Quick Sketching

by Gary Winnick
May 13, 2015

One of the things you discover working on a good sized adventure game from the perspective of creating the art assets, at least for me, is that there's a lot of first pass visual design that needs to be done to get a feeling of where you're actually going.

Typically when I start a project I'm full of all kinds of grandiose visions of what the game might look like. The temptation associated with this is to spend way too much time - certainly in the beginning trying to realize every little detail and nuance of a scene. This can easily lead to too much time and effort for a given concept or preliminary  image, although some of this can be great (and helpful to set the overall tone), is it really necessary to know how many rivets are on the side of a computer panel, or arrange all the flowers growing next to a stream into truly aesthetically pleasing shapes. On top of that, we're only human, and the more time you spend on something, the more you're loath to give up on it and start over.

Sometimes for the sake of understanding where you're going you just need to dive in and limit yourself to a quick 15 minute sketch to understand basic layout, perspective and shading. It's amazing how freeing this can be, especially when you might be stuck.

At this point we have a pretty clear idea of the direction we're going with the story and the basic look, and the current task for the art department (namely me) is to get Ron and David as much wireframe art as possible so we can get a good working walkthrough before we really get into the swing of full scale production.

I learned early on in my career, mainly through working as an assistant to the likes of Neal Adams, to just grab a pencil and a piece of bond paper and rough out as many approaches to a scene as quickly as you could in an hour, it gets your juices flowing and helps identify problems early on.

When you're working on a long term (a year or better) creative graphics heavy project, whether it's a game, comic or movie, you never want to get too attached to anything- at least on the visual detail side. You need to build a framework that allows you to easily iterate and change for the better.

Additionally, if you're working as part of a team. hopefully it's a group of people whose opinions and ideas you respect- obviously I'm very lucky in that area, and wouldn't rather be doing anything else. Anytime you're responsible for the visuals of a project, especially a commercial endeavor you're not creating that in a vacuum (at least I hope not), you need to be in a synergistic team relationship that helps make your vision stronger as a result of collective brainstorming and evolve as you go. As Chip Morningstar once put it "You need to feel like your team is running along ahead of you with a steam roller, instead of chasing you with one".

Creating a game as complicated as Thimbleweed Park, and make no mistake, although we're working with an 8 bit art look- this is a complicated game from the perspective of the amount of 2D screens, the feelings we want them to convey, the number of characters, stories, puzzles and situations means you have to be able to easily change and adapt the visuals as you go. With limited resources, the quicker you can get on the right track, the more time you'll have to polish the final result.

Vegetaman - May 13, 2015 at 12:52
And this is why I love this blog. Very interesting approach of almost a "rapid prototyping" or agile type development. Keep things in such a way so they are easy to change later and get the core framework of ideas erected.

Also, didn't know you worked with Neal Adams! Any good stories or neat things you worked on during that time you can tell us about?

Gary Winnick - May 14, 2015 at 10:38
After I graduated high school in the 1970's - I had always wanted to work in the comic book field and had been involved in comic conventions and fandom (you'll see a lot of those references at ThimbleCon)-  at that time you had to really go to New York to work in the field. A good friend of ours Carl Potts, had been working at Continuity Associates- Neal Adam's and Dick Giordano's studio and really the mecca for aspiring comic book artists. So myself and my three good artist friends: Frank Cirocco, Brent Anderson and Tony Salmons decided to drive from our home in Northern California to New York- with no plans other than making it big in the comics business. Neal and Dick could not have been more gracious, giving us a place in their studio, helping us find work, develop our craft and just being the best mentors, role models and friends you could imagine. While at the studio, Neal was drawing most of the covers for the entire DC lineup- we helped out on backgrounds and coloring. Additionally he was working for Power Records- doing a series of licensed properties we did similar work on. The biggest project he was involved on at the time was the Superman, Mohammad Ali book- which he did everything on. There were a number of other projects and stories- but that's a book for another day

vegetaman - May 15, 2015 at 22:35
Wow, that's awesome. Bold move striking out boldly in a direction like that. Sounds like a lot of really interesting stories there. Thanks for sharing!

