Saturday, 30 March 2013

Yoshitaka Amano's 'DEVA ZAN'

The latest book featuring the art by Japanese painter Yoshitaka Amano, isn't an art book but a complete novel not only illustrated, but also conceived and written completely by Amano himself. The story is based upon Buddhist mythology, and follows the warrior Yoshitsugu during the last days of the Samurai, and his discovery of himself as one of the Twelve Divine Generals of Heaven, Zan. His journey takes him not only outside of Japan, but outside of his time and space entirely. as he travels across numerous worlds in search for his true purpose and identity, and to reform the other Divine Generals. Only then will Zan be able to lead the army of light against the darkness that has consumed the heavenly realm, and now threatens to extinguish the entire universe. 

Yoshitaka Amano is internationally renowned for his work on the Final Fantasy and Vampire Hunter D franchises, and has illustrated literally hundreds of novels by other authors. But Deva Zan is his first piece of work that focuses on his own story, that has been over a decade in development, and a story that is currently in the works as a fully animated motion picture by Amano's own studio, Deva Loka. 
Fans of Amano's work will know how diverse his work can be, and this volume is no different; from the start your greeted with both intricate black and white line-work to minimalistic splashes of vibrant colour, all complimenting the surreal and fantastical story written alongside them. 

 Though having pretty much focused on characters as the central focus of his work, this book highlights some really interesting environmental pieces that are brilliant at illustrating the surreal worlds and dimensions that the main character Zan is travelling through. These pieces show the hectic nature of the stories journey, as each world feels bursting with vibrancy, even those without inhabitants, with otherwise toned down environments always having some sort of colourful centrepiece to them that either act as a framing tool, or as a drawing point to some important aspect of the story itself. The artwork always stay focused on the books characters though, with the fantastical backgrounds working beautifully in showing off everything from the feudal Japanese wilderness to the cityscapes and bustling metropolis of New York and futuristic worlds. 

The character's that are featured in the story of Deva Zan vary from the battle weary samurai that is Zan and his mechanical steed Panther, the lumbering demon guardian Bear, the diminutive dancing Sanfu and the sultry love interest Maria, each one is as different from the last and any others feature in the overall story. Though a lot of Amano's characters often have very feminine features, he does a good job in this story of creating a vast difference between each person. There is also a great difference in how each character is depicted, the demon guardian Bear is first depicted in such vibrant colours of red that he dominates the pages, and you get a great sense of his great size and power. Zan is often drawn with thick brush strokes, to show his identity as an ex-samurai. 

 The varying use of different media's such as pencil, inks, watercolours and gold leaf create such a vast difference between each page that as well as reading alongside the story you really have to study each picture, to see and take in everything that is going on. This is both the benefit of a story being written by an artist, and a negative aspect; the accompanying artwork illustrates the story more seamlessly than if it was done for another author as Amano knows exactly what he wants to depict. But a downside to that, is that if the story becomes a bit confusing (and it can do in places) the artwork can become a bit abstract, and doesn't make things clear to understand. 

Those that know Amano's work, will know that his work always sees to have a feel of fluidity and movement, and this book really highlights that. There are some really intense action elements within this book, and the artwork alongside it really gives you a great feeling of action and excitement... you can really tell that Amano has been planning on adapting this story on to the big screen. This is another dividing point; the varying angles and perspectives that each picture is depicted makes each one interesting to look at, and gives a great sense of movement and action. The downside to this though, is that it can sometimes appear too abstract and the positioning obscure, especially when a particular piece is quite colourful, it can be quite overbearing if your not accustomed to Amano's surreal style of work. 

Overall, Deva Zan is definitely a book for fans of Amano's art as well as his imagination, the 200 plus new pieces of art he has worked on over the last ten years specifically for this project are wondrous and awe-inspiring, and in themselves showcase his varying styles and technique as a painter and artist. I would say however, this book isn't the best introduction to Amano, as this style of book that is written by him as well, is a first and i can see how it can be confusing to those who are new to his style of work; even as a long time fan of his, i had to make sure to examine some of his pictures alongside the story in detail to get a better grasp of what was going on at that specific point. Some pieces are also quite abstract, and to casual browsers may appear to be 'contemporary' while on closer inspection, each picture is relevant to the overall book.
As a final word, id say this is a fantastic piece of work, and a must for those who want to invest themselves in a unique story and illustrated world, that is steeped both in traditional Buddhist mythology and surrealist fantasy and science fiction... If this is your first step into Amano's world however, dont expect it to be an easy journey. If you have the time to invest yourself into his work though, you may find yourself lost in a world that is unlike any other.

