So, What/Who is ApopheniaInc?

•October 28, 2011 • 4 Comments

0 Sketchbook Gareth Sleightholme hesir Apophenia Inc is the digital online sketchbook and reflective blog for: Gareth Sleightholme (AKA hesir) – an Illustrator, Scenographer and Creative Consultant who has, for nearly three decades, generated Concept Art and Production Design for the Visitor Attraction, Exhibition and Leisure industry, Historical and Heritage Illustration & Design Work for Museum and Archaeology Services amongst other clients, and has also and taught those skills to others as an educationalist who lectured in Games Design at BA(Hons) level (for over nine years) whilst pursuing post Masters research looking at the links between deep reading, empathy and creativity, as well as working on his own personal projects. – Contact – mob 07403861838 – or email – or alternatively tweet me on @hesir.0 Gareth Sleightholme - hesir Apopheniathe cognitive experience of discovering, or becoming aware of, meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data where there was no prior or causal connection – Coined by Klaus Conrad in 1958, as the “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”. Sometimes linked to Patternicity – The self-convincing perception of patterns or connections where none actually exist. Most psychologists agree that this condition exists in everyone to some degree; it is a bias of the human mind. – “I personally believe it plays a fundamental part in the act of ‘creativity’“. “Inc.” or “inc.”, abbreviation of “incorporated”… and sounds a bit like ink.

“My Masters Degree Study looked in particular at Visualisation of Educational Concepts for Art School Students, and links between Reading, Empathy and Creativity as well as Developing Concept Art for an Empathy/Games based research project called Rabbit Heart.

Elsewhere, I am generating artwork for follow up issues to my 2012 self-published comics debut – “The Indian Fighter” – (The Cthulhiad Book 1), and three subsequent comics: The White Ship (pub 2013), VanitasSevered Head Cult (pub 2014), and Drakon (part 2 of The White Ship, pub 2015); including a new title (co-plotted by @wildflowerfaery), The Red Corsair.

I have also occasionally produced posters for Theatre and Music Events as well as getting involved in local arts events, having drawn my freelancing for the Leisure/Visitor Attraction & Heritage markets to a close. …plus, you can find my observational drawings in and around my home city over at the Hull Urban Sketchers project pages on Facebook. … Please, take look around the blog and let me know what you think.”

Oh, and we (Iron-Shod Ape Comics) are hoping to be at ThoughtBubble again this year… Come by our table, we will look something like THIS:

x 00 001 Thought Bubble

Keep an eye out for another project too – #RobotVmonster!




Here’s hoping you still like seeing creative stuff from apopheniainc…

•May 25, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Firstly, thanks for subscribing, commenting and generally dropping by and seeing what we are up to over the years… we really appreciate it, and hope that you still enjoy the posts we get to send your way occasionally.

Now I’m sure you guys are bored silly with all the GDPR* craziness of late, so sorry to hit you with a little more.

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Like any simple free WP built site/blog, the WordPress site itself handles any data you supply through subscriptions and comments etc in the background. If you would like to refresh your memory and read over the new WordPress privacy statement, you can read it HERE.

We just want to reassure you that I/apopheniainc will never knowingly share any of your data with third parties without your express consent beyond that which you volunteer in your public facing comments/subscription process etc.

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*You may or may not be aware that there have been some recent changes to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). These changes, which come into effect on the 25th May 2018, affect us all, and are making sure that your data is used and stored correctly. 


The “Jack of Clubs” – for the #Hull52

•March 31, 2017 • 1 Comment

So, back in 2017, I was asked to take part in the Hull52 project, creating an image to be part of a full deck of cards created by local artists (commissioned by Adam Kerr) which was to be sold for charity. The project went on to have its own exhibition, showcased in Princes Quay, with live drawing by some of the artists.

This was the final art as produced for my given card the Jack of Clubs.

Each artist was allocated their card, and I was pretty pleased to get the Jack of Clubs as I was hoping to get a picture card… but still, what to do with it?

I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about it at first, and toyed around with a bunch of ideas,

…I really enjoy the research phase of projects like this, I’m a fan of symbols and symbolic imagery, the sort of thing you see in medieval paintings, alchemical illustration and the Tarot etc, so I did my usual over-reading up on the history and symbolism of the cards and its tarot equivalents… which after making a bunch of notes led me all the way back to the dualist, double headed imagery that we usually see on the picture cards of a typical deck, though I knew (after looking at the various Tarot representations – Princess/Knave etc.) that I wanted to make one half male and one half female.

Perhaps with one more malevolent, and one half more benign, representing the good luck/creative and bad luck/destructive aspects of the tarot interpretations.

