Three Things Artists Can Learn From Old Survival Horror Videogames

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote an art-based article and, since I’ve returned to making more imaginative art (on a semi-regular basis, at least), I thought that I’d look at a few things that old survival horror videogames can teach artists. Although I’ve almost certainly talked about this topic before, it’s always worth returning to.

If you’ve never heard of survival horror videogames before, they were a genre of horror videogame that was popular during the 1990s and the early-mid 2000s. They were games that used a third-person perspective and had slightly more of an emphasis on exploration, atmosphere, storytelling and/or puzzle-solving than on combat.

Notable examples of the genre include games like “Alone In the Dark“, the first three “Resident Evil” games, the first three “Silent Hill” games and the “Project Zero”/”Fatal Frame” videogame series.

And, if you take artistic inspiration from them, you can make dramatic art that looks a bit like this upcoming digitally-edited painting of mine:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 25th June.

So, what can old survival horror videogames teach us about making art?

1) Perspective and composition: One of the interesting things about survival horror games from the 1990s is that, due to technical limitations, they would often use pre-made 2D backdrops rather than actual 3D locations. What this meant was that the game’s “camera” had to remain in a fixed position in each location (since the background was actually a 2D image). Yet, this technical limitation proved to be one of the best parts of these games. But, why?

Simply put, game designers of the time had to use this limitation to their advantage. In other words, they had to use perspective and composition in interesting and dramatic ways. Here’s an example from “Resident Evil 3” to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from the 2000 PC port of “Resident Evil 3” (1999).

Notice how the “camera” lurks far away from the main character, creating a sense of both impending danger and of being an insignificant part of a large uncaring world. Likewise, notice how some dramatic flames and burning pieces of wood have been placed in the close foreground, adding depth to the image and also “framing” the image slightly. All of these things were conscious creative decisions that give this moment in the game a little bit more atmosphere.

In other words, old survival horror games can teach us that both perspective and composition are integral parts of any painting or drawing. When used creatively, they can add instant visual interest and atmosphere to a piece of art.

2) Altered familiarity: If there’s one thing that made old survival horror games so eerily dramatic, it was that they would often take familiar locations and turn them into something a bit more dark and twisted. This contrast between the familiar and the unfamiliar is designed to evoke something that Sigmund Freud called “The Uncanny” and it not only adds instant atmosphere, but it also allows for a lot more visual creativity too.

In addition to the post-apocalyptic settings of “Resident Evil 3”, one of the best examples of this can be found in another horror sequel called “Silent Hill 3“. This is a game that will often take familiar locations (eg: subways, shopping centres, hospitals etc..) and turn them into something eerily terrifying. Here’s an example:

This is a screenshot from the PC version of “Silent Hill 3” (2003)

In this scene from “Silent Hill 3”, an ordinary location (a subway corridor) is turned into something much creepier through the addition of things that you wouldn’t expect to see in this location. The incongruous piles of old junk not only evoke a feeling of dereliction and decay, but they also present a menacing barrier to the player too. Likewise, some faded/dried blood spatter on the wall also helps to add to this sense of menace too.

So, if there’s another thing that old survival horror games can teach artists, it is to be a bit more creative with “familiar” locations. Whether you’re trying to add a sense of ominous horror to your artwork or whether you just want to add some quirky and comedic stuff to your art, don’t be afraid to be a little bit creative with “familiar” locations.

3) The lighting: You knew I was going to mention this. But, it’s worth mentioning anyway. If there’s one visual feature that really makes old survival horror games stand out from the crowd, it is the lighting.

In order to create a dramatic atmosphere, these games were usually either set at night or in gloomy locations of one kind or another. What this meant is that the designers could use lighting creatively. Not only do the dark backgrounds make the lighting stand out even more but it also means that the lighting can be used to draw the player’s attention to particular areas of the picture. Here’s an example from “Resident Evil 2”:

This is a screenshot from the PC version of “Resident Evil 2” (1998)

Notice how most of the foreground is shrouded in shadows, yet the stairs and the corner of the walkway are brightly lit. Not only does this add some visual interest to the picture, but the player is also quite literally being invited to “go into the light”, since the area you’re supposed to walk to (eg: the end of the walkway) is the most brightly-lit part of the picture.

