World-Building, part one

Oblivion is a project I’ve been working on for quite some time now. It’s taken various forms over the years, starting off as a character animation test in Deluxe Paint 3 on the ancient Amiga A500, and I’m currently redeveloping it as a webcomic for Catalyst Studios.

At its heart, Oblivion: Spoils of War is a dystopian tale of conflict across the galactic diaspora. The back-story and plot lines are all worked out, and now I’m setting out the final aspects of visual design.¬†
Over my next few posts I’ll be working through the visualisation process, beginning with how I’m working on bringing the mining colony of Tella-4 to life for the first chapter.

In my previous video on character design, I mentioned that one of the first steps in putting a character together is to make sure their “look” matches the world they inhabit.
Easy enough if you’re working on something set in the present day or putting together an historical tale, but when you’re creating a world from scratch, you need to create a visual design that matches perfectly across locations, technology and costumes.

  1. Map it out
    Once¬†the script is mostly done, I’ll have a good idea as to the locations I’ll need to draw, and whereabouts they are in relation to one another. The¬†first step in the visualisation process is¬†to map everything out – a plan view, like the one below, helps¬†keep everything consistent between panels and¬†establish a look and feel for the sets.
    Once I’ve mapped out the colony, I’ll read through the script and scrawl on all the actions for particular sequences (usually¬†in PhotoShop so I can erase any changes without wrecking the original map). As an example, here’s a close-up of the¬†colony centre¬†once I’ve worked out the actions of the first chapter’s street battle:

  2. Architecture
    Now I’ve run through the script and¬†am sure¬†that the¬†colony layout will translate well into finished artwork, I can start thinking about the look of the architecture itself.
    First of all, I’ll look back at the notes on the colony that I made when plotting out the series:
    -¬†An industrial installation that’s been operational for several decades
    – Mining is the primary industry, with some research & development facilities
    – Sizable population requires some basic comforts – dedicated habitation, hospital, recreational facilities
    - Limited manufacturing on-site; most of the ore is transported off-world for processing
    – Low armed forces presence – colony regarded as relatively peaceful and low-risk

    Taking the above points into consideration, I need to make sure the colony looks like it’s a grimy, polluting workplace first of all, and a city second. The equipment will be well-used and likely in need of repair – so any independent businesses are likely to be engineering and repair shops, with the occasional trading company specialising in off-world luxury items to keep the workforce diverted.
    The emphasis on off-world manufacturing and ore shipments mean that most of the ground-based transport will be of the industrial variety, with a token army presence (well, it is a dystopia, after all), and most of the architecture in the city will have a utilitarian, industrial look to it.

  3. Image research/detail
    Now I know the kind of look I’m going for, I’ll run off and do some picture research to get some ideas. I was quite fortunate a year or two ago – a friend visited a mining complex whilst on holiday (not my choice of tourist destinations, but there you go) and sent me a couple of photos:
  4. Pipes (detail) Gantries Corridor
    With images like these to work from – plus a handful of Google image searches and a browse through a couple of stock photo agency websites for good measure – I’ll have a basic idea of the colour palette and type of details I’ll be working into the final piece. Where possible I’ll try and supplement an image search with some field trips of my own – first-hand experience of a location can really help nail the atmosphere when you’re putting it onto paper – but it’s not always a practical solution.

  5. Concept image
    Now for the fun part – putting the first concept images together. I take all the notes, maps, reference images and colour swatches and put them all together to construct a few “mood pieces” – simple snapshots of life on the colony.
    I’ll cover the step-by-step for how I construct one of these concept images later in a future post – at this point though, these mood pieces are quick and simple sketches in PhotoShop, usually taking less than an hour each to finish off. Detail isn’t a big issue for now – these images probably won’t be used in the comic itself – so I concentrate on capturing the atmosphere of the location.

Now that the colony has some detail and texture to it, next time I’ll be looking at a few more of the locations in detail, including the Colonial Authority spire and the keystone of any dystopian future colony – the local bar. Stay tuned!

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