Tomimt - May 13, 2015 at 13:25
Very interesting stuff. The idea of quick sketchin really is something I've just really recently begun to embrace myself as well. Nothing is as horrible as a blank piece of paper, but if you just hit the pencil down and start sketching an idea, something is bound to leap out as an viable idea. When I was younger I was almost afraid of "wasting" paper. I thought it was important that everything I drew was a solid idea and that itself can be a huge block. But if you just let yourself go and skecth up stuff fast and dirty, you really do a favour for yourself.

qbus - May 13, 2015 at 13:34
A maze of sewer tunnels? I love mazes! Are the tunnels connected to Dinky Island?

Grog Machine - May 13, 2015 at 13:41
Yes. Can you send someone to fix me.

Christopher Griffin - May 13, 2015 at 14:15
I love this post!  Thanks, Gary, I'm really intrigued by the looseness of the workflow early on.  I mean, it makes perfect sense to not be heavily invested in any of the art, as the game's needs are subject to change, but it seems really liberating to work so loosely in the beginning.

Frank - May 13, 2015 at 14:24
Is the training of Vanishing point - Drawings important for you, like for a Composer Counterpoint? Is it difficult to translate you're Designs finally to the computer?

Gary Winnick - May 14, 2015 at 10:44
When I'm doing fast rough sketches- I really don't worry too much about accurate vanishing point perspective-
since I'm really working quickly to get an impression of look an direction- it does become more important rendering
an actual scene for the game- however a lot of that can be somewhat  impressionistic/forced as well- depending on what
feelings you're wanting to evoke. As far as translating a design to the computer- I've now done this long enough - where I
can pretty much look at any (reasonable) design image and reproduce pretty directly on the screen in photoshop.

Frank - May 15, 2015 at 05:21
Are you useing this "drawing pen tablets" (I don't know the correct name) for painting backgrounds?

Gary Winnick - May 15, 2015 at 11:59
I don't use a graphics tablet or 'sentique' - I got used to drawing with a mouse early on in my career and have pretty much stuck with it that -Although most folks I know really like working with a stylus and tablet- Currently I am thinking about getting one- If anyone out there have an amazing recommendation (for the mac) , I'd be curious.

Dada - May 16, 2015 at 15:45
I am using Wacom Intuos 5 now, but I would give one of my kidneys for Wacom Cintiq 27QHD (or even 22HD), unfortunately kidneys are too cheap for that ;(
Still as far as I know most digital painter pros go with Cintiq and many praise it to heavens.

Leak - May 17, 2015 at 13:23
Well, Stejpan Sejic[1] wasn't too happy with his Cintiq lately:


[1] Comic artist, but also did the high-poly character model, concept and box art for Serious Sam 3... :)

Dada - May 18, 2015 at 16:08
Well, I guess its just the way of consumer technology, You get new awesome features every day!!! Just don’t expect it to work well!!

Lukas - May 19, 2015 at 13:47
I used to have a Cintiq (the smaller one), but I wasn't a huge fan. It's pretty bulky, needs to be connected to a computer, resolution is mediocre, and there's enough room between the glass and the screen that you don't really feel like you're actually using a pencil. I'm drawing on a Surface 3 now, which feels much better than the Cintiq — and I can actually take it with me, paint on my sofa or on a plane or outside. Before putting down a ton of money to buy one of these devices, I'd definitely recommend going to a store and actually painting a bit on them to get a feeling for which device works best for you.

Dan - May 13, 2015 at 17:41
Your sketches are really promising, Gary! I already like this game, although it doesn't exist yet.

Mattias Cedervall - May 13, 2015 at 19:48
I hope we'll meet the teenage mutant ninja turtles! <3

Thank you for the insightful post, Darth Grafix. :-)

Peter Campbell - May 13, 2015 at 20:32
Maybe we'll meet the phantom of the opera lol.

