Chris Solarksi came into the game industry with a foundation in digital arts. Having graduated with a degree in CG, he says he was lucky enough to secure a job at Sony Computer Entertainment in London as a 3D environment and character artist.
Solarski then took part in an art workshop organized by ConceptArt.org, when he saw artists like Andrew ‘Android’ Jones demonstrating his ability to create lifelike characters straight from his imagination. This was just part of the crew at Massive Black studio taking their knowledge of traditional and fine arts into the digital realm and mixing it right up for Solarski. “I began to question my lack of traditional art training,” says Chris. “I saw that it was their mastery of classical art principles that placed them in an enviable position of being first to visualize characters and environments in the development process, for which artists like me would produce 3D models and textures based on their designs. I felt I had a lot of catching up to do if I wanted to be part of high level game design.”
Solarksi took painting lessons with Brendan Kelly and abandoned video game development altogether, spending the next two years in an intense program of self-guided study in Poland where he took life drawing sessions at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Art and the atelier of professor Zofia Glazer. During these years of study, Solarski developed a deep appreciation for the value of a classical art education and the techniques of the Old Masters. He realised that there were many undervalued lessons to be learned and skills missing, that would be very useful to all video game artists, including himself.
Viewed from an angle, the similarities between drawing, painting and game imagery become more apparent, as the illusion of life and depth in each artwork is created on a two-dimensional, static surface. Without the benefits of digital animation and interaction, the challenge of creating a window into a make-believe world is the same for the video game artists as it was for the Old Masters.
“There are so many connections between the two disciplines of classical art and video game art. Video games are a natural progression of classical art, and the same visual grammar and artistic techniques both disciplines,” explains Solarski. “I realized that applying the classical art techniques to video game art would enable artists to create more meaningful visual and emotional experiences for the video game player.”
In his latest book, Drawing Basics and Video Game Art, Chris Solarski takes a comprehensive look at everything from the basics of drawing, up to character movement, anatomy, elements of design, and character and environment design. “What ties all the topics together are emotions, and how we use design techniques to evoke various reactions from players. My current series of talks focus on defining dynamic composition because it’s one of the most powerful tools we have as artists to influence the player’s emotions. Dynamic composition brings together elements from different chapters of Drawing Basics and Video Game Art.
“By better understanding video gaming’s place in the history of art, we automatically increase our creative scope, and sources of inspiration. More importantly, we also have the potential to learn lessons from the Old Masters to help us create more expressive, and meaningful experiences in games,” Solarski says.
Solarksi talks about the bare fundamentals of drawing with a pencil, down to how to hold the tool for the kind of particular output. Shading, rubbing, dabbing, erasing and mastering hand-eye coordination, one of the basic but essential tenets, even when rolling at speed with a digital graphics tablet. “Translating traditional composition techniques to interactive environments isn’t difficult if we concentrate on the basic elements of lines, shapes, and volumes,” says Solarski. “The key question is: where are these elements pervasive within video game environments?”
Dynamic composition elements:
• Character movement
• Level design/pathways
• Shape relationship between playable character and environment
To better understand the concept of character movement, it’s worthwhile playing or watching the following videos …..
JOURNEY launch trailer.
In terms of narrative, gaming’s roots in tabletop games and puzzles, and early technical restrictions, have led the industry to unnecessarily stick to a stat-based approach to game design, where certain gameplay elements remain constant.
The key to complex character development is to imagine video game characters as living, breathing figures. Characters in films and novels never start and finish the same way—a character’s experiences force them to develop over the course of a narrative. Which is why it’s interesting to note that Hollywood directors like Steven Spielberg— who have been interested in video games since the beginning, with unsuccessful attempts at translating their ideas to the interactive medium (see E.T. the Extra- Terrestrial)—have also stuck to this stat-based approach to game design.
Creating a 3D character on screen is part in parcel of the job of a game artist. Of course, the character remains rigid as you draw, but to bring the character to life, the illusion of weight and movement must be created with skillful use of lines and shapes. There are fundamental concepts of anatomy and force involved in human movement to be studied. "These concepts will instantly bring a sense of life and energy to your characters, but drawing from life is recommended," says Solarski. "Drawing from life is the best study method for understanding the figure because it allows you to record experiences firsthand and that translates to more believable figures in the realm of virtual space."
Anatomy studies are not only recommended. They are fundamental. To understand feet, legs and weight, leads to a better understanding of balance, and how the character carries itself. Putting a torso, arms, head, then clothes on your figure brings the personality and structure to the piece. "In the end, video games aren't a revolution in art history, they are an evolution," adds Solarski. "The artist's challenge is to make something without depth seem like a window into a living breathing world."
Solarski has been crossing the little planet lately presenting his case and illuminating the connections between the classics and the iconic video games. Botticelli's Venus and Nintendo's Mario. His speaking tour schedule crosses many games conferences and is trackable in the related links below.