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Author Topic: Perspectives on perspective  (Read 8579 times)

Eric

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Perspectives on perspective
« on: 01 Sep 2012, 07:10 »
Hi guys,

There's a wonderful documentary about the director John Ford where Steven Spielberg recounts a tale of meeting the director when Spielberg was a young man. I'm taking this transcript from the Pop Matters review of the doc:

Quote

Now I understand a bit about horizon lines and perspective in film (Citizen Kane is a master course in cinematography, especially any scene that's a conversation between Jed Leland and C.F. Kane in a mostly empty newspaper office), and in still drawings. But video games are a different animal, especially 2D video games like ours where a severe change in perspective can necessitate redrawing sprites from different views. I was working on a technique for making backgrounds tonight and it occured to me to ask, if you'll excuse the goofy wordplay, your perspectives on perspective.

For instance, here are some questions I've got:

  • How do you all generally manage perspective when designing your backgrounds (and, accordingly, your sprites)?
  • Do you prefer one-point or two-point perspective (or, and I will be impressed with you if you answer this, three-point), and what do you see as the benefits and drawbacks of each?
  • Do certain perspectives work better for interiors and others for exteriors? For specific environments?
  • Is it jarring at all to mix one- and two-point perspective in the same game, the same area, the same room?
  • Should the point in a one-point perspective image always be in the center? And how do you handle one-point perspective in a scrolling background?
  • How do you handle horizon lines? Do you like them high or low? And if you like 'em low, how do you avoid drawing ceilings?
  • How far can you break perspective for effect (ala Day of the Tentacle)? How and when do you know to do this?
  • What techniques do you use in which programs to set up your perspective lines and points?

I'm sure there are many others out there. So I thought I'd open a forum post and invite you all to respond. Feel free to share your own work, backgrounds from games you like, crude mock-ups, or whatever. Share best practices, raise objections, offer philosophical ideas on the nature of art, or whatever you feel like doing. The general topic is perspective. Consider it open.



I'll start by sharing a technique I was testing tonight. I'm dealing with a lot of urban spaces in a game I'm planning, and got tired of drawing windows, doorframes, sidewalks, etc., in perspective all the time. So I cranked up Illustrator, and made a flat version of a building (This is a draft, just enough done to get a nice structure to work with. Also, this is scaled down from the giant file I accidentally made):



I then made a Photoshop file, 640x480 at first, and colored the thing neon green. Then, I expanded the canvas to 300% with the live green section in the center. I used Photoshop's ruler guides to set up a two-point perspective, pretty much at random distances, and a horizon line just a little north of center. I imported the flat images in chunks (the main face of the building, the two faces of the part of the building that protrudes onto the sidewalk, and the bits that make up the canopy), and used the Free Transform / Distort function to adjust them along my perspective lines. I very, very quickly threw a few shadows here and there, and some light. The perspective's still not perfect because I was trying to hurry, and the shadows were a quick inquiry into whether I could paint-over the distorted flat images to give a sense of depth (I think I need to invest in a more extensive test). Then I drew a quick...background to the background.



There are some problems that I think would have been solved had I kept my images Smart Objects -- the problems with the strip pattern on the canopy, for instance. I think there's some promise in this technique -- I could draw the same building from different views fairly easily if the game called for it, I'm able to standardize things like windows (which I think I can individualize later by painting over) and bricks, and, interestingly for this project, which is set in the town in which I live, I could make my own 3D models of the buildings. There are other things I'll have to through and adjust -- the open sign looks really flat, for instance.



Thoughts on what I've done here, or on perspective in general? I look forward to hearing what you all have to say.

Technocrat

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #1 on: 01 Sep 2012, 11:33 »
That's an interesting technique, though I don't think I'll be able to make much use of it since I'm still a slave to Paint Shop Pro 5.

