Developer Blog #1 - Art Team - Bringing the Bad Lands to life

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  1. gumi Elie

    gumi Elie English Community Manager Staff Member

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    Developer Blog #01 | Bringing the Bad Lands to life
    Art Team | Discuss this on the forum

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    Hi everyone! I'm Florian, Art Director at gumi Europe. My team of artists and I are all very passionate about creating series of unique Units you'll love, which is certainly no easy task! In this blog entry, I will tell you about the many creation steps of our six Bad Lands, from the first conception sketches pitched to the team, up until the final touches bringing life to these new characters!

    I. Defining our European touch

    It's important to realize that when Alim created and designed Brave Frontier, they already had a Western adaptation in mind. You can clearly see inspiration from well-known folklore appreciated in European pop culture such as Goblins, Vampires and Orcs, which usually isn't what pops into your mind when you talk about JRPGs.

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    Pictured: Some of Brave Frontier's earliest characters!​

    This is a lot less common now, Japanese vision of heroic fantasy and pop culture being the dominant inspiration for new Japanese-designed Brave Frontier characters. You'd come to expect visuals akin to ninjas and samurais, or looks that match popular characters, monsters, clothing or hair style trends and even idols (i.e. the Visual Kei movement) originating from Japan.

    My goal is definitely not to disturb this established universe! The cast of Brave Frontier was already pretty large when the European version was released, and it would only get bigger, so the team had to find a way to differentiate our art from theirs. Early on, I decided that we wouldn't compete with Alim's Units but instead enrich the Brave Frontier universe with popular European folklore, just like in the very beginning. We all put great care into the selection of themes we wanted to tackle, looking for as much occidental inspiration and pop culture references as we could from many different media (i.e. Shapeshifters had a Victorian London artistic vision).

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    Pictured: The dark Victorian London atmosphere.​

    While the direction we've taken is to imagine how, artistically speaking, famous European legends would fit into the world of Grand Gaia, we've made it a point to stay true to the original art style's direction (proportions, posing, eyes, colors, etc...). In the end, these are still very much Brave Frontier Units that fight in Grand Gaia, which means their designs, stances, lores, attack styles and much more have to make sense in this world.

    That's where the hunt for a theme that could answer all these needs begins.​

    II. Summoning the right ideas

    Back in June 2015, when my colleagues and I were applying the finishing touches to Shapeshifters, we still hadn't decided what our next theme would be. Looking at player feedback was paramount, especially after our Valhalla 6-Star Evolutions were released, and I understood that many fans were now looking for a more serious, darker lore and design for European Units. This lead us to brainstorm about a violent and barbaric world, and what would be the starting point of Batch #4, codenamed "PostApo".

    The Post-Apocalyptic theme has been very popular in recent years, with many different interpretations in video gaming, literature and cinema and a huge following in Europe. To immerse myself into this crazy war-ridden theme, I got to watch some of my favorite movie classics (i.e. Waterworld, Mad Max, Apocalypse Now) and take a good look at other established universes (i.e. Hokuto no Ken, Warhammer 40K). These were all amazing sources of inspiration to bring our own interpretation of a futuristic wasteland and the people surviving in it to Brave Frontier RPG where it hadn't been represented at all.

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    Pictured: We really liked Hokuto no Ken!​

    What we want to achieve is telling you a story via the art itself, complementary to the overarching lore. The general concept for Bad Lands is simple enough: Following the end of the world, everyone is scavenging for whatever they can use to survive, dominate, or cling to their past lives. Simply by looking at each of our Bad Lands characters, you can imagine who they used to be, where they've been, what they've seen, what they've done and what has stuck to them (i.e. Gazolina keeps rabbit plushes on her at all times, Pig-Bull was always into sports). It's all up to your interpretation!

    When it comes to the actual art theme, I wanted to keep a "Do it yourself" aspect for everyone. It means you won't see clothes or cars bought in expensive stores... that would be silly! Outfits are made of sewn-together clothes (or umbrella skirts!), different parts of different vehicles are somehow assembled, unusual trinkets are worn as jewellery, etc...

    With the theme locked down, we're given a green light to research it thoroughly and finally get to use those brushes.​

    III. The wonderful world of lines
    Research is key to the establishment of as many types of characters as we can. At this point, actual character design and Brave Frontier art style aren't a priority, it's all about gathering as many potential ideas as possible to fulfill the needs of the theme. This usually lasts 3 days during which we'll go through all that has inspired us to come up with 15 to 20 concept sketches. Some of them might even contain a hint of what their Element should be, especially with very specific interpretations (i.e. Earth represents a deadly war-ridden jungle, Water represents completely submerged landscapes).
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    Pictured: 20 different concept sketches for Bad Lands Units. Can you recognize those we picked?​

    During a meeting with gumi Europe's key members (Producer, Game Designer, Developers and the Art team), we will discuss and debate on which concepts are the most interesting and exciting for the future of the game. What's taken into account is the release schedule of Alim characters, the current game meta for each Element and the coherence between a character's attack style and the possible gameplay effect associated with it. When everyone agrees about which 6 characters are appropriate and feasible in the time we're given, we'll give them their Element and start shaping them up.

