Another Cool Thing Computer And Video Games Can Teach Artists

Well, although I’ve written about how playing computer and video games can be a useful educational experience for artists at least a few times before, I was recently reminded of yet another way that they can be useful when it comes to learning about making art.

One of the cool things about being slightly behind with gaming (originally by circumstance and now partially by choice) is that I’ve played quite a few older games from the 1990s and early-mid 2000s. One of the interesting things about older games, especially games with 3D graphics, is that they couldn’t be “100% realistic”.

In fact, due to the technology of the time, they sometimes couldn’t even be 50% “realistic”. Here are a few screenshots to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from “Resident Evil – Director’s Cut” from 1997. Notice how the static pre-painted background contrasts with the more polygonal 3D character models.

This is a screenshot from “Alone In The Dark”, an early 3D game from 1992 (and something of an inspiration for “Resident Evil”). Notice how the 3D graphics look incredibly primitive and cartoonish.

This is a screenshot from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” from 2004. The 3D graphics look a bit more realistic, but are still very noticeably computer graphics.

So, why have I mentioned this and what does it have to do with art? Well, it’s because realism isn’t everything. Many of these old 3D games still manage to be dramatic and/or atmospheric because they aren’t photo-realistic. Because the art teams behind these games couldn’t rely on almost photo-realistic graphics to immerse the player into the game, they actually had to use all sorts of interesting artistic and design techniques instead.

For example, if you look at some of the screenshots, you’ll see that they use things like distinctive colour palettes, clever lighting choices, interesting character designs and cleverly-designed backgrounds in order to make everything more visually interesting and to compensate for the lack of “realism”.

“Realistic” art is both one of the most difficult and one of the easiest types of art to make. If you’re painting from imagination, then it’s ludicrously hard. But, if you’re painting from life or from photographs, then you can create a surprising amount of realism with just a few years of art practice. For example, here’s a still life of mine from 2015/16 (after 3-4 years of regular art practice) and it still stands up fairly well to this day:

“Cute Turtle And DVDs” By C. A. Brown

Yet, at the same time, making “realistic” art can limit your creativity somewhat. Most of the art that I make isn’t really very “realistic” and I find that this allows me a lot more freedom when it comes to things like colour choices, lighting, composition, subject matter etc… Like this:

“Death Takes A Holiday” By C. A. Brown

“Backstreets” By C. A. Brown

Playing old 3D games will show you that there’s more to art than “realism”. At the end of the day, old 3D games are such great fun because of all of the interesting stuff that is happening in them.

Old 3D games are a lot more memorable because the graphics look noticeably “artificial”, which clearly shows that they were planned and designed by an artist. Likewise, each old 3D game sort of has it’s own unique “personality” because of the artistic decisions made by designers who couldn’t make their games look realistic.

In other words, although “realistic” art tends to get taken a lot more seriously, playing some old 3D games can show you that “unrealistic” art can often make your work more unique, more visually interesting and more creative. It forces you to focus more on things like visual storytelling and on making conscious choices about things like lighting, composition etc.. in your art, because you can’t just rely on realism to dazzle your audience.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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