Random thoughts and bits of life of a coffee loving artist

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Art of Gaming: Spirits

Due to my work schedule, I had realized that I hadn't given myself a chance to wander the world of indie games as much as I would like. So in the wee hours of the morning, I made sure that I took the time to see what was out there and if I could find anything that would catch my attention. Luckily there was a few who did, one going by the name of Spirits.

Spirits, created by indie developer Spaces to Play and released in February 2012, is a type of puzzle platformer which asks the player to assist little spirits of leaves to make it across the environment and guide them home. The story line that is provided is "Autumn is quickly approaching, and the spirits of fallen leaves are setting out on their journey home. Guide them by changing how the wind blows or by rebuilding the ground”. While I was looking at the trailer, I was struck by how much the little spirits reminded me of Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001) along with some old European descriptions of tiny forest spirits. It also brings back memories of fables about mandrakes walking about, something that is visited in modern story telling such as the Harry Potter series and Pan's Labyrinth (2006). The whimsical and adorable design of the tiny spirits with a rich earth toned environment is certainly attention grabbing but it did made me wonder where the creators got their inspiration from. After emailing the folks over at Spaces to play, I happily received a response from Game Design and Art Director Marek Pilichta:

Dear Dawn,

The art direction had many different influences like swedish illustrator John Bauer, polish master painter Jacek Malczewski and also japanese legend Hayao Miyazaki. We wrote a detailed post on how we came up with the art style on our blog 

If you have further question please let us know!

All the best,
Marek Plichta

I was so glad to see that I was at least right (slightly anyways) about the European influence but it was wonderful to see some names to put with it. Illustrator John Bauer (1882-1918) studied art in Stockholm before entering the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts. He's known for his illustrations for fairy tales between 1912-1915 with such pieces as Tyr & Fenrir, and Trolls & Princess Tuvstarr. Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929), normally associated with the patriotic Young Poland movement and considered as the father of Polish Symbolism, studied under Leon Piccard and attended classes in Władysław Łuszczkiewicz at the School of Fine Arts. Many of his works blended patriotic themes and neo-romantic metaphors, especially after being a bit influenced by the early works of Polish Romantic painter Artur Grottger (1837-1867). The last name on the list that Marek had provided, Hayao Miyazaki (1941- ), absolutely delighted me since he is the driving artistic force and creator of the films Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle and several others. Taking a look at the link that Marek provided in the email was also fascinating since it shows the process and evolution of the little spirits within the game and an idea of how they were planning on having the tiny beings move within the game itself. 

If you're interested in  checking out the game, you can find it here:
store.steampowered.com - Spirits $9.99

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Banksy on demand

picture by Banksy

I try to keep up on the news within the art world and there seems to have been some really interesting things happening this week but one specifically captured my attention earlier today. Strangely enough it came to my attention when glancing through Yahoo News on my phone. When I saw an article with the title of British neighborhood wants its Banksy back, I had to take a look then had to find out for sure what I was reading was correct (finding out that several other sites was using the same title). It came to a shock to me while reading the article, originally thinking that the piece that was done during the celebration of the Queen's Jubilee was painted over only to discover that someone actually took the image and the plaster it was painted on straight off of the building it was on. That wasn't enough. The person who snatched the piece then places it up for auction. Looking through some other sites, it would seem that several British and international websites have been reporting this news and all trying to find out why the stolen piece had found its way into a Florida auction.

Fine Art Auctions Miami said it had acquired the work legally, but gave few other details. It said in a statement that it had "done all the necessary due diligence about the ownership of the work."
"Unfortunately we are not able to provide you with any information by law and contract about any details of this consignment," it said. "We are more than happy to do so if you can prove that the works were acquired and removed illegally."    ~ Townhall.com 

picture by Banksy 
Banksy, a relatively known English-based graffiti stencil artist who's work has drawn admirers for his unique tongue-in-cheek pieces that usually has a sense of whimsy and normally some political message in it. Particularly known in the Bristol underground scene and has done collaborations between artists and musicians, his work has inspired other artists along the way. 