Creativity, The Talent Myth and Craft

although initially seeming to be an easy subject to talk about, I knew once I began to think about it in depth that it would be a challenge to discuss. My opinion on creativity is that it is something that is innate in most people; anyone with an active imagination has a creative spark, but it is the application of hard work to feed the spark to make and mould an individual talent into something unique. I mean, from that description it sounds like I think everyone is a creative person, and if you ask most people, who won’t say that they are a creative person? Regardless of what sector they are a part of? But I think only a few handful of people are able to take in the inspirations and influences around them, address any ideas and concepts they have invented and tackle the problems that they face in new and original ways.

Perspective: an experimental perception puzzle game, that shows how game developers will always be home to to new creative ideas, regardless of what state the industry is in. 
I think artists in particular are a good example of people who make their creativity a focal point of both career and life; they don’t allow themselves to be constrained to what is necessary and constantly functional. I don’t think artistic talent is something you are born with, but I think the influences throughout your life draw you towards the things you have an interest in. I know many people who have a passion for art, but don't have any skill to make it... but i think if they applied themselves to the study of it, they would be able to divert that drive into making it, its the same with anything; if you put the hard work behind the things that stimulate and interest you, you can achieve any level of creativity you strive for. 
I think honing your craft plays the more practical part in being a creative artist; balancing this hard graft aspect with the inspiring influences, and creativity aspect is crucial. Skill can only get you so far; a computer can replicate an image onto paper without any of the influences or process's an artist would work through, its all equations and processed numbers to achieve that end. Regardless of how accurately or how skilfully a person can transfer their creativity into an end product, their vision or idea can still be presented and brought to life... an example of this is  most modern art. I don't get it and i think most of it is crap, but it's still (mostly, apart from those lazy bastards who hide behind the shield of being minimalistic and other grandiose bullshit to not put in the hard graft and appear to be all high brow) an expression of their creativity and ideas. 

Little Big Planet is a good example of a recent game that puts the creativity aspect directly into the hands of the player, to create their own game experience. 
Creativity i think, lies at the heart of all video games; everything from the game play, interaction, the game world and its inhabitants, and even the overall design direction of the game. Its the complete package, and every aspect compliments the other, and i think it shows a games weakness when one of the links in the process is weaker than the other. I think that in an industry that has seen such an influx of investment and development in recent years, has made it hard for games developers to stand out and create something new and unique; publishers aren't willing to take the chance on a new IP when they know what sells well, and would prefer to stick with a guaranteed sale. its good to see a flood of new independent studios releasing a fresh wave of creative games on mobile platforms, allowing new games to still be creative in a market that is dominated by big companies that suffer from churning out the same style of games, year after year. 

I think personally i have already had an interest in art and expressing myself creatively... not really as a means to express myself to others, but more really as doing so has always made me happy. I would hope people looking at me and my work, would acknowledge that making art in whatever field, has been something that i have dedicated most my life to and is something i am passionate about. Its difficult to say how creative or talented you are, without sounding arrogant or overly modest; i know i am talented at what i do, but at the same time I'm determined to improve, because i know there are so many areas i have to improve in before i move into the real world outside of education. I think i need to dedicate myself to more specific areas in art, areas that I'm lacking in to balance out with my strengths in the areas i a stronger in. e.g. more practise on environment and still life, to catch up with my work in life drawing which is my stronger area. 