That mix of destructive symbolism and creative endeavour put me in mind of imagery such as the tower of Babel, I added to that the imagery of the characters holding a living sapling instead of a wand* or club.

*Wands being the Tarot equivalent of the Clubs suit.

The shields and other elements of the dress of the two characters would also reflect some of the medieval symbolism that was eventually brought into the tarot imagery, such as the white stag (above) and the ants that would eventually parade around the “reverse” aspect’s shield.

Likewise, the imagery of the rose and the salamander on the shield of the “upright” aspect.

With the still quite loose pencils complete (I like to leave a little room for manoeuvre when inking), the next stage was hitting in with the inks. I tend to use a combination of Pentelbrush pen and Uni/PiN 0.3 drawing pens.

The decorative style I ended up adopting (using a mix of drawing pens and brushpen) came out of my love of the work of Sergio Toppi‘s amazing comic book art, which I felt had a link to the surreal sweeping art of the painted tarot cards of Marguerite Frieda Harris, which was also at the back of my mind.

That said, ever start something and then regret it, laughs… I’d spent a lot of time of late trying to simplify my inking style, going for something much more economical in my other work in order to hit a higher page count… this was a step back to a much more baroque approach.

The tower in this aspect (with the princess) needed to look like a positive project, a place to climb, for seekers of light and enlightenment… the floating islands and the miniature shrines there on attempting to convey an otherworldly spiritual journey.

By the time I’d got this far I think I knew it was going to be okay.

..and that was that, now to flip the image and work on the other half.

Here we go again…

The stoic look of the princess is here replaced by the laughing knave, I tried to give him the typical triple panelled feathered cap of a regular playing card jack, adding the tarot symbolism elsewhere, the stag on the shield, the (Wyrmwood-like) comet, and the aforementioned ants…

Plus there was that branch, here being broken, whilst he doesn’t notice…

Finally that reflection of the serene tower of creative and spiritual endeavour, here in turmoir and destruction, the towers falling figures mirrored by the falling leaves of the destroyed sapling, also a shadow of The Tower card from the tarot.

…A ship is caught in the chaos, a journey cut short by bad luck, or misadventure brought about by a lack of care or responsibility.

And there you have it… so that was just a little of what I was thinking whilst I pulled that image together.

If you want to see the original art for this (done at a much larger scale than the card itself) you can find it upstairs in the back bar in The Brain Jar, in Old Town.



“Selfies” (and beyond) – a Traditional to digital skills exercise/Mini-brief.

•March 29, 2017 • 1 Comment

“Selfies” (and beyond) – a Traditional to digital skills exercise.

If you want to know what is required of you when looking at specific roles within industry, taking a peek at current job adverts is not a bad place to start…

This goes for developing your portfolio as a would be Character Designer for the Games Industry… see below.

  1. Examples of head and clothing sculpts in your portfolio
  2. Strong 2D skills
  3. Example(s) of character hair in your portfolio
  4. An excellent understanding of human anatomy, shape and form
  5. Experience with 2D digital or traditional art
  6. Demonstrate exceptional digital sculpting skills and understanding of both human and creature anatomy; garment and clothing drapery and garment construction detailing; and clothing accessories, as they relate explicitly to specific real-world references and individual concepts, mood boards and directed styling cues.
  7. A comprehensive modelling and texturing portfolio showing 3D character art to a very high standard, with specific ability in the representation of realistic human anatomy and garments/drapery.
  8. Exceptional sculpting ability in ZBrush and deep knowledge of related Marvellous Designer workflow for digital clothing production.
  9. A keen understanding of the human body and facial anatomy; form, structure and silhouette in respect of economical and appropriate modelling for game target assets and polycounts.
  10. An inherent appreciation and understanding of fashion and street style, and era-specific culture as they relate to costuming and dress.

These are just some of the requirements from companies like Airship, Rockstar and Jagex and others as posted in current Job Ads for junior 3D Artists/Character Artists.

Following on from that is some software specific additions:

  • A strong working knowledge of ZBrush is essential
  • Exceptional sculpting ability in ZBrush and deep knowledge of related Marvellous Designer workflow for digital clothing production.

In the absence of ZBrush it is possible to take a look at some related “making” principles via the related “gateway’ software Sculptris (free to download, and available on all machines in our studio).

Be aware the following project has an interim deadline prior to the Easter break but will be on-going until the May hand-in for both the above modules.

This brief will look at three areas of interest.

  1. Celebrity Character Portraits
  2. Self Portraits
  3. Peer Portraits

With the self-portrait section taking priority. And Peer portraits being purely elective.

i.e 1 & 2 Mandatory, 3 Elective.

You are to develop at least 3 traditional material portraits within each category above, each in a different material, pens, pencil, charcoal, paint etc (this does not include preliminary studies and sketches).

