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bishop_pass

Thematic composition

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Ok, I want to see some discussion about composition and the underlying themes which you can use to drive composition, and conversely, using composition to build a theme. By composition, naturally I mean the arrangement of elements and how they blend or contrast with one another within a 2d picture. The medium of the 2d picture is irrelevant. Your medium might be painting with oils on canvas, using a camera for final output to photographic paper, a 3d modeler and renderer outputing to a monitor screen, hand drawn sketches, etc. This is an artistic process which benefits from the ability to previsualize, understanding of light and color, balance and form, and texture. More importantly, the artist may be striving to convey a message to the viewer, evoke certain emotions, and rivet the viewer's eye to the image. Themes can revolve around the style of the image, the primitive elements of the image, the geometry of the image, the subject matter of the image, the frame of reference, and so on. So, feel free to suggest, share, philosophize, comment, hone, refine, and so on. ___________________________________
Edited by - bishop_pass on January 12, 2002 1:09:55 AM

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Ok, I don''t think I missed the mark by starting this thread. However, I''m not seeing any responses yet.

As a catalyst to start one thinking in terms of themes, here are some keywords and phrases: abandonment, recollections, isolation, desolation, contemplation, sense of wonder and awe, inversion, precision, chaos, childhood memories, traces of recent occupation...

With respect to composition and light, here are some keywords and phrases: Godbeams, silhouettes, receding ridges, compression of elements, monochromatic, reflections, depth of field, panorama, pastel, tonality, portrait, light cascading in through a window, shadows, alpenglow, focal point, profile...

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Wow ! Someone wants to talk *theory* of art ?

Well, here are the basic elements, as I have learnt them :
-colours: they define an atmosphere, convey what I would qualify of low level emotions, set a mood.
-masses: a bit hard to explain... basically, the shapes in a composition are grouped together, usually either because of their colours, or more generally because of the light level. The shadows and highlights are grouped together and describe "higher level" shapes. Those shapes are used to create a movement in a scene, a sense of harmony, to group elements of the composition, to bring the focus on a particular element that needs emphasis.

really these are the two basics. Once you got that, you have a good start for any 2d art you might do.
the "masses" thing is more for a painting rather than say, game artwork. on the other hand, the rules of colour are relevant most of the time.

Maybe there is another rule, the balance.
For a picture to be nice (it''s quite a relative subject, but the fact is, that is works), a picture has to have an inner balance.
It has to be balanced in terms of colours as well as composition (masses).
An example of colour balance is the rule of "warm background, cold foreground". The classic "firecamp at night" type of picture, where the focus is brought on an area of the picture by the use of the warm tones of flames, while the rest of the picture is depicted in a blueish tone.
For masses, it''s a bit the same thing. masses shouldnt be grouped on one side of the picture while the rest is left empty. If a crowd if drawn, it''s nicer to have an irregural pattern of masses rather than big lumps (Ok, that''s hard to describe without a drawing).

MMmmh, is that what you are looking for bishop_pass ?
Or maybe more examples ?
The problem is that giving examples is always a bit tricky as IMHO the underlying ideas expressed by composition (both in masses of light and in colours) are somewhat personal. Although there are some general things that a large portion of the population will recognise (what I described as "low level emotions"), it''s still somewhat tricky to make generalisation.
Although I must say most of our modern "design" culture is revolving around stereotypes, cliches and the association of ideas to designe elements : if I say red and white you think Christmas, but only because Coke used those colours and made worldwide advertisment campaigns, otherwise it could still be associated with things like the Templars, Ulster loyalists, England, etc...

anyway, maybe I am totally wrong



Sancte Isidore ora pro nobis !

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quote:
Original post by ahw
MMmmh, is that what you are looking for bishop_pass ?
Or maybe more examples ?
The problem is that giving examples is always a bit tricky as IMHO the underlying ideas expressed by composition (both in masses of light and in colours) are somewhat personal.


Take any theme that you might want to portray, it might be reunion, lonliness, being hunted, or discovery, and suggest how you personally would use the elements of composition to portray it. It is personal, and that''s what makes works of art unique, compelling, diverse, and powerful. A discussion on personal and unique ideas is the idea.

Stereotypes help and hinder. In the case of computer games, I would say they hinder. This discussion need not be focused on computer game art, but it can possibly inspire computer game art through a game''s set of compositions, whether it be package art, booklet art, introduction art, and even gameplay views as seen by the first person player.

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quote:
Original post by bishop_pass

A discussion on personal and unique ideas is the idea.




Isn''t it better to draw than to discuss?