So, what can we learn from this? Simply put, in addition to making sure that 30-50% of the total surface area of your picture is shrouded in gloom (so that the lighting looks more vivid by contrast), it also reminds us that lighting should be used to direct the audience’s attention towards interesting or important parts of the picture.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Two Ways To Save Time Whilst Making Art

As regular readers of this site probably know, I’ve had slightly less time to make art over the past few months than I did before (mostly due to all sorts of things, such as doing the reading for the book reviews that appear here, other creative projects etc..). However, I was determined to keep posting daily paintings here, even if this required some fairly major changes.

Or, to put it another way, this is what my paintings look like when I have a bit more time:

“Formation” By C. A. Brown

And this is what they look like when I’ve got slightly less time:

“Tipner Lake – Mist” By C. A. Brown

So, what are the differences and how do they save time?

1) The most time-consuming part of making a painting isn’t what you think: If you’re new to making art, it can be easy to think that the most time-consuming part of making a painting or a drawing is the actual painting or drawing itself. Or perhaps waiting for the paint to dry (unless you’re using oil paint, in which case it possibly is). Surprisingly, this isn’t true.

The most time-consuming part of making a painting is working out what to paint. And, if you’re painting from imagination, then you can sometimes spend just as long thinking of ideas as you do drawing or painting. Yes, this will result in more distinctive, unique and creative paintings that look like this:

“Haunted Mansion” By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunk Ruins” By C. A. Brown

But, it takes time and, if you’ve got less time and still want to make impressive-looking paintings, then this can be one thing to cut without sacrificing technical quality. But, how do you do this?

There are several ways of doing this (eg: still life paintings, making new versions of your older paintings, making studies of out-of-copyright historical paintings, making non-commercial fan art or making art based on photos you’ve taken). Personally, I seem to have gone for the photo-based approach, since there’s more room for artistic licence- like this:

(Click for larger image) As you can see, the source photo and the finished painting are both similar and different.

Even so, this approach does reduce the amount of creativity you can use in your art. Still, as a way of making ok-looking art in half the time, it can work quite well.

2) Digital is your friend: Simply put, if you’re primarily posting your art on the internet (and aren’t selling physical originals), then it is well worth learning how to use an image editing program or two (there are even free open-source ones on the internet, if you don’t have one).

This doesn’t mean that you should make entirely digital art, but you’d be surprised at, with practice, how much quicker it can be to add colours to scans or digital photos of hand-drawn line art digitally than waiting for paints to dry etc.. Although I’ve found that this approach works best for greyscale art, it can be a great way to trim 10-20 minutes off of a picture if you’re in a real hurry.

Here’s an example of this in one of my upcoming pieces of photo-based art (based on a photo I took of Tipner Lake near Portsmouth) which, if I remember rightly, only took me an hour or so to make.

(Click for larger image) This is an example of how I turned some hand-drawn line art into a greyscale digital painting.

Yes, this will look different to using actual paints (and I often just use digital tools for enhancing/improving my traditional paintings). But, if you’re in a rush and you know what you’re doing, then it can certainly shave a few minutes off of the time it takes you to finish a piece of art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Is There An Artistic Equivalent Of A “Live Version” Of A Song? – A Ramble

Well, since I’m still going through a bit more of a musical phase than usual, I thought that I’d try a bit of a thought experiment – is there any kind of visual art equivalent of a “live version” of a song?

I started thinking about this because I’ve been listening to a live album from 2006-8 by a heavy metal band called Gamma Ray. One surprising thing about this album is that a couple of the live recordings on the album sound significantly different to live recordings of the same songs on another one of Gamma Ray’s live albums from 1995.