I've always stuck to having a vanishing point on a layer, lines towards the VP on another layer, and drawing on the third. However, to make a nice-looking (non-squashed) background, it's a good idea to keep the VP outside of the area that's being drawn, when doing two-points.

I seem to have unconsciously gotten into the pattern of using one-point when doing an indoors scene, two point outdoors, and three if looking upwards at something really tall!

Eric

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #2 on: 01 Sep 2012, 15:11 »
I've always stuck to having a vanishing point on a layer, lines towards the VP on another layer, and drawing on the third. However, to make a nice-looking (non-squashed) background, it's a good idea to keep the VP outside of the area that's being drawn, when doing two-points.

I always try to do this, but I always wind up screwing up and drawing a perspective line on the wrong layer at least once and have to ctrl-Z my way out of it. Putting the vanishing points, which is a word I somehow forgot to write last night in making the original post, outside of the actual image is why I make a super wide image to crop down later. I know you can set the ruler guides outside of the canvas in Photoshop, but I like being able to see the perspective line all the way through.

Quote
I seem to have unconsciously gotten into the pattern of using one-point when doing an indoors scene, two point outdoors, and three if looking upwards at something really tall!

I understand the three-point, as that's a perfect use for it, but I feel drawn to the same one-point for indoors, two-point for out that you use. Why do you think that is? Are there some inherent benefits to that breakdown?

ThreeOhFour

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #3 on: 01 Sep 2012, 15:30 »
It reads a little like a 2d texture on a 3d object - not a bad thing, but it removes some of the hand drawn feel.

I try to stay away from vanishing points - the backgrounds in which I do use them always seem a little stiff to me - but it might be worth investigating using a simple 3d program (perhaps sketchup?) for a similar effect? It'd allow you to shift the camera endlessly until you found the exact positioning you wanted.

Eric

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #4 on: 02 Sep 2012, 01:56 »
I find 3D programs incredibly frustrating, just because I haven't sat down to properly learn them. I'm hoping that continuing to work with the image will make it look less like the 2D texture on a 3D object, and I need to be more considerate of which things don't exist on the flat surfaces I've drawn -- like that "OPEN" sign throws that whole plane off. I should draw it in separately, thinking about how it fits in that space.

If nothing else, this will help me plot where things go. The trouble I have with drawing in perspective isn't so much the getting the parallel lines to align, it's with correctly plotting the distances between objects -- especially those that are evenly spaced. This kind of stuff, even using the formulas seen here, I usually get wrong:



And I think that I can make it work -- after all, I'm always drawing in a 2D environment.

I've just walked around PISS for a bit, and none of the backgrounds seem especially jarring. Are you still kind of eyeballing the vanishing points, or just winging everything? You might just have a better knack for it than I do!

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #5 on: 02 Sep 2012, 04:15 »
I mostly wing it. The second scene in PISS (in the street) was drawn using vanishing points because I had trouble getting the scene down and wanted to get it painted up, but I never really liked that scene.

I find vanishing points make an image slightly too rigid for my tastes. I feel like they create an image composed under the assumption that everything in the real world is perfectly flat and square - which is fine for architects, but it loses something when you want to build a world that has depth. If you take this scene from PISS as an example:



You can see how I've tried to play with undulations and elevations to create a sense of depth there. There's no way this image could have been done like this if I had followed vanishing points when working out the composition, and I feel it would have lost some of that depth that I managed to sneak in there.

Similarly, in a scene like this:



I want to show a lot of the red sky to set the mood for a scene, but if I had stuck with the reasonably high viewpoint of the bottom third of the image (which makes a scene more playable without scaling - see Beneath a Steel Sky and Gemini Rue) then you'd see none of it, so I made this a hill and tilted the background scenery back the other way to combine both a high point of view with a low point of view depending on whether you're looking at foreground or background. It means I have a very playable scene because you can see a lot of the foreground but also means I could build the atmosphere I wanted by showing the sky.

