Did you do the one before it?

Sorry for the long pause between posts!  I’ve been busy, making paintings and living life, and nothing really crawled out of my head and screamed “WRITE ME!!!” Until today.

I’m taking a class on designing environments for video games online with Ken Fairclough.  So far, it’s been really good, although we haven’t gotten past thumbnailing yet.  I thought about trying to create something I was familiar with in order to wow the teacher and make myself feel good....but, being me, I did not do that.  Instead of “industrial science fiction”, I’m creating a dark elven city in a swamp of perpetual twilight with magically grown, organic architecture.  I’m pretty sure I am a masochist, but regardless, it is causing me to revisit design instead of just vomiting up the same thing I’ve been seeing since Alien came out.  No proof I won’t create something else derivative and boring, but at least I’m having to think about it.

No matter how vivid an idea in my head has been, I’ve been having a great deal of trouble getting cool thumbnails out on the page.  They have either been boring, or didn’t transform my sources (mostly mushrooms) enough to feel like architecture.  Today, as I was thinking of how to approach things, I remember what my father used to tell me when I came to him with problems in my geometry homework.  “Did you do the one before it?”  Of course, I’d mutter, “Yeah....” and then he’d ask me what it had to do with the current question.  My first answer, always was “NOTHING!” I was always wrong.

Take that step back. Simplify until you feel absolutely stupid.  Iain McCaig said in a workshop once, “Draw it like a 6 year old before you try to draw it like an adult.”  I think that when people say, “Go focus on the fundamentals”, that’s what they they are trying to say.  We think the fundamentals are lit spheres, and casting lines, and anatomy, and I suppose, sometimes they may well be...but mostly for me, they are remembering to get simple, get loose, and not try for cool details.  Before you can design the way a mushroom building extrudes windows, you have to figure out what the building itself is going to be shaped like, and how it’s going to express that it is a civic center, or a temple, or a house, or the local military barracks.  

You don’t always have to go back to square one to fix something.  Just like my dad would say, look at the problem before it, not the first problem.  If you can’t find your answers in the one before, it probably means that one was easy enough you solved it without being aware how.  Go back another step.  Go back until you understand HOW you solved the problem, not what the answer was.

If you’re like me, this will be threatening as hell.  I always get nervous that I don’t know anything, or that my “failure” somehow proves that I really suck.  In the words of Pulp Fiction, “That’s just pride, fuckin’ with you.”  There’s no shame whatsoever in not knowing how to solve a problem when you start looking at it.  If it was easy, you wouldn’t need to solve it.  I *could* be making an environment with cast-iron gantries, grates and steam filled hallways leaking fluids.  I’m reasonably good at those, they don’t really take a lot of problem solving anymore....and they look like every other concept artists’ designs on artstation.  That might be good for your ego, and it might get you “a job” - but I want to be the best, I don’t want “a job” until I retire making things that no one will remember for shows and games that were forgotten a year later.

Often, the way forward is to go backwards....and once you’ve done that, instead of faking your way with bravado and fancy brushstrokes, you’ll KNOW how to solve that problem, and you will have grown...on top of that, you’ll get better at solving problems in general, which just makes you that much more valuable to a team.

Thanks for reading!  Good luck out there designing :)