In this eleven-year time gap, the live recording of a song called “Man On A Mission” has gone from this epic, soaring, deep thing (in the 1995 live version) to a significantly faster, lighter and more eccentric song in the 2006 recording. I’m not sure which version I prefer, but it’s a perfect example of how live recordings allow musicians to rearrange and reinterpret their songs.

Of course, there’s also the contrast between the live version of a song and the studio version too. Some songs (like “Generator” by Bad Religion) sound better in studio recordings and some songs (like “Ever Dream” by Nightwish) sound better in live recordings.

Obviously, there isn’t really a direct equivalent to all of this when it comes to making art. By definition, most paintings or drawings are “studio versions”. Yes, there are things like time-lapse art videos, street art etc… but these often involve the creation of totally new pieces of art rather than repeating a familiar piece of art, in the way that a musician might play a familiar song during every concert.

So, we’ll have to be a bit more indirect. In other words, we need to look at the underlying qualities that make live recordings of music so interesting. These include things like variation, rawness and audience interaction.

Variation is fairly easy to include in visual art. Simply put, just make multiple versions of the same painting (at different times, or with different materials) and/or multiple paintings about the same subject. For example, here are two versions of the same digitally-edited painting that were made about two or three years apart from each other:

“Trendy 90s Cafe” By C. A. Brown [2014/15]

“Trendy 90s Cafe (II)” By C. A. Brown [2017/18]

Although this is a great way to measure your progress as an artist, it also allows us to do what musicians do and reinterpret our “greatest hits” in new ways. Yes, it isn’t really the same as a live performance, but it allows us to do one of the things that makes live versions of songs so interesting.

As for “roughness” or “rawness” – just try using more basic, minimalist or primitive tools. For example, I once tried to recreate a photograph I took in 2009 using MS Paint:

This is a comparison of a photo I took and my attempt at recreating it in MS Paint.

As for audience interaction, this one is fairly self-explanatory. But, if you don’t have the time to reply to comments etc.. then one way to add some audience interaction to your art is simply to accompany each picture of painting with a short paragraph that explains either how or why you made that particular piece of art (kind of like how musicians will sometimes introduce songs during live performances).

So, no, there’s no direct equivalent to a “live version” of a song in the visual arts. But, if we look at the underlying elements that make live versions of songs so interesting (eg: variations, rawness etc..) then we can use those underlying things to make our art more interesting.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What Tribute Bands Can Teach Us About Fan Art- A Ramble

Although this is a long and rambling article about being a visual artist, I’m going to have to start by talking about music. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A few days before I prepared this article, I happened to watch a gameshow on TV (called “Even Better Than The Real Thing”) where several pop/rock music tribute bands competed to see who was the best. The program was a truly surreal affair, since the studio audience consisted of other tribute bands/celebrity lookalikes. Yet, it was absolutely fascinating to watch.

Although the few tribute bands I’ve actually seen perform live have been fairly faithful recreations of the bands they’re based on, one intriguing thing I’ve seen on the internet are tribute bands that put a slightly different twist on the traditional idea of a tribute band.

These are bands who play covers of songs by many different bands in the same genre, bands who use a different musical style to the band they’re paying tribute etc..

But, why have I been talking about tribute bands? Simply put, because they offers some interesting lessons about making fan art.

One of the things that always puzzles me are artists who only ever seem to make fan art. Although I’ve already written about this topic, I felt like returning to it again. Because, although I originally used “tribute acts” as a disparaging metaphor for the lack of originality these artists displayed, thinking about the subject of tribute bands more deeply made me reconsider what they can teach us as artists.

One of the central appeals of tribute bands is that they make big-name bands more accessible. For example, during my mid-late teens, I saw Iron Maiden perform live in London and I also saw a couple of concerts by an Iron Maiden tribute band (Hi-On Maiden). The two experiences couldn’t have been more different.

