Friday, 22 January 2016

Storyboards and Sketches: Visualising an Interactive Narrative

Almost as soon as I started writing my story, I was also starting to think about the graphical style that would accompany the text and dialogue; not just in terms of illustration, but also the interface design and layout. I wanted to strike a balance between something that looked decent, was easy/quick to create and wasn't confusing in any way. The three main components of the 'look' of my interactive narrative were storyboards, characters and interface, but this post will just address the first two.

I started storyboarding even before I'd finished writing the story, but at this stage it was mostly ugly scrawls in my sketchbook, sometimes with some watersoluble crayon thrown in if I was feeling fancy. As the narrative took shape and I got a better picture of the town and the locations in my mind, I found it easier to put these locations onto the page, but as I drew, I began to realise that drawing out all of these scenes properly would take a lot of time; time I wasn't sure I had, as I needed to have the pictures ready to be uploaded into the system as soon as it was functional (and it turned out I was rushing for nothing, as I will most likely bitch about in a future post). Wondering how I could get a framework for my scenes in a way that was quick and easy but would not lower the quality, I remembered a program called Google SketchUp that I'd used in some undergrad subjects. Using a bunch of free, pre-made models that people had uploaded, I was able to put together some decent looking scenes and easily move components to vary the composition or shift the camera to change the viewing angle. When I was happy with the scenes, I exported them into a photo editing program and filled most of the areas with white (leaving only dark outlines) and then bumped up the brightness so that the outlines were only faint. This was so that when I decided to colour, I could print them out and use the outlines as a guide for where to paint but could paint over them if I wanted to hide or add details.

Once the storyboards were mostly done, the next step was deciding on the art style to be used and how the scenes would be coloured. A lot of this meant deciding what medium/s would be used to colour the storyboards. My contenders were watercolour, gouache, coloured pencils, oil pastels, markers, watersoluble crayons or acrylic paints, so I printed out eight copies of one scene and coloured in each copy with a different medium.

  • Oil pastels: I dismissed oil pastels almost immediately after starting to colour with them, knowing that their messiness and tendency to leave crumbs of pigment everywhere would make them a nightmare to scan. Which was a shame, as I found it pretty easy to get a dense layer of colour and they were easy to blend and fun to use (also, I like the smell of oil pastels. DON'T JUDGE ME)
  • Coloured pencils: I tried coloured pencils but found that it took too long to get a good layer of colour, especially if I wanted to make it smooth enough to avoid leaving pencil marks. I also felt that adding detail of any sort would take too long.
  • Markers: The only decent markers I had were Faber-Castell PITT pens. I found these too time-consuming to colour with, especially as no matter how carefully I coloured, they always left ugly marks if I accidentally coloured over a previous line. The colours were strong, though.
  • Watersoluble crayons: Watersoluble crayons had the same issue, and even when I washed over them, the lines were still visible. Using them without a water wash just made them look scumbly and ugly, as if it had been coloured in my a child.
  • Gouache: Though the gouache gave me good coverage, I wasn't happy with the colours; granted, I had a limited set (it was a cheap set I'd ordered from America for about $12AUD when our dollar didn't suck), but the colours just looked... flat. The fact that they smelled like someone had pooped in the tub and added coloured pigment to it didn't help.
  • Watercolours: This is one of my favourite mediums to use, even if I'm not great at it. I love how it allows for pale, delicate washes or bolder, brighter colours to be used. Unfortunately watercolour really need to be used on proper watercolour paper so it doesn't buckle; using it on basic sketchbook or printer paper is a recipe for disaster. None of the printers I have access to are capable of printing on thick watercolour paper (which is often almost like cardboard) and even if they were, the ink would run and smudge and make everything look horrid as soon as I painted over it, so I regretfully removed this one from my list of possibilities.
  • Acrylic: Last year my local art supply shop had a "buy $50 of canvas and get $50 paint free" sale, so naturally I went nuts and waddled out with my arms full of canvas and acrylics I didn't really need (except I do need them. Because they're art supplies. Shut up.). I quite like acrylics and it's one of the mediums I'm better at, so it wasn't much of a surprise to me when I decided they were my favourite, not just because of the bright colours and ease of layering, mixing colours and colouring large areas, but because they somehow didn't cause the paper to buckle anywhere near as badly as the watercolours did.
  • Mixed media: For the hell of it, I did one version where I used several mediums (acrylic, crayon and watercolour). It looked okay but it didn't stand out enough to make me feel that going to the effort of using three different mediums in each painting would pay off.

In the end, I did all the storyboards in acrylic. Though I enjoyed painting some of them, I found that by the time I got about half way through, I was getting tired of having to paint, and when I look at the finished paintings now, it's easy to remember which ones I did first and which ones I did last, as the last ones show that I'd almost stopped caring by then (whoops). But they got done in the end, and that's all that matters.

Given that I'm most skilled at drawing human characters in the Anime/Manga style (I can paint realistic still lifes of fruits and vases but my realistic people are terrible), I decided to go with this style for my character illustrations. I had tried to keep the number of characters in the story to a minimum, reducing the amount of drawing I would need to do, but I still wanted them to be of reasonably high quality. However, I soon ran into another challenge. Most of my previous manga illustrations have been of young women, who were characters in either my own novels or my friends' novels. I had rarely drawn older women, nor had I drawn many male characters, aside from a couple in an interactive steampunk narrative project I did for one of my Honours electives. I had also never really drawn any animals or creatures aside from dragons.

Thankfully I got around this fairly easily. Once I drew the basic skeletal pose of the characters, I was able to adapt them for male characters instead of female characters. One of the characters was actually a creature - a monkey - and I was most worried about how this one would turn out, but after looking at a few pictures of small monkeys on Google, I was easily able to draw a decent-looking manga monkey. After drawing a rough version of each character and then colouring it in with coloured pencils to help me decide on a colour scheme, I transferred the illustrations to proper watercolour paper and used watercolour paints to colour in the final versions, which looked a lot smoother and cleaner than the pencil copies.

Now that I had my scene paintings and my characters, all that remained was to put them together. This is one example:

Another consideration was how the scenes and characters would be presented, once the text and the graphics were finalised. Since the interface design carried a wealth of its own considerations and problems, I'll talk about that separately in a future post.

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