And when all is said and done,
and after much thought and in-depth analysis
.... here's a book about arty felines

Creative Writing

As part of this creative writing brief, we were given several themes and in a short space of time had to write down the first thing that came into our heads when we heard each word... here's what i came up with:

1) SKY ~ Clouds, wind, hurricane, sun, birds, blue
2) TREE'S ~ Green, leaves, coconuts, roots, squirrels, bark, lumberjack, wood

3) PLANET ~ Circle, earth, space, cosmos, world, large, immense, colonisation, animals 
4) SHIP ~ Water, sail, pirate, captain. cannons, speed, discovery, buccaneer
5) BIRD ~ Flight, wings, perspective, worms, eagle, majestic, pigeon 
6) TALL ~ High, intimidating, basketball player, giant, mountain, ladder
7) SKIN ~ Body, human, protects, shell, wrapping, enclosed, blood
8) HAIR ~ Long, wavy, gel, lots, head, strength, coat, warmth
9) EYES ~ Striking, soul, view, look, see, vision, window, glass
10) TEXTURE ~ Rough, pattern, bumpy, feel, nature
11) SCHOOL ~ Kids, play, teachers, maths, chase, rounders, drawing, writing
12) FEAR ~ Spiders, unknown, loss, darkness, failure, uncertainty
13) HAPPINESS ~ Joy, smile, sunshine, laughter, friends, jokes
14) TAXI ~ Drunk, laziness, chat, direction, comfy, dodgy, costly
15) ATMOSPHERE ~ Ambience, feel, warmth, glow, burn, planet

Then after i had noted down all these words i began to form each lot into a sentence, trying to make as much sense as possible with the words i had thought up....

1) The blue of the sky, and the sun made way for the hurricane as the clouds whipped around, the wind sending the birds off course.
2) The lumberjack chopped wood, as his axe sunk into the bark, the green leaves shook right down to the roots, making the squirrels throw their coconuts. 
3) The immense earth formed a circle in space, travelling through the large cosmos, as a colonisation for animals. 
4) A pirate captain signalled the cannons, the sail unfurling, as the ship speeded across the water, the life and discovery of a buccaneer. 
5) The majestic pigeon in flight ate worms, but in perspective an eagle came along and clipped its wings. 
6) A giant basketball player climbed a ladder up a high mountain so it didn't seem intimidating any-more. 
7) The human body protects us like a shell, the skin wrapping us up in an enclosed network of blood.
8) Though the coat was long and wavy, the marmoset's head had lots of gel on it adding to its strength and warmth. 
9) Looking through the glass window, was a striking vision into the soul, and made me view things differently. 
10) In nature the feel of things such as armadillo's are rough and bumpy, and appear in a pattern.
11) Kids play rounders while teachers chase them, trying to teach them drawing, writing and maths.
12) The uncertainty of darkness makes me think of spiders of failure lurking in the unknown.
13) Jokes and laughter in the sunshine makes me smile with joy as i spend time with friends.
14) The drunk laziness of the dodgy character, was costly in chat but sent me in the right direction. 
15) The planet had an ambience that gave it a feel of warmth. as the pod breaking through the atmospheric burn gave its hull a bright glow. 

Now i had a very vague outline of what was going on, i tried to form these sentences into more of a narrative i could then base my storyboard on...


...Then moved onto writing up a final draft, rearranging all the words and ideas i had come up with so far, so that they all try to fit within a 12 panel storyboard template. Some words and ideas were removed completely, as adding them would make some sections too cluttered, and i thought the storyboard was already confusing and random enough as it stands so i left them out. 

With the story draft sorted, i then translated this as best i could into illustrations, working to the twelve panel layout id decided on (with the exception of one panel that is split into two, to get 2 different perspectives in one).

...And the finished storyboard! scanned in my original pencil work, coloured over it in Photoshop  adding shading, light, etc. What with the surreal and random nature of this project, kept the colouring and style very colourful, and i think it shows how much fun i had working on this! :D 
I decided on leaving the panels without frames, and with the paint overs left messy, as it gives the whole thing a very hand-made feel and that's what i wanted to get across. 
Overall, a very fun project to work, on due to the completely random nature of it, and the fact that a lot of the illustration work relied on thinking up surreal things from your imagination, and that's the sort of work that really appeals to me and that i can easily find myself getting stuck into. I'm definitely going to set myself more of this sort of work given the chance, as i think its a good showcase for my illustration and imagineering skills, and will hopefully lead to strong portfolio work in the future :)

~Chasing The Moon~

Book Character Illustration

It's the night before Hogswatch. And it's too quiet.

