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October 19, 2019
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What Happens When Game Artists Design a Mural

by Tudor Morris on 04/18/19 11:33:00 am   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

While 99% of the time we’re making games, every now and again an opportunity presents itself to use our games art skills for something extraordinary. In February 2018 an ensemble cast of our artists partnered with Momentum Children’s Charity and took on the challenge of renovating a hospital room at St Peter's Hospital in Chertsey. The process of designing a mural to the exact measurements of a room can be a pretty technical process—especially when game artists are involved.

We have a fantastic in-studio initiative at Mediatonic, PDT (Personal Development Time), where we are actively encouraged (as it says on the tin) to develop our personal skills in some way, be that learning new software, testing out new techniques, or simply working on personal projects to develop skills in a certain area.

I wanted to use this time to bring people together as a group to work on a collaborative project and thought Momentum Children’s Charity hospital mural project would be a great fit! Before joining Mediatonic I had done a variety of these room projects and they always stuck in my mind as some of the most enjoyable things I had ever worked on.

Working locally in South West London, Surrey and Sussex, they support families whose children have cancer or a life-challenging condition. They offer tailored practical and emotional help to the entire family, through a unique support programme both at home and in hospital, which includes therapy services, counselling, holidays, experiences and children’s ward refurbishments.

Hospital renovation and improving the healing environment is one of the core principles of the charity's work—they aim to make hospital visits less intimidating for small children.

The Process

Momentum have a wishlist of rooms that need attention, and we settled on an oncology washroom at St Peter's Hospital. It’s a purpose built room used by children undergoing chemotherapy, and unlike an isolation room, it’s more general purpose and so we’d have the opportunity to make an impact on even more children.

The existing themes on the ward were largely nautical, featuring pirates and tropical islands etc., so we decided that an underwater coral theme would be a great fit. We were really happy with this as there's such a rich tapestry of illustration potential to tap into when doing underwater scenes. Coral reefs would allow us to create something really vibrant and full of life.

Here's what the room looks like as of November 2018:

In mid-November 2018, just after a break from our Mediatonic #Inktober challenge, I briefed the project team and the volunteers started rolling in. Once we had numbers confirmed it was easy enough to schedule out the workload of the steps that I knew that we would need to go through (from having done a few of these projects before). We broke everything down into a series of weekly "homework" tasks for everyone and every Wednesday we met up for PDT at 4pm to share the images we'd found/made from the week before and steer the whole thing towards the horizon.

We kicked things off with a "carte blanche" anything goes ideas generation sketching stage where everyone came up with ten rough sketches or a mix of painted up illustrations to the underwater theme. There was an example focus on finding things like funny fish shapes, small underwater scenes, interesting coral formations, amusing fish puns (brill-iant ones that are eely funny), it was all about getting a wide range of visual talking points for us to discuss and iterate upon in our next meeting.

Our next week we split the team up into foreground/background artists and continued on developing sketches with a little more focus based on images shared and collaborative feedback rounds that we'd had the week before.

The foreground artists focused on character elements—little "narrative" scenes and interactions between sea-life that could make up interesting visual points of focus in the room, and the background artists focused on the huge variety of interesting rock and coral formations and colours that we'd use to bring further life to the scene.

Once we had a series of little narratives set up we moved on to some style exploration. As every artist will naturally bring their own flair to the project it was really important that the final project look in harmony with one another, which meant getting everyone on board with a "house style" for the room.

Discussions had been had about this, but it hadn't been a concern until this week when we really needed to knuckle down and get something together that we felt could be a successful approach for all the artwork. We picked one foreground and one background sketch from our second round and everyone went away and worked the sketch up to be their vision of the final artwork.

This was probably the most important thing that we did as it prompted a really rich discussion as to all the different directions that we could go in. From previous experience I was able to steer towards a style that I know would work on a technical level (as there are considerations to make when producing vector graphics for large scale printing), and I ended up working up one of Kate Price’s sketches to a final benchmark version that incorporated the best parts of everyone's style exploration as well as something that would translate faithfully to print.

Whilst I was working on the benchmark image the next task for the team was to create clean line art from the sketches. Working with vector for large scale print is very much a style that lends itself towards bold graphic shapes and colours, so although a lot of the sketches that we did have a fantastic kinetic energy and whimsical charm to them, that is not something that would work well when enlarged.

An example of our internal feedback - taking the line artwork from the benchmark image (left) and applying the same design sensibilities (line weight, action and purposeful direction) to bring the other assets together harmoniously.

The solution to this is to capture the energy of the sketch as much as possible with strong bold line art that has a calligraphic flow, variation of width and purposeful intent in the direction of action. Thankfully we have a few 2D animation specialists on the team who took to it like a duck to water, and were able to form really nice critique points to the other artists for whom colour or shape may be much stronger attributes. Everyone produced some fantastic results which gave a really clear idea of what the final image was going to look like.

By using reference photos and a scale wire diagram we received from the mural installers, we had basically a 2D unfolded map of the room. The prep for this mock up phase was where our real tech expertise as game designers came in. Our 3D artist Antoine Dekerle created a mock-up of the room, which our tech artist Dan Ocean (aptly named) turned into an interactive mock-up, giving us the ability to preview it on our phones as a 3D model!

Above: 2D line art mock layout of the room (flat layout). Below: Handheld VR mockup.

So we had a fantastic tool to show off our design idea to Momentum Children’s Charity, and let us give them a great idea of what the room would look like finished.

We had a very positive response from the charity and St Peter’s Hospital before both of our offices closed for the Christmas break, and the official signoff to carry on as planned once we got back (with no changes! That never happens!).

