Three More Tips For Making Art That Looks Like It’s From The ’90s

2017-artwork-more-1990s-art-tips-article-sketch

A while before I started writing this article, I ended up salvaging a failed painting using lots of digital editing. This painting was originally meant to be a 1980s-style cyberpunk painting, but it ended up looking more like something from the 1990s when I was finished with it. Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 30th August.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 30th August.

So, after this, I thought that I’d talk about some more ways to make your art look like it’s from the 1990s (since I’m sure I’ve written about this topic at least once or twice before).

1) Cultural hangovers and old nostalgia: Nostalgia wasn’t invented in this decade. In other words, people were getting nostalgic for past decades (in a stylised way) during the 1990s too. Likewise, there was probably a bit of a cultural hangover from the 1980s too. So, one way to make your art look more 90s is to include things that are vaguely reminiscent of the 1960s-80s in your art, but to give them more of a 1990s-style twist.

In other words, make things from the ’60s and ’70s look slightly darker, use more high-contrast colour combinations and/or include gloomier lighting. Remember, the 1990s was a slightly nihilistic decade where it was fashionable for things to be “dark and edgy”.

As for things from the 1980s, include the occasional 80s-style thing (eg: jackets with shoulder pads, 1980s technology, floral dresses etc..), but try not to include too much of it.

For example, the lighting effect on the characte’s t-shirt in the art preview I showed you was originally meant to just be ambient lighting. However, once I’d finished the painting, I noticed that it looked a bit like a 1960s tie-dye shirt. However, like with the cover of Bad Religion’s “No Control” album, it has more of a 90s-style look purely because it’s contrasted with several dark parts of the image.

2) What was cool: One easy way to make your art look more ’90s is to try to remember what was considered “cool” in the 1990s. Then include it in your painting, depicted in a “cool” way.

For example, computers were still cool in the 1990s. The internet gripped the public imagination in both good and bad ways. For example, computer hackers were often portrayed as either cool rebels or scarily omnipotent figures in movies like “Hackers”, “The Net”, “Ghost In The Shell”, “The Matrix” etc.. rather than the mundane criminals that they are considered to be today.

So, although my painting was originally meant to be a 1980s-style cyberpunk painting (hence the ultra-bulky bulky laptop), the fact that it features a slightly “alternative” character using a laptop also makes the painting look a bit 90s too. After all, whilst someone using a laptop is a mundane thing these days, it was probably a lot more unusual and cool back in the 90s.

So, yes, search for things that were considered “cool” in the 1990s and then add them to your art in a cool way. Another good example of this sort of thing would probably be either skateboards or flip phones (although flip phones are probably more ’00s than ’90s).

3) Movies and TV:
Because it’s still relatively recent, a “realistic” painting set in the 1990s may not always stand out as being “retro”. So, look to the more stylised world of 1990s movies and TV shows for inspiration.

The best things I’ve found are probably American movies and TV shows from the early-mid 1990s, for the simple reason that they look a bit more “old”. Plus, the 90s was a lot weirder and more interesting in American movies than it was here in Britain (then again, other countries always look more interesting in comparison to the ones you’re used to).

So, watch these things. Look at what types of clothes the characters are wearing. Look at their hairstyles. Look at the kind of set design that was popular back then. Look at the kind of lighting, especially in sci-fi and horror movies, that was all the rage back then.

Once you’ve done that, stop watching and then try to create something similar (but different) from memory alone a while later. Working from memory helps to ensure that you don’t accidentally copy something verbatim, since memory is inherently unreliable. If you want more tips on how to take inspiration without copying, then check out this other article.

———

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

First Impressions: “Shadow Man” (Retro Computer Game)

2017-artwork-shadow-man-first-impressions

First of all, this is (for reasons I’ll explain later) more of a “first impressions” article than a full review. At the time of writing, I’ve played this game for a few hours and have possibly looked at somewhere between a fifth and a third of it.

Although I’d vaguely heard of “Shadow Man” in the games magazines that I read during my childhood, I didn’t really discover it until a sale on GOG a few days before originally writing this article. Although there were mixed reviews on the site, the fact that it was a late 1990s gothic horror 3D platform game that had been reduced to something like 70p made the decision to buy it something of a no-brainer.

So, let’s take a look at “Shadow Man”:

shadow-man-logo

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it has one of the most impressive introductory cutscenes that I’ve ever seen. I usually don’t care about introductory cutscenes, but this one really knocked me off my feet. As soon as you start the game, Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” thunders in the background and you are treated to an ominous monologue from none other than Jack the Ripper:

Trust me, this is WAY more dramatic in-game.

Trust me, this is WAY more dramatic in-game.

