I have been to 2 developer conferences since this started. I have a lot of thoughts on this but ill just share a couple for now. Behind closed doors, game developers (in the indie and AAA scenes) are very concerned. They are not arguing for gamergate. They arent entertaining discussions where both sides of this thing are treated as if they are somehow morally, ethically, and logically comparable.
They are terrified of speaking up. They are terrified of doing their jobs. They are terrified of having their professional and personal lives ruined. They are concerned about losing more developers because of these vicious attacks. Some have had to leave their homes. Among developers at these conferences, this isnt a debate in the slightest. Any movement that accepts the abuse of female game developers as a form of acceptable collateral damage doesnt deserve serious consideration.
I know someone who has left the industry entirely because of harrassment. I know women who have been doxxed. I know women who predict they will be targets in the immediate future. Make no mistake, if you support or defend gamergate, you are supporting the harassment of women in the industry. Any way you spin this, this toxic highly coordinated abuse remains a central feature of the GG movement. Every industry panel and roundtable ive attended has addressed this. I have more thoughts to share about what I heard in these spaces that ill share a bit later. For now, dont be fooled by the many ways people are spinning this. If you support GG you support attacks on game developers.
Every artist has work they’re ashamed of. The shoddy work pokes at your frailties, your failings, and your own sense of vulnerability. YOUR SHAME. Well, this is my shame. My art from my first game went through very dramatic changes, most of which were wrong turns and bad moves, all directly my fault. But I learned a TON from those mistakes. So i’ll show you those embarrassing visual turns through my first published game, in the hopes that after your eyes stop burning, you’ll have some perspective on what you can expect from making your first game.
1) You’re going to throw a lot away.
The game was pretty simple — A 2d puzzle platformer where you (an intrepid squirrel) use bombs to traverse the environment and solve puzzles. And die. A lot.
What is abundantly clear looking back is we didn’t know what we wanted. When defining our style we kept throwing around terms like “dark” or “cartoony” or “retro” without actually drilling into what those things meant. They didn’t help us unify our different styles or abilities…they were just buzzwords we used to convince ourselves we had a solid direction. (here’s a hint: we were fooling ourselves)
Additionally damning is the fact that most of the artists on the team had never really used photoshop and had no drawing experience. It was also my first time working with other people, so I was a bit bewildered when faced with the task of putting jarringly different (and often awful) assets together on screen at once (upper left, 90’s clipart, no bueno). Needless to say, most of the work was thrown away as we struggled to make something that just worked on a basic level.
2) Your work will (justifiably) be torn to shreds.
Thankfully, I had an industry contact at ArenaNet who I had just gotten to know that was willing to give me feedback. I was pretty hopeful about my arrangement of buzzwords and careful reworking of the other artists’ assets (to try and make things look somewhat cohesive).
What feedback I got was crushing. I sat there dumbfounded as one of my biggest art idols ripped my work to shreds. And there was no way to hide from it, most of it WAS my work. The exact phrase she used was “It looks like cocoa pebbles in mac n’ cheese…” This was devastating in every way…months of work was essentially all for nothing, and we were about halfway through our dev cycle.
3) You’ll be shifting/adjusting things the entire dev cycle.
So, we had to make a change. She asked what style I had and I pulled out the buzzwords. Let’s just say I didn’t get away with that for one second. Cohesive styles have visual rules that can be listed. In the middle of my dev cycle, I had to grapple with the fact that I didn’t HAVE a style I could actually pin down. Additionally, management shifts needed to happen. There’s a bit of drama that goes down with many video game development teams. There’s a lot of pressure, and you have to make production as water tight as possible. So as production proceeds, you have to shift your role to match the needs of the game. This often requires taking your ego and gently setting it on fire.
With a bit of work, I became the art lead for the project and began reworking the style a bit with more freedom. But it still wasn’t good enough. My game was on the chopping block from our producers AND my industry contact told me again and again that I was missing crucial problems.
4) Style Guides Matter.
