Saturday, December 8, 2012

Process Journal: a Havencall Scene

So it may be a little late, but here's my second process journal/art walk-through! I will be going through the steps of creating a scene for Havencall, our point-and-click adventure game. As usual, the tools used are Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. Here's the scene I'll be talking about (click to enlarge):
As you can hopefully tell, this place is pretty ravaged and resource-hungry. Those mountains on the right are active volcanoes, too. It's not a very fun place to live.

Please note that many of the images in this post are scaled down significantly, since the actual game version is really huge! So you can definitely look forward to higher resolution than this in the actual game.

Also note that the sky for this scene is not final, as it will eventually be a dynamic, animated sky that can be clear or stormy. And no that's not just to look cool - it's actually part of the gameplay! ;)

Disclaimers aside, let's jump in!

First, I drew this quick, pretty crummy sketch:
But, I just wasn't feeling this. It was too flat, too boring, too impact-less (yes that's a word now). So I set this scene aside for a while and worked on other stuff. When I came back to it, I had read and been inspired by Brandon Sanderson's "The Way of Kings"(as described in my last post). I also looked for some image reference, and was inspired by this image in particular. Here's the new sketch for the landscape that I came up with:
Now I felt like I had something exciting to work with! I started by making a quick, simple color test with a huge, soft brush, working zoomed out at 25%. Here I'm just focusing on getting the right combination of colors to set the mood for the scene:
Then I switched to a hard brush (with opacity controlled by pen pressure), zoomed in a bit (to 50 or 66%) and started defining the shapes of these (fire) mountains and some of the plateaus:
Also added more colors and definition to the ice mountains at this point, on the other side of the scene:
Getting the fire mountains to a similar level of color complexity:
It's great adding cold colors to something that's meant to have an overall warm feeling, or vice versa...but it's not good to overdo it, or things can start looking messy. The full scene at this point:
Now I'm jumping into some details. Working at 100% with a small hard brush, I define the edges/cracks of the plateaus. I'm working on making the scene readable without the sketch lines, so I'm always turning the sketch on and off at this point, to see if it still makes sense with the sketch off:
Notice that I'm a pretty lazy artist - while traditional painting would dictate that I should make these shapes read well without using lines to define edges...I'm kinda ignoring that rule...:P

More detailed plateaus, more color in the mid-ground, as well as another layer of very blue, far away mountains:
Now I did some detailing on the mid-ground and finished up shading/details on all the plateaus. At this point I felt like the background was acceptable for the time being (or maybe I was just tired of drawing mountains?), and decided to move to the foreground:
A bunch more cracks and some color variation in the foreground:
As you can see, I also went back and fixed up the mountains a bit. The ice mountains in particular needed some love!

Now, it was time to put some stuff on the foreground plateau. After a little visual research (like this and this), I sketched out a house design:
Then, I placed this sketch around the scene, to figure out what the scaling should be like. Here are a few screenshots of me fooling with the scaling as compared to the character height:

Now that I had scaling figured out, I made each of the buildings unique and fixed up the perspective a bit:
And this is another example of what a lazy artist I am: a perspective grid could have been really useful here. But instead, I'm just eyeballing it. Don't do that. Make a quick perspective grid for each house! Have vanishing points! Be disciplined. It will look better. Don't be like me! :P
After slapping down some basic color and shading on the houses, I decided there were too many, so I got rid of the one on the far right. This is also the part where I get very depressed because the houses look awful compared to the rest of the scene. But then I remember that the rest of the scene looked like that at one point, too, so I keep forging ahead...

A lot of fixing of my architecture and perspective, some cast shadows on the ground, and some detailing on the closest house. Also roughed in some shapes for trees and bushes:

Note: Plants tend to clump, not spread out evenly. They like to stick together.
Now it's getting pretty close to done! I've added some details to the plants, more house details, and a few props. Some color tweaking, and we get the final image:

And here are some close-ups so you can actually see the details a bit:

Well, that's the end! But for us this is actually just the beginning of getting this scene to come to life. For the in-game version I'll be adding a bunch of animations (door cloths flapping and treetops moving in the wind, tumbleweeds blowing across the plateau, etc.), as well as animated NPC characters Aura will be able to interact with. I'd better get back to work! :)


Tuesday, December 4, 2012


So, a lot has happened since my last blog post! But instead of writing a long, blocky, overly detailed post about everything, I am simply going to list some of the events in no particular order:

  • David and I completely re-designed the Havencall website, complete with scrolling water caustics and everything! And no, those aren't just to look pretty - water actually plays a big role in the Havencall story. /mysteriousteaser :P
  • We bought the Amnesia Fortnight prototype bundle. As game devs ourselves, it's been really interesting watching their videos and getting an insider view of what development is like at Double Fine! If you haven't gotten it, I recommend it! It's pay what you want, and these prototypes look like they're going to be awesome!
  • In a fit of insanity/overconfidence, I decided to make an epic Mayan pyramid cake for my mother-in-law's "end of the world" party on Dec. 21st. If I'm lucky, it will end up looking something like this. We'll have to see how mine actually turns out. I'll post some pictures here when it's done!
  • My cats were even cuter than normal, and actually "cuddled" a little (this is very rare for them!):
  • David wrote some really interesting articles on his blog and Gamasutra, including this one about the "dark side" of game development and how to deal with some of the pitfalls and discouraging parts of making games.
  • I read a huge tome of a fantasy novel, Brandon Sanderson's "The Way of Kings", and was awed by the brilliance of it. It is truly awesome. And this is coming from a die-hard Tolkien-ite and fantasy reader, so he has a lot to compete with. But Sanderson has created a truly unique, vibrant world that it  is so exciting to get caught up in!
  • I was so intrigued by The Way of Kings that it inspired my latest Havencall scene. This scene is largely a dry, desolate wasteland, much like the shattered plains of Sanderson's book. So I decided to make much of the scene a series of stony plateaus, rather than a simple, flat desert type landscape that I was originally considering.
  • I'm actually keeping a record of my progress on this wasteland scene (wow!), so I should have another process journal post up here very soon (read: by the end of the week)! Here's a teaser work-in-progress clip of that scene (click for full size):


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Process Journal: Drawing a Dream-scene

This scene... one of the first drawings I made for Havencall, so I really wanted to get the atmosphere of the game right. The scene being portrayed here is within Aura's dream, so it needed to be a little surreal and magical. But this place is also more than just a dream - it is a world of mystery and wonder - a place Aura is earnestly searching for. Here are some of my notes on the process of making this piece. Tools: Photoshop + tablet.

As usual, I start with a few thumbnails to find the right layout. All I knew for certain at this point was that I wanted the landscape to be rough and jagged, and I wanted the sunrise to be a central focus.
I figured leaving the valley more open, as in the second thumb, was a better idea, giving the light from the sunrise a long unbroken "aisle" to shine down, for added drama.

 Enlarged the second thumb and added some detail to the mountains. As you can see, up until this point I'm just using a round hard brush with the opacity controlled by pen pressure.
 Refining the shapes and values. Now I'm using my favorite photoshop brush...which is a secret! maybe you can guess it though...:P. I also have opacity controlled by pen pressure again. I decided to have the clouds come in at this somewhat unusual angle, for drama and to convey the "otherworldliness" going on here.
 Now I've added the two figures in the picture. I actually spent quite a while here experimenting with different positions/poses for Aura (unfortunately those didn't get saved). I had her floating, full body, in a couple different poses, but neither of them seemed right. It made her feel too far away, disconnected from the viewer and felt awkward because she seemed to be part of the overall picture but really shouldn't be. In the end, all these problems were solved by placing her much closer to the viewer, as if we are looking over her shoulder.
 Here I've added the first bits of color using a blending mode. Again going along with the dream/surreal theme, I wanted the colors to be extremely vibrant and almost unnatural. At this point, it's a little extreme though...
 Refined the colors in the sky and the cloud formations. At this point I also enlarged my canvas a bit, and you can see some of Aura's different layers.
 Here I flipped the canvas, because I felt that being drawn into the picture by Aura from the left would be more natural for us left-to-right readers. I also did some touch ups to Aura's hair and clothing. It's fully colored now, but that valley needs some serious work...
After a lot of painstaking tiny tree painting, it's nearly complete. Just a few final touches like the river, mist and sun rays left:
EDIT: recently, my awesome hubby showed me how to make this scene read better by adding a nifty post-processing effect of his creation:
More dramatic, right? Now on to the next hundred Havencall scenes. I'm not even exaggerating.

...well maybe a little. :P

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, and check out my other work here!


Monday, October 15, 2012


Welcome to my blog!

I'm an artist at Fancy Fish Games, a new independent games studio. My husband David Maletz and I have been making games for a long time, so we finally decided to get together with some of our talented friends and make an official studio. Our first game as Fancy Fish will be Havencall, which was recently announced via David's blog, The Legend of GameDev.

Anyways, This blog is where I'll post updates on my artwork and projects (hopefully pretty often), fun stuff I felt like sharing (once in a while), and perhaps a rant or two about things that make me really excited or really angry (hopefully not very often).

So stay tuned! You can also follow me on twitter: nataliedmaletz. And as a parting gift, here's a picture of one of my two cats, Dinah: