In creating such a number and variety of projects this semester, I’ve noticed some patterns in the way that I work as I attempt to establish my personal style and aspirational place in the games industry.
My approach to each project generally begins with visual research: reference images, mood boards, and investigations into others’ work. I keep computer folders of carefully-organized inspirational pieces (certain color schemes, painting styles, ways of using lighting, stylized elements..) as I encounter them on Artstation or Reddit, and often refer back when starting a new piece. I spend very little time sketching, because I have a picture in my head of the general outcome of a project but am not a strong traditional artist.
Instead, I prototype. If there is a technical aspect that I’m unfamiliar with, I start out with the parts that I’m most concerned about and do quick test projects to work out those processes; otherwise, I worry I’ll be panicking up against a deadline. Often, the most difficult research step is simply figuring out which terminology to search for (i.e. a uniquely-named operation in a software). I will look for tutorials on Youtube and forum posts for very general techniques, but tend to assume that experimentation is best for more specific tasks. I’m coming from a cosplay background where there’s never a set tutorial for the strange piece I’m trying to create and everything must be invented from scratch, and I’m still breaking out of that mindset.
Once I start sculpting, I’ll frequently pause and compare back to the original reference image(s) to do reality checks and avoid fixating on an inaccurate mental visualization of how a piece should look. I’ve found that generally I much prefer the stage where my sculpts are heavily mutable, as I struggle with being locked into a decision or finalizing one step of a piece. I enjoy being able to toggle between large overall shapes and small details, so my favorite tasks have been garment design in Marvelous Designer and early rough sculpting with ZBrush’s Dynamesh.
Originality and novelty are extremely important to me. I usually look at a potential idea, figure out what influences may have put it into my head, and try to find a unique twist to distance myself from others’ work; I dislike the idea of copying or feeling like my art is not unique. I also really enjoy discovering original techniques, and tend to introduce complexity or force the invention of a new way of doing something (often because I’m stubborn and refuse to accept that an outcome isn’t possible). On the downside, this means that I sometimes waste significant time and frustration when I could just compromise on my initial vision.
Many of the entries in my annotated bibliography were sources that I found organically through my weekly research, and relate to either conveying meaning through character design or elaborate on potential career specializations. I found that I was mainly searching for academic sources, as many of the non-peer-reviewed articles that I found were limited, one-sided, or heavily biased; I generally don’t seek out many ‘opinion’ pieces, rather focusing on technical walkthroughs or more substantiated sources. On a similar note, I tend to prefer experimentation over explicit tutorials, or at least creating small test pieces to prove that a technique is effective rather than simply trusting a source. My explorations this semester have confirmed my initial choice to pursue character art (as opposed to environment or VFX), but more importantly, have clarified my niche in costume, armor, and accessory modeling. These have easily been the projects that I’ve been most excited and motivated to work on, and from my research I feel confident that there is a space in the industry for that focus.