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From Ancient Greece To Halo: Art Tradition In Today's Games
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From Ancient Greece To Halo: Art Tradition In Today's Games

September 8, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

Back to Reality

To investigate the iconography of shapes in modern media we're better off looking towards the film industry where we find one of the purest examples in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Circular forms associated with the Hobbits and Hobbiton from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003), courtesy of New Line Cinema

At one extreme, there are the gentle, good-natured Hobbits represented by the circle. This primary shape is echoed throughout their design: in the details of their clothes, their rounded silhouettes and even the curl of their hair.

The circular concept also extends to the houses and landscape of Hobbiton. At every level of detail we find a repetition of this primary shape notably complemented by an appropriate use of earthy colors.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum we have evil Sauron whose primary shape is the triangle with its sharp point. The triangular concept is visible throughout his design and that of Mordor: from the volcano on the landscape, down to the spikes on his glove.

Here, too, suitable colours have been chosen to heighten his character.

Triangular forms associated with Sauron and Mordor from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003), courtesy of New Line Cinema

What we see here is that primary shapes are being interpreted on an emotional scale. The circle represents positive or dynamic energy whilst the sharp triangle is in polar opposition, representing negative or aggressive emotions.

Interestingly it wasn't a conscious decision to represent these characters iconographically, rather the designs evolved more naturally from common cultural references and Tolkien's original text.

Primary shapes in Pixar's Up; starting with the circle associated with Ellie to the increasingly angular forms of Edward, Charles Muntz and Alpha (2009), courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

Another great reference for the application of primary shapes is Pixar. With this film we can add a third shape to our iconographic scale of emotions: the square, as seen in the design of Edward. Traditionally straight lines symbolized strength and stability, so our square fits between the circle and triangle in the proposed scale of emotions. It's interesting to note that these traditional associations of stability have been reinterpreted slightly to also encompass an element of stubbornness in Edward's character.

Iconography of primary shapes is pervasive in all visually fields, as demonstrated here in automotive design.

Thanks to modern art such emerging principles have increased the breadth and complexity of our visual vocabulary. However the underlying philosophy originating with the Greeks remains: less is more. In this respect, primary shapes -- the circle, square and triangle -- are the simplest shapes with which to communicate emotions visually. Practically, they help artists see the complex world in simpler terms.

Primary shapes are more difficult to spot in a human face however an artist will more easily recognize them through methods of abstraction used to simplify complex forms. Me, Myself and Irene (2000), courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

From these examples it's easier to see that art is not as fragmented as the diverse amount of styles and artistic disciplines would lead us to believe. Even films such as LOTR and the abstract paintings of Kandinsky share common principles. Video games are no different, per se. Whilst character and environment designs will inadvertently share the same visual vocabulary as other media, we have the added element of interactivity to contend with. So what are the unique considerations for video game artists?

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

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