Today, I’m going to talk a little bit about the background creation process. I started out by going over the plan for the story and identifying the key locations where the scenes take place. Some, such as a character’s apartment, are very specific while others, such as a city street, are vaguer and will be reused for multiple similar locations. Having have a dozen unique city street backgrounds would be nice, but it would be a lot of extra expense for some unimportant areas that would only show up once or twice.
Once I had my list, I wrote a few lines describing each area and list any variations that will be needed (such as showing the area at different times of day). Here’s an example.
Main Image (Daytime): A lone clock tower in the midst of a grassy meadow. The tower should be rather magnificent in design (maybe a little like Big Ben), but clearly fallen into disrepair (though not dangerously so). There should be a ledge shortly below the clock face where the characters can sit. The grass around the tower should be long and green and the sky a perfect blue.
Nighttime Version: Same as above but on a very starry night.
Those descriptions were then sent to my background artist, Badriel. We went back and forth a bit, mostly with my answering any questions he had. In some cases, we’d also send each other reference photos to give a better idea of what we had in mind. As a note, Google image search is a great way to find photos of different kinds of plants, architecture, and the like.
Right now, we’re in the final part of the process. Using the text descriptions, reference photos, and the like, Badriel starts by making a rough base image to show the basic layout of the image. For manmade structures, he tends to start out by creating a 3D model, which he can then draw over later on. This is actually an approach that’s been gaining popularity with some Japanese manga artists (such as Ken Akamatsu). The 3D makes it easy to adjust camera angles and get the perspective correct. I either ok the base or ask for changes.
Once I’ve approved the base, Badriel draws over it, adding details, color, and the like. Then he sends me a near final version for approval. This isn’t a time to ask for big changes, just minor edits, color adjustments, and the like. After I approve that, he makes the finishing touches and sends me the final image. And with that, we have a new background ready to appear in the game.