I have to say that I'm not too sure how to take the news of this happening but the fact that Banksy's work is so desirable perhaps hasn't helped with this whole situation. It's the fact that someone was greedy enough to remove something from the side of a privately owned building that had given an entire town joy then sell it. I certainly don't fault the auction house in this matter.  I'm sure that there is going to be a lot of interest in this within the art world for a while. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Art of Gaming: The Bridge

During my searches of indie games, I had been trying to avoid looking at the 'soon to be released' sections of various websites. It's not that I don't believe that the older games should be checked out more then the new comers. Quite the contrary actually. I usually never know if well respected commentators would be announcing the upcoming releases. A bit silly, in retrospect, but since I'm far from being some journalist I never really know about if there's some unspoken code that I need to abide by. Even with this, I recently found myself looking at a game that I hadn't seen before only to discover that it's on the 'Coming Releases' list. So what exactly is The Bridge? 

Created by Ty Taylor and Mario Castañeda, The Bridge was originally started by the pair in college as part of a school project but continued well after their graduation. This is a 2D logic puzzle game where the player has to manipulate gravity, traveling through strange architecture, and explore increasingly difficult worlds. The page itself states:The Bridge exemplifies games as an art form, with beautifully hand-drawn art in the style of a black-and-white lithograph”. When looking at the trailer, I was drawn in by the style which reminded me of etchings from the 1600-1800s by such artists as Francesco Stelluti (1577-1652) and G.B. Piranesi (1720-1778) but there was something else about the game that made me think that there was someone else that could be included. Looking through my collection of books and reference material, I found my answer. I realized that there was a lot of references of M.C. Escher (1898-1972) mixed in for good measure. What could have been the inspiration for such a unique style? I wasn't too sure if I would even get a response with the game set to release soon but I sent out my email and within a couple of days I received a response:

"House of Stairs" by M.C. Escher
Hi Dawn,

Thanks for taking an interest in The Bridge.

It's no secret the game is heavily inspired by the works of M.C. Escher. Actually, when Ty, the lead designer and programmer, contacted me in the Fall of 2010, he had set out to effectively make "M.C. Escher: The game" with mechanics revolving around exploring impossible architecture. Naturally, I found myself studying a lot of Escher's art in order to properly emulate his iconic style, but in a game appropriate manner. The challenge for me was not only maintaining a sense of Escher's work, but also providing something visually striking without impeding the general feel of the game - a process that proved to be very iterative as we collected pages and pages of playtester feedback.

Escher's work is famous for misleading and deceiving the eye, and it was a challenge in developing what is mysterious and on the surface impossible, but in truth, very possible. There's great empowerment, both Ty and I feel, that comes from allowing players to explore worlds that could only previously be represented in still lithography.

I could read the enthusiasm that Ty and Mario had for this game and the fact that I had contacted them about it. Looking through the information, I was so happy that when I read the email and discovered that I was correct about the influence of M.C. Escher. For those who may not know him by name, perhaps know him better through his works such as Relativity (1953) and Drawing Hands (1948). 

If you're interested in checking the game out, it's due to release February 22nd, 2013 but you can find it on pre-order here: 
store.steampowered.com - The Bridge $14.99  (20% off) $11.99 
Note: Sale promotion offer ends Feb. 22

Feb. 24, 2013 - John "TotalBiscuit" Bain posted up his first impressions video of The Bridge up so go ahead and check it out. Please keep in mind that what he does is speak about the mechanics of the game where as I just look at the art style. 
YouTube.com WTF Is... The Bridge? (WTF Am I Doing Edition)  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chester Beatty Library collection

Like I had stated in my post MOMAT presents Francis Bacon, I have been trying to check out various art museums not only in California but world wide. During a recent search, I had stumbled across a listing of museums and galleries in Ireland which I promptly explored. One location caught my eye which was presenting 30 selected paintings that belonged to the same man that had the location named after him. So who was this Chester Beatty, why did he have a library named after him and why did he have paintings by Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton and Eugéne Fromentin in his collection?

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968) was actually American born and graduated Columbia University as a mining engineer. Making his fortune on copper mining in the US and in various locations world wide, he was also an art collector. Naturalized British in 1933 (knighted in 1954) and honorary citizen in Ireland in 1957, Beatty started gifting his art to Ireland sometime after 1950.

After glancing through other information I could find on Sir Beatty, it made much more sense that there is a Chester Beatty Library and why they're having some of his collected pieces on display from September 7, 2012 to August 31, 2013. Now if anyone who was wondering why I was a bit surprised by painters Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton (1827-1906) and Eugéne Fromentin (1820-1876) is because they were part of some of the most well known painters of their time. Breton is known for his pieces depicting peasant female figures which was rather popular in the United States while Fromentin's paintings depicted exotic Arabian scenes. More then likely the paintings that are being put on display will be mostly from various masters of the mid to late 1800s but unfortunately the page announcing the show does not have a list of which painters are in the collection. 