You are not to work from photographs with the exception of the Celebrity Portraits (though sketching from moving film is also a useful exercise). Mirrors and or live web cam feeds are acceptable.

A serious Self-Portrait study can take anywhere between 15/20mins and an hour+. Your work should reflect this. Scrappy sketches will only be accepted as preliminary studies.

For the celebrity portrait, you are to choose one of the following actors:

  1. Steve Buscemi
  2. Tilda Swinton
  3. Wai Ching Ho
  4. Samuel L. Jackson
  5. Gabriel Byrne
  6. Marianne Jean-Baptiste
  7. Richard O’Brien
  8. Judy Dench
  9. Benedict Wong
  10. Ian McNeice

The end result of this exercise should be several pages of sketches and Nine traditional portrait images, in a variety of media (look to your learning outcomes).

Try to use this project as a means to an end, ie developing your drawing skills. Serious study of anatomy, the structure of the face, and the bones and musculature that underpins this structure will be important. This should (as seen above, see job specs) be something that appears in your ongoing Games Design Portfolio Your reflective notes should discuss this.

As part of the process of learning and skill set development, you should explore the work of Games artists you admire and look into their process, approach and even influences.


You are to develop at least 2 digital 3D portraits based upon the portraits you have worked up above.

You may use ZBrush or Sculptris.

You are not to work from photographs with the exception of the Celebrity Portraits (though sketching/working from moving film is also a useful exercise).

Regarding “Selfies” – Below are some examples of the type of work possible.

The two selfies below were done this time last year.


No pencils or preliminary drawing even in paint, just straight in to blocking out and mark making with oils…


Below is the process from blank canvas to blocked out features, paying close attention to vast variations in skin tone and and light, whilst attempting to use this to “sculpt” the face, working on the “faceted” angles of the head.


The colours below have dulled from their original vibrancy.


Below is a brushpen a marker selfie, again working from a mirror, not photographs…


And a watercolour, brushpen and copic marker study done in the same sitting…



For comparison here’s an older pen and ink selfie… choosing a mid range brown paper allowed me to bring in some highlights using a white gel pen.

…and utilising a new skill set (I used Sculptris for the first time on March the 1st this year, 2017), this digital 3D selfie below, starting from scratch and using the webcam on the mac as a stand-in mirror.


“Monsters in the City” – part 001

•January 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment


Okay… so I guess this side project came about whilst considering options for a more single image oriented project. One that might be tied to something local, perhaps my urban sketching of the city, its architecture, but then maybe incorporated a more fantastical element, as I did with “Room Head”, with the giant figure striding through that curious urban landscape…

So where to start… Well why not the sketchbook and some thumbnails…


As I drew these images down I’d begun to realise I was bringing some baggage with me in terms of influences… So I started to make a list which you can see at the top right of the left hand page… These included the obvious Guy Davis and Shaun Tan and perhaps the less obvious but to me… there nonetheless, Paul Madonna, Robh Rupper, Edward Hopper, Moebius (Jean Giraud), Lebbeus Woods, Butch Belair & Tracy Savage (some of which didn’t become apparent until much further along in the project).

Here you can see the creatures in their spore like nascent form clinging to the lines and posts of telegraph poles, or dominating the sky line in the adolescent form, tentacles waving, and moving along the backstreets, past windows, floundering in dried out swimming pools, wandering through the nearby countryside, and even emerging from the water of a marina (below). Until eventually they grow so large they cannot move and take root like trees dominating the city’s skyline, eventually opening their anemone-esque head and releasing spores of their own… all this ignored somehow by the residents of the cities and towns they have invaded.


Some sketches just dealt with the creatures… not set against the architecture of a city or a town, these came to me as more lonely affairs… More Wyeth than Hopper (laughs)…





Then because my impatience got the better of me I thought about using one of my existing architectural pieces and simply adding a creature to it… Looking through the work I already had (of Hull and elsewhere), I realised that the selection process might be slightly different than simply drawing a building in and of itself as part of a duet with a creature design, the building might have to play a reduced role rather than the central one, which called for a different type of building perhaps. Maybe something more mundane/everyday, rather than grand or characterful…

Which led me to choose my image of St. Patricks Church, Spring Street, Hull (Top of Page, 
here covered in scaffolding), as it appeared mostly brick in my image (its grand door way out of shot in my image).


I then just drew a sketch of a creature… trying to consider how the limbs and weight of the creature might look against the roof and brickwork.