When I saw Iron Maiden live, I was sitting near the back of a large theatre. The music was, as you would expect, amazing and I consider it to be one of the coolest moments of my life. There were also a few amusing moments during the concert, such as when the lead singer of the support band (Trivium) ranted at the audience for throwing bottles onto the stage, or the ten-minute power cut during Maiden’s set when one of the pieces of sound equipment caught fire and had to be replaced. During this, there were synchronised waves, things thrown in the air, songs sung by the audience and other such tomfoolery. Seriously, it’s a testament to the band that they can still hold the audience’s attention even when their microphones and instruments aren’t working properly.

But it was a somewhat different experience to the visceral thrill of being near the front of the crowd in a small venue, being almost deafened by the speakers and singing along until my throat was hoarse. Seeing the tribute band was like what I imagine seeing the original band during their early days must have been like. The tribute musicians on the stage weren’t famous, so the focus was almost entirely on the music they were playing. They were fans of it, just like we in the audience were.

And, maybe fan art is kind of a bit like this. Because the artists who just make fan art are maybe internet-famous at the most, the emphasis is more on the art itself. They aren’t going to end up in galleries or anything like that. And their art is meant for a general internet audience. So, although it may lack the vision and originality that an artist who comes up with their own ideas will have, it is at least more of a “ground level” thing than the things it is based on are.

But, a more interesting type of fan art (both to make and to look at) is – like the inventive tribute bands I mentioned earlier – the type of fan art that tries to do something a bit different. Whether it is using a different art style, different art materials or making some kind of parody or pastiche, this is a much more creative and interesting type of fan art. Here are some examples of my own attempts at this style of fan art:

“Fan Art – Blade Runner – But, Then Again, Who Does?” By C. A. Brown

“Alchemist (After Joseph Wright Of Derby)” By C. A. Brown

“After Oskar Zwintscher” By C. A. Brown

So, if you’re going to make fan art, then try to put an original twist on it. Use a different style, use a different palette, be a little irreverent or challenge yourself to use different materials to the original artist.

But, finally, it’s also worth noting that – like all musicians – all artists are tribute artists. Every artist has their inspirations, the artists who have made them want to make art or who have influenced their art in some way or another.

This is, by far, the best type of “fan art” – totally original art that has been inspired or influenced by another artist, but is also it’s own thing too.

It is art where the artist has asked themselves why their inspirations fascinate them so much (eg: the lighting, the composition, the colour palette etc..) and then used these answers to create art that doesn’t directly copy any part of their inspiration.

Although this type of “fan art” is more difficult to make, it is by far the best! Not only is it actually original art (that you can proudly call your own), but it also forces you to use your imagination more. It forces you to work out exactly why you love the things you do and then to use these elements in an original way that appeals to you.

Plus, the awesome experience of making something genuinely original that is inspired by something else will make you want to look for other things to take inspiration from – which will make your art even more unique and distinctive.

So, yes, if you’re going to make “fan art”, then be creative about it.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Basic Tips For Making Tenebrist Art

Well, for today, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about using my favourite lighting style in your paintings or drawings. I am, of course, talking about gloomy, shadowy tenebrist lighting.

So, how do you use this amazing style of lighting?

1) Black paint/ink: I’ve mentioned this rule more times than I can remember, but it is always worth repeating. Try to make sure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of your painting or drawing is covered with solid black paint or ink. Like in this digitally-edited painting of mine:

“Spotlight” By C. A. Brown

Not only does this make any lighting or colours you add to your art stand out a lot more by contrast, but it is pretty much essential to creating the type of gloomy, tenebristic look that you want to achieve.

2) Light sources: Although darkness might be the most noticeable feature of a tenebrist painting, the genre is actually all about painting light. It is about playing with light and/or using light to draw the audience’s attention to a certain area of the picture.

Generally speaking, it’s best to only have one major light source in your tenebrist painting (with perhaps a couple of smaller ones in the distant background at most). Whether this light source actually appears in your painting (eg: a computer monitor, a lamp etc..) or whether it is outside of the picture, you need to know where your light source is and to paint your lighting accordingly.