Peter Campbell - May 13, 2015 at 21:23
During the kickstarter campaign back in December, one thing that worried me a bit was that from what I gathered on the kickstarter page it seemed like Thimbleweed Park (the town/world of the game) was going to be really small.  Instead, just from seeing the map layouts from blog entries a month and a half ago along with all of the sketches (which obviously not all are going to make the final cut), the world is way bigger than I could've possibly have hoped.  

Having to do rough sketches, wireframe art, object art, character art, background art, animations, then having to touch everything up and make everything look good, that's an insane amount of work to do.  I hope you can hire someone to help you out with all of this, even if only part-time, otherwise your drawing hand is going to permanently cramp up and fall off lol.

One Question for Mr. Winnick:
How long did it take to draw all of the art for the kickstarter trailer, or yet how long did it take just to draw the inside of the fully stocked Quickie Pal that's featured in the trailer?

Gary Winnick - May 14, 2015 at 10:51
Currently, I'm starting to get some help- more on that later soon- but am still doing the bulk of the art
The budget allows for some more art assistance and we'll be figuring that out as we move into production
by next month.

As far as the art for the kickstarter campaign- if you added up all the actual working time- just the drawing
part- not how long it took for Ron and I to actually determine what we wanted to do (which was considerably longer)-
I probably spent somewhere between 2 weeks and a month on the kickstarter images- but there was a lot of other
back and forth as we crafted the pitch.

Re: the Quickie Pal - that probably actually took about a day (8hrs) of actual work to get up on the screen.

Peter Campbell - May 14, 2015 at 22:30
That really was a terrific trailer for the kickstarter campaign, it hit all the right marks with the humor (I lol'd hard at the "Use balloon animal on corpse" intro, and you guys just know that anyone who saw that will be trying that out in the game if possible), the art, the music, and that the game was going to be exactly what myself and a lot of other people have been clamoring for for a long time: a fun, challenging, humor-filled old-school homage to point and click puzzle adventure games from yesteryear done by people who know how to do games like this best.

Glad to hear that you're getting some assistance with the art.  Given the size of the game and just how much art needs to be done, it just seems like way too much of a workload for one person to shoulder and that hiring someone to help out, even just part-time, would make a huge difference, that way too the art can keep pace with the programming as you talked about in recent podcasts.  Also, if lots of bushes and shrubbery are needed to be drawn in foregrounds, Ron can do all that as seen in the parallax video featuring the outside entrance of the Quickie Pal lol.

mr. T - May 14, 2015 at 04:50
I'm intrigued about the art development process. What kind of external input or guidance do you get to move the design forward? In general and in this project specifically? Is it just like "this just doesn't feel (or feels) right", "this is nice but this story element X or technical aspect Y requires Z", and so on? I like to dabble with my own personal projects now and then but find the thought of trying to create or follow someone else's vision quite challenging. But I guess with plain hard work and good team interplay you can succeed. I commend you guys for going for the specific style and not settling for the usual hipster chic thing. Good luck!

Gary Winnick - May 14, 2015 at 10:59
I think the development process between myself, Ron and David is a bit hard to quantify in a formulaic sense-
That is we have a LOT of history working together in a very collaborative way- so the process comes
very naturally- we listen to each other and weigh technical vs art vs creative decisions very candidly.
None of us is afraid to state their opinion and work through any issue together- so we have what I think is
a very enviable process on this project. It's much harder when you're working within a new group- you
have to learn that rhythm and just hope it all works out.

Ricardo Marichal - May 14, 2015 at 11:22
Ahá. A labyrinth in the sewers... Love it !!!

Dan - May 14, 2015 at 11:52
That's the question, I think. I would love it, too! But e.g. the sewerage on Dinky Island wasn't really a labyrinth.

Ricardo Marichal - May 14, 2015 at 12:20
It could be like the forest in Monkey Island, o the excavations of Creta in Indy Fate Atlantis. Or maybe not...

