William Wu shares useful techniques for designing and painting scenes for video games as he demonstrates how he created his image New York Street; an environment depicting 18th century New York for popular title Assassins Creed 3.
Working as a concept artist for the video game Assassinâ€™s Creed 3
, I was asked by my director, Chinh Ngo, to create a scene depicting 18th century New York. This environment would appear arid and dusty in contrast to the Boston scenes used elsewhere.
Before jumping into any painting I will spend a couple of hours researching the architecture and people of the period
Before jumping into any painting I will spend a couple of hours researching the architecture and people of the period. I look into details like the type of window frames that would be used and the styles of decoration and clothing, for example. Doing this helps you focus on painting and will save time going back and forth to figure things out.
To accommodate for heavy crowd traffic, the streets would be vast and wide. The terrain would be rough and filthy as horses were integral to transportation during the period. The image also needed to show the bustle of the 18th century New York streets with market stalls and vendors with residents wandering around.
Once I have a basic idea in my head, I begin to think about the color palette that I would use to illustrate the dry, dusty streets. I chose warmer hues of red and yellow to convey this atmosphere (Fig.01).
Once I have decided on my color palette, I start on a small and rough thumbnail sketch of the scene, which I check with my director. This should not be larger than the size of a business card - If the image is readable at that size, then the final image should not have any problem selling that idea.
Perspective and light
My next challenge is to create a symmetrical perspective without having the focus placed directly in the centre (Fig.02).
To guide the viewerâ€™s eye, I apply the rule of thirds in photography and place the area with the highest contrast along one of the overlapping points on the grid (Fig.03).
This method can be very useful for beginner painters who have trouble initially with composition. This rule doesnâ€™t only help with finding the focal point, but can also be a useful guide as a cropping tool to remove unnecessary areas.
Lighting is a very crucial part in any painting. It defines forms, shadows, and strong silhouettes. Without a strong sense of light, it would be more difficult to know where the focus of the image is located. In this image, I have decided to place my light source on the left behind the shadowed architecture.
This light source gives me the opportunity to create a strong silhouette and a bright focal area. I tend to enjoy using later afternoon sunlight, simply because it allows me to play with the shape of the shadow. I always think about contrast in light or shape when I paint, as this creates a much stronger, more interesting look.
I continued to compose the image and broke it down into three sections: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd (Fig.04).
The 1st holds most of the detail and contrast. I spend a lot of time on this, carefully painting each window, door, and all the other objects as it this layer that the audience will scrutinize, so if these details arenâ€™t clear enough, it can undermine the rest of the painting. The 2nd section contains less detailed elements that are not as important, but still add interest. Finally the 3rd is much less detailed and demands less time.
In order to create a sense of depth, I try to add as many overlapping elements as possible, placing dark shapes in front of light shapes and vice versa (Fig.05).
Atmospheric fog is also great for creating depth and giving an air of mystery - It makes the audience want to
Now the environment is established, I focus on the crowd and making the scene more exuberant and involving (Fig.06).
Creating a sense of motion can illustrate scale, activity, and narrative. Similarly, depicting smoke and wind can also add life to the image (Fig.07).
Finally, I check my values to see the range that I have used and check if it could be pushed any further (Fig.08).
I tend to have the widest range on my mid-tone value, while the darkest and the lightest areas are used more conservatively, as the image begins to lose it realism when pushed too far. Now happy with the values, the image is complete (Fig.09)
Â© Ubisoft entertainment