…roughing some basic lines in for the building, meaning when it came to overlaying the creature (below) there was much less adjustment necessary (than if I hadn’t considered it at all).

xx-monster-spring-street-church-hull-x-bclick to enlarge

And then overlaying the drawing using the Multiply Blending Mode in Photoshop’s Layers dialogue box… adding another Multiply’d Layer, and Flatting out some basic colour, then using Dodge & Burn to shade and Hue/Saturation to adjust the eye colour. The seagulls floating about the creature’s head are simply repeats of the three from the top left of the original image.

After that it was back to planning wholly original pieces, so it was back to thumbnails…


You can see here the creatures again moving behind buildings, trapped in courtyards, attaching themselves to towers in that final phase and then towering above the buildings below like giant mushrooms.


I had by this point in time decided that these may well make a great subject for a range of images that might well pull together to become an exhibition. One that mixed drawings, design sketches and finished paintings… And with this in mind I started some further developed drawings and more colour tests of various sizes… Still just using “imaginary” settings or combinations of elements of actual architecture from around the city.


If you are wondering about those numbers up in the top right of the drawing… follow the line down into the drawing… See the “x”, that’s marking the intersection of the upper and right “thirds” of the composition… and so that’s where I’ve place the head of the creature.

But before diving into that large image I thought it best to practice or experiment with the way forward in colour…

These first colour works are done in watercolour, inking over the dried paint…



…and then scanning those and playing with them further using Photoshop.


All the while thinking about the possible “real world” settings for the images.

More sketches…  this one sans creature from our kitchen window…


This one, a scrappy oversized thumbnail, with a creature based on the house opposite…


And here a more finished, measured drawing in my sketchbook… (again using the house opposite)


All the while, away from the drawing board more of those one-off monster images (this one clearly influenced by The Curse of The Black Pearl that we were watching that evening).


Then back to colour and smaller more finished tests…



Before a return to my full size drawing… finishing up the far left of the composition…

This (below) now measures about 700mm x 150mm… and as you can see I pushed the size of the creature to be cropped by the top of the image, which seems to help the composition… the head still remains on the upper right cross of the “thirds” based composition.


…and colour tests for that as well, here totally digital, with the hope to using this colour test as the basis for a traditional watercolour version.


This image above will be the first major test… I went out and found a frame size I liked, and measured the drawing out accordingly… I think I’d like to try a few in this format, both horizontal and vertical.

Anyway, back to the sketchbook and more potential monster shape sketches…


Then most recently heading out into the street to find places of interest…


…and draw the background architecture of the city from life…



Of course just adding existing sketches together isn’t always going to work as the combo above shows… so I’ll have to thumbnail each one out again a few times I’m sure… but I’m convinced this is going to be a fun project, and as I’ve been throwing these up on social media as I made them, I’ve been getting some positive feedback too, which is even more encouraging…

And not only that… I think I’m pretty sure of what I can do after this project (definitely an exhibition in my head now) has run its course too.




Other Work In Progress… Jan 2017

•January 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment


So, I’d got to that point where many artists get to at some point, wondering if a change of style was in order.

I worry sometimes that my figures are a little too stiff, and that edging toward a more caricatured cartoony style might loosen the drawings up a little. So I dove into the sketchbook to try some more flamboyant figure styles…


All skinny legs and top heavy bulk… These guys (above) up to no good in alley way, police vehicles dropping out of the city sky in the background…

Or this dude, a DJ carrying his vinyl boxes back from a gig…



Not sure who this guy is or why he’s running, bit again with those skinny legs…

Then finally this sketch…


Four brave space warriors (including the robot)… Perhaps the stars of their own TV series, “Super Space 5”, which means I’d need a fifth, enter Sykes, the Space dog.


…and his well loved tentacled space monster pal.

I decided it was worth throwing some quick digital colour at this one, so into Photoshop and three Blue and Marroon suits and a new flame based superpower later, I was done…


Oh… and I even outlined a possible villain for this lot…


But yeah… The image at the top of this post is an extension of the sketch below:


I’d been thinking about a graffiti artist, chilling after finishing a mural of the devil, whilst the devil came to life, watching the artist on their mobile… The Mural would remain flat the devils are still 2D on the wall, but the juxtaposition of the kid and the devils hand would make it look like the mural had come to life. Scanning this sketch then adding extended background space to include a view over the wall at the city beyond all done in PS.

It currently remains a work in progress…



Oh and there was this also…

Drawn very quickly one morning, based on a dream…


Fan Art… Sketchbook Stuff and beyond.

•January 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I’ve said it before, but I’m not a big Fan Art sorta person… That said, here’s some more that spilled out onto the page from late last year.

1940’s/early 5o’s Superteam…


There’s a good chance you know all these guys… but hey, Lobster Johnson, The Rocketeer, Namor, a young Hellboy, and an ageing Indy… I’m a fan of this period for adventure stories… I’m currently working on one of my own set in the ’30’s. It might not show too obviously here, but I had wondered about a female Rocketeer (maybe Jenny Blake?).