Dan - May 14, 2015 at 17:54
I would better not hope for a Fate Of Atlantis obeisance. The forest on Meleé Island or the catacombs of Monkey Island were something completely different from that, because the rooms were connected to each other in random order, so that path-finding was a puzzle itself. That was a great idea!
In Fate Of Atlantis instead you walked and walked and walked just to solve one little puzzle. It bored me, especially when I didn't come forth.
An adventure game has to provide quick paths, wherever you want to get to!

Mario - May 14, 2015 at 14:45
Gary, how do you develope the final PC GFX? Do you redraw from your sketches on PC again, or do you just scan your paper work into the PC and then bring it into shape (and of course color)?

Gary Winnick - May 15, 2015 at 11:51
It really depends on the project- in the case of something like Thimbleweed- given the 8 bit style resolution -where one of our larger screens is around 256X640- I really just have my sketches sitting on the desk next to my computer and just look at them while I draw the associated digital screen directly in photoshop- I'm pretty comfortable and used to that for this type of graphics. In the case of something more like a comic book where I'm dealing with a more hand drawn process- I pencil and ink the full size pages, scan those- then proceed to color and finish digitally.

Christian - May 14, 2015 at 18:31
I'm excited about what I see here. Opening another layer below Thimbleweed Park (sewers).

Gary, if you have the time at some point during production to do it, a time lapse of a photoshop session for one scene would be a great thing for this blog, I think.

Arto - May 15, 2015 at 14:55
What I've seen so far, it looks like the outcome will resample the Maniac Mansion / Zak McKracken look. While they are ok, I would prefer to see more complex Monkey 2 style with 8-bit graphics. I think that was the pinnacle of great visual presentation, that still left room for imagination. Monkey 3 for example looked great but was a bit too real. Will there be more development on this area, or have we already seen what the finished product visuals will be like?

Peter Campbell - May 17, 2015 at 05:27
We've only really seen wireframe art for the actual game itself so far.  Wireframe art is NOT the finalized art of the game, not even close, it's just stuff Gary quickly puts together for super early, rough looking builds of the game that the characters in the game can walk around so the developers can do basic testing to check how well Ron's game engine is running and to look for any bugs/glitches that need to be fixed.  Probably the kickstarter trailer resembles best what the game is going to look like, but even the rooms featured in that trailer could turn out looking very differently in the finalized version of the game.  

Again, the rooms seen on the early test videos here on this blog are just wireframe art.  They are going to lack detail, lack proper dimensions for things like the sizes of the buildings seen while walking the downtown streets of the town, lack any type of lighting and textures and stuff like that.  Gary will fix all of that in the upcoming months.  On a scale of 1 to 10 of how finalized the art is that we've seen so far, with 10 being the finalized look of the game, we're at about a 3.5 right now lol.

Lucas - May 18, 2015 at 09:32
Why blue and not... brown, red, orange...??

Rodrifra - May 21, 2015 at 17:15
Hi there.

I must be the only one here concerned about the retro 8 bit look. I've always loved the great LucasArts/LucasFilm games with their great stories, humor and graphics besides the 8 bit limitation, but when time came and we had 256 color version of those games....   WOW impressive how adding more colors to the same graphics could make the experience even greater than it originally was, and some decades after that came the special editions WOWOWOWOWOW I really liked those editions and the work done with the backgrounds very true to their originals but in high res, I liked most characters fidelity to their originals too, but MISE2's Guybrush was very disappointing , the original character was way better.

For me visual aspect is as important as the good dialogs, music and story, it all goes together. So, here comes the question: Are TWP graphics going to be 16 colors or there will be no limit regarding the colors the game will have? I've seen very interesting  8 bit like looks where the art was kind of 8 bit wise but every "pixel" had gradients which gave a very interesting look (have you seen Lone Survivor game screens?). Is TWP going to have something like that?