There's snow, there's robins, there're trees covered with decorations, but there's a notable lack of the big fat man who delivers the toys...

He's gone.

Susan the governess has got to find him before morning, otherwise the sun won't rise. And unfortunately her only helpers are a raven with an eyeball fixation, the Death of Rats and an oh god of hangovers.
Worse still, someone is coming down the chimney. This time he's carrying a sack instead of a scythe, but there's something regrettably familiar...


It's true what they say. 
"You'd better watch out..."

For this project i chose the character of Susan Sto Helit, from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, featured in the novels Soul Music, Hogfather and Thief of Time... i chose the version of her from The Hogfather. Once id re-read the book, taking notes, i compiled a few mood-boards looking at outfits worn by governess' figures as well as variations of the types of clothes worn by the character (hooded cloaks, formal dresses)

For early sketches i looked at capturing Susan's hair style first, it being described as a 'dandelion',  white with a single black streak running from end to end. 
Below are a few sketches i did using markers, as i tried to depict Susan in a few scenes from the book; Her taking a practical approach to the monsters the children are scared of with her poker, her hair rearranging itself in her study and her holding the Death of Rats in her palm. 
'Yes Twyla?'
'I'm afwaid of the monster in the cellar, Thusan. It's going to eat me up.'
Susan shut her book firmly and raised a warning finger.
'What have I told you about trying to sound ingratiatingly cute, Twyla?' she said
The little girl said, 'You said I mustn't. You said that exaggerated lisping is a hanging offence and I only do it to get attention.'

Various costume designs i did, trying to capture the look of a governess. I tried to make it both practical, formal but also quiet stylish, with hints to Susan's heritage as Deaths Granddaughter. 

*The final design for Susan Sto Helit; decided to give her a no nonsense pose, befitting her character. Created the line art by hand then tried out a hatching sketch technique on a copy to see what it looks like... it gives it a unique, 'olde worlde' feel, that i think fits the world depicted in the book.

*Final design of Susan, sketched in various circumstances and poses... tried to capture her practical approach to the mystical world she is so resentfully part of. 

The final piece, depicting both Susan at the forefront, with her grandfather Death stood behind her as an imposing figure. I tried to make Deaths figure not overshadow that of Susan, and in contrast to Susan's white on her costume, the black robe of Death acts as a frame to her quote well i think. As an afterthought, i decided on adding in the city of Ankh Morpork (which is the central setting in many of the Discworld novels), but shown through a sort of stylised 'window' to show how Susan is part of both the ethereal world outside of reality like Death but also still trying to keep hold of her human side. 

Introduction to The Games Industry: From Generalist to Specialist

As all industries grow, they become increasingly complex with various roles in the various sectors within it. The Video Game industry is no different, and as one of the fastest growing industries in today's market, having an understanding of how it all fits together and works is essential to someone like me who is studying Game Art.

The areas of the industry are divided into the following businesses:


The various companies whose job it is to bring the games to the market. They control what games make it past the development stage, through funding and management of the finished game. They also are responsible for marketing, PR, Sales and manufacturing the game, and often companies like EA, Activision and Codemasters will pay the developers in advance to cover the cost of development. Once the development process is finished, the game is sold by the publisher and the money made back will go back to the publisher until they have made the money back that has been advanced to the developers. Depending on the game's success, how much money is made back determines both a developers additional royalties and also a publishers investment in a developer; if a game doesn't sell, regardless of weather a sequel is already in production if the publisher isn't behind it financially it wont see the light of day.


The multitude of Programmers, Artists, Designers, Sound Engineers, Musicians, Producers and Writers who all all work on creating the game itself. Development companies vary from independent to part-owned or fully owned by Publishers, distributor or hardware manufacturer. Most games are funded by a Publisher; The developer pitches their game idea to a publisher who agrees to fund the development work through an advance against future royalties. The developer then proceeds with development of the game, receiving regular payments upon reaching pre-determined milestones in the project. With the up rise of indie games however, a lot of games are being created and funded via online fund raisers, putting the fate of the games release in the hands of those who would inevitably want to play it.


