Games and Interaction design

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Originality in Concept design

I've just finished watching Originality In Design, the first in a series of tutorial DVDs produced by Nick Pugh for The Gnomon Workshop. I've seen a number of gnomon dvds before, primarily from the Digital series for instructional purposes when learning Maya, but not seen much from their Analog series. Its fascinating watching, as you get to see a great concept artist at work, in fast forward, as he runs through the creation of five (IIRC) different pieces, narrating all the while. Its a process I've never see before, and considerably different to how I would imagine a concept artist would work. While the main thrust of the DVD is to break out of a creative rut that you may be in, or to steer your designs into new territory, its noticable how utterly free his creative process is. There's no mood boards, no reference material, barely any tools except a pencil. Starting off by letting his hand roam free over around 150 big sheets of paper drawing whatever his mind and hands suggest to him, Nick finds that he starts to break loose from the cliched imagery that clings to his minds eye like steak and cheese in the colon of an overweight truck driver. Colonic irrigation for the creative mind perhaps? After a while, the free sketches start to take interesting and original new forms. At the end of the process of producing hundreds of 10 second sketches, Nick reviews them in a group, selecting those with the most potential, and looks to render them into more definite forms. This for me was the really intriguing part of the process, as it seems almost like divining.... at the start of the rendering the shape is very vague, and he has little or no idea what each element is going to be or look like, but things present themselves at every stage in the rendering, so the form of the item literally comes from nothing... no premeditation on the details. This goes significantly against my preconception of the process of the work of a concept artist, which I had thought would involve an almost completely filled in image in the mind that was effectively photocopied from mind to paper. The lack of reference material was also startling.

While there are some breathtaking examples of great concept design in games (I'm a huge fan of the Oddworld, Katamari and Sly Cooper universes and anything by Tim Schafer ), browsing the shelves in Game would suggest that the games industry is in some sort of rut, with such a glut of "urban" titles and fantasy titles still cribbing off Tolkein. While this is of course no different in the film industry, and may also be a symptom of the conservativity of games publishers in the current climate, it would be great to see a chance for such great concept artists to help lead the games industry as it evolves into a more accepted creative medium.


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