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The road to the Art Style of Yaga

Hello everyone, Flaviu here! I wanted to spend a few minutes to talk about how we came up with the art style for Yaga.

For every game I’ve worked on, the beginning has proven to be an extremely fun but challenging task, because you start off with a blank canvas (still scary to this day), some very broad limitations and your own imagination. But seeing everything come together step by step is very rewarding. And the limitations amount to having clear guidelines, which saves a lot of time and headaches along the way.

The process we used was simple: me and Andi would try out a bunch of things, then the whole team would get together and discuss. We’d talk about our choices, get feedback and then go back to draw some more. I wanted a more stylized approach, while Andi wanted something with a bit more polish and detail. This made the whole thing a bit difficult at times, but was a blessing in the long run as we would each come up with very different ideas and kept pushing each other’s vision.

Like most other things in an artist’s work, defining an art style starts with looking over a ton of reference, analysing shapes, colour, rhythms and a dozen other things. We spent days researching Slavic folklore and trying to define a “Slavic look”. We also studied the works of other artists – off the top of my head, worth mentioning are a few classic artists of Slavic descent such as Ivan Bilibin and Viktor Vasnetsov, who illustrated some of our childhood fairy tale books. On the more abstract side, of great influence was Sukharev and the art of Secret of Kells (especially the backgrounds). And although there were many many others, I’m not planning on creating a whole list here. At least not now.

Time for the pretty pictures!

Exploration

We started with quite a few exploratory images, trying to cover as much ground as possible. Here are a few selections:

first-art-iterations
You can already tell the difference between the levels of abstraction between my images and Andi’s, shown below

 

andi-art-iterations
Andi had the idea of going with a fake 2d perspective instead of the standard isometric look. While we really liked the feel of it, it seemed a bit complicated to implement and it created problems with aiming

After having a few conversations, each artist was encouraged to go his own way, but stylize everything a bit more. Looking back, I’m a bit surprised by the lack of folkloric elements in those pictures.

art-style-develops
This image went through a few iterations afterwards. The textured feel is one of the things that we tried to keep in the final art style, but the shapes were a bit too simplistic

 

andi-isometric-approach
Andi tried a more isometric approach, including all sorts of little details in his scenes, such as blood flowing down the river from an enemy that the player killed

Refinement

We still weren’t satisfied with any of the directions, so we kept brainstorming and ended up with these polar opposites:

folkloric-imagery-iterations
I kept trying to tie the theme of the game with the decorative abstraction that is typical to most folkloric imagery. I felt the game would benefit from the very distinctive look and from the amount of time we would save by using simple graphics

 

twisted-perspective-images
I really like the way the perspective is twisted in Andi’s images. Shapes are simpler, the play of lines is surprising, but there’s still a high level of detail. Also his use of grays ended up influencing the final look of the game quite a bit

Convergence

This is probably the point where the two directions started to slowly come together, even though we didn’t know it yet. Andi made the following image, which I then tried to integrate into my own. To my surprise they fit quite well.

monsters-and-obstacles
Andi’s image. The detail is focused on the important parts of the scene, the monsters and the obstacles, while the floor is kept really neat

There are dozens of versions of this image. We ended up taking one and animating it to see how the textures would interact. For a while we actually thought this would be the key art for the game

Looking back, my idea of reversing the traditional style and giving contours to the background, not to the characters, was not really working. Andi kept opposing this idea and now I see why: the background gains way too much focus and this muddles the whole image.

From this point on, we kept merging the two art styles together as we went on. We took the volume and play of shapes from Andi’s work, and the textures and paint splashes from mine. We completely dropped the contours, turned down saturation and added some colour grading. Ivan’s character took shape, then the first version of the forest environment, and the artistic vision became clearer with every step of the way. Even after months of work there are still things that need to be made clearer and early art that needs to be replaced, but overall we’ve learned a lot and found the best solution for the game.

This is what the game looks like today:

latest-look-yaga-art-style

Thank you for reading!

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