The companies who are responsible for getting the finished game from the Publishers to the shops that sell them. As Publishers don't deal directly with the stores, they sell their games onto Distributors who then in turn sell the game to the various shops they deal with. With current generation consoles all providing their own digital distribution services via their respective online services (PSN, XBLA and WiiWare), distributing companies are being replaced causing a massive shift in the industry.

Hardware Manufacturers

Two main TYPES of hardware exist in gaming, both Pc/Mac's and game consoles, Pc's are open access, meaning anyone with the funds and backing can develop games for them, while consoles are closed systems, meaning all the games are made in industry, and so apart from hacking a console illegally, the games made for consoles are much more stable due to a longer and more thorough process of development and testing.

As someone who is studying to work in the development side of the industry as a game artist, i have researched the individual roles and salaries to see how they differ and also to see the path needed to take to get where i want to in the industry. (Estimated wages are in dollars, and all wages increase, both after being in the industry for 3 years and then again after 6).

Programmer/Engineer: Between $50,000 and $90,000 a year. Is the highest paid role, especially at entry level position.

Technical Directors: Has a lot of responsibilities, so can earn between $60,000 to well over $100,000 a year

Game Artists: New and under 3 years experience can expect an average of $40,000 per year. If position held for over 6 years can earn up to $67,000

Game Animators: Between $46,000 and just over $75,000 in the current climate
(If you gain a senior role in either the art or animation department of game development, salaries can range from $64,000 to a ridiculous $214,000)

Videogame Designer: Between $46,000 and $70,000

Creative Director: Between $45,000 and $81,000, though depending on the company senior roles can bring in up to a reported $180,000 a year.

Producer/Executive Producers: Producers are only usually roles given to those who have worked in the industry a few years first anyway, but those can earn anywhere between $62,000 and $200,000 a year.

Game Tester: Between $32,000 and $50,000 a year

Lead QA: On average, between $40,000 and $60,000, though if highly skilled and have longevity can earn up to over $200,000!

Sound Engineer/Technician: Between $50,000 and $74,000 a year.

Musician/Composers: On average can earn between $55,000 and $90,000, but with longevity can earn over $200,000.

Success in gaining a position as a game artist in particular, tends to be based off a good, solid portfolio and knowing people who are already in industry to get to know all the inner workings of companies and how they accept new prospects. While some companies rely on a good degree, others may not even take that as a priority instead basing it off what work you show them, and how professional you act during the interview. At the end of the day, concentrating on a specific area in a role you want to work in, will mean you have a solid strength that you can work to your advantage and can offer a prospective company.

(An in depth look into the more specific roles, and how much they pay)

Mortal Engines

This is one project in which I was excited about from the outset: Character design, across both visual design and game production, to characterise ourselves in the style of the setting of the novel, 'Mortal Engines'. I started out by reading the book itself, so I knew what style to work on, while at the same time creating sketches of self portraits to get my features down. Once I had finished with the book, I had an idea of modelling my character in the same style of the 'sky pirates' mentioned in the book, as airships were a major form of transport in the apocalyptic world between the moving cities. I researched clothing styles, looking at Victorian fashion, as well as great coats and dusters often worn by characters in the book, as well as other military style outfits, all compiled over a few mood boards. 
Once I had gotten the self portrait down that I was happy with to base my characters appearance off, I began editing various styles on top of it, using the original sketch as a template. 
*Looking at various clothing variations for my character, combining some clothes with others .. wanted a combination of stylish and practical.... if my character is going to be an airship pilot this needs to be obvious in the clothes he wears. 
I took the inspiration of my character from the air pilot Anna Fang, who had her own airship and wore a great coat and wielded a sword... it was this buccaneering style I wanted my character to have, so I carried across several of these elements into my own character  while trying to not be based directly off her. I made my character a pilot for the Anti-traction League as well, even creating a crest for the organisation to be depicted somewhere on my character to show his allegiance. Also as the League is based around a part of the world that has Arctic weather conditions (Tibet?), I leaned my characters clothing style towards someone who would live in these cold conditions. 

*Digital Sketches of developed attires for my character, also looking at a combination of styles and colour schemes. Decided on a practical burgundy/brown for most of the costume, though all colours are worn to show the practical nature of the characters job as an airship pilot. 