If you're going to be in Ireland at any point before August and are interested in seeing this collection, here's the information:

Chester Beatty Library
Dublin Castle 
Dublin 2

Telephone: (+353 1) 407 0750
Fax: (+353 1) 407 0760

Please Note: Due to Ireland's hosting of the EU Presidency 1 January to 30 June, 2013, access to the Library may be restricted from time to time. 

The Palace St. gate (off Dame St.) will be closed on Wednesday 13th February so access to the Library will be via the Ship St. gate of Dublin Castle. 

Opening Hours
1 May to 30 September: Monday to Friday, 10 AM to 5 PM
1 October to 30 April: Tuesday to Friday, 10 AM to 5 PM
Saturday, 11 AM to 5 PM (All year) 
Sunday 1 PM to 5 PM (All year) 
Closed 1 January; Good Friday; 24, 25 and 26 December; and Monday public holidays 


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Art of Gaming: The Banner Saga

As I've mentioned back when I brought you The Dream Machine and Blueberry Garden , there are times when I come across games that I have never heard of. Not that is a bad thing, but more mirrors the fact that the circles which I find myself in are more towards the well announced and advertised games. Games such as such as Anna luckily enough have a little bit of help by way of YouTube personalities and just normal people posting their playthroughs online but it still hasn't received as much attention as it should though it is visually captivating. In the case of the game I discovered, I have actually never seen any playthroughs let alone heard any mention of it before. So after a pause of curiosity when I came across the name The Banner Saga, I decided to go ahead and look into it.

From the minds at Stoic Studios (Arnie Jorgensen, Alex Thomas, and John Watson), The Banner Saga is a “role-playing, turn-based strategy game putting you in control of a clan of battle-hardened viking warriors'. They have the multi-player option available through the game's website and according to the news feed, it would seem that they're having a Kickstarter in progress to make a single player version of the game. You can read more information about the Kickstarter here: Single Player Progress Kickstarter Update #30

When looking at the trailer and the concept art, it made me think of some classic animated films such as Sleeping Beauty (1959) and even Fire and Ice (1983). With stylized and perhaps simplified details to the environments and characters, not to the point of the Bayeux Tapestry but more towards a re-envisioning of art nouvea style. Looking things over, it made me wonder if I was perhaps wrong with my guesses so I went ahead and originally posted my question to Stoic Studios on their Facebook page back in December but hadn't received a response until recently when I managed to find their email and resent my question.

Hello Dawn! Thank you for your inquiry and sorry I missed the Facebook question, but I'm a bit of an idiot with Facebook.

The art style for The Banner Saga was unabashedly borrowed from the art of American Master, Eyvind Earle. With the target on the Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping Beauty has, however, two distinct styles. One for the exterior environment scenes crafted by Eyvind and the second style was more painterly for the interior scenes. We're trying to match this as well as you can see. We're also trying to add a bit of our own flavor into the mix. It's very cool to see people attracted to this style and I'm constantly amazed that the younger generation is unaware of Eyvind's work. Glad we're doing our part to make people aware of it.

Ivan Bilibin is an artist that many, specially those from Eastern Europe, think we're using as inspiration but it's not true. I was not aware of his work until people started telling me about him recently. Since them I've become a huge fan and wouldn't mind if people look into his work as it would make the world a better place.

I've shared a dropbox folder with you with some of our in-game art.
Thanks for the interest!
~Arnie Jorgensen

"Eucalyptus" by Eyvind Earle
At first I couldn't help but giggle when I read the first line of the email, mainly because I usually get told something similar from people who have Facebook accounts but are hardly ever on. Looking through what Arnie said, I was thrilled that I could recognize the inspiration of Sleeping Beauty correctly. Eyvind Earle (1916-2000) not only worked on the Disney animated film but had a hand in Peter Pan (1953), Paul Bunyan (1958) and Lady and the Tramp (1955). The second artist that he mentioned, Ivan Bilibin, rung a bell then I quickly realized that I had done an A common influence... maybe: Ivan Bilibin back in August 2012. Arnie not only did share with me the in-game art to check out but also sent me a second, shorter email stating "Ps. Feel free to add that we're shipping later this month. :)" . I'm not too sure what he's in reference of but I have a feeling that it's perhaps about the single player option that I had mentioned earlier.

