Part 1

OK so the first 8 Art Diaries came out pretty quickly .. I was and still am playing catchup but now I’ve been officially announced to the world expect these to be coming out once a week. There may be the odd random post thrown in here and there but we’ll see.

So if you watched that little teaser movie at the end of diary 8 you’ll know where we are and saw some of the experiments that took place along the way. The decisions weren’t made linearly and they’re all intertwined. It’ll be easiest if I just list them in what ever order comes to mind.

Colour Palette.

The colour (with a U!) range was defined quite early on with the help of the thumbnail sketches and the photo reference. Natural, cool colours. Contrasty but top and tailed. I didn’t want to go to pure blacks as this to me suggests warmer climates. Dark shadows from blazing sunshine. This is, cold, foggy, misty Belgium. Likewise I don’t want to go to pure white for the snow. I need room for highlights, any white graphics and to avoid blinding you guys. I also needed a good range of white tones as well to add interest and texture.

[aside title=” “]I considered having two versions of the map, one for foggy, one sunny[/aside]Some areas are described as ‘rough’ terrain. Well the best way to show snow covered rough terrain is with shading but should that shading be grey, blue tinted or something else. Grey is too dull though it does suggest the foggy overcast weather. Blue? For quite some time I considered having two versions of the map, one for foggy, one sunny and worked on what I thought would be the sunny version for quite a while. But the thought of spending the majority of your playing time in dull grey foggyness was less than appealing. So taking my cue from the snow picture I showed at the end of Diary #5 I went with brown. Or rather a dull grey-brown-green. Like dirty, slushy grass from a distance.

Here’s some slices of the subtle and not-so-subtle colour variations.

Snow Experiments


The trees went through various shapes, colours and viewing angles before I as happy. When I worked on Awakening the Bear for Academy I divided the heavy woods into pine and the light woods into birches. Rather a cliched solution but it worked on a number of levels and I couldn’t help feel that it was also a good solution for Bulge. The Ardennes is well known for its dense, managed forests of coniferous trees but the unmanaged areas are the more natural deciduous variety. A perfect delinearisation that I could put to good use.

First thing to do was to work out how to create hundreds of thousands of trees and not make them look copy and pasted (I also had an eye on a couple of future projects that might conceivably require the same techniques). I love photoshop and couldn’t do without it but I hate the current trend of using layer fx so they scream out LAYER FX!!!! It’s like the old days of VFX when everyone used lensflares. Or modern VFX were people are overdoing chromatic aberation and grain. They’re all perfectly valid tools and techniques when used properly but most people abuse them.

(The arty snob in me wants to suggest it’s the realm of the rank amateur while I vainly try to ignore my overuse of vignettes and colour grading! :-\ )

<blockquote>the snow covered trees didn’t offer enough contrast against the snow covered ground</blockquote>

Once I’d solved the question of volume and control I started looking at the trees themselves. They went through a number of variations of models and textures – snow covered, partially covered, bare, hand painted, abstract, realistic. The snow covered didn’t offer enough contrast against the ground and the partial cover looked too noisy at such a small scale. There was a lot of tooing and froing but I eventually settled on bare realistic. While the detail of the realistic would be lost, a subtle variety in tone would add interest without too much noise.

Next was the angle and shadowing. I liked the idea of a shallow angle so I could show the height of these enormous trees. They just looked so lush and .. tree like. They immediately added character and depth. I did a number of tests at different angles but kept hitting the same functionality issue. They obscured the roads and houses. I eventually settled on an almost vertical point of view that allowed me to limit the space required for roads but still offered some depth to the trees.

As for the shadows, strictly speaking they should be long, but again they confused the roads. I allowed a few to overlap at some point but overall there’s enough road visible to ensure its legible. I was careful that most of the time there was a good enough gap around the houses and roads so they stand out and are pretty obvious. Again functionality has to take precedence.

trees experiments

I’ll explain some more choices in Part 2 to follow but if you’ve any thoughts on this so far then I’d love to hear them


All the original posts can be found here ..

The Map – Beginnings
The Map – Finding a direction
The Map – The Visual Feel
The Map – The First Brush Strokes
The Map – Decisions Part 1
The Map – Decisions Part 2