Here''s why I think it is... We have the ability to draw before we can talk, which implies that art is expression, such as raising an eyebrow, unlike speech, which requires rules and learning. Maybe that''s why there are no hard and fast rules on what art really is, ie, where born able to express ourselves and what we see through images, and what we "see" is unique to each individual.

What it sounds like your asking us to do, is a discussion
the "technical" aspects of the subject. To go beyond that that, we''re going to have to start drawing.

In terms of talking about art, I consider myself a beginner. On the other hand, I''ve been drawing since I was three so my technical skill is high... just the academic portion is not much beyond what ahw said...

To put it simply, I don''t know how much I know, but as I continue learning these techniques, I realise I knew them all along.

Hope that all makes sense.

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Is it not possible to include pictures in your posts? It would be very helpful. Illustrations are ALWAYS better than reading text.

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quote:
Original post by Garott
Isn''t it better to draw than to discuss?

I think this is a shame. I get similar responses when I ask people about scales and harmony in music. I think there''s a lot to gain from taking a slightly more systematic look at "artforms".

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Nobody is asking anyone here to be technical or systematic. Nor is anyone precluding another from sharing imagery here via the img tag.

What is being asked is for thoughtful introspection, application of compositional elements to themes which are imagined within your mind, and ideas.

What is not being asked for is a debate on the merits of such a discussion.

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quote:
Original post by Garott
Isn''t it better to draw than to discuss?


I eagerly look forward to your illustrative work to further the idea sharing within this topic.



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Alright here's is something I cooked up when I read your challenge -

Use this link:-
http://www.infhost.com/members/thematicon/Thematicblah.jpg


In this(badly drawn) image, the purple triangle seems closer and higher than the sunken blue one. Why? and is it more than just the choice of colours and lines?


P.S, I was asking in my post for a demonstration picture/s to talk about. The rest of what I said was to explain that I feel words are inadequate to fully realise what your asking.


Edited by - Garott on January 14, 2002 10:54:07 PM

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quote:
Original post by Garott
In this(badly drawn) image, the purple triangle seems closer and higher than the sunken blue one. Why? and is it more than just the choice of colours and lines?


I would think it has to do with the fact that the blue triangle''s outer boundries blend more with its background, thus making its definitive portion smaller than the pink triangle.

Now, I was hoping we could have some ideas on what compositional elements can be used to create themes, such as the ones I mentioned earlier, or any theme one might think of. For example, what imagery and compositional elements could one use to portray the theme of abandonment?

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quote:
Original post by bishop_pass
...what imagery and compositional elements could one use to portray the theme of abandonment ?



You could use large spaces to emphasize loneliness. Black shadows and general darkness to represent the tricks your mind plays in such situations. Inanimate cold objects like rocks would help too. Maybe some solitary creatures like spiders(or spider webs), or cold blooded creatures like reptiles, that make you imagine hostile environments where few could survive...

Like I said, I''m not too good at this...

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quote:
Original post by Garott
Like I said, I''m not too good at this...


Hey, neither am I. There''s nothing wrong with your ideas. I am looking at this from a photography perspective myself, using previsualization to seek and isolate those elements that fulfill a theme, and then building a suite of images which portray that theme.

Abandonment is not necessarily a theme that I am pursuing, but it is an example of a theme that one might pursue. I visualize old playgrounds, derelict gas stations, or rusty derelict items sitting amongst empty and desolate surroundings. Maybe sidelighting from late afternoon sunlight. I see an empty chair or swing or bench, perhaps one that hasn''t been used in years...

There''s a picture of an ancient bristlecone pine (I didn''t take it) titled "Splendid Isolation". Now there''s a theme I want to pursue.

Even within the context of 3d games, this type of thinking has application. Level design can benefit. The designer is basically a set designer. Elements available to the 3d level designer are props, lighting, and geometry. As a player enters a room, the player will see the room from a particular vantage point. This gives the level designer the opportunity to ''visualize and create'' a 2d image from this viewpoint to evoke feelings in the player. Abandonment might be the theme and representative of the feelings the level designer wishes to evoke in the player.



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After posting my thoughts on the loneliness/abandonment theme, I attempted to put it in ink(actually pixels but ink sounds better).

Here''s what I drew:-
http://www.infhost.com/members/thematicon/Thematictrois.jpg


It''s quite odd what I came up with... It might not fulfill the theme but it''s definately wierd...

bishop_pass wrote:

Even within the context of 3d games, this type of thinking has application. Level design can benefit. The designer is basically a set designer. Elements available to the 3d level designer are props, lighting, and geometry. As a player enters a room, the player will see the room from a particular vantage point. This gives the level designer the opportunity to ''visualize and create'' a 2d image from this viewpoint to evoke feelings in the player. Abandonment might be the theme and representative of the feelings the level designer wishes to evoke in the player.



