Drawn Interview Part 2: Brian Thompson

In Part 2 of the Drawn interviews, Art Director, Brian Thompson, shares his thoughts on how the art style for Drawn came to be.  You will also learn where he drew inspiration from and the challenges he faced.

 

Adam:

Please tell us about yourself and how you got into creating art for PC games.

Brian:

I’ve been making art ever since I was a little kid and have always been easily lost in my imagination. I decided to dedicate myself to unearthing my artistic childhood dreams, so I studied illustration at Art Center College of Design. I poured my heart and soul into my amazing time there. Every day was inspiring and monumentally challenging. After graduating, I worked several jobs as an illustrator and eventually figured out that I wanted to get into entertainment and bring fantastic stories to life, just like I did when I was a kid.

I got into games almost by accident, really. I have never been a gamer so it wasn’t what I sought out, but some classmates of mine had gotten jobs in the games industry and they loved it. I started out as a concept artist at a few companies and eventually worked my way to being Lead Concept Artist at Surreal Software on Midway’s ambitious Vegas title. Ultimately, I really wasn’t content with the genre of game I was making; I wanted a change away from the ubiquity of violence in most games.

As fate would have it, a great friend of mine and colleague had just gone to work for Big Fish Games and he sung its many praises. There arose a unique opportunity to be the Art Director on a new title so I came aboard just over three years ago to take up the challenge.

 

Adam:

How was the idea for Drawn presented to you?

Brian:

Well, it wasn’t really. Three years ago, Pat Wylie, vice president of Big Fish Games Studios was eager to begin work on a new title that had a strong fairy tale and fantasy element. I was very excited and took up the task of visualizing the art style, hiring a small team, training them, and working side by side with the equally excited designer to build the game.

Unfortunately, we faced some early struggles with the game design and storyline. It was clear we had to make a change and it was then that Senior Producer Chris Campbell and I were teamed up to solve the problem. We took a look at all of these fantastic environment paintings that the art team had already done and decided to make an entirely new game. I created an image that had one of our very stylized environments hanging in a frame on a dark and dreary wall. Over the next two weeks of brainstorming with the team, the idea of Iris and the Painted Tower was born. Later, we branded the game Drawn.

 

Adam:

Where did the art inspiration for Drawn come from?

Brian:

I think the inspiration really comes from my childhood. I loved fairy tales and fantasy and was transported by the tales of C.S. Lewis and the early films of Disney and Tim Burton. Stories of children escaping into the wonderlands of their imagination from Narnia to Where the Wild Things Are, intrinsically shaped my aesthetic as I imagined these worlds coming to life. I wanted to make a game that would be visually different and fresh amidst the games I saw launching every day. I pulled from this mix of dark and gothic and stylized fantasy to establish the art direction for Drawn and it has evolved from there.

 

Adam:

Walk us through creating the art style for Drawn from concept to the finished product.

Brian:

The early concept phase was really just me exploring shape design and drawing from my inspirations. I wanted the game to be built around this contrast of light and dark, monochrome and vibrant saturation. To support the idea of the paintings of Iris’s imagination contrasting with the bleak and trampled world of Stonebriar, I kept the design and shape language of her paintings built around curves, while Stonebriar was built with towering straight lines and hard sharp angles. These concepts took root and evolved as the art team lent their own touches and strengths. Both worlds grew equally – each with their own distinct characteristics – into what you see in the final product.

There is close attention to detail and craft in making each piece of art in the Drawn games. From the design of the rough thumbnail to the careful planning of values and the crafting of the colors, each scene was given lots of love and painstaking attention. My goal with the art is to give players something wonderful to look at and immersive to play in a world they don’t want to leave.

 

Adam:

Did any prior projects or experience help you when developing art concepts for Drawn?

Brian:

What makes the opportunity to create Drawn so special for me is the freedom to bring all of my experiences and all of my influences to the table. Every day I draw from books I have read, ideas I have had since childhood, and of course my education at Art Center. I had some amazing teachers who helped me hone the skills and imagination needed to do this work. I’ve been fortunate in being able to cultivate my creativity as a career and that is something I am hugely grateful for.


Adam:

What were some of the technical challenges you faced when creating Drawn?

Brian:

Oh, there were many! I firmly believe that technical challenges force some of the most interesting and imaginative solutions in entertainment. They force us to work within a limited space, to hone our ideas, and to be efficient, creative problem solvers. We are constantly pushing the limits of the minimum specifications and how much our users’ machines will take. Because our customers dislike massive downloads, the game can’t be too big, so we have to pack in as much as we possibly can. We can only have so much video and so many animations, so we use them wisely and in areas where they will make the biggest impact.

We have a great development team led by Peter Yiap, and they make magic with the tools, working within the knowledge that we simply can’t do everything we’d like to do. For example, we don’t waste huge cycles of time thinking about what 3D engine to use and how to set up our shader system. Those tools simply aren’t an option for Drawn given our audience. And for now, there’s great freedom in that limitation.

 

Adam:

What lessons did you learn from The Painted Tower that helped you in The Dark Flight?

Brian:

I learned a ton by making The Painted Tower. I think we all did. Together, Chris and I learned how to design a game, since we hadn’t ever done it before, and we quickly realized that it isn’t enough to have awesome ideas; you have to actually design them into a story and make them a part of the fabric of the game. As a team, we learned how to work together to make a game – making tough choices, what to cut and why. Focus testing was invaluable for us. We had players come in and test the game nearly every few weeks through the entire game’s development. It was a great learning experience.


Adam:

What is your favorite piece of art created for Drawn?

There are so many that I love. Many are scenes created by Hamzah or Soi. I enjoy them for a lot of reasons beyond just their artistic appeal. The journey they took to create them, watching them learn new tools and skills and then marveling at how the art just exploded. I guess I think of Drawn as one big piece of art, each scene arm-in-arm with the one before it and the one after it.

 

Adam:

How do you go about putting your own personal stamp on a game like Drawn without being overzealous?

Brian:

We really have a unique situation here at Big Fish Games; Chris and I have so much creative freedom. In visualizing the art style, I was able to make the art that I wanted to see in a game.  While there was some push back here and there, these challenges always forced me to learn and grow as an artist and a leader on the team. While I love when the stars align and I can produce a beautiful piece of art for the game, I get the most satisfaction out of guiding the talented team of artists and animators that I work with. I feel like I have the great opportunity to lay the artistic and aesthetic foundation, but it’s while the building is being constructed that the true magic happens!

 

Adam:

Would you change any aspect of the art design as a whole if you were given the chance?            

Brian:

There are always things that I wish I had done differently but I feel really proud of the art in Drawn. I made mistakes throughout the journey of creating Drawn but when I look back at the two games we’ve made, I feel like each mistake was important and timely in my education. Those mistakes forced me to analyze our process and reconsider how to tell stories visually. They have often painfully highlighted shortcuts I took, or things I overlooked. Sometimes I wish the game could be more epic, more cinematic, more animated. But I think I need to save that for the feature-film version. 🙂

 

We would like to thank both Brian and Chris for the time they took in writing fantastic and detailed answers about one of the best point-and-click fantasy games ever made.  You can read the interview with Chris here.  Be sure to check out Drawn on their official site and on Steam.

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