Gnomon Creating a Sci-Fi Alleyway

Creating a Sci-fi Alleyway. Detailed Environment Techniques with Devon Fay  – great inspirational tutorial on the gnomon workshop.

What a beautiful piece of art Fay’s “Sci-fi Alleyway” is. I love this feeling of rain-slick, beaten up alleyways filled with old tech and Japanese references. The image has really stuck with me and I can’t help but think of it when I look down narrow alleys in Belfast. Even during the weekend, I saw a poster in The Ramen Bar in Dublin and immediately thought, sci-fi alleyway!

This is the VR (or AR?) dream.


Summary of my notes from the tutorial:

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Modeling: Standard Measurements

Week 05

This time around, for the apartment blocking for the animatic I looked up some standard measurements for floor to ceiling height and door height.

Room height should be between 2.4m to 2.75m which I found here:

Height and size regulations for rooms:

Information on doors:

Habitable room and ceiling height:

When I was creating the measurements of the last apartment that I blocked I made the ceilings taller than this but I suppose measurements can change depending on the architectural style,  like high Georgian ceilings.

Level Design in a Day: The Level Design of Gone Home

Johnny shared this talk with us from GDC: Level Design in a Day: The Level Design of Gone Home

I admit that I haven’t put much thought before into designing for environments which are interactive and explorable. This is a new challenge for me and it was interesting to see how the layout of an environment needs to be considered in order to control the flow of user experience. I’m looking forward to seeing how our team of story, level, art, code and sound designers will be dealing with this extra layer of consideration.

Using the level and environment design of Gone Home as an example:

  • The space is designed so that it feels non-linear and real, even though a birds-eye view reveals that the layout could not exist in real life.
  • In a real house layout, the progression of the player is more difficult to control. Many doors would have to be locked. Gaynor shows his own example of a central hub where the player can branch out from. Also consider what is visible to the player from the central point alone.
  • Look for house plans with interesting and surprising layouts e.g. sprawling Victorian houses that fill the landscape that they inhabit.
  • What is the player experience/flow that we will have to build for?
  • Fill the grey box layouts with furniture, textiles and other paraphernalia that creates a lived-in feeling.
  • The taste and furniture needs to represent the taste and financial position of the owners, all the way from the creation of the house to modern day.
  • Make large spaces more intimate. Pull the spaces in. (Craig says this in relation to the bedroom example).
  • The bedrooms show the characters distilled.
  • What kind of doors fit with the architectural style?
  • Symbolism and allegory.
  • Research technology of the house’s era e.g old victorian heating system. Educate yourself and know specific search terminology. Take a field trip for research.
  • Library – go there for more unique references that everyone else won’t find through google.
  • Think of how the floor plans and angle of hallways can add interest to your rooms.
  • Do even more research than you think is needed. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
  • What can you get away with on the macro versus micro levels? Create a layout which makes sense functionally e.g. the foyer leads to the stairs which leads to a hallway which leads to a bedroom. If the kitchen leads to the bedroom the player will start to question the layout and reality of the house.
  • Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. A teenager’s bedroom is ordinarily very cluttered but you need to consider the rendering constraints when trying to replicate this impression. Abstract the feeling from the space and strip the scene down to what is needed to create this feeling. The more simple an image is the more you can project your own vision onto a space. Think of the simplified language or symbols needed to get the idea of a character space across.
  • Buy old magazines from ebay for research. Do I remember seeing these things growing up?
  • Do you want to use very obvious symbols or more subtle ones? For example, Victorians attached different meanings to flowers which Craig took into account when she was designing some of the motifs for the environments. Not all players are expected to pick up on such subtle symbology.

Mike Hill Industrial Design in Entertainment

Week 02

I though that this talk by Mike Hill has important teachings on how we should approach designing environments (and characters too) for 13 Songs. It may seem obvious that we should design with purpose but sometimes it’s easy to fall into the routine of designing just to fill a page of variations.

Mike talks about taking design/entertainment beyond simple gratification. He draws comparison to the experiment involving a rat which can press a button to stimulate its own nucleus accumbens (pleasure centre) and the media experience today e.g. mindlessly scrolling through a facebook feed for gratification. Go beyond this.

“it can produce insight in the audience through story empathy and drama.”

e.g. Compare the experience of the Transformers films to that of Blade Runner.

“We must encode our designs with information that enhances the narrative.”

Principle: You don’t put a hard corner in somewhere that will hold a lot of weight. Lesson: nature is the ultimate engineer.

Study the principles behind what happens e.g. Hill learned from Discovery Channel – not necessarily from engineer books. Emulate the work flow that you’re trying to create e.g. of engineers.

In Silence of the Lambs, the chair that Clarice sits on to interview Hannibal is designed to fit her state of mind. It is collapsible and similar to a school chair: it supports the scene’s dynamic where Hannibal is placed in a position of power above her. Lesson: think of how the prop design supports the emotional language of the scene.

