Three Cool Art Tricks I Learnt From Films, TV And/Or Computer Games

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You’d be surprised at how many artistic techniques you can learn from “new” mediums like film (or TV) and games. After all, an individual frame from both of these things still has to obey the same “rules” that ordinary two-dimensional works of art do. After all, all of these things can be displayed on a flat, two-dimensional computer screen – even if the image itself might appear to be three-dimensional.

So, here are three cool art tricks that I learnt from films, TV and/or computer games:

1) Perspective tricks:
One technique I have been experimenting with recently is similar to a technique used in films (and photography) in order to give an image a sense of depth. In films and TV shows, the camera lens will sometimes focus sharply on the foreground which leaves the background looking significantly blurrier and less detailed.

Likewise, some 3D computer games use a similar version of this technique – albeit for different reasons. By only using detailed textures for the foreground and using lower-resolution textures for areas further away from the player, not only do games create a subtler version of this effect but they can also reduce the amount of time and processing power required to “draw” whatever is on the screen at any moment.

When you’re making art, this technique can be re-created using either traditional or digital methods. Of course, you can also combine these two methods if you want the effect to stand out even more.

To do this entirely traditionally, just use a precise drawing-based medium (eg: waterproof ink pens, ordinary pens, pencils, thin markers etc..) to add detail to the foreground and then use paints or pastels exclusively for details in the background.

Here’s a cropped, but otherwise unprocessed, scan of one of my upcoming paintings that shows how this technique can work when trying to portray a smog-covered landscape:

This is an example of the "traditional" version of this technique. As you can see, the foreground details have been drawn using waterproof ink, but the distant background consists of nothing but watercolour.

This is an example of the “traditional” version of this technique. As you can see, the foreground details have been drawn using waterproof ink, but the distant background consists of nothing but watercolour.

To do this digitally, scan or digitally photograph your artwork and then use an image editing program (you can find a free open-source one called “GIMP” here) to select the background. To do this, find your program’s selection tool (in GIMP, it’s called the “Free select tool” and it’s icon looks like a grey lasso) and then use it to draw around the area of your picture that is in the background.

Once you’ve done this, then just apply a few image effects to the background in order to make it look more blurry and/or undetailed. Although these effects vary from program to program, you’ll probably be able to experiment (just remember to save backups and to use the “undo” function) until you get it right. Likewise, you can also select the foreground and apply a few effects to make it look sharper too. Like in this reduced-size preview of one of my other upcoming paintings:

You can just about see the technique in this reduced-size preview of a painting that will appear here on the 15th of July.

You can just about see the technique in this reduced-size preview of a painting that will appear here on the 15th of July.

After my usual digital editing routine in an old editing program called “Paint Shop Pro 6” (with some small corrections in MS Paint too), I selected the buildings in the distant background and added a “dilate” effect, before severely reducing the highlight/midtone/shadow levels in this part of the image.

Then, for good measure, I selected the pillar and computer screens in the close foreground and added a subtle “sharpen” effect to make them look like they were closer to the viewer.

2) Framing and composition: I’ve discussed this technique before, but one cool technique that was used by pixel artists in old “point and click” games was to “frame” the picture by including a few close-up details in the near foreground.

Usually, these close details would be near the edges or the corners of the picture and they instantly add a sense of depth and visual drama to the picture (as if the camera is “lurking” somewhere in the distance).

Back in the old days, when backgrounds in adventure games (and survival horror games) were pre-rendered 2D images (in order to save processing power and make the game look more realistic than it actually is) this compositional technique also allowed a totally static background to appear more three-dimensional. But, although art doesn’t really require much “processing power”, the technique can still be used to great effect.

Here’s a modified version of the preview picture I showed you earlier, where I’ve highlighted how I used this technique (albeit in a slightly less prominent way than in old games):

As you can see, the screens, poster and pillar in the close foreground "frame" the rest of the picture.

As you can see, the screens, poster and pillar in the close foreground “frame” the rest of the picture.

3) Visual storytelling: Since computer games, TV shows and films are storytelling mediums that rely on constant motion (eg: even if nothing is happening on screen – 24-60 frames are being shown every second), they tend to include a lot more motion and drama than “traditional” art sometimes can.

Likewise, since films and games need to tell a story within a relatively short space of time, they often have to rely on visual storytelling. This is where you use actions and background details to hint at the fact that something has happened or that something is happening.

So, if you see your drawings or paintings as being a single “frame” from a film or a game, then this will encourage you to use these techniques. It will make you think of your picture as part of a much larger story. This will, of course, add some extra drama and visual interest to your art – even if you do it in a fairly subtle way. Take another look at the preview image I’ve shown you before:

There's a lot more storytelling in this picture than you might think...

There’s a lot more storytelling in this picture than you might think…

You can see that the picture is set in the distant future due to the relatively modern computer monitors displayed in the window of an antique shop. Giant advertising screens tower over the picture, giving some hint that this is a dystopian future.

In the foreground, a woman stares at something inside the shop with nervous excitement. Behind her, a man walks past – talking on an old-fashioned mobile phone. Further away, another man smokes a cigarette and looks at something in the direction of the audience, his expression masked by futuristic sunglasses. Another man, to the left of him, does exactly the same.

Even though all of this stuff is fairly subtle and there isn’t really much “action” in this picture – it still hints at some kind of story. It still looks a little bit like it could be an individual frame from a film or a computer game.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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