Anyway… I’d been messing about with other stuff too…



I’m a big Batman and Martian Manhunter fan… but these were just doodles for fun in my sketchbook…

Elsewhere, I also got interviewed back in 2016 for Dirty Rotten Comics… I guess that feeds into this “fan/creative” concept a little too… I talk a little about Lovecraft and some of the other influences on my comics writing… The interview above was post on Dec 5th.

Then more recently Sarah and I binged Del Toro‘s great 26 part, Trollhunter series, a mixture of Monster House, the Goonies and I suppose the more recent Super 8 (JJ Abrams), whilst watching it I doodled a page in my sketchbook and threw it up on Twitter…


Which to my surprise got a whole bunch of RTs and likes… including a bunch of the talented people who designed and worked on the show, and included these two as well…


I was pretty happy with that to be fair…

But still, out of all of this fan art gubbins…

It was the Hellboy and Indy image that I thought I could take a little further…


The first drawing on the left, as you can see, includes an older Hellboy… I revised that and added a couple of other contemporaries…


I beefed up the sketch using the Levels tool in PS, and then started adding colour on a separate layer using the Multiply layer blending mode. I thought I’d include Cap, but then realised he’d probably be on ice at this point… but it struck me that Hellboy might be a fan so he made it in anyway…


Maybe I’ll do a fully finished version of this at some point… but I get a little weird about this stuff… copyright, copyright, copyright… apologies to everyone concerned etc. I might even finish THIS someday.



Inktober 2016

•January 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

A little late but I collated my Inktober sketches and doodles… I didn’t use Jake’s list, I was kinda in the middle of pulling together Ake’s Trial (a Viking Comic, click the link for a review) for Thought Bubble so some drawings were done just under the wire around 11.30pm, but still managed to get at least one drawing out each day… I’m definitely doing it again next year…



These were all posted to twitter during the event last October…

72 Nights (Part 1) – a sketchbook & possible comics/book project (WIP).

•January 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment


I like drawing monsters and creatures…


If you didn’t know that, then this and another following post will probably put any doubts to bed… laughs.


This particular project came about whilst trying to “warm up” after the usual hiatus following the rush to get things ready and printed for Thought Bubble.

I wanted to simply create a project that could be picked up or put down depending how busy I was, and that would get my imagination ticking over and my drawing arm moving…

I recently been putting together a simple mini-project brief for students that looked at both creating a project that allowed them to wear their enthusiasms on their sleeves (lets face it, it is those enthusiasms that often get us into the creative game in the first place) as well as looking at the type of side project that can bear fruit in the long term, whilst providing sketchbook/downtime creativity in the short term or between other projects… Projects which can take on a life of their own, like Jake Parker’s “Pop Culture Robots” and of course his Inktober project, which has borne much fruit and from many creatives since its inception, and similar projects from others, among them the excellent “Spaceships” and “Isometricness” illustrations of Rob Turpin (thisnorthernboy) – Check out his blog if you’ve not seen it.

The brief simply stated the following (paraphrased):

1 – Choose something you would like to draw a lot of. Any subject…

2 – Draw a lot of it, lets set a target of 100 drawings, but lets go for at least 20 over the Yule break.

3 – Think about how these might be brought together as a final project (a book? a set of mugs?) , don’t do it, don’t even mock it up… just think about it and write those thoughts down (if you want to sketch out your idea, fine).

So for me what to draw? Pirates? Giants? Mythological Creatures? Well I like all those… but, it turned out that something weird cropped up during a conversation with Sarah that would make me sit down and look through a list of potential inspirational descriptions.

Somehow the conversation had gotten around to discussing the pseudepigraphical account of Solomon reigning in an assortment of demons via an angel given magical ring, to help build the Temple (I can’t quite remember how we got onto this – so it goes).

So, back at my desk I’m now leafing through the internet to look up more about this and other related legends/accounts and texts, just for my own pleasure at this point. When I came across an illustrated list of Ars Goetia of The Lesser Key of Solomon, a text that appears to list and describe the particular provinces or specialisms of the demons mentioned above.

The illustrations are at once intriguing and annoying… and without much provocation I decide to have a go myself.

Straight in with ink, into my nearest sketchbook… then some pencilled variations as I started to see it turning into something…













As I drew them out I started to think about how the project might pan out… How could I link them all together?

Perhaps I could add a figure, a sorcerer… a summoner, who raises these fell spirits?