In Contact (1997), in the scene where Jodie Foster’s character is approaching the (space?) ship/vessel and safety chair, the design language of the scene; from the tunnel she walks through to the chair, supports the unconscious thought that she is walking to her death. Sub-conscious associations can also be made between her armour design and a saint’s/martyr’s e.g. Joan of Arc. The scene could be viewed as her walking the plank above a writhing tentacled kraken. The chair she sits on is designed for every need of the shot e.g. function, subconscious associations of death and taking away power, being able to see a first person POV shot looking below etc. When it releases her it looks like an angry jaw letting go.

Design towards symbology and metaphorical references. Make it work but also lace it with meaning. The shape language is meant to represent something: an emotional journey.

First you make a good story AND THEN you make concept art to support it.

What we think is cool as concept designers can actually undermine the story and actors of the scene. Hill looks at Event Horizon as an example where this happens.

We are not designing for ourselves. We are designing to contribute to an emotional symphony. Tuning the instrument is the ‘making sense’ part and playing our piece is the ‘designing for emotion and story’ part.

FZD Visual Library

FZDSCHOOL (2012) Design Cinema – EP 52 – Visual Library


At the moment I’m struggling with designing an interior shot of a Beak’s house. I’m thinking that it’s probably at least partly because of what Zhu talks about in this video – the importance of developing your visual library. I’m guessing that being more observative and mindful of what I see/experience on a day to day basis would help a lot also. Google images can only take me so far.

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FZD Designing to Spec

Zhu(2015) Design Cinema – EP 84 – Designing to Spec

In this video Zhu talks about the importance of design versus just making a nice drawing – design should come first.

This concept art project will be a good challenge to design under the restrictions that we have set ourselves while still creating interesting design solutions. Feng also stresses the importance of being able to adapt real world references into your work.



FZD Environment Thumbnails

FZDSCHOOL (2014) Design Cinema – EP 78 – Environmental Thumbnails

This technique is similar to what Conann showed us last year with finding shapes in paint. In this video Zhu lays down lots of photos randomly to create a chaotic board of colour and values. He uses this as a base to find settings/environments. He then uses the lasso tool to block in shapes and paints them as structures into the environment that he sees. The idea is to create a new idea from chaos and mistakes so as to get you out of comfort zones – a pipeline is good for reliability but sometimes you need to experiment. Use contrast, shape and patterns. Making mistakes is fine in the design phase, free up your thoughts. Capture the idea first and then clean things up with fundamentals.

Don’t ever let your moral drop. Mistakes pave the way, every stroke you make on the page is allowing you to improve. Don’t compare yourself to others.


ImagineFx: All Creatures Great and Small

ImagineFx (Christmas 2014) All Creatures Great and Small

This article from ImagineFx has some very useful insights into designing creatures.

Ken Barthelmey talks about the importance of a mixture of realism and imagination in order to make the creature design believable yet not boring.

Terryl Whitlach describes a similar approach where “real nature…is the anchor of the imagination”. She says:

“An idea in the abstract is fine, but even then the human brain is wired ‘to put a face on it’, as George Lucas would say: some sort of physicality that our senses can interpret and allow us to interact with it.”

Allen Williams has some useful tips on texturing. He suggests using the natural textures of the medium or create new ones from scratch. He says: “It’s important to understand that texture is surface pattern on a smaller scale. Look for textures and patterns that create a pleasing visual rhythm.”

Aaron Blaise also gives some useful advice for texturing. He encourages people to experiment and use textures that might not be the norm for a particular surface e.g. rock and trunk textures on skin.

Bobby Chiu uses non intuitive mixtures in his work to create interesting designs e.g. he has combined the anatomy of large bulky animals such as elephants with the proportions, lighting and pose associated with a smaller animal. He also talks about the importance of including story elements that the audience can easily decipher.

Paper Wings – Tips To Make your Characters More Dynamic And Believable

This is a helpful pdf containing a few quick character design tips from the Paperwings podcast:

Click to access PWP09_CharacterDesignCheatSheet.pdf

In summary they look like:

  1. Surprise me: try creating contrast between appearance and personality.
  2. A strong silhouette is everything: think in terms of shape and size and become familiar with visual cues for particular character types.
  3. Don’t waste your time with turnarounds (unless you need orthographic images for modeling) – expressive and acting poses will tell you more about the character.
  4. Get rid of your cable: Avoid character cliches and arbitrary accessories that distract instead of enhance.
  5. Find the power center – this influences the way that the character carries her/him -self.

Most importantly – the inside, thought and emotion, always affects the outside, the physical. Always design from the inside out.

Bobby Chiu Tutorial

This painting/tutorial from Bobby Chiu on CGSociety is a great example of how you can build characters/personalities from simple shapes: link



“When drawing characters you think as though you are acting through your pencil”.

“One of the biggest mistakes I find in beginners is that we tend to put down the details first before making sure that the structure of our forms is sound.”