*Working from a developed sketch I created he final design for my character digitally, making the line art first, then reversing that to edit it into a back view, to show off my character from both angles, as a turnaround image. 
I made the decision to keep the line art for my final character artwork prominent, even after I had shaded and coloured it, as I think it helps to convey my own style and the characterised aspect. Also making the final character image as simple as possible, means it'll be easier to nail the basics down with my 3d version.

*The overall turnout of my 3d model I was pleased with, in particular the mesh itself I think was particularly strong, though I think that maybe dedicating so much time to that gave me less time to focus on the texturing...which I think lets the whole thing down a bit. 

*When I rigged and posed my character I was going for a quite heroic stance, but from various angles it looks more camp than anything, hahaha! rigging showed some weak areas on my mesh that didn't move as well as they should, notably around the elbow joints, which I noticed after my feedback... something to work on for future character projects. 

*The modelling around the face I was particularly happy with, especially from profile view... you can really tell its me! (quite proud of that ^_^). Though there are a few flaws when viewed from the front, such as the nose shape. 

My final airship pilot character  both the hi poly and LOD alongside each other. Annoyingly the file that I had created my lower poly version in corrupted in all version I had of it, so wasn't able to take any better screenshots than this one.... something ill most likely try to redo, as there were some areas I wanted to add to the texture, such as buckles and straps that had to be removed to get the tri limit down. 

This was definitely one of my favourite projects thus far, and only strengthened my love of character design (regardless of how ill the amount of work I had to do made me), and I think my Good grade I got for the 3d side of it reflects my hard work I poured into it. There are still many areas I need to improve on, but I think this project was good in highlighting both my strengths and things I still need to learn and perfect. 

*Below: Final piece depicting my character on board an airship, during his patrols of the mountainous regions the Anti Traction League is stationed*

Elements of Game Technology, pt 3: Interaction Design

The way we play games has largely been focused on the functionality, what is the most functional way to input your commands with the game as simplest as possible...however with the rise of home gaming, and video game consoles the importance of the physical aspects of things such as controllers and joysticks became just as an important aspect as the games themselves. People in the industry soon realised that comfort and ease of use was part of a much wider issue to making their console as interactive and simple to use as possible. This is visibly true of the joystick, a device made use of in arcades fro years before game companies took it on board as a control method for their home consoles. 

Comparisons to one of the first joystick designs to a modern one used in pc gaming: the use of it remains the same, just the design has involved to take into account comfort and function.

Alongside the traditional button and d-pad set-up, the analog stick has steadily crept back into consoles as the most seamless and fluid way of manoeuvring around in games. 

 Looking at the evolution of the PlayStation of three generations, shows its leap from the 'box' era of old school consoles to that of the more stream-lined and aesthetically pleasing curves of the PS3. Sony have essentially tried to take their PS2, the best selling console of all time, and tried to make it look more attractive, compared to its brick-like but incredibly functional predecessor. Its interesting to see, that the shape and style of the PlayStation controller has remained he same throughout three generations, signifying that if it works, why try to improve on it? Saying that though, the recent reveal of the PlayStation 4 shows that they have added more functions of the joy-pad to try to make the experience with it even more interactive. 

Nintendo is a company that has gone from the box style functional aspects of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, and evolved into a home console who's primary focus has been on motion control, and direct interactivity with the player. By focusing on an aspect not really keyed by other home consoles, the Wii was the first to popularise motion control, and appeal to those who wouldn't normally play video games. The competition in the PlayStation Move and the Microsoft Kinect are both superior in many ways to the Wii's original set-up  but due to lack of games being catered to motion control on Sony's and Microsoft's consoles they have failed to be utilised as successfully. The Kinect is the farthest in terms of direct control, that game consoles have come, in terms of removing a hand held controller entirely and letting the player directly become the controller. It will be interesting to see how far they can take it, or if it will just become yet another fad that will fall by the wayside. 

The reveal of the Google Glass project, that utilises augmented reality into glasses worn, shows how far user interface has come in technology.... something you'd imagine as something purely in sci fi as a kid growing up (that's probably me showing my age)