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New To Games, A New Vision

December 22, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

[In our second piece on the creation of Big Fish Games’ Drawn PC casual adventure game series, art director Brian Thompson explains how he married his personal artistic inspirations with his experience in and out of the game industry, while dealing with the unusual constraints of the projects. This follows our earlier piece on the design of the series by sr. producer Chris Campbell.]

When I first sat down to write this article, I was struck by how hard it was to encapsulate the art style of Drawn. Over the past three years, the Drawn team has worked to create a game experience that's visually different and full of wonder.

We saw a great opportunity to give players something that lived outside of the terms "core" or "casual" by focusing on creativity, art, and imagination.

Drawn has become an interactive storybook adventure, at times a dark and haunting fairytale and at others a romp through a vibrantly painted dream. But how did it all come about?

My background and how the unique artistic opportunities of casual games drew me in

As a kid, when I wasn't playing on the trails behind my house, daydreaming, or lost in the worlds of Sendak, Silverstein, and Seuss, I was sitting at the kitchen table drawing. My brother Todd and I would sit on opposite sides of huge sheets of paper my architect father would bring home from work.

We'd wage hand-drawn wars, scratching in fighter planes, tanks, and battalions of army men as the paper slowly blackened with tracer fire from our stubby No. 2 pencils. That blank slate of paper offered a magic wonderland of creativity where anything seemed possible. I was hooked.

Several years -- and reams of paper -- later, as an illustration student at Art Center College of Design, I heard Director Brad Bird speak about one of my all-time favorite animated films, The Iron Giant. Like him, I wanted to tell timeless stories set in fantastic worlds filled with rich characters, so I focused my time on drawing and painting, storyboarding, and character design.

After graduation, I found work as a concept artist, eventually working for several video game publishers. While I loved working on so many different projects, I didn't find the video game medium to be one in which I could tell the story I envisioned in my painted concepts.

That said, I also found plenty of inspiration in games like the amazingly beautiful Ico, the stylized genius of Okami, the scale and force of Shadow of the Colossus, and the intrinsic charm of LittleBigPlanet. I was inspired by their beauty, but unfortunately, was disenchanted by the tendency toward violence seen in the majority of contemporary video games.

When my wife and I welcomed our daughter into the world, it really clarified my priorities. At the time, I was lead concept artist on Surreal Software's Vegas title, and I decided I wanted to leave the core gaming world. I found myself at a crossroads and experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. How had I ended up as a video game artist? Was I really the same kid who sold his NES at 10 years old and hadn't owned a game console since?

As fate would have it, a fellow artist and friend of mine, Jeff Haynie, was working at Big Fish Games and got in touch with me. He was excited about doing illustration again and focusing on composing a scene, color design, and storytelling. The best part was that the paintings would go straight into the game just as they were, so he had full control over what the player was would see. When I was offered a full-time position as art director on a new intellectual property, I jumped at the chance to be in a position where I could really control the look and feel of an entire game.

A departure in art style

My goal with this new IP was to make a visually rich, fantastic, and immersive experience that gamers hadn't seen before. The subject matter, a game about a fairytale world in which the player interacted with the environment by taking magical photos, offered a prime opportunity to push a very stylized and whimsical look to the art.

For inspiration, I started looking at old background paintings from Disney classics like The Jungle Book, Bambi, Fantasia, and Bluth's The Secret of N.I.M.H., along with others like Tarzan and FernGulley: The Last Rainforest.

I wanted the shape language to be designed around curves -- a compositional style that I was formally introduced to by my background painting teacher at Art Center, Dominick Domingo, and which became a huge influence on my personal style. The Spanish artist Enrique Fernandez, best known for his version of The Wizard of Oz, also had a profound influence with his dynamic compositions and color sense.

The first image that I produced for the project was The Enchanted Forest, a piece that embodied the colorful, whimsical feel that I wanted to see throughout the game. The image was met with concern from some and cautious interest from others. As most of you know, change is often met with skepticism and it is rare that publishers will go out on a limb to try something new.

This is where the unique world of casual games really shines. The inherently smaller teams, lower overall budgets, and faster production cycles make taking chances a little less frightening. It wasn't easy to convince people that this style would appeal to Big Fish Games customers, who were used to photo-realistic puzzle-adventure games like our flagship titles, Mystery Case Files and Hidden Expedition.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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