If you're interested in checking the game out yourself, you can find it here:
stoicstudio.com – The Banner Saga: Factions

Monday, February 4, 2013

A common influence... maybe: Jonathon Earl Bowser

While pondering over a cup of steaming coffee about the various artists whom I've already spotlighted, I found my mind drifting back as the fragrant steam filled the air to artists that I had discovered back in my high school years. I couldn't help but wonder if anyone else would know about some of the artists that always gave me inspiration. Of course I had to remind myself that there are probably plenty who have never heard of the people I've followed. One artist who I figure there was a 50/50 chance that people would know him was Jonathon Earl Bowser.

Jonathon Earl Bowser, a Canadian artist who graduated from the Alberta College of Art and Design in 1984. His intricate paintings of the Rocky Mountains are what first brought him notice, the pieces in various government and corporate collections in Canada, North America and Europe. Soon his work was also sought after in China and Taiwan. It was soon after that he moved from landscapes to “exploring the mythological dimension of the spirit”. Though his work is now found world wide, his website states the following:

His work has also appeared in and on many books - including, most famously, the cover of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s allegorical novel about the invasion of Kuwait, Zabibah and the King. When asked in a New York Times interview about Saddam’s unauthorized usage of his painting The Awakening, Jonathon said: “Strange…that the ruthless despot should admire the work of a painter of peaceful mysterious women…”

On his website, there is an entire page explaining the situation titled The Artist and the Dictator which in itself is a fascinating read which I highly recommend.

Wandering through the various galleries on deviantART, I carefully picked 5 artists whom I thought that perhaps may have been influenced by Mr. Bowser in some way and asked my question of:

"With your beautiful pieces and attention to detail, I was wondering if the artist Jonathon Earl Bowser was one of your sources of inspiration."

"Pulse" by escume
A young digital artist from the United States, Anna Dittmann's gallery is filled with delicate images of the female form. With a soft color pallet giving an ethereal air to each piece, her style draws the viewer in to look at the amount of details that she includes. This is especially true with her piece Guardian (July 2011). It does appear that she tries to balance her use of warm pinks and sunny yellows with cool and moody blues and purples.

"Hi, I've never seen his work before, but he has some beautiful pieces. Thanks for helping me discover such a talented artist" ~Anna

"Guardian of Ancient Secrets" by Zolaida & Viccolatte
A digital artist living in the Netherlands, Lisa has a lovely array of moody fantasy based pieces. Even though she does have several pieces where they're in black and white, such as Voices (January 2012), they are not dark as in gruesome but more along the lines of emotionally engaging. She does have several pieces on display which were commissioned by customers along with collaborations with other artists such as Guardian of Ancient Secrets (September 2012) which she had done with the shared efforts of Swedish digital artist Viktoria who's gallery is Viccolatte.deviantart.com .

"Hi Drawn Star Wood, I actually don't know that artist, but I want to thank you for introducing him to me because his works are just beautiful. Thank you so much for the compliment!" ~ Lisa

Traditional artist Jia Lu of the United States creates beautiful and awe inspiring large scale pieces done in oil on canvas. With a mix of spiritual symbolism, warm rich colors, and beautiful powerful women, her paintings such as Mandala and Lotus Bodhisattva have a relaxing quality about them. She states in her bio:

"Illuminated 2" by Jia Lu
“The women I paint represent stages along a path to a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me. Their physical beauty and the opulence of the fabrics and jewelry they wear are symbols of their spiritual accomplishments, of their inner strength, of their pride and confidence. I am convinced that my own mission is to share that understanding, and I have spent most of my life working in the classical tradition of narrative, realistic art. I am influenced by Asian philosophy, but also draw from contemporary design, international film and theater for inspiration. “

Website: www.jialu.com

"Thanks for your question, Dawn Star. I've never seen the work of Jonathon Earl Bowser before. My inspiration comes from visiting museums and temples, and from reading. I get technical inspiration from the work of John Singer Sargent, color inspiration from the French impressionists and post-impressionists." ~ Jia Lu

Unfortunately the remaining 2 artists have yet had a chance to get a hold of me, perhaps due to their current work schedule and also there is the language barrier to consider. So I present them to you and leave it up to you as to if they were influenced by Jonathon Earl Bowser or not.

