Thumbnailing is a concept artists use to quickly experiment with a variety of layouts quickly and cheaply to settle on something that best achieves what they’re trying to do.
In this case, I had no idea what my biomes would look like. Sure, I know I would have a desert, a forest, alpine mountains… but the devil is in the details – what will they REALLY look like, what art style would I be going with for the whole game, how will it fit in with that, and most importantly, what colour palette would each biome use, and how will it all look like it belongs to the same game?
Colours are the first thing we see when we look at anything. Shapes come second, and glyphs, ie. text, symbols that need interpretation, come third. Colours are most important, they set the mood. You have to get that right before you move on. You might need shapes to display those colours with but the colours need to be worked on first.
I “thumbnailed” the 4 main biomes (there are sub-biomes that are created when these interact) in this image, each row is devoted to a single biome, and each image is a different way to do the same biome.
(Click on image for more detail)
I based them off actual photos that I thought were beautiful and might convey the mood I was going for in each biome. Going through the process of drawing them not only made me notice what colours are involved and where they are, but actually made me really see what elements made up the scene and made me think about how I would generate those in the game world.
Looking at each image in each row, makes me think about what elements of these I’ll put into a biome. What’s needed now is to do a concept drawing of each final biome, but first I think I need to rough up the biomes in my prototype, since the voxel design of the game will probably represent some things more easily than others. Then I will come back and concept what they could look like in their final form.
Actually, my digital painting skills improved over the course of drawing these – a combination of getting back into illustration after several years, and learning a few tricks of the trade with photoshop, eg. brushes, and some painting techniques (like painting the sillhouette of the mountain first, then enabling transparency lock to paint on the shading). You can see the progression in the below image, how it’s just a dreamy blur of colours at the top as I tried to convey part of the image I was looking at, and what was in my head, with no real technique on how to achieve that. By the time I got to the bottom, the last row was insanely more detailed than the top row, so in the previous image, I’ve re-done the top row (using a different source of images too, initially I had some game screenshots, now I went with all photos). The second row still could use re-doing, and maybe even the third… but I need to work on my prototype to get a clearer direction.