employer has already contacted you, GREAT! you’re most likely near the top of the resume stack. If they haven’t reached out to you, don’t worry. There are any number of factors that could be delaying the process (too many candidates, they actually forgot, sudden plagues). The bottom line is to wait. SERIOUSLY, despite how desperately you want to work for the company, how happy having a full time job would make you, or how eager you are to put art in front of eyeballs. YOU. MUST. WAIT. Employers and recruiters make split-second judgement calls all the time. If you contact them the day after you apply, not only do you seem uncomfortably energetic, you’ve also become “the-annoying-one”. After two weeks, and ONLY AFTER TWO WEEKS, it’s a good time to send a single follow up email to remind them that you exist. One of three things may happen. 1: You hear nothing (the worst option for your mental health) the application becomes a thorn that digs into the back of your brain. Hearing nothing leads to the dark-side but it’s a reality of looking for work in the internet-age. Ain’t nobody got time for that, there are other companies looking for applicants. 2: They get back to you but you’re not the right candidate for the position. If this happens, THANK THEM, they spent time and brain power on you and that should always be appreciated. 3: They bring you the good news, most often this comes in the form of the employer asking you to take an “art test”. GREAT! This is a creative candidate’s gateway to possible employment.

The most important aspect of the art test to the employer is to make sure a candidate can fulfill or exceed the expectations of the position. Conversely, the most important aspect for the applicant is to take the opportunity to learn as much as you can about the company and about what they want you to produce because this sort of thing is exactly what you’ll be doing if you land the job. Art tests will often have a prompt, size requirements, and a deadline (which you should plan on beating). You should always try to ask questions about specifics, what references should you be looking at, what is this building for, why do the Blargy-blargs want to kill the Meep-morks? Put in the initial effort to make sure your art test is telling the story the company is trying to tell. THEN get to work. Think about every aspect of the work as you make it. In front of the dull glow of the computer screen the candidate began to rant, “Why am I making this blue? Is green better? Green is my favorite color, but blue fits the narrative better… BLUE. NO, GREEN!” (the correct answer is blue, duh). You should be your harshest critic. There’s an old saying my dad always says, “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Till your good is better and your better is best.” Despite being a remarkably dad-like thing to say, it’s damn good advice. Because, if you’re not always trying to give people your best effort, you should find something else to do. People are really, really good at noticing if you enjoy your work and companies are full of people that intimately know how and why people make art… so don’t half-ass anything.

Even if you’ve given your best effort and done all of the above down to the letter, it’s still extremely possible that you don’t get the job. The art test round can have anywhere from 2 to 20+ candidates depending on the size of the company. Maybe it should’ve been green, maybe someone else just nailed the expressions or mood better. Regardless, you’ve just kicked butt on making some art that made you a better artist. Typically, you won’t get feedback. But sometimes they do get back to you with critique, these are the best-of-the-best people and they definitely deserve a thank you. OR, you got an interview! OH MY GOOD GRAVY, YOU GOT AN INTERVIEW! Either way, you’ve improved and that’s definitely better than not having applied at all.

Some Art Test art:

Dogs

Dogs are pretty sweet guys. Loyal, playful, a tiny bit terrifying. I’ve found that our new dog satisfies all three categories quite comfortably.

Here’s a drawing dedicated to our new dog Indiana that I might elaborate on later:

GOODBOY

Dungeons & Dragons

Pencil and paper role playing games are (in my opinion) the best and most satisfying games to play around. I’m not trying to ruffle fan-boy feathers. Console, PC, and mobile games all have great examples of satisfying game play. But nothing can top the adaptability of a real-life human Dungeon Master (DM) for creative players.

No game on the market today accounts for players going outside of a level’s design. When most unplanned player behavior in video games become known as “Exploits” or “bugs”, outside-of-the-box thinking in a table top game can be rewarded or punished on the spot by a DM. A “good” DM is flexible enough to take a players idea to a logical conclusion. Example: I throw my torch at a creature I covered in flammable material, Result: the creature lights on fire (for extra damage) or explodes (on a really good roll). Another example: During a fight, I throw and climb a rope to a higher platform that an enemy creature has fortified. Result: the enemy cuts the rope off of the platform causing my character attempt to recover gracefully or receive bunch of fall damage (on a poor roll).

The goal, when making a world for players to venture through, is to keep things open-ended enough for players to make meaningful choices. You’re job is to supply the obstacles, rewards, the terrain, etc. In general, a DM is a supplier of nouns-of-adventure where players choose which verbs they want to apply to those nouns. The key to all of table-top fun is in the player’s ability to choose. Having a sense of agency through choice lets players attach to their characters, care about a narrative (even not-so-good ones), and seek closure. If you want to keep playing, never give players closure. Provided you don’t wear them out with bad pacing, they’ll want to keep playing indefinitely. I suppose it also helps if you act out battles, voice the characters, and make detailed drawings and miniatures…

Anywho… Here’s some art I’ve made for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign (4th edition):