Our style was in a state of crisis. I still wasn’t getting it, after months of reworking. And I was the most qualified designer on the team. My ArenaNet contact told me to drop everything, take 2 weeks, and look at a select number of references. Do nothing but look and take notes. So, I whittled the list of influences down to Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, and Wiley and Coyote cartoons. I’d never thought I’d look at that stuff to study it! Well, even though there was a LOT of pressure from the team to produce (we were only 2 months from release), I took the time and looked. And looked. And finally, things started to click. It took a LONG time, but I started to see the patterns between shows and boil the common style elements down to a simple list.
My team thought I was crazy, and I kinda was, but after I finally knew what we needed, I decided to redo all assets in the game (saving over original files without changing their image sizes, so the game would update these assets instantly). The redesign was a huge change.
[month 8.5 / 9]
I don’t blame them for not thinking I could do what I did. It was a month before release when I changed every asset on screen.
That shouldn’t happen. Style confusion is my single biggest mistake on that game, but by staring the visual problems in the face and doggedly pursuing solutions to them…as well as burning a TON of artwork in the process…I learned more from that dev cycle than the rest of my college experience. I’m really glad I made the mistakes I did and engaged them on my first game rather than padding my own ego and taking the easy way out.
5) This Stuff Doesn’t End
Yuuuuup. I’ve got a handful of games under my belt, and while the problems that this project had weren’t nearly as dramatic on other titles I’ve released, some small variations of them have existed on every dev cycle. So it’s important to know about the stresses you’ll be facing, because they seem to pop up every time, in some form, and they have serious consequences. Stuff like preproduction, getting a style down, delegating artwork effectively, communicating effectively as a team, working with people who will enable production more than delay it, and on and on. The list of things to balance is rather dizzying.
The best way to be prepared for it? Stop waiting, start doing. Go ahead and make your game now. This stuff gets messy and takes raw experience. Your first game won’t be your best and that’s okay. What’s important is that you make it and finish it, and move on to the next awesome thing.
I love this ‘behind the curtain’ look at Brittney Lee’s involvement in Frozen.
All this is from her blog and you can find it here
Research is a huge part of what we do. Once the team had decided that Frozen would take place in a kingdom that was based on Norway, a group was sent to Norway to gather as much first-hand reference as possible. While there were many things learned on this trip, the one thing that the team came back with that directly affected my work on the show was the art of rosemaling.
Rosemaling is a type of decorative folk-painting that can be seen just about everywhere in Norway - it is used on everything from architecture to clothing. My fantastic art director, Mike Giaimo, (if you don’t know who he is, do yourself a favor and look him up!) decided that we needed to develop our own library of rosemaling for Frozen - and that is where I came in!
My first month or so on Frozen was dedicated solely to creating rosemaling for the world of Arendelle. I worked on everything from wallpaper to tapestries (like the ones above) to painted architectural designs to costumes (there will definitely be more on those later). The great thing that we discovered about our rosemaling was that nothing went to waste. We needed so much of it to propagate throughout the film that even if a design didn’t get picked in the first round, we ended up using it later.
For costuming, we wanted our rosemaling to reinforce each individual character’s personality traits. Anna is bright and bubbly, so her rosemaling is always effervescent and floral. Elsa is poised and refined, so she has long, elegant designs with a hint of crystal-like geometry. Since Kristoff is a bit of an outsider, his patterns are much more geometric and banded, reflecting design elements seen in the clothing of the Saami people of Norway.
The tapestries that hang throughout the castle in Arendelle were a fun challenge. They had to be approached with the design language we established with Arendelle’s rosemaling, but with an added element of storytelling. The tapestries below were initially requested as a set of two: one representing Spring and the other representing Winter. Eventually it was decided that we should have all four seasons, so Summer and Fall were added to the mix.
All images are property of Walt Disney Animation Studios.I don’t think I had any idea when I started on Frozen how prevalent rosemaling would be. Honestly, I was thrilled to just be able to work on the movie, so I happily doodled away for days and days on these designs. Now I look back and am so thrilled to have been given this task. As a visual development artist, it is really rare that your actual work makes it to the final frame of the film. Our jobs are to inspire and inform the artists who make the actual assets, but in this case I get to see my work on the walls and the hems of their skirts. It is magic.More to come on Frozen soon, as well as other updates! Thank you so much for your response to the last post, as well as your continued support. Have a wonderful weekend!
Spent the evening analyzing this awesome work. So much thought, care, and restraint put into these designs. Check out her blog, it’s gorgeous!