If you don’t know how to do this, then just imagine a 3D model of everything in your painting. The sides of everything that are facing towards the light source should be either the same colour as the light (if the light is red, green, blue, yellow, orange, purple etc..) or they should just be brighter (if the light is white). Conversely, the other side of everything should be darker (and should have shadows behind it).

Another way to think about it is to imagine “rays” of light emerging from your light source. Everything they touch should be brighter. Here’s a diagram to show you what I mean.

This is a quick diagram showing rays of light radiating out from a light source. The areas facing towards the light source are brighter, whereas the areas facing away from it are darker.

3) Realism (doesn’t matter as much as you think): Although it is important to understand the basics of painting realistic lighting, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

If you are faced with a choice between illuminating a part of your picture that you want your audience to see and being ultra-realistic, then go with the former. As long as the lighting looks reasonably right and helps to add visual drama to your picture, then it’s ok to use a bit of artistic licence. For example, here’s a preview of one of my upcoming paintings.

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 18th October.

The main light sources in this painting are the ominous green sunset and the light behind the door. Yet, several of the shadows are technically in the wrong place. However, this was done for artistic reasons. For example, the light on the door has a large shadow above it, which is unrealistic but it makes the light stand out more by contrast.

Likewise, the far wall is a lot gloomier at one side than the other – in a way that implies that the light source is in a different place to where it should be. Again, this was done for an artistic reason:

The “unrealistic” shadow at the right-hand edge of this wall is there to add depth and to signify that the two walls are not connected.

So, yes, it’s ok not to be 100% realistic with your lighting if there’s a valid artistic reason for it. Still, try to make sure that the lighting looks at least vaguely realistic at first glance.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Advantages Of Using Chiaroscuro Or Tenebrist Lighting In Your Art

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about one of my favourite types of lighting. I am, of course, talking about gloomy, shadowy chiaroscuro lighting. In particular, I’ll be talking about a heavier type of chiaroscuro called “Tenebrism“.

My “version” of this lighting style (which involves making sure that at least 30-50 % of the total area of each picture is covered in black paint) looks a little bit like this:

“The Old Restaurant” By C. A. Brown

“Noir” By C. A. Brown

So, what’s so amazing about this type of lighting and why should you use it? I’ve probably talked about this before, but here are two reasons:

1) Focus, drama and time: By ensuring that at least 30-50% of your painting is shrouded in darkness, you can play with light and shadow a lot more. This alone can make your paintings look really dramatic – especially when you use different colours of light.

In addition to this, you can use the lighting to focus your audience’s attention on one particular areas of the picture, whilst leaving the rest mysteriously covered in shadow. This can come in handy if you don’t have a huge amount of time to make a piece of art.

By focusing the audience’s attention on just one area of the picture, you can use your limited time to add extra detail to this area. This means that you can make “quick” paintings that still seem to be fairly detailed . Like in this digitally-edited painting of mine, where only about half of the total area of the painting actually contains any detail:

“Corner” By C. A. Brown

2) Colours: The thing to remember about brightness in paintings is that it is relative. The brightness of one part of your painting is determined by how bright it is when compared to the brightest and darkest areas of your picture. The difference in brightness matters much more than how light or dark the paint you are using is.

For example, if you want to draw or paint a bright sunrise or sunset, then you should leave the middle of the sun blank and make everything else in the picture darker than it. This makes the sun look extra bright by comparison (since the blank area in the middle of it is the lightest area in the picture). Like this:

Notice how the “sun” is nothing more than a roughly semi-circular white space, surrounded by yellow paint.

Well, this is also true when you are using gloomy tenebristic lighting. Because there’s so much darkness in your painting, all of the colours will appear much brighter and bolder by contrast.

When combined with a complementary colour scheme (or a colour scheme consisting of 2-3 complementary colour pairs), this can give your art a really bold and distinctive look – like in these digitally-edited paintings of mine:

“Window” By C. A. Brown

“Audio Cassette” By C. A. Brown

“The Abandoned Lobby” By C. A. Brown

So, if you want bold and dramatic colours in your art, then using a more tenebristic lighting style can be really useful 🙂 Plus, since it is a lighting style that was popular during the 1980s and 1990s, then it can also be an easy way to give your art more of a stylised “retro” look too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Making Art – Do The “Graphics” Matter? – A Ramble

Although I was being a little bit facetious with the title of this article, I thought that I’d talk about things like realism, visual detail etc.. in art today. And how important they actually are when you are making art.