Jack laments that his crimes have not produced the results that he desires and that, to continue his occult experiments, he must end his own life. However, before he can plunge a knife into his chest, he is interrupted by a rather suave fellow called Legion who asks him to design a temple to pain and suffering in the afterlife. Gleefully, Jack agrees and stabs himself.

Then, we flash forward to 1990s America where a man called Michael LeRoi is talking to a Voodoo priestess called Nettie. Michael is a “shadow man”, imbued with powers that allow him to cross between the worlds of the living and the dead. Nettie tells him that something terrible is happening in the world of the dead, and it is up to him to stop it.

Although it may not sound like much, the voice-acting, writing and gothic atmosphere of even the intro movie alone is astonishingly good. This is the kind of epic intro movie where you’ll easily ignore the slight clunkiness of the late-1990s 3D graphics because of the sheer strength of the writing and atmosphere.

The game itself is, as you would expect, an action/puzzle-based 3D platform game. You fight lots of monsters and solve occasional movement/item-based puzzles (for example, locked doors require you to collect a certain number of souls in order to open them).

The locked doors ALSO look like something from "Stargate" too :) The 1990s was TRULY a great decade!

The locked doors ALSO look like something from “Stargate” too 🙂 The 1990s was TRULY a great decade!

Unlike in similar games released at a similar time (eg: “American McGee’s Alice” etc..), you don’t progress through the levels in a linear order. In fact, there’s a rather large hub level and a fast-travel system.

You'll be visiting this place quite a lot between levels.

You’ll be visiting this place quite a lot between levels.

The only problem with the fast-travel system is that the game will also respawn all of the monsters whenever you revisit somewhere you’ve already been. Given that this is a game from the golden era of gaming, the combat is more on the challenging side of things.

In fact, the earlier levels are actually more difficult for the simple reason that you are only equipped with a weak pistol that requires something like ten shots just to defeat even one low-level undead creature. Yes, when you learn to use some of the game’s features (like the lock-on strafe feature), the difficulty drops slightly, but this is a game where every fight is a tense fight to the death.

Yes, even this small two-headed creature from the early part of the game is still a legitimate threat.

Yes, even this small two-headed creature from the early part of the game is still a legitimate threat.

But, although this game is a PC port of a console game, there’s a proper saving system which helps to mitigate the game’s high difficulty level. In other words, you can save whenever and wherever you need to. I honestly don’t know how people played this game on consoles, where there were probably fixed checkpoints or something like that.

In terms of the controls, this game is surprisingly (and refreshingly) old-school. Although you can (and should!) customise the controls, the game is exclusively keyboard-only. Even the combat uses a traditional “Doom/Doom II”-style vertical auto-aim system. Whilst this filled me with 1990s nostalgia, the lack of mouse controls might be disconcerting if you’re more used to modern games.

The gameplay and environment design in “Shadow Man” is both brilliant and not so brilliant at the same time. There are some really cool-looking areas in this game and, like all great games from the 1990s, the levels are the kind of non-linear things that actually require you to explore.

Dammit, why don't games look like this any more? Seriously, I love this style of lighting :)

Dammit, why don’t games look like this any more? Seriously, I love this style of lighting 🙂

For some bizarre reason, this part of the game reminded me of both "American McGee's Alice" and the first "Jak And Daxter Game", which is never a bad thing :)

For some bizarre reason, this part of the game reminded me of both “American McGee’s Alice” and the first “Jak And Daxter Game”, which is never a bad thing 🙂

 And THIS looks like something from the imagination of Clive Barker too!

And THIS looks like something from the imagination of Clive Barker too!

However, although you’ll have a lot of fun exploring the game’s world for a few hours, you might get completely and utterly stuck when you start encountering the first two of the game’s five bosses. These bosses reside in the world of the living and, from what I’ve seen, they’re demented serial killers who will often shout cheesy one-liners at you:

Yes, as the subtitles show, this guy is somehow hilarious and creepy at the same time.

Yes, as the subtitles show, this guy is somehow hilarious and creepy at the same time.

From what I’ve been able to gather from walkthroughs, you actually need a specific three-part item to beat these bosses. But, I haven’t been able to find out how to get two pieces of this item. In other words, the main reason why this is only a “first impressions” article is because I got completely stuck.

Yes, although the challenging parts of the game are usually extremely enjoyable, this part crosses the line from “fun” to “frustrating”. For example, the game itself only hints that you need an item to defeat the bosses after a long battle with said bosses. You’ll think that you’ve almost defeated the bosses, only for them to get back up and for Michael to make some cryptic comment about how he wished he could use his shadow powers in the world of the living.