I think it's very important to consider both funcionality and aesthetics when designing a game. If you stick with perspective lines, you'll probably have to scale characters quite heavily, and I've yet to see a 2D game which does this without ruining the immersion slightly (because the characters always turn into pixelly blobs).

The way these scenes are drawn aren't very methodical or scientific (I took art in the 11th grade but failed it), they're more specifically designed to work as a game environment than a piece of artwork, so my adherence to the laws of composition (and my knowledge of quite a few of them, no doubt) is shaky at best. For me, the most beautiful scene is meaningless if you can't play it well. Still, interested to see what others think in regards to horizon lines and such, and I think the style you've found has merit, provided you can lose some of the 3d look.

Andail

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #6 on: 02 Sep 2012, 10:11 »
It all depends on the style.
I'm currently making a realistic, low-res game, and my perspective has to be pretty rigid. I wouldn't construct backgrounds the way I do now if the game was high-res and fantastical, in which case I'd experiment much more.



Of course, when it comes to scenes that don't have many parallel lines or flat surfaces, perspective points become less important, like in this scene, where I just sketched something up that looked right:

Ascovel

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #7 on: 02 Sep 2012, 12:23 »
I'm currently working on a game where the POV constantly switches between some extreme angles. I even redraw the character's walking sprites for specific backgrounds (what you mentioned as a limitation in choosing angles).



My process looks something like this. I create a very basic 3D version of the setting in Sketchup. Then I move the camera around to see which angle would be best for the visual effect I want to achieve. I make a screenshot of the chosen POV and start painting over it in photoshop. And then I basically change everything for the sake of composition and to have it feel more interesting and even more hand-drawn. I want it to look convincing and cinematic, but I hate perfectionism in perspective and symmetry.
« Last Edit: 02 Sep 2012, 15:07 by Ascovel »

Ilyich

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #8 on: 02 Sep 2012, 18:31 »
I try to stay away from vanishing points.

Booo, Ben Chandler, boo! Saying such awful things! Vanishing points are our friends! Our tiny, dot-shaped friends! ;D

Which brings me to something I think is important - perspective should be treated as a tool, not a rule. And as with any tool - you are free to use it as you please or not use it at all, but it sure helps a lot if you are trying to draw a realistic looking environment. And the more realistic you wish to go - the closer you should stick to these... tools. For example, Ben's art, apart from being awesomely beautiful, is always somewhat whimsical and abstract, which makes it always evocative, but never familiar from the real life, and it's a direct result of the loose approach to perspective and colours (and the other way around too, of  course).

Moving on, I feel that 2-point perspective is always a better way to go. 1-point perspective can be useful in low res, but when you're working at higher resolutions you can always make a more complicated, interesting and dynamic composition with 2 points.

I would also suggest trying Google SketchUp - it's really easy to use and can help a lot if used right. Here's a small tutorial on what I think "using it right" means from one lovely devianart artist: http://feigiap.deviantart.com/art/Google-sketchup-to-painting-2-285039677

The main problem with your otherwise lovely background right now is that the shape is too simple. And proper perspective is much more useful to create complicated shapes, with lots of different planes. So, basically - it's a perfectly nice method, but it will still take a lot of work to make something great with it. :)

A wonderful example of using complex 2-point perspective for 2D backgrounds is The Journey Down: http://www.skygoblin.com/the-journey-down/bilder/tjd4.jpg - the perspective there is quite precise, but not at all rigid.

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #9 on: 03 Sep 2012, 14:39 »
Tee hee!  :cheesy:

I agree that Theo's work (for example) is absolutely beautiful whilst still being quite accurate, but the amount of scaling that goes on in scenes like that renders them out of the question for my poor sprites, who look ugly (or uglier!) the second they get scaled even slightly.

And I agree that I allow myself to get away with such transgressions against technical compositional by drawing my own pretend worlds, and that if I was making a deadly serious game then I'd probably get away with it less (although I'd totally try!).