If you’re a regular reader, you probably already know my attitudes towards “graphics” in computer and video games. Basically, since I can count the number of years in which I’ve been even vaguely “up to date” with mainstream gaming on the fingers of one hand, I generally tend not to care whether a game looks ultra-realistic or not.

In fact, I’d actually argue that less realistic graphics are better – since they not only make the audience use their imaginations more, but they also mean that the people making the game have to impress the audience by actually making the game fun, interesting, creative, compelling etc… instead of just dazzling them with almost photo-realistic visuals.

So, I wondered… is the same sort of thing is true with traditional/digital art?

The simple answer is yes… and no. Although art might appear to be literally nothing more than “graphics” at first glance, I’d argue that there are a lot of underlying things that are equally important as absolute technical perfection.

These include things like the artist’s use of things like colour and lighting, the composition of a drawing or painting (eg: where everything is placed in the picture), visual storytelling, having a unique style (developed through practice and taking inspiration from lots of different things), subject matter, humour, atmosphere etc…

To give you an example of this, here’s a preview of a digitally-edited gothic horror painting of mine that will be posted here in a few days time.

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 13th October.

On a purely technical level, this isn’t one of my best works. For starters, the woman by the window has an eerily long neck and ridiculously long arms. Likewise, some of the shadows are probably in the wrong places too.

But, I tried to compensate for this by creating a gloomy, gothic and ominous atmosphere through the use of things like chiaoroscuro lighting, old fashioned location/fashion designs, an imposingly tall background and a slightly unsettling variation on a yellow/purple complementary colour scheme.

Likewise, I’ve added some mysterious visual storytelling to the picture by drawing the woman looking out of the window at something. Even though this picture was terrible on a technical level, I actually quite liked the finished painting.

So, if you’re even vaguely ok at using underlying elements like the ones I’ve mentioned, then your audience will probably be more willing to overlook any technical shortcomings in your art for the simple reason that they’re either more interested in the overall “look” or “atmosphere” of the picture, or what is happening in it.

A great example of this sort of thing can be found in regularly-updated webcomics and syndicated newspaper comics. Since they to be made in a short space of time, the “graphics” tend to be a lot more basic and minimalist.

Yet, this doesn’t matter in the slightest because the audience is more focused on things like the characters, dialogue and humour. The classic example of this is the webcomic XKCD – the characters are literally stick figures, yet it is rightly one of the most popular webcomics on the internet because of the clever humour, writing etc…

But, at the same time, “graphics” still matter to a certain extent if you are making art. After all, in order to express yourself visually as well as possible, you need to put in the practice and learn the basics.

You need to learn things like the rules of perspective, colour theory, the basics of drawing people, the basics of realistic lighting etc… So, yes, some level of technical skill is still needed. Not only will gaining more technical skills will allow you to draw more stuff and it will also help you to impress the harshest critic of all… yourself.

I mean, when I decided to start practicing every day in 2012, my art looked a bit like this….

“Midnight Haunting” By C. A. Brown [26th April 2012]

And, no, I’m not going to say how old I was then. Other than to say my art looked like something someone half my age could have drawn. But, I kept drawing (and, later, painting) because I enjoyed making art and I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to make art that looked cool.

So, I kept putting in the practice and gradually, I got better at it (to the point where the art I make actually looks a bit like the scenes I’m imagining when I draw or paint them). I’ve probably still got a long way to go, but learning technical skills through lots of regular practice really helped a lot.

So, yes, “graphics” do matter when you’re making art. However, they aren’t the only thing that matters. Things like personality, clever design decisions, visual storytelling etc.. matter just as much as technical perfection and/or realism do.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