What Have I got Myself Into? Learning Game Programming

Character for a game idea I'm working on.

Character for a game idea I’m working on.

In the last 3-4 months I have been learning Unity, a 2D and 3D game creation engine. “Why would you want to do that?!!”, is the thought and sometimes words of many of the people I’ve confessed this to. I do very much wonder myself as the journey I’ve embarked on seems hideously difficult at times.

I guess it goes back to a childhood love of moving, brightly coloured things that tell a story or interact. I remember when I must have been about 4-5 being taken by my grandparents to a Santa’s grotto in a large city department store. We queued to see Santa in through various scenes in his workshops, showing his elves making toys and packing them onto the sleigh. It was probably all pretty rough by todays standards but back then I was mesmerised by the simplistic, brightly coloured and gaudily lit clockwork manikin’s repeatedly going about their chores. Later, as a 13 year old a friend of mine had an early console with a few rudimentary games on it. These games were all little more than a dot moving around the screen with the contextual ‘art’ being printed on a transparent plastic sheet you taped to the screen. Other memories include the arcade on Brighton Pier and smuggling my first computer, an Amiga 500, past my Mum, who didn’t approve of computer games at all, (she said they made you thick). Although I played the games I was actually more interested in the idea of making them and bought game programming engines such as Blitz and Gamemaker. However, my enthusiasms often fluctuate, and I just couldn’t get my head around the programming component so would often give up and move onto some hobby that I knew I could understand like cycling!

This time, some 30 years later, I am determined to crack it. One of the reasons is that it annoys me that something I always wanted to do has been beyond my reach. My earlier attempts to learn it have always been thwarted by the layers of complexity, and to some extent the poor tutoring of various books and manuals, written by people who when they learnt had quickly understood the most basic concepts and assume anyone else will do too. The beginners section, usually a thin chapter, would cover these concepts in just a sentence or two instead of really laying them out in diagrams that make sense to a visual person such as myself. Hey, there’s an idea, a graphic novel type programming manual?

So there is just learning it for the sake of learning it, but the most important reason is that I have ideas for games. Although illustrating books is full of ideas, they are static on the page and I am keen to see my art move and interact. Back to the bright colourful things moving around. I’m also thinking that if I can crack the programming perhaps I can make an entire game (we’re only talking about a little ‘indie’ title) and share it or even sell it. I realise that is a long way off, but you never know, with the long winter nights I’ll have some time to get something more than print “Hello” to screen working. I am now getting my head around the concepts and realise that at it’s core it’s pretty simple, or at least with a game engine like Unity you can get some quite fun stuff working almost straight away. I can accept that my games will most likely be very short on clever mechanics, but I reckon I can compensate with some quite nice art. I just have to get past the notion that my mother embedded in my head that computer games make you thick.

Crypt of the Vampire Now in Colour

I have been very tardy with blog posts over the past year, a situation I’m going to try and change, at least until I go back to being tardy again! I just saw that my last post about The Crypt of the Vampire was way back in May last year. It was announcing a Kickstarter to have the black a white illustrations to Dave Morris’ Crypt of the Vampire book coloured and reissued in a deluxe hardcover edition. Crypt of the Vampire was the first book I ever illustrated back in 1984 when I was just 18 and the year before I started my art college degree. It was the first book for Dave too, and the beginning of a friendship that has lasted ever since, most recently culminating in the Mirablis: Year of Wonders comic.

The first Kickstarter by Mikael of Megara Entertainment, the micro publisher, was withdrawn for various reasons, but was set in train again later in the year. I am happy to report that it was fully funded and even exceeded it’s stretch goal to have new chapters and illustrated by me. Mikael paid for my colouring of the original illustrations in advance, so that he had examples to help market the Kickstarter, and I completed the work before Christmas 2015. At first it felt very odd working on drawings I have done over 30 years years ago, but I quickly realised that the quality of that early work had stood the test of test time, and I reveled in a happy nostalgia for the heady days of game book’s high water mark.

I coloured them digitally in Manga Studio on my trusty Microsoft Surface 3. Back then when I was 18 I couldn’t imagine that such technology would exist in my lifetime. Here is a small gallery of some of the coloured finals. btw. The Vampire gallery image. The 2nd portrait to left is my Dad! He wanted to feature in my first illustrated book even though he wasn’t a vampire, I think!

If you missed the Kickstarter the book will be available to buy from Megara Entertainment later in the year.

 

 

 

 

 

Computer Illustration Software on the Cheap

Computer Artist by Leo Hartas

I’ve been using computers for my illustration work for many years starting out with Delux Paint on Amiga. On the whole the paint program I have relied on for most of that time was Adobe Photoshop for one reason only, that it was the only program that would guarantee speed and stability while working on large print resolution files. All other software would either not have the features I needed or would grind down to a snail’s pace at anything larger than A5 at 300 dpi with more than a handful of layers. In the last year I’ve dropped Adobe totally, because I’ve found a small collection of programs that give me all the flexibility and reliability I need for everyday illustration, and save me quite a lot of money.

Cheap does not mean rubbish. All the following programs are 100% legal, and work for me every day producing art and design for books and publications that are professionally printed and end up on the shelves of shops, or sometimes video games, websites and advertising. Of course you can go entirely free, with plenty of open source offerings such as Gimp, or the quite good Krita, but I find they all suffer either with having weird interfaces, or stability and speed issues that make them awkward to use professionally.

Why be a cheapass? You may think that you need the market “standard” of Adobe to be a professional artist. This just isn’t the case. The end users of your work, the publishers or the children that eventually read your books can’t tell, and don’t care what program you illustrate in. With all the software I mention below there are no compatibility issues and export and import all the major file formats. The money I saved can go into Marketing, or to buy time to work on developing my own projects.

2016 - Electric Pencil - Leo Hartas

Windows 10

A persistent myth has arisen that serious illustrators can or should only use Apple Macs, probably arising from their release of the first graphical interface. I’ve always bought and used PCs, (well, after having Amigas first) only because at the time I also wanted games that the Mac was somewhat lacking in. I’m amazed I had any time to play them! I also had a slightly nerdy interest in computers, and to this day still build my own desktops. Beyond that going the PC route over the years has saved me a ton of cash over the equivalent Macs, but perhaps with a few more technical problems than the average Apple user suffers. I have no beef about either system, as you can produce great work whatever you use, and although I’m not crazy about Windows 10 it does what I need.

Manga Studio

Also known confusingly as Clip Studio Paint Pro, and available on Mac. I came across this about a year ago and have never looked back. For illustration, both drawing and painting, it is way ahead of Photoshop. It has dedicated features that illustrators will love like layer referencing, where working on a layer above you can refer to a layer below to make selections. The brush engine is hugely flexible and the rulers are worth the asking price alone. What makes it stand out is that the features you need are so logically laid out, and far more to hand than Adobe’s offering. It is also 100% stable with large many layered high resolution files, even several in memory at once. It’s also fast. I know that the learning curve associated with switching software is what puts most off, but it’s not that different to Photoshop, and I found the change pretty easy. What is crazy is how cheap it is, just $47, and they often run deals if you sign up to their newsletter; at the time of writing this it’s on offer for $20! This is a one off, you own it, price, unlike Adobe’s annual subscription cost. It also loads and exports multi-layered PSDs. HINT: Visit Flyland and Frenden to build your collection of excellent natural media and special effects brushes. They also have a lots of excellent Manga Studio tutorials.

Serif Page Plus

Why a DTP program? There are always little jobs in illustration that I find easier to do in DTP, perhaps arranging some text or planning a page design, to then export out to work with Manga Studio. It is also brilliant for actual DTP when I’m laying out promotional flyers or just printing out my Christmas card. Serif Page Plus’s easy to use simple interface belies it’s power to output professional quality documents for commercial print. PC Only. Price: £89 HINT: I’ve got Serif products for quite substantial discounts by phoning their sales department and haggling! They also have a free, “starter”, edition, that actually has enough functionality to get by on.

Serif Draw Plus, Serif Affinity Designer

I occasionally do vector graphics, but never could get my head round Adobe Illustrator. I found Serif Draw Plus ok, and like it’s DTP cousin, easy to use, but I’m excited to see the fantastic Serif Affinity Designer make it’s way over from Mac to PC in the near future. Affinity has been gathering numerous awards and looks to be giving Adobe a run for it’s money because it’s faster with better features, and a lot cheaper. No subscription. £39.99

And that’s it! All my illustration produced with a collection of programs costing less than £200!

Cat Paint by Leo Hartas

To round off my cheapassness here is a list of ancillary stuff I use for the business.

Gmail, Google Contacts, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Documents (word processor and spreadsheets), Google Keep (Notes)
I’m probably becoming a Google drone, but who cares, it’s all free and works on my phone too.

Kaspersky Antivirus
There are good free antivirus’s but they tend to nag you to buy their premium products. I like Kaspersky because I can forget about it, It doesn’t slow my system down, or hassle me all the time like Norton or McAfee. You only need to go for their antivirus. £29.99 per year.

Wisecare 365
Ok, I have this because Windows isn’t quite as hygienic as Mac OS. Wisecare 365 goes through my system daily brushing up unwanted files, polishing the registry, etc. and generally keeping Windows running smoothly. I picked Wise Care at random, but it seems to work well. £27.34 per year. I was on their mailing list and took advantage of a special offer of about £40 for a lifetime upgrade.

WordPress
I designed my website using WordPress for free. It was quite a painful learning curve despite loads of people online saying it’s easy. However, there are plenty of excellent YouTube tutorials that walk you step-by-step through building a smooth and clean portfolio site. I teamed up with a pal to split the cost of unlimited hosting on Hostgator, and there’s no reason why you couldn’t band together with a few more people to reduce it further. Hostgator Baby package 3 years: About £100 (they throw lots of deals around, and you can hunt for vouchers online that can bring the price down further)

Elegant Themes
This is a luxury. Elegant Themes are high quality WordPress themes that make your site look really slick. Bizarrely, I won a years free subscription from them in a sweepstakes they were running on their newsletter, which I then upgraded to a lifetime membership at about £175. (but I got it cheaper on a deal they sent out in their email newsletter)

2016 - Paint Tubes - Leo Hartas

Self Publishing – How to Commission a Children’s Illustrator

Leo Hartas

I usually work for established publishers, but over the years I have successfully worked with private self-publishers to bring their writing to life with illustrations. Most self-publishers have never commissioned a freelance illustrator before, and they often approach it with little knowledge, and some misconceptions about how illustrators provide their services. In this post I hope to pass on some useful guidance that will give you a realistic idea of what to expect, and how it all works, so that both parties can enjoy a fruitful relationship.

Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing routes

When commissioning an illustrator there are the two distinct routes to getting your children’s illustrated book into the world. They require different approaches, that understanding will potentially avoid wasting time and effort.

Traditional Publishing

Many writers hope to have their book published in the traditional way, by an established publisher. They approach me thinking that they need to commission some illustrations, and then take their project to a publisher. Or sometimes expect me to find the publisher. Publishers do not work in this way, because they want to match an artist with a writer in a combination they know will work in a particular market. Instead you must find a publisher interested in your manuscript first, and they will then find, commission and fund the illustrations. You may suggest an illustrator you would like, but eventually it will always be the publisher who decides.

Self-Publishing

Self-publishing is somewhat different. Once known as “vanity” publishing because the writer pays to have their own book published, it had a rather tarnished image. If the book’s good enough surely a publisher will give it the green light? Things have changed with the advent of the internet, which has reduced the cost of getting your work into the world, and it bypasses the traditional publishers who are reluctant to take on new writers. It is definitely new a route to market, with some self-published titles finding success and subsequently being chased with publishing deals. However, with the barriers to entry down the market is now flooded with millions of titles and self-publishers are looking to find a way for their book to stand out. Having professional illustrations adorn your writing, particularly in children’s books, elevates the title as a quality book, and could garner the attention of the reading public on the road to success.

Going back to the notion of vanity publishing for a moment. There is nothing wrong with having your book illustrated and printed on demand simply as a keepsake or gift for your family or friends.

Figuring out What You Want

This is where self-publishers can struggle. Different texts suit different styles of book which vary a lot depending on the age of the target audience. My advice, even before you put pen to paper is to spend many, many, hours in your local bookshop or library studying the type of books for each age group. Typically infants 0-3 years have board and rag books, ages 3-7 picture books, 7-10 starter chapter books, 10-13 chapter books and 13 onwards teen and young adult. Each age group has varying amounts of illustration, and then there are books for boys and girls, which can then be fragmented into further diversifying categories. It can be a big help to the illustrator, and yourself, if you find a handful of example books that you feel are similar to your project.

Finding Illustrators

The internet now provides access to a cornucopia of talented illustrators the world over all just an email away. There are many websites provided by individual artists, agents and multiple portfolio sites such as Children’s Illustrators and the AOI (Association of Illustrators). After riffling a mind-dizzying choice you will eventually settle on an individual artist’s style you like and think is appropriate for your project.

Freelance Illustrators

To begin with let’s consider how the industry works and how individual illustrators operate within it. Since forever illustrators typically work freelance as lone self employed workers. It’s difficult to make comparisons with other industries but it’s fairly close to say employing a builder to remodel your bathroom. You have a bespoke job, something you cannot buy off the shelf, that you need someone to produce a custom outcome. There is one major difference however, the job is not interchangeable. If things don’t work out with your builder halfway through the job, you can pretty easily find another who can take up where it was left off and complete it. This is not the case in art as styles are not interchangeable, so it demands that you find an artist you can trust to make you project a reality right to the end. Therefore the relationship with the artist is critical.

What makes choosing your Illustrator particularly difficult is that they work in as many different ways as there are different people. Apart from their style of work, artists can be experienced, inexperienced, famous, fast, slow, talented, and sometimes less so. Some can draw anything in ink line, but not colour, while others are outstanding at fish, but hopeless at drawing a motorbike. Generally when you look at a portfolio you can tell how broad the artist’s ability is, and from their list of clients and projects how experienced they are. Don’t be put off if you cannot see a specific element that you want in an artist’s portfolio. You may see horses, cats and geese, but not a dog? Chances are, if they can draw all those other animals, dogs will no problem. On the other hand, you may like the colours an artist uses in their portfolio full of paintings of architecture, but they will most likely be not appropriate for your story about the adventures of four children and dog. For children’s illustration take particular note of how they draw characters, expressions and posture, as well as environment and the sense of place.

Being sole traders illustrators are individuals that have to be self sufficient in all areas of their business not just making the art. They have to keep track of their accounts, market themselves, interact with clients, keep up with technology, schedule, learn new techniques, source materials, as well as running their home life.

Agencies

There are many artist’s agencies, some large operations with many illustrators on their books, others a one-man band representing just a handful. A good agent after securing the job and checking contracts will stand aside and let the client and illustrator work together, only stepping in to resolve any problems. Agents should negotiate as high a fee as possible and charge the illustrator around 33% commission.

Cost

Although some illustrators have rate cards the fee for a job is always a product of negotiation. This is because there are so many variables to consider for the artist starting with quantity, size, colour or black and white. Other factors such as complexity of the images, relative fame of the illustrator, experience, schedule and type of client.

To some the cost may seem high. A myth persists that artists should live as paupers and work for next to nothing, even free, because it’s their “hobby”, or that they might enjoy their work. Like you artists have families, bills to pay, homes to upkeep, and they may well aspire to a decent quality of living. You are not just paying for the time a drawing takes to come out of the illustrator’s pen, you are paying for thousands of hours of practice and perfecting that came before.

Contracts

Once you and the illustrator have decided on a price terms should be agreed and formalised in a contract. There are plenty online that work as a starting point, and most of the clauses will be obvious, such as timing, fees, quantity of work, etc. The area that can cause confusion is copyright. The creator, the illustrator, owns copyright unless he or she has signed an agreement to pass the copyright to another party. Moral rights can also be signed away. Usually the artist retains copyright while licensing the other party to make use of the images within agreed boundries, such as a set length of time, in different territories, etc. Contracts are beyond the scope of this post, my advice would be read up some more elsewhere, and if in doubt consult a legal adviser.

Process

Illustrators work in different ways but the process I use is below and common for most projects. The story throughout is good communication helps things flow easily.

Development

I study the text and make notes about anything I need to query. It helps me a lot if the writer can supply anything not obvious in the text, for example photo references of the kind of setting the writer has in mind. Sometimes I will do some preliminary work with character sketches, discussion about setting etc. Anything that needs agreeing on before drawing the roughs.

Design

For a children’s book this should include the text, size and extent, and be planned out by a professional designer. For self publishers I offer this service myself. It is setting out the book and text as a coherent design, with the text distributed logically throughout. Fonts, colour styles and cover design all have to be taken into account, so that I know what spaces are available to work in.

Roughs

Once everyone is happy with the design I start drawing the entire book out as rough sketches, and present it with the text for your comments.

Final Art

If we are working together for the first time I will probably produce one image to final first and check with you that it is on track before completing the rest of the book. I will then supply all the art in whatever format you require by digital download.

A Final Word

Keep in mind that an illustrator will do their best work if you respect their ability, and give them the freedom to express their take on your text.

An excellent video by Will Terry that helps to explain the job of the illustrator and their relationship to the client:

Edit: Also, read this brilliant post by Sarah McIntyre who gives a whole lot more useful information.

I’m happy to help.

Contact Me

The first book I illustrated is now a Kickstarter.

Wight - Crypt of the Vampire Gamebooks - Leo Hartas

The Wight

This was one of the first commercial illustrations I did back in 1983 for the book Crypt of the Vampire by Dave Morris. It was for a series of choose your own adventure game books that were very popular back in the day. I’ve coloured the version you see here for the new Kickstarter campaign run by Mergara Entertainment who are looking to re-issue this classic as a full colour deluxe collectors edition. If the project hits it’s target I’ll get to colour up all of my original drawings and paint a brand new cover.

If you love classic game books and/or my work please consider backing it.

Crypt of the Vampire Kickstarter

Windows 8 Wacom tablet press and hold FIX

Worth a try possible easy fix for the Windows 8 Wacom tablet Windows Ink ring around stylus point and drag problem.

Tedious story follows, if you want the fix quick skip the next couple of paragraphs.

I’m writing this as a reminder to myself. I just spent a frustrating day hard up against a deadline, struggling with a sudden loss of pen pressure sensitivity on my Wacom tablet. It brought home to me how much I rely on computer technology to do my work. I’d love to return totally to brushes and paint but these days it’s just isn’t practical. Normally my Wacom cintiqu WX13 performs perfectly but for reasons I won’t go into now I had to uninstall and reinstall it. There has been a longstanding problem revolving around a conflict between Windows 7 and 8 ink pen feature and using the Wacom stylus to paint and draw. The problem is that Windows by default installs this annoying feature that causes a ring to appear round the stylus or a dipping effect as though you are breaking the surface of water, and a dragging or delay when you attempt to draw a stroke. It is fantastically irritating and at it’s worst can seriously impact on the speed of drawing, productivity and ultimately income.

Anyway, I’d forgotten about this hassle which I’d solved a while ago until today when it reared it’s foul suppurating pustule infested bonce again after I’d reinstalled the Wacom. No worries, I thought, as Wacom, had finally released a driver fix with a neat little check box that turned off the dreaded effect. However, for some reason this time it also turned off the pressure sensitiveness of my pen. Argg! After several restarts and re-installs attempting to solve it I was on the verge of admitting failure to complete my deadline, with all the resulting loss of work and income. A hunt around the web revealed various solutions most which I didn’t like the sound of such as rootling around in the registry or installing some suspect homebrew .exe file made 5 years ago. After a while it dawned on me that you had to be able to turn it off in Windows and I found it all where one would expect in the Pen and Touch settings. With these features unchecked my tablet worked again as it should though I cannot say that it will work for you, but it’s certainly worth a try. If I were to have a little rant, which I won’t, but if I did I would say, “Wacom and Microsoft can you get your heads together to *&^$£*^! sort this thing out once and for all! Particularly Microsoft for adding completely *&^$£*^! useless features instead of concentrating wholly on reliability!” (Having said that Windows 7 onwards has been remarkably reliable and I virtually never have the grey hair inducing days lost to frustrating technical problems I remember with previous Windows.) On to the fix… (Usual disclaimers that it may not be a fix for your set up.. but it’s worth a try and easy to put back if it doesn’t work.)

Windows 8 Wacom tablet pen press and hold, ring around stylus, Windows Ink, problem FIX.

Wacom Tablet properties Use Windows Ink

Wacom Tablet Properties Use Windows Ink

If you haven’t already try unchecking the Use Windows Ink box in the Wacom Tablet Properties window. This should work. If it does but causes other effects such as loss of pressure sensitiveness, which is what happened to me, leave it ON and try the following.

Windows 8 settings control panel.

Windows 8 settings control panel.

Open your Windows Settings Control Panel and click on Hardware and Sound.

Windows 8 Control Panel Hardware and Sound.

Windows 8 Control Panel Hardware and Sound.

Open Pen and Touch (Obvious really!)

Windows 8 Control Panel pen and Touch options.

Windows 8 Control Panel pen and Touch options.

Uncheck the “Use the pen as a right-click equivalent2. I unchecked the “Use the top of the pen to erase ink” too because I never use the eraser on the Wacom pen anyway.

Windows 8 Pen and Touch options. Press and hold settings.

Windows 8 Pen and Touch options. Press and hold settings.

Click Press and Hold in the pen actions list and then settings.

Windows 8 Pen and Touch. Press and hold settings.

Windows 8 Pen and Touch. Press and hold settings.

Uncheck Enable press and hold for right-clicking. That should stop those annoying rings and drag.

Windows 8 Pen and Touch. Flicks settings.

Windows 8 Pen and Touch. Flicks settings.

Go to the Flicks tab in the Pen and Touch dialogue and uncheck Use flicks to perform common actions quickly and easily. Unless you have a big quiff which you want to flick now and again for effect.

I hope it works. 🙂

Storyboards 4 – Skeletons at the seaside

Leo Hartas - Skellies Seaside - Storyboard

More skeleton adventures following the same undead family from my last post as they take a trip to the fun fair and seaside. These storyboards were designed for eventual 3D computer animation which still requires as much pre-planning as traditional animation.

For anyone looking for storyboards for movies, advertising or game design please contact me for a chat about your requirements.

 

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Storyboards 3 – Skeletons visit the museum

Leo Hartas - Skellies Museum - Storyboard

This was a storyboard I was commissioned to do for a speculative presentation by a client. I like the idea of the skeleton family wearing x-ray specs to feel more comfortable looking at the living people around them. It’s nice to see that general society is completely accepting of the undead living, or rather not living, as neighbours.

Storyboards 2 – Fruity drinks

Leo Hartas -Storyboard - CuteFrutz

Here is another storyboard following on from my last post. Of course these fruity drinks are all natural and totally safe and not obesity causing. I just noticed that I didn’t put any camera moves in, but looking at the story I’m guessing that most shots are pretty static. More storyboards to follow.

Storyboards 1 – Sultry advertising

Leo Hartas -Storyboard  -Panther

 

I was asked by my agent in 2013 to do some speculative example storyboards to explore a possible new area of work. It’s a lot of fun working on something that doesn’t need to follow through to final art but remains lively and sketchy. There is also the element of film making and storytelling which I feel very comfortable with, probably from watching far too many adverts over the years. The arrows all designate camera pans and zooms. No work came from it, though that could be that it wasn’t put in front of enough prospective clients, however I’m looking forward to building on and promoting this new service.

As I remember it this took about a day. More to follow.