I''ve been thinking about this lately, and I agree on it''s importance. Games like Thief are fine examples of evocative atmosphere, same goes for system shock and half-life. All the quality games have these elements...

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quote:
Original post by Garott
After posting my thoughts on the loneliness/abandonment theme, I attempted to put it in ink(actually pixels but ink sounds better).

Here''s what I drew:-
http://www.infhost.com/members/thematicon/Thematictrois.jpg


Well, it looks more like the theme of despair.

quote:
Original post by Garott
I''ve been thinking about this lately, and I agree on it''s importance. Games like Thief are fine examples of evocative atmosphere, same goes for system shock and half-life. All the quality games have these elements...


Yes. And as an exercise, whether for games or some other venue, themes can help.

Ok, how about this one? Does anyone care to put a theme to this picture which I shot a few years ago with my 4x5 view camera? What feelings does it evoke, if any?



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Hey Nice to see more people posting on that thread.

Kylotan : the problem is that it''s very hard for most people to stop enjoying what they are doing and try *understanding* what they are doing in order to later on have more fun doing it (does THAT make any sense ?). I was the same until I was "forced" to attend fine art lectures, which were basically stuff about the theory of art, the history of art, and so on. Much enlightning !

Bishop_pass :
First, I want to criticise the composition of the picture, as it will maybe explain some of the stuff I was referring too in my first post.
The colors are perfectly chosen ! The red stones in the foreground, then a green patch and in the far background the blueish tones of the mountains and the sky.
This is the perfect illustration of "warm foreground, cold background", it enhances the feeling of depth in the picture. Especially with the fact that each layer had a very marked dominant hue.
The balance of colours is also quite good, with the warm colour being on one half of the picture and the cold on the other.

Composition. A strong diagonal line cuts the picture in two, and the added diagonal between the green and blue zones creates a focus on the meeting point of those lines.
If it was design rather than photography, you''d have a logo at this spot where your eye keep being drawn at.
An interesting thing I notice as well is the amount of detail in the rocks opposed to the plainess (does that exist?) of the grass and mountains.
The presence of the man creates a welcome detail on the right side, balancing the picture.
Also, I would bet his position is very near one of the golden point of the picture (look up on gold number and picture composition if you dont know what that is, or maybe just ask me).

As for the theme ...
the stair is a very nice little detail. The man is at the beginning of those stairs.
The stairs go towards the main focus point of the picture.
I feel something about the contemplation of the future.
The road ahead or something like that.
I also like the contrast between the ordered nature of the stairs, in the midst of a very chaotic rocky environment...
or maybe I just see too much ?

But anyway, to backup bishop_pass initiative, I have to say sometimes it''s much more interesting to talk about a picture and try to understand it, rather than simply say "Uhuh! it''s a nice picture"... don''t you think ?



Sancte Isidore ora pro nobis !

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quote:
Original post by ahw
Hey Nice to see more people posting on that thread.

Kylotan : the problem is that it''s very hard for most people to stop enjoying what they are doing and try *understanding* what they are doing in order to later on have more fun doing it (does THAT make any sense ?). !


And most importantly, doesn''t an understanding of the process lead to more consistent and powerful imagery? Admittedly, it is a vague and difficult process to convey, but talent does not entirely arise naturally, but rather through trial and error, practice, and diligent application of techniques which are often overlooked by beginners. I constantly strive to better my photographic compositions, and I feel I am always improving and yet have room to grow through continued discussion and study on the subject.

quote:
Original post by ahw
Bishop_pass :
First, I want to criticise the composition of the picture, as it will maybe explain some of the stuff I was referring too in my first post.


Thanks for the criticism! I exposed the film on a 4 inch x 5 inch sheet of film. I lucked out on that day with the light, getting the wonderful pastel tonality you see in the image. I spent about 30 minutes setting up the camera, composing the image, and thinking about the positioning of the ridges. My friend (the one in the picture) remained patiently in that spot while I composed and focused. This was no snapshot, but carefully planned and composed.

quote:
Original post by ahw
I feel something about the contemplation of the future.
The road ahead or something like that.
I also like the contrast between the ordered nature of the stairs, in the midst of a very chaotic rocky environment...
or maybe I just see too much ?


Contemplation is definitely one of the feelings I get from the image, and one of the feelings I was trying to convey with it. I told my friend to gaze off at Middle Palisade, one of the fourteen thousand foot peaks just above his head and to the left. Because the film is