And with that started thinking about the various possible narratives that could get our protagonist in front of these creatures/entities…

I love that sequence in The Exorcist where Merrin sees the statue of the Demon in the desert… So I started to consider a travelogue style book…


Where our protagonist seeks out a book or a scroll to bring back to his home, and raise the spirits.

Probably in his basement or some such sepulchre-esque venue.


But when I started to put my ideas down on paper, the male protagonist above transformed into a woman,



…and the setting shifted from now to the 20’s/3o’s…


With the opening sequence in a loose comic book form, very little dialogue…

I began making thumbnails of how this might pan out…


Then working up some of the ideas for the panels…




I had also wondered about some sinister types hanging about… Fedora’d henchmen hiding in the shadows…


With that partially resolved it was back to the creature designs, which after all would be the main draw of the project (for me anyway)…
















Then I thought it might be fun, whilst working up these illustrations to try and take a look what the book might look like… just a quick mock up using the sketches I had…


I set this first page below between New York and Germany… and decided to set the final scene of the intro in Lisbon (via Eastern Europe and the Middle East), as I’d recently been there, and had some observational drawings that I thought might fit the feel of the book (weirdly I watched The Ninth Gate again around this time only to find scenes set in Lisbon…).







I then made an interactive PDF from the art I’d pulled together… and created a video which I uploaded to my Youtube account, ready to throw on social media (I had posted most of the sketches to Twitter and FB as I went along). The finished Video is below.

And that was that… not quite a hundred.

Maybe closer to 40 designs, at least to thumbnail level.

But it’s in the ball park and who knows, maybe there are other texts with other descriptions I can add to the 72.

And I’ve still no idea beyond “warming up” as to what I could do with it at this point.

But for now there are other irons in the fire…

Maybe I’ll get back to it later this year…


Quick 3D concept through to 3D model exercise (with Paul Starkey)

•November 16, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Firstly we need to consider the wider concepts related to 3D design… in the first instance one of the things we may need to consider is the design on paper of the item we are looking at developing.

This is often where our first issues occur , with drawing and in particular drawing for 3D development being seen as a difficult discipline to master and so something to avoid. Sadly as we know from looking at various job descriptions related to industry posts, some mastery of traditional skills such as basic drawing is expected.

As we have discussed elsewhere, if you are struggling as a student with these basics, you are better off evidencing that you are attempting to resolve this skills deficit, rather than just avoiding it all together.

The diagram below being an example of how, if you feel a design sheet of 3D objects is out of your reach due to a lack of practise at this stage, then a sheet showing that you are practising will be a useful example of how you are pushing your self and your studies.

The basic drawing of 3D objects can be helped by exploring basic 3D software such as SketchUp to help you look at basic forms from which to practice your drawing… here using the transparency option available in the software we can see how the cart is made up of basic shapes…

This can then be emulated and enhanced in drawn form, using similar construction methods, in this case boxes and cylinders.

Okay… With that early phase of learning resolved we can move through to the next natural stage, i.e. exploration of forms through iterative design.

Here we have a series of concept designs for a range of medieval or fantasy carts. The type of thing that would be useful as props for an open world environment as well as a practical vehicle design. These could variously be use in states of disrepair, loaded or unloaded or being loaded with items set about it.


From those early designs I chose this four-wheeled “war wagon” that might have been used for carrying troops or arms…


This design was then refined further, including a quick SketchUp exploration

after discussion with Paul Starkey who wanted a more streamlined, two-wheeled affair.

This was the result.


Next up a quick (15mins) sketch block out from Paul Starkey. Used to show students how to model “a cart”.


Which was followed by an additional build by Paul Starkey based on the concept art above that showed further refining, adjustments and additional detail…


Still, this model is less than 500 polygons.

Finally, taking elements of this process and pulling the imagery together and enhancing it, ready for presentation.

Environment Design For Games – Early considerations & Ideation

•October 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment
This session was originally delivered as part of the Creative Futures – Skillsets programme to both Yr 1 Animation and Games Design students.
The Session currently follows on from a session looking at the wider role of production design and the Production Designer (and related or comparable roles, Art Director etc) in the development of Entertainment Media projects. With a focus here on Games Design.

To recap:

In the last session, we set a Mini-Brief, i.e. : “Adaptation/Production Design Pitch”

“You are to consider a new idea for a game*.

This game is to be based on an existing concept from another media (a story, a novel, or an original performance event, an opera, stage play, song or music album concept, a historic event or a myth, a radio-play, a film, live action or animated, or other media product, any of which will be considered in consultation with your tutors/staff.) but NOT an existing computer game, this existing media does not have to slavishly be represented, but instead perhaps simply help provide a narrative structure in the form of basic plot and character types for your concept. You may also need to consider a second theme, with which to augment your narrative structure.