All in all, despite the high likelihood of getting completely and utterly stuck after a few hours, I’d still recommend checking this game out for everything before that part of the game. It’s atmospheric, it’s thrilling and it shows off some of the reasons why the 1990s were such a creative and imaginative decade in the history of gaming. Plus, old-school 3D platform games on the PC are something of a rarity, so this game is well worth checking out for this alone.

If I had to give what I’d played so far a rating out of five, it would get just under a five. It’s almost perfect.

Four Basic Ways To Create 1990s Style Gothic Horror Art, Comics etc..

2017-artwork-1990s-style-gothic-horror-article

Although the gothic horror genre has a very long and interesting history, I thought that I’d focus on 1990s style gothic horror today. This was mostly because I was reminded of how great gothic horror was in the 1990s when I started playing a retro computer game from 1999 called “Shadow Man” a few days before writing this article.

So, how can you add some 1990s gothic horror to your art, comics etc…? Here are four of the most basic ways that I’ve learnt from things I’ve seen in the genre.

1) Lighting is everything: If there’s one thing to be said for the 1990s (and the 1980s), it’s that people knew how to use lighting well back then.

If you look at a lot of “gothic” things from the 1990s, you’ll tend to notice that they often make heavy use of ambient lighting contrasted against a dark background. It looks a bit like these modern 1990s-style digitally-edited paintings of mine:

"Skeleton Catacomb" By C. A. Brown

“Skeleton Catacomb” By C. A. Brown

"Late Return (II)" By C. A. Brown

“Late Return (II)” By C. A. Brown

"Another Bedroom In Arles (After Van Gogh)" By C. A. Brown

“Another Bedroom In Arles (After Van Gogh)” By C. A. Brown

This gothic style of lighting is probably most notable in many old-school 3D computer and video games from the 1990s, but it can also be seen in a number of sci-fi and/or horror films from the era like “The Matrix”, “Ghost In The Shell”, “Cube”, “Death Machine”, “House On Haunted Hill (1999)” etc…

With this type of lighting, the general rule is that at least 30-50% of your painting or comic panel should be shrouded in darkness. Likewise, you should also learn the basics of how to paint realistic lighting – since you’ll need to use the few light sources in your painting not only to illuminate key details of the picture, but also to hint at whatever is lurking in the mysterious darkness. You can do this by adding silhouettes to the foreground, only illuminating part of an interesting-looking location etc…

2) Victorian England: Ok, this is kind of a timeless thing in the gothic horror genre, but it’s quite telling that some of the best gothic horror games (except for the original “Silent Hill”) from the 1990s that I’ve played have had some connection to Victorian England.

For example, “American McGee’s Alice” is a gothic horror game (released in 2000, but presumably made in the late 1990s) that is based on ‘Alice In Wonderland’. Likewise, although the main plot of “Shadow Man” technically takes place in the 1990s, the storyline revolves around Jack The Ripper’s activities in the afterlife.

Many of the more well-known classics of the gothic genre come from Victorian England too – “Dracula” being the most notable example. Of course, over in 19th century America, there was also Edgar Allen Poe too. But, if you ever want to make something look instantly gothic, then add some connection to Victorian England and/or the 19th century. Yes, even if it’s a silly comic mini series about time travel:

"Damania Repressed - Goth" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Goth” By C. A. Brown

3) Nihilism: With more “modern” things in the gothic horror genre that were made in the 1990s, nihilsm and/or alienation often seem to be the main emotional themes. I’m really not sure why, but these themes seemed to be a lot more popular in the 1990s than they are today. Whilst this is probably difficult to get across in art, it might be worth bearing in mind if you’re creating characters for a comic or webcomic.

Just try not to go overboard with it. Too much cynical nihilism can easily turn into comedy (eg: the hilarious “My whole life is a darkroom… One, big dark room” line from a 1980s movie called “Beetlejuice”). Likewise, there’s also a fine line between ‘broodingly gothic’ and ‘depressing for the sake of depressing’.

4) The fashions: Finally, one important thing to remember is that gothic fashion in the 1990s seems to have been a lot more understated than 1980s gothic fashion.

Whilst 1980s gothic fashion was inspired by the punk genre (and often had a certain theatricality to it), 1990s gothic fashion was probably more inspired by the industrial and/or metal genres, plus the general “anti-fashion” trend of the 1990s too.