    It begins with line art, which can be considered the shell of a character, done by an artist that specializes in it. Line arts are drawings only made of very thin black lines, spelling out proportions, stances and features for each limb of a Unit. The lowest evolutions are always the first in line, since they will serve as the basis for higher evolutions, and not the opposite: we want to add more to our characters, not downgrade them! The first few steps are always a bit rough, with a few elements left as sketches to allow for easy modification.
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    Pictured: 3 comparisons between concepts and line art.​

    As soon as the very first version of a line art is good enough to be shown, usually after 1 or 2 days, I will leave it on display for everyone to see in the office and gather feedback. Sometimes, even players have been able to check them out and share their opinion, which can make all the difference during this process! After all, getting the character's general look and stance right is very important for first impressions: for instance, knowing a character's personality simply by looking into their eyes, understanding how they move and attack with the equipment or magic they use, etc...

    Only after I've deemed the line art final will the team move on to adding colors and tiny, complex details.
    IV. Powerful colors for powerful characters

    When we paint a Unit, we always keep in mind a specific range of colors. Each color we use has to make sense with the character's Element (i.e. from red to gold for Fire, from green to brown for Earth). If we do this right, when all 6 characters stand next to each other, you won't have any trouble knowing who represents which element. However, if all we do is stay true to the Element's color, you will only get very generic looks! That's why we will go through many different color combinations, taking up to 3 days for each Unit. In the end, we want all 6 Bad Lands characters to easily stand out in Brave Frontier's crowd!

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    Pictured: 8 different color schemes for Gazolina.

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    Pictured: The evolution of Voodoo Child's style.​

    Other visual aspects are just as important as color schemes. Let's take the lighting coherence you can observe in all character artworks as an example: light comes from the left to cast very contrasted shadows, especially on faces, as if a very bright light spot were pointed at them. By default it has a blue tint, but for EU-Exclusives, we're very keen on changing its color when it suits the Element better. Many other material effects (i.e. shadowing, backlighting) are also added to give more weight to artworks, often drawn in a very dynamic way: swift brush swipes and stylised geometry can be seen when zooming in. With the post-apocalyptic theme, these tiny details (i.e. dust, reflections, wear and tear) make a big difference to give our characters more personality.

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    Pictured: Many brush details can be seen when zooming in.​

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    Pictured: From concept to final design, colors and details make a big difference.​

    Whenever a 4-Star Evolution artwork is completely done, I will ask a pixel artist to create a single pixel art frame. Work on animation begins only after I have approved its proportions and general respect of the original artwork. We will discuss key animation frames and tempo, as well as new elements to create for the attacks. Since this is what players will see the most when EU-Exclusives Units are in their teams, we have to take into account many parameters affecting gameplay (i.e. sprite size, attack speed and delay, number of hits, animation duration). This is where the Game Designer, Florent, chimes in to make sure it's all logical and doesn't hinder your enjoyment of the game.

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    Pictured: Our two main tools for pixel arts are Pro Motion (drawing) and Edge (animation)​

    Pixel arts are usually done in 2 days (up to 5 days when it's very complex) and mark the end of our work on a Unit Evolution. We might still have to make adjustments weeks after we're done to better fit gameplay needs if concerns emerge during testing. In any way, we will use all the existing 4-Star art to create 5-Star Evolutions, planned way before 4-Stars are done. From line art to pixel art, we will add more equipment, effects and details to make Units look beefier wherever there is room for it in the original art.

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    Pictured: From 4-Star to 5-Star, getting Voodoo Child's design right took a few tries!​

    But when it comes to 6-Stars, we went above and beyond the simple aspect of upgrading a Unit.
    V. The Evolution of Evolutions!

    So far, we've only been able to release Rare Units in 4, 5 & 6-Star, even though 7-Star Evolutions already exist in other Brave Frontier versions. We didn't want our own Units to look less impressive when 7-Star Evolutions would reach our server, so we thought ahead and found inspiration for our 6-Stars by looking at 7-Star artwork. This is why, so far, you've seen all our EU-Exclusive characters with a different pose in 6-Star than in their previous evolutions. We want to mark the change by giving them a much more dynamic look!

    However, with the Bad Lands squad, changing the pose wasn't enough. We've had the opportunity to do something really special with this post-apocalyptic theme and we just couldn't resist taking our chances. In many post-apocalyptic works, you'll find depictions of hordes of barbaric vehicles recklessly rushing towards their enemies, armed to the teeth and disregarding danger. For this reason, we wanted to go all-out and give each of our Bad Lands characters a vehicle in order to recreate that feeling when you see them all at once in the game!

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    Pictured: Our concepts for vehicles. You'll notice how we had a completely different idea for Coal Cauldron.​

    Achieving that in pixel art required 3D modelling, a first since we began designing exclusive units, to avoid awkward pixel art animations and give ourselves more freedom.

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    Pictured: Some of our 3D modelling and animating at work to assist pixel art creation.​

    All members of our Art Team have their specialties, but we're all versatile and we could all manage creating a Unit from the ground up until the very end on our own. However, to prevent inconsistencies in art style, I try my best to have all artists working on all our Units. I'll be thoroughly checking progress so we can all provide our players with the best quality we can obtain.

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    Pictured: All pixel art effect animations are done in high quality at first.​

    When everything has been done and approved, we proudly prepare final character presentation images that you will most likely see in announcements, coming to a Brave Frontier RPG near you!

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    Pictured: 18 final artworks mark the end of the line!
    I hope you've appreciated this very in-depth look at what happens behind the scenes within the Art team. Do keep on sharing your thoughts about Bad Lands characters! They are very valuable so you can be sure I'll be reading them!

    - Florian, Art Director at gumi Europe​

    Thank you very much for reading our first ever Developer Blog! That's only half of the fun, though. We're letting you submit your questions to Florian in our first ever Q&A thread before November 9th, 10:00 CET!

    Check it out right here: LINK
    - The Brave Frontier RPG Team​
: bfrpg, gumi elie

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