In the wide world of entertainment media the development or re-imagining of existing ideas has been a staple of the production houses method of developing new properties.

Hamlet + Animated Anthropomorphism (the animal kingdom) = The Lion King

Hamlet + Gritty Urban Setting (the hierarchy of Biker Gangs) = Sons of Anarchy

Journey To The West (eastern mythology) + Post Apocalyptic Future = Enslaved

The Tempest = Classic Fifties SciFi = The Forbidden Planet

Sherlock Holmes + Dr Watson + Contemporary Urban Medical Setting = House

and of course…

Westworld* – out of control SF robot cowboys + Dinosaurs = Jurassic Park*

(*both by the same author) 

“Adaptation Project” Part 2, Looking at ENVIRONMENTS for GAMES:

Stylistic Considerations

<p><a href=”″>Rolando for iPhone – Teaser trailer</a> from <a href=””>Simon Oliver</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

We know there are different styles of games as far as the players view is concerned; isometric landscapes and city/streetscapes; travelling aerial views ; room by room point and click, 2D level games or rolling character games (i.e. those designed for i-phone style interfaces like LocoRoco or Rolando – above); fully immersive 3D environments, BioShock, Halo or Enslaved (below);

…or hybrids like the Gabriel Knight series that mix 2D, FMV (Full Motion Video) and 3D.


<p><a href=”″>SUPER HYPERCUBE</a> from <a href=””>POLYTRON</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Even experimental games environments like the then cutting edge Virtual 3D (and seemingly completely abstract) games like Super Hypercube (see video above) have considered the look and design of the environment, that you the gamer moves through.

Phil Fish, co-creator of the game, on being asked “Should the screen look that grainy?”.

“Yeah, there is a grain to it. Also some vignetting around the edges. We went for a look that is – hyper modern but retro – Which the game really is, given that it (the game) uses both Digital 3D and anaglyphic stereoscopy.


ITS SAFE TO SAY THAT: No matter the style of game; someone has considered the overall visual feel of the product, usually taking as his or her starting point the over-arching concept of the game, rather than just leaving it to the medium of choice to wholly dictate the finished style.


Okay… So what to consider? What within the overall concept of your game or animation  is going to impact upon and influence your design decision-making when it comes to the development of your environments (and later design elements, Props and characters etc)?

 Well, I suppose understanding how your Chosen Media for the final product may affect your product,

Side-Scrolling Platformers for example aren’t all created using 2D tools any more.

That… and perhaps beyond this, coming to understand the distinct differences between medium and genre.

See this image from Scott McCloud on that difference.

So then, what Genre?… Is your game a Horror? Fantasy? Humourous? Sci-fi, Film Noir, Urban game?

But even these delineations are not the end…

 If you are choosing Horror…is it the classic gothic horror of Frankenstein? Or the contemporary, industrial/warehouse aesthetic we see in horror-movies like Saw and Hostel?

Cultural?Could it be that your story is set in the Far East? Japan? The Japan of today or a far flung tomorrow, or the feudal Japan of armoured Samurai and black suited Ninjas?

Is it set in a fantasy world of your own imagining? If so, what were the characteristics of the civilisations that have shaped that world? Could those traits be reflected in their architecture just as we have seen in the various civilisations of our own world?

Consider the afterlife obsessive Egyptians with their Mega-Mausoleum building, the warring, expansionist Europeans of the middle ages with their castles and military hierarchies, the British Victorians with their faith in building, engineering, prefabricated iron structures and steam power.

You can help make your fictional environments that much more believable or authentic by trying to understand (by which I mean creating, designing, drawing and writing for yourself) a little more about what has shaped them, whether you are looking at the fictional cultural and fictional historical influences on the architecture of your imaginary cities, or the fictional geological upheavals and fictional weather conditions that could have shaped your fantasy world’s natural landscapes amongst which your cultures may have decided to live.

Has war impacted in the look of both of the above? What clues could there be to the events that have taken place there, of the people that have passed through there. What is the function of the building you are designing? What kind of neighbourhood is it? Uptown? Ghetto? What kinds of people inhabit it?

Is it an residential building? A barbershop?

Trust me. It is far easier to design something specific like a barber-shop than a “generic” building. So taking a little bit of time to think about seemingly irrelevant details like the uses of the various buildings in your street scene, or the economic history of your (ultimately fictional) city block, it may well save you time later on. So, you have your overall concept and now you are looking at designing a scene… try starting with a basic aerial plan of the scene. Just a rough thumbnail to identify the layout and what elements you may have to design.

If it is an interior you are looking at, what kind of person uses the room you are visualising? What fingerprints to their personality have they left there?