So, instead of giant spiky hairstyles, fishnet vests/stockings and lots of eyeliner, any goth characters in 1990s-based gothic horror comics or art that you make are more likely to be wearing things like black vest tops, leather trenchoats, shades etc…. Just watch “The Matrix” for lots of great examples of this type of fashion. But, in essence, your “goth” characters should look more like this:

"Cold Road" By C. A. Brown

“Cold Road” By C. A. Brown

—————–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art ( 9th July 2017)

Well, today’s 1980s/90s-style gothic cyberpunk artwork started out as a watercolour painting but, after I’d scanned it and done my usual digital editing (to the brightness/contrast levels and the hue/saturation/lightness levels, as well as adding rain and lights in the sky) I still wasn’t quite satisfied with it.

Then I suddenly had an idea for a different editing technique that I really wanted to try out. By using the “dilate” effect in Paint Shop Pro 6 and then altering the highlight/midtone/shadow levels quite drastically (with another couple of small hue/saturation/lightness adjustments for good measure), I was able to make it look a bit like some kind of impressionist pixel art picture 🙂

As usual, this picture is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Corrugation" By C. A. Brown

“Corrugation” By C. A. Brown

History, Nostalgia, Creativity And Subtlety – A Ramble

2017-artwork-nostalgia-and-subtletey-article-sketch

Although this is an article about creating historical art, historical comics, historical fiction etc…. I’m going to have to start by talking about real-life “anachronisms” and some vaguely geeky stuff. As usual, there’s a good reason for this.

The night before I wrote this article, I happened to find an absolutely fascinating historical video online. This was one of those mildly unusual things that, like colour footage of 1920s London (or colour photos of 1910s Russia) or old footage from the 1920s/30s that seems to show people using mobile phones, seemed like an anachronism. But, what was it?

It was a modern-style HD video of New York… filmed in 1993. Seriously, you can actually watch this in 1080p if you have a fast enough connection and/or enough available RAM. I watched it in 720p, but it was still pretty astonishing, given when it was filmed.

Some of the high-definition scenes in the film look wonderfully retro and some look slightly eerie (eg: modern-style footage of the Twin Towers etc..), but a few scenes look like they could have been filmed today.

For example, there’s some aerial filming which – if it wasn’t for a barely-noticeable helicopter shadow on a building– could easily be modern HD drone footage. Likewise, there’s a close-up of an old man sleeping on a bench, which literally looks like something from a modern HD documentary.

So, what does any of this have to do with creativity?

Well, one of the many interesting things about this modern-looking HD video from 1993 was the comments below it. One thing that seemed to “shock” a few people was the fact that nobody was staring at a smartphone in the footage of the busy streets. People were actually *gasp* acting like people whilst walking down the street.

I was more distracted by the retro fashions etc… to notice this (which is especially odd, given that I made an entire webcomic about smartphones, time travel and 1990s America a while ago), but the absence of smartphones seemed to be one of the things that made it stand out as something from the 1990s.

And, yet, it’s a really subtle thing.

So, this obviously made me think about works of art and fiction that are set in the past. Often, when we’re making art or comics about the relatively recent past, it can be very easy, and very fun, to go down the “nostalgia” route and exaggerate notable features from the time in question. Like with some of my own “nostalgic” 1990s-themed artwork:

"1990s Office Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Office Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

"1990s Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

But, often the most telling signs that something ‘serious’ is set in the past are a lot more subtle. For starters, many things are surprisingly timeless. Although the inclusion of these things in historical works might make them seem ‘modern’, they’re often anything but modern.

For example, the copious use of four-letter words in the fictional medieval-style setting of “Game Of Thrones” is probably closer to how people actually talked in medieval Britain (even if many written records of the time were kept by pious monks etc… who didn’t use four letter words). Even a few centuries later, the old French slang term for British people – “les godames” – comes from the fact that we used to use the word ‘goddamn’ a lot. So, it’s hardly a modern thing.

Likewise, historical change isn’t really an instant thing – so, the best way to show that something is set in the past is often to focus on these timeless things and to keep the “old” details relatively subtle.

This also reflects how nostalgia actually works. For example, in late 2016, I had a sudden and vivid moment of 1990s nostalgia that actually led to me spontaneously writing a short essay and making a cartoon.

All of these old memories were suddenly brought back to life when I happened to hear about a videogame series that I played when I was a lot younger. It was a subtle “background detail”, but it probably evoked more nostalgia than a picture of the Power Rangers playing POGs whilst watching a Tamagotchi advert that was playing on a CRT television in the middle of an episode of “The Fresh Prince” probably would.

So, yes, nostalgia and a sense of history can often work better when they’re fairly subtle.

———

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (22nd June 2017)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting was originally going to be much more of a cyberpunk painting, but it kind of ended up being a slightly surreal gothic sci-fi painting set in 1990s America instead. It’s a very subtle difference, but it’s one that influenced how I made the painting.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Red Moon Rain" By C. A. Brown

“Red Moon Rain” By C. A. Brown