How to avoid chaos in the work of the art team and establish production pipelines

As the art team grows, workflows can become confusing: the style of the artists can gradually change, the visual look of the game can drift away from the original idea, and there will be small errors everywhere that sooner or later will grow into a major problem.

To prevent all this, game studios have an Art Design Document (ADD) – a set of rules and recommendations for the work of artists. It lists art solutions that shape the visual appearance of the game, help achieve style consistency, simplify onboarding new employees, and ensure that the original idea remains intact even after years of development of the project.

Art Director at IT Territory (ITT) studio Igor Arkhipov at the TBD Pro: Art conference told, how the workflow is organized in the Rush Royale team of artists, and also shared the rules for creating an Art Design Document. Let’s retell his speech.

Rush Royale is a PvP and PvE game that combines the genres of tower defense and merge
Rush Royale is a PvP and PvE game that combines the genres of tower defense and merge

What is an Art Design Document

The first thing every new artist at ITT does is read the Art Design Document. ADD contains all the basic information that allows you to understand the overall vision of the art team. The document usually contains several key points.

Everything starts withProject Dictionary“. It is important primarily for beginner artists – it describes the basic terms and concepts that are used in the work. At the same time, it includes things that relate not only to art, but also to game design – this allows all team members to communicate in the same language. Game designers also read ADD – it helps them understand artists more easily.

In “Administered» describes the genre of the project, the main features, as well as other information that allows you to understand what the game is like. This paragraph also describes the main competitors in the market.

AT “Stylistic features» lists the main art decisions that shape the visual appearance of the project. The content of this paragraph depends entirely on the approach and vision of the art director.

In the part “Goals and objectives» the target audience is spelled out, and all the tasks that ADD must solve are listed.

Paragraph “Pipelines» contains a description of the workflow for all art content in the game: from small icons to large promotional art.

The next item is “Frame construction“. Usually, art leads make sure that the interface does not get into the background, the background into the foreground, so that the game entities do not get confused. If key specialists leave the team, then control over the construction of the frame may be weakened. In this part of the ADD, the framing requirements are written, which allow you to avoid noticeable errors.

ADD does not have to be completely written at the very beginning of work. Often it is enough to write down the first few points, and add the rest later. Paragraph “Examples” appears some time after the start of development. Reference images go there, which all other members of the art team are guided by.

Once a new artist has become familiar with ADD, they take on Game Design Document (GDD). Each employee must understand how the game cycle is arranged in the project – to know what mechanics are there, what catches users. This needs to be understood in order to then enhance key features using visual techniques.

Art Asset Creation Workflow

As the popularity of Rush Royale increased, so did the team. At the same time, work processes have also changed. At the very beginning, the team had two artists, one animator and FX artist, one UI artist. At that time, the art director performed many duties at once: he was an artist, a VFX artist, gave feedback to colleagues, controlled how harmoniously art coexists with game design, was involved in setting goals, planning, and did much more.

When the project gained popularity, the art team got its own project manager, the number of artists increased to eight, animators and FX artists to three, and UI artists to four. Each of these teams has its own lead (and in the art team, in addition to the art director, two more leads have appeared).

Leads are engaged in the fact that they form typical tasks, and then transfer them to the project manager. He also describes the tasks in detail and distributes them among the team members. The advantage of this approach is that the art director does not have to keep everything in his head – he delegates the execution of less important tasks, and he himself deals with high-level things that are directly related to the development of the project.

At ITT, the process of creating art assets is divided into several stages. At the first stage, the artist gets acquainted with task. An error at this stage is especially critical, because an insufficiently precise specification can lead to the fact that the entire asset will be drawn incorrectly. And as a result, the art production chain will have to be restarted from the very beginning.

The task must have a correct description: all links to GDD, UX layout, references from game designers, and so on must be attached to it. If the artist does not understand everything, he must ask clarifying questions.

Also in ITT there is an additional operation for estimating the task execution time – this allows you to better plan the workflow, release dates, testing and other stages. For grading, the studio uses a table with the average production time for basic assets – it can be used to roughly estimate how long the artist will draw this or that image.

Next stage – collection of references. No need to immediately rush into the search for pictures. After studying the task, form a list of tags that describe the task. For example, if you are drawing a character, you should understand well what character he has, his profession, what is characteristic of him. But there should not be too many tags – six or seven words are enough to accurately describe the essence that you want to embody in the drawing.

Then you need to open ADD and look at the main reference projects. When the preparatory work is done, you can go to special platforms – Pinterest, Behance, ArtStation, Sketchfab, Google, Huaban.

If you find a suitable image for reference, be sure to indicate what exactly you liked about it. For example, you can separately highlight the material of clothing or the shape of an object.

Then comes the stage sketching (thumbnail) is a very small sketch where you check the composition. Details are not needed here, and the style of the drawing may differ slightly from that in the game. The most important thing is to express the idea. To do this, you can first formulate it in the form of a text sentence, and then translate it into a drawing. Thumbnail does not have to be in color – a black and white palette is enough.

After the artist creates color concept. According to Igor, at this stage he tries not to use a line, as it takes a lot of time, but draws from a color spot. He also clarifies the composition, throws color.

When working on color and shapes, it is important to adhere to the guidelines that are enshrined in ADD. For example, when creating illustrations for Rush Royale, artists use mostly pure colors – this allows them not to slide into dullness and preserve the colorfulness of the image.

Also, the art team does not use pure white in highlights, accents and large spots – it can create an unnecessary accent, spoil the material that the artist wanted to convey. Another feature is that all elements of the game are based on a certain stylization of the form, its softening – this rule helps to coordinate different parts of the picture.

Next step – drawing basic shapes. The purpose of this stage is to make the image as neat as possible even without a line. In their work, the Rush Royale art team uses the Pen Tool, a vector tool that allows you to emphasize the shape of each element of the composition. If you’re working on an interface, then it’s easy to apply Photoshop effects to such shapes, such as putting a neat line on icons or adding volume.

Farther – 2D render: its quality directly depends on the skills of the artist. There are no easy ways to do a good 2D render: it all depends on the artist’s experience. However, there are a few tips that can help improve the bottom line.

In his work, Igor uses Clipping Mask (Clipping mask) – a tool with which you can attach additional layers to the forms and edit pictures in an isolated environment.

The overall volume is applied by the Rush Royale team with a soft round brush, and accents and falling shadows are done with a hard brush or rubbed with an eraser. According to Igor, at the end, you can add a layer with noise, high transparency and a Soft Light overlay – this will make the image a little grainy and add interesting shades. You can also make a channel shift if it does not harm the picture – this technique creates a cinematic effect.

Final stage – integration. This includes slicing and adding assets to the project. Slicing is done using the Slice Tool: they can mark up their objects, assign a name to each container and save the sprites separately. To fill in the project, each artist must understand the navigation of game engines.

Art Design Document and internal guides are a must for any team, as they allow you to keep the original idea of ​​the author even after many years when the leading employees change. Documentation will ensure that the style of your project remains consistent and consistent with the original. If the ADD is well-written and detailed, it will greatly simplify the integration of new art employees into the workflow.

If artists follow the pipeline, it makes their work more predictable, so the team can plan how long it will take to create content. And that will depend on the release date. In addition, a clear pipeline makes it easier to manage a team of several people – with it it is not necessary to control every step of the artists.

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