Environment design, particularly those environments that have been shaped by people/characters, is just an extension of character design, albeit Character Design, In Absentia.

Who has been here? What have they left behind? What about this environment would have been different if an alternative personality had helped shape it, what unique traits can be seen in the residue of these personalities.

Sherlock Holmes Living Room.


During your design phase you will produce a number of drawings/visuals (some of which may be using 3D tools)

It is tempting to always just straight to the final medium. But you miss out on a lot of the opportunity to fully explore your ideas this way. Often resulting in a less than appropriate response that is based upon your commitment to completion of a complex digital rendering process, more than your belief in your works appropriateness in terms of a solid solution to the problem at hand.

Don’t worry about producing work that is not the finished artefact.

Abandoned design works and images are a natural part of the process of creation.

And think about what media is the most appropriate for the task in hand.

“Drawing with an old fashioned pencil is still very, very hard to beat for the sheer simplicity and speed with which you can record ideas and share them with others.”

– Scott Robertson, The Skillful Huntsman

“All good design starts with an idea and then is conveyed to your audience with strong drawing and then rendering skills.

Over and over I have observed with my my students that strong drawing skills go hand in hand with strong design skills. Good drawings support better looking designs.”

If you are not confident at drawing. DO NOT avoid it. PRACTICE!


…It is worth considering before your start each piece, “What is the purpose of this visual?

What, and to who, are your trying to COMMUNICATE, through this piece of work. And also… just how long do you have to communicate this idea? So what tools will you use…

Are you trying to get a feel for the atmosphere of a scene? Or are you trying to show detail or layout of an area to aid in the building of that setting for the 3D model-makers?

These two ideas can occasionally be seen together in the same visual, but for the most part you will find them separated.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 13.54.39

Images taken from The Art of Final Fantasy IX

The images above both show designs for the same game, yet they have very different properties and qualities due to their function within the design process. The images on the left with their aerial view, clean lines, clearly showing each object and prop and its place within the scene is what we might call a “design”. While the image on the right, with its preoccupation with mood, atmosphere and the character’s/player’s POV (point of view) is a “visualisation”.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 13.54.43



If you are struggling for inspiration, get up and get outside (or simply take a closer look at the building you are already in). USE YOUR DAY-BOOKS, make notes on how the light glints off that modern structure, get a thumbnail sketch showing the shrubs and small trees growing out of that abandoned building; the un-boarded, broken windows in that run-down street; graffiti; air-con units; unique window details; the exposed industrial materials on that warehouse. Look at the way those roof planes interlock showing how the buildings have slowly piled up on each other.

Though currently existing in a contemporary setting, elements of these type of details can be used regardless of whether your environment is a modern urban setting, a futuristic cityscape or a Tolkien-esqe fantasy world.

In animation these environments can be used to enhance the narrative, with key locations almost becoming “characters” in themselves.

Of course games design has its own unique characteristics to consider. Especially in fully immersive 3D games, where low polygon counts of game assets are crucial, as is “iteration” (or the use of repeated objects or assets in order to improve a games performance). But at the concept stage discussed above it is probably not worth completely “cramping your style”, allowing yourself a freer hand. You can always “value engineer” you concepts in the later design development stages.

Try working up your own mini-briefs that test your ability to rapidly develop ideas.


“Adaptation Project” Part 2,  OBJECTS, PROPS, VEHICLES & WEAPONS etc.

What sort of objects or props could there be in your environment… Could it be something your player character needs (a weapon, a vehicle) or just something that adds to the feels of the design? Boxes and crates? Furniture?


If you want a guide to 3D games design/entertainment media concept art in one great book, you can’t do much better than the “The Art Of Final Fantasy IX” from Brady Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-7440-0050-5. It has some great layouts covering characters (inc’ character comparison sheets), props, objects, weapons, flying machines, creatures and a whole stack of environments, as both designs and mood visuals that works almost as a “how to…” reference book. Another great book for this kind of work (though not a great film) is “The Art Of Judge Dredd The Movie” from Boxtree Publishing, 1995. ISBN 0-7522-0666-4. You should be able to pick this up second hand for very little, it is full of great concept art covering everything from furniture through to costume designs and interior and exterior sets. It also has some good examples of storyboarding.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 13.54.52

Finally, don’t forget to pick up one of the various periodicals occasionally, even if it is just to flick through in Tesco’s without actually buying it… “Edge” magazine has some excellent in depth articles, and January’s edition of “360 Gamer” mag’ had that great little article on Mini Ninjas, which flagged up a lot of points we are discussing in these sessions (I’ll make sure there is a copy of the article scanned and saved somewhere in your dept, in fact it might be worth making an arch lever file that you can add inspirational visual and written resource to yourselves).