"Bright" by satiiva
With a gallery filled with experimental concepts from her imagination, Russian digital artist Danya has a wonderful collection of pieces which shows both original character designs and strange creatures with unearthly origins like her piece titled Mother. Though there is the language barrier, her work speaks volumes and draws the viewer in making you want to creat stories for each piece.

"Princess iiii" by MichaelCTY

An artist located in Hong Kong, Michael Chang Ting Yu focuses mostly in digital works and has a beautiful line up of character concepts. His bio states:

“An artist who is focusing on 2D concept art & design. With legion of experience in creative industry, has participated many overseas shipping game titles for major video console game platforms such as 《Ninja Blade》, 《Demon’s Souls》, 《Dark Souls》 & etc. Also published comics through working with US DC Comics & participated in animation movie projects.”

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Art of Gaming: Anna

Within my group of friends, many of them are fans of the horror genre of games. Be it the thrill of slaughtering countless undead, having the unholy powers of demons or trying to uncover the mystery of how something leaked into our world from the great beyond, they would always tell me their feelings on such games. One thing I've come across several months back by pure chance was a video by YouTube personality Cry (ChaoticMonki) was his short lived playthrough of the game Anna (lasting only 2  parts). Since then I have been curious about it so I thought I would take a bit of a better look into it. 

Created by Dreampainters Software and released in September 2012, Anna is a first-person horror adventure which has a story line described as Set in an abandoned sawmill nestled high in the mountains, Anna challenges you to uncover horrific clues and use them to solve puzzles related to your character’s dark past. As you play, Anna will unlock locations and unveil new secrets”.Watching the trailer and what playthrough I had found, the style reminded me of Pan's Labyrinth (2006) with it's ties to reality but with an intricately woven story and imagery of dark fantasy. There was also elements that reminded me slightly of Ladyhawke (1985). As far as the symbols that were used in the game, many of them have roots in old European folklore mostly from the areas of France, Italy and Germany. It did make me wonder what exactly was the inspiration that the people at Dreampainters had when they created the game. I wasn't prepared for the response and pure giddiness of the developer over me asking my question:

Hi Dawn!

Thanks for your email!
In "Anna" the whole art direction was around colours: we wanted to make strong use of colours to transmit emotions.
So, in the exteriors, lights are very strong, greens are strongly saturated (as they are in the mountain regions the game is set into) and in generals colours are quite alive.
In the inside, the contrast is much higher, to provide a crisper image, and light colours drive the situation. We used these main coding:

- Light Yellow = This is the natural colour for a candle or a lamp. The meaning is "Everything is normal"
- Red = "You're not welcome here"
- Purple = "Something creepy is going on here"
- Blue = "You're guilty"

The last one comes with blocks of ice in the level: this is a reference to Dante's Inferno, in which the traitors are buried completely or partially into the Cocito, a gigantic ice lake.
The general style we chose for the environments comes from the idea that the entity in the house, Anna, is deeply linked with nature, so going on with the game, the levels get more and more natural elements, like plants on the walls and roots coming down from the ceiling. Also, we used a lot of elements from the Valle D'Aosta Region, in Italy, and mostly from Ayas, which is where the game is set.
We used these elements:
- Sabots: are the classic shoes used there
- The water sawmill: it's design in quite typical of that region
- The stove: It's directly modeled out of an original '700 stove in there
- The flour machine: in the ground floor there's a flour machine which is made around the true floor machines in that sawmill
- Castor & Pollux: these are two mountains called "twin mountains". There are a couple legends about their formations, all regarding lost love.
- Symbols: the game contains a set of symbols from the Alps folklore and directly from the Ayas region, like this one:
Which has been found in the region and dated to medieval times.

We're working on an enhanced version of the game, which includes even more elements.

Let me know if you want to know more about anything :)


Reading over the information, I was glad that I was right about the region of folklore but I hadn't even considered that color could be an inspiration in itself. It does makes sense considering that the game itself is very atmospheric so what better way to communicate to the player then by color instead of by sound. 

If you're interested in checking out the game yourself, you can find it here:
store.steampowered.com - Anna $9.99

As of Feb. 4, 2013 - After a bit of discussion with Nina (writer for Dreampainters Software), I was happy to discover that she sent me the link to the website's blog where she had written an entry about what I had posted on their game 'Anna'. Feel free to check it out!
Art of Gaming and Need for Coffee - written by Annarosa-Nina