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #10 on: 03 Sep 2012, 16:36 »
@Bens earlier post: In this gloomy graveyard, I suppose I managed to use a similar combination of high foreground viewpoint with a lower viewpoint background. Sort of. There is still a fair amount of boxy character scaling in there, but most of the action is in full scale. Plus, a 320x200 game lets you get away with a lot more boxy ugliness.

I think this was based on a rough pencil doodle. Obviously without vanishing point techniques and stuff since everything is too wonky and I wouldn't know where to start anyway.

@Ilyich: I admire your enthusiasm over sketchup and it truly is useful, but a tool like that would really kill the style of a lot of games.
Imagine what Sam & Max or Day of the Tentacle would have looked like if Purcell had been using sketchup.

Ilyich

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #11 on: 03 Sep 2012, 18:24 »
...if I was making a deadly serious game then I'd probably get away with it less (although I'd totally try!).

And judging by one of your old unused backgrounds (the one with the snow and a train) you would totally get away with it! Damn! :cheesy:

StillInThe90s, first of all - awesome background! Very nice composition and design, hats off to you!

And I'm hardly a SketchUp enthusiast - I've never actually used it myself. :P But I think it's an interesting technique that can be useful to some and it seemed appropriate to mention, given the appraoch Eric was trying out. And I'm definitely not suggesting that everyone should do it this way, I'm not mad. :) As I was saying - it's all up to the style you're going for, and drawing wacky perspective in a gritty cyberpunk game would be no less ridiculous than making a DoTT remake realistic 3D. :)

Getting back to the original subject of perspective and what's our perspective on it - I just realised that I've drawn very few backgrounds where it's actively used. In natural landscapes you can even get away with knowing nothing about perspective at all. And where I do need it I usually just set up the horizon and a few lines going to the vanishing points on a seperate layer and draw the rest of it more loosely.

Although it's still nice to work with a complete perspective grid sometimes, since you can really go wild with it, drawing orthogonal planes left and right. And you can still end up with a mess of a perspective if you're not careful enough, as I did here :)



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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #12 on: 03 Sep 2012, 21:39 »
Ilyich: Thank you for those flattering words. [blushing like a little girl]
Sorry for my outburst earlier. The way I read your post, it sounded like you wanted people to give up their individual styles and start making sketchup paintovers instead. I felt I had to stop you before anyone got hurt.  :-D
I didn't notice any perspective issues in your wonderful city scene until you pointed it out. But maybe that says more about my sense of perspective than it does about the piece.

Ascovel

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #13 on: 03 Sep 2012, 22:14 »
The way I read your post, it sounded like you wanted people to give up their individual styles and start making sketchup paintovers instead.

I think you approach it the wrong way. Sketchup can be used as just a point of reference. You can manipulate the 2D shot you made in sketchup like you would any other 2D image. It's an useful tool, not a style censor.

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #14 on: 04 Sep 2012, 02:41 »
Beautiful example, 90s. A good way of having both depth and playability.

I love that everyone is showing their styles off in here, too!

Eric

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #15 on: 04 Sep 2012, 02:58 »
Thank you all so much for contributing to this thread. If no one else learns anything from it, I have gained much to think about in my art process.

Andail and Ascovel -- Would either of you be willing to make a process post showing your work from Sketch-Up to in-game? I've tried working from a CAD program, Chief Architect, for my indoors scenes, but find the perspective and camera placement to not function in a usable way for me. Andail, I especially liked the backgrounds in the Samaritan's Paradox demo. They reminded me a bit of the old XIII game, in that they hit a balance between a 2D and 3D look, sort of cel-shaded but better done than most stuff like that I've seen.

Ilych - I've said elsewhere that your game is one of the most beautiful I've ever played. Any chance you have one of your background files in layers so we can see your process as well? And you say you prefer the two-point perspective -- do you have thoughts on either the scaling issues that come with that, or mine and Technocrat's similar experience in being drawn to two-point for outside scenes and one-point for indoors? (Also what is that futuristic neo-classical background for? Looks good!)

Ben and 90s (together, 394) - Would you suggest that an adherence to perspective creates a certain kind of expectation -- verisimilitude in BG design = reality across all aspects of gameplay -- whereas the perspectiveless (or loose perspective) background artist throws the player off-kilter from the start? (And maybe Andail -- how do you see this affecting the play of your game, which seems to take place in two worlds [the real world, and the world of the missing novel?]?)

Thanks all!

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #16 on: 04 Sep 2012, 15:31 »
I'd say the exaggeration of anything, whether perspective, colours, decorative items or any other element will add to any otherworldliness.
 
I prefer to draw things in an over simplified way - houses that are just one room, a town with just 4 stores you can visot and such, because often it's all I require for my narrative.

similaly, I simplify my perspective because that's what fits the game. I guess I feel that being practocal about such things gives one more chance of getting the project done.

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #17 on: 04 Sep 2012, 15:42 »
Ascovel:
Quote
I think you approach it the wrong way. Sketchup can be used as just a point of reference. You can manipulate the 2D shot you made in sketchup like you would any other 2D image. It's an useful tool, not a style censor.
I both realize and agree with that.

ThreeOhFour: The idea was to illustrate failure really (and how to get away with it). But thanks a lot!
Plus, I can refer to this tread if anyone claims that I'm nicking your concept.  :-D

Eric: Some big words in there. "verisimilitude" Had to use a dictionary for that one.
I do believe that the style of sprites/backgrounds has a lot of impact on the atmosphere in a game, which in its turn will generate some expectations on the game itself. If that made no sense, take Tentacle and Broken Sword, for example. You don't expect people to get shot and die in a game like Tentacle, and you really don't expect any of the events from Tentacle to show up in a game like Broken Sword. Other aspects like music, sound effects, voices and the actual story obviously has just as big impact, but in my opinion, graphics certainly gives you an idea of what to expect in terms of realism.
Parts of Broken Sword buildings and indoor scenes really look as if they were made using a 3d tool. Anyone has some relevant trivia on that?

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #18 on: 04 Sep 2012, 18:03 »
I read a blog called Drawn.ca and they recently featured this video about one-point perspective in Stanley Kubrick films:
http://blog.drawn.ca/post/30544856367/a-collection-of-shots-from-stanley-kubrick

I think all those shots are very focused and evoke uneasy emotions.

Ilyich

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Re: Perspectives on perspective
« Reply #19 on: 05 Sep 2012, 04:57 »
Eric, the neo(n)-classical background was painted for one of the Background Blitzes here, just for fun and practice. :)

As for my process on Patchwork - to be honest, it's really simple and terribly uneducational. I start with a very messy sketch, then turn it into a more refined lineart drawing, and then just colour it. That also pretty accurately describes the layers in my .psd files. :)

The stages look something like this (clickable):



Looking at it now, I don't think I've used any construction lines for perspective apart from the horizon line on the initial sketch, but there isn't that much to construct here, really. :)

As for the scaling issues - firstly, it's much less of an issue in higher resolutions - it's still far from perfect, but it doesn't ruin the sprites completely, as it does with pixel-art. And secondly - 2-point perspective doesn't necessarily mean scaling - if anything, it's easier to get away with slight cheating. Just keep your line of horizon above the character's head and vanishing points far apart and the lack of scaling on the character will not look too jarring. As an example - here's a screen from Broken Sword 2 (which I believe is mostly hand-drawn, by the way - no 3D, just rulers :)):



I think it's pretty obvious here that unless George goes to the very bottom of the screen, he will look absolutely fine without any scaling at all.

And as I said already, I think 2-point perspective works just as well with interiors, even though it's often tempting and/or useful to have a straight on view with 3 out of 4 walls clearly visible.