From there, everything got a shadow and highlight pass, which helps the whole scene look more dimensional and less like flat wallpaper. This wasn't exactly the most fun or artistic of the tasks, as there was quite a strict technical requirements for each of the artwork asset files that I'd broken out from the mock to use a "registration mark" so that the layers of shadow and highlight would align perfectly to the line art layer and the block colour layers. Special thanks to Amy, Sophie, Kate, Naim and Jing who really got to grips with my seemingly odd requests for how I was asking them to align all the layers, and managed to plough through all of the assets.

Using a registration mark on all assets ensured that multiple artists could work on these assets on different machines, and they’d always line up when combined together.

Whilst the team got through the shadow/highlight work I went through the style exploration images that we produced before Christmas in our third week. I took the tight line art and blocked in a series of colour passes on each asset, shifting through the hue spectrum as one thing that was very clear from all the style work that we did - this was going to be one colourful room. As we had those registration marks for alignment to the assets it was really easy then to take everyone's work and layer it together to create a final "asset sheet" which was a nice tidy layout of all the work that we'd produced for the room.

Asset sheet of all the characters with colour and shadow/highlight.

Based then on the mock image that we'd done for Momentum's approval it was then a relatively simple case of taking out the images in the mock and replacing them with the full colour versions from the asset sheets. Amy had a wonderful suggestion to shift the hue of the coral as it went around the room, so the final effect is very rainbow like (we do love a good rainbow here at Mediatonic).

Final room artwork as a full panorama.

The last tweaks made were some overall colour adjustments on the sea water which we shifted from blue to a less saturated turquoise to help the coral and character assets stand out. In "denser" areas where there was a lot of busy coral going on we put some faded out gradients between the background and the character assets to pull them forward and to make sure they don't get missed in the room.

Part of the fun of these rooms is seeing something new every time you go in them and that was definitely a consideration with how everything was placed across a variety of heights from floor to ceiling.

Final room artwork with room wire diagram overlay and call out images including a baby Kraken, a dolphin hidden behind the fold-down baby changing unit, a fish and a turtle talking about sea life, the tickling octopus and a starfish enjoying its treasure.

Final 3D mock of the room with finished artwork!

Momentum were delighted with our final design and 3D mock up, asking for no alterations (it happened again!), so the files were prepped for print and sent off to the installers. They printed the design onto vinyl adhesive wallpaper, which works great because it’s very vibrant, and importantly in a hospital, can be wiped clean. The wallpaper is cut into drop sections corresponding to the wire diagram measurements and then put up from rolls in more or less the same way regular wallpaper is handled. And with that our work on the room was finished!

The Reveal

By mid-February we had the photos through that the installation had gone ahead and our artwork was a part of the hospital! So (at last) here are those AFTER photos:

Myself and some of the team members got a chance to visit recently, and got to share the experience of stepping into an environment of our own creation.

While we were there, we met with Sue Snaith, a Paediatric Oncology Nurse Specialist, who relayed some of the comments that the children had been making about the room - like how they were excited to go in there, and that every time they went in they always saw something new.

She said she looked forward to pointing children into the room who had last seen it in its “before” state, and then watching their faces light up when they opened the door. It was tremendous for everyone to hear directly about what a positive impact that the room had already made and it drove home why we embarked on this project in the first place.

This was a hugely collaborative project within the studio and was something immensely rewarding to work on. It's not just that it was something that brought artists from different teams in the studio together, but rather an opportunity to work on something that truly gives back. The team effort required to push this to the highest standards has really made me proud of everyone involved and I'm really happy that it was an experience that I could share with them.

Hospitals are an intimidating place, especially for young children who don't understand why they're there, and it’s a really important aspect of Momentum's work to enhance the healing environment. Of all of the projects that I've worked on with Momentum, this is a real standout one for me. Any parent who has had a child in hospital will tell you what an enormous difference efforts like this make: at those tough moments, finding something to interest your child—even for a few minutes—can be enough to distract them from their pain and upset, and that shift in mood can have a lasting effect.

Get Involved

So to wrap up then - if Momentum's cause has got your interest then you can find out more about them on their website:

https://www.moment-um.org/home/

And if you'd like to see more of the work that they've done in hospitals then you can see a really large variety of rooms that they've made happen here:

https://www.moment-um.org/how-we-help/hospital-refurbishments/

And if you think that sounds great and you'd like to do a bit of fundraising for them yourself then you can find out ways and ideas of doing that here:

https://www.moment-um.org/get-involved/

Check Out The Artists!

Everyone worked so hard at this that it seems unfair not to make any artist call outs for great work both in the development of, and in, the final image:

  1. Amy Pearson - for the guidance on colour and line art as well as such emotive characters
  2. Antoine Dekerle - for the 3D model for the mock
  3. Daniel Ocean - for bringing that 3D model to life with our artwork in the preview tool
  4. Daniel Hoang - for the style sketch that set the tone for the colour palette
  5. Gina Nelson - for the sketches and guidance during the early stages
  6. Gregor Kari - for really pushing the shapes on those fantastically wacky hat wearing fish
  7. Jing Tan - for all the seahorses and the hiding dolphin, as well as those (sadly unused) amazing mermaid illustrations
  8. Kate Price - for all the fantastic narrative sketches, especially the tickling octopus
  9. Naim Simeon - for those great "hospital fish" images, colour and texture exploration as well as making all those rocks look so solid
  10. Sam Geussens - for exploring the atlantis approach and style contribution in the early stages
  11. Sophie North - for the amazing artwork of all those little narratives, especially the shy hammerhead and the clown fish
  12. ...oh, and me! Tudor Morris

And a general well done to everyone involved for being able to work in a way that matched the style image so well that it looks like one artist made the whole piece, as well as the effort and intuition put towards conversations, feedback and a really positive bouncing around of ideas.


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