Great and memorable art is rarely the work of a sole person, and given the size of modern game projects, you cannot rely on a single person to uphold the art of your project. To maintain the consistency and quality of the art for your game (or any project in which artistic direction is critical) you should be using an art bible to communicate your graphics.
Why are Art Bibles Important?
Like above, Art Bibles condense every rule and influence behind your art style. As the Art Director, you will specify every aspect of what the game/project will look like, as well as the reasons behind stylistic decisions. As a living document, the Art Bible will transform with the project. The Art Bibles helps the art team understand the direction of the art they are creating, as well as maintaining consistency throughout development. Further on, the Art Bible will get new art team members up to speed, and will assist with marketing and communication purposes with customers. The Art Bible is the backbone of a project’s graphics and a well-rounded, singular style will provide a memorable, consistent and interesting range of environments, characters and objects that feel coalescent.
How Do I Write an Art Bible?
Kshiraj Telang shared a talk at the NASSCOM Game Developers Conference in 2013 on how to write an Art Bible for videogames. His talk provided the basis for this blog.
To begin, as Telang says, you must ask yourself four key questions:
- What would a new team member need to know to contribute to my project?
- Who is the target audience for this document?
- If someone wanted to sponsor or fund this project, what would they need to know about its artistic direction?
- How could I make all artists understand the share the same visual intent?
Knowing the intent of your Art Bible requires you to consider how you will effectively and consistently communicate your design to new and current team members, and by extension publishers and marketers. Without knowing who your Art Bible targets, one or more parties might contribute less or worse work, or your team itself might communicate this poorly to outside parties.
Anatomy of an Art Bible:
- Art Style
- Character Art
- Level of Detail (LOD)
- Color Palette
- Texture & Surface
- User Interface
- Technical Guidelines
The Art Style of your Bible refers to the premise and parameters of your art style. Here, you must go into detail about:
- The Scale of the environments
- The proportions of the architecture
- Character Proportions
- Technologies in use
- Methods of construction
- The sorts of materials in use
- Inhabitants of the environment
Using description, images and examples, the Art Style sections will describe the broader details about the relations between the project’s entities, as well as the context and general process for creating them.
To refer to the content of the character designs, we must define their general characteristics:
- Height Scale Comparison
- Colour Palette
- Style and Construction
Level of Details
The LOD section will detail where and how to apply or strip away detailed sections of a piece of art. In games especially, adjusting props and scenery to use less system resources is a very common practice to improve performance. You want a combination of high-detailed objects when the player is close, but less detailed when the player is too far to notice. Further, the LOD section should detail what should and shouldn’t be detailed, and to what degree.
- Differences of Detail in Narrative, Gameplay and UI
- How to Achieve Increase/Decrease in Detail
- What and What Not to Detail
- Architectural Details
- Character Details
The camera is the player’s viewport into the world. Just because it plays a small role in the art style as a whole, that doesn’t mean that it can’t play a role in your Art Bible. The camera has access to the following artistic methods:
- Camera Effects
- Narrative/Story Sequences
- Handling Multiple output formats
- Field of View
- Gameplay Angle and Character Composition
These options are important to determine how all of your artistic elements will appear on screen. The arrangement and composition of your elements should be used to enhance your design intent, as well as provide a functional viewport for players to interface with.
The Colour Palette is the backbone of your artistic style. Emotion and intent is communicated though colour, and defining the colours of your art is very important for every piece you create:
- Colour Swatches
- Vibrance and hues
- Differing Environmental Palettes
Here, you want your design to evoke your intent, and provide stark differences between elements of the scene. In addition to evoking a certain emotional intent, your design also needs to communicate symbols within the world, such as red indicating damage and injury, or blue with water and sky.
The atmosphere and environment compliment your character and art styles, as well as further your emotional and artistic intent. In your environments, you want to define the:
- Weather Conditions
The UI is the user’s primary interaction method with your game world. Your menus should provide simple ways for users to navigate between settings, and game-specific options. You must clearly break down every icon decision and layout rationale to suggest how your design coheres with the artistic direction and user experience. When planning and devising your UI, you must define:
- Menu Items and HUD
- Interface Design Technique
- User Experience
Secondary to the art itself, enforcing a particular process for implementing art assets is very important. Particularly when hiring new recruits, clearly defining the process for creating and implement art will ensure that the end product is consistent and predictable in its naming and file type conventions. Your process should detail:
- Naming Conventions
- Resource Collection and Structuring
- Tools to Use
A key topic to remember is the use of Limitations. Limiting the size and detail of art assets prevents instances where assets are incorrectly sized and don’t look ‘right’ in conjunction with a scene.
References and Mood Boards are the touchstones of your art style. You want to fill these with exemplars and influences of your styles and creations, as well as communicate the mood and nature of the project. You will want to include:
- Other Games
As with all living documents, it’s best to be as efficient as possible when communicating your ideas. Telang adds:
- Don’t rely on massive blocks of text
- Combine images to communicate ideas if there aren’t any examples
- Use a format that the whole team is comfortable with
- Version your pages
- Use captions
- Source your content
How can I improve my own Art Bibles?
I never applied any of these principles to any degree. In my own work, I should source more and better detailed reference art, in addition to creating my own where necessary. For me, Art Bibles were an afterthought and unimportant to the design of the project in general. The by-product of this was that it was very hard to actually communicate my artistic intent, and when it came down to creating assets, I had very little to refer to in the way of examples. By following Telang’s guidelines, I can develop more evocative and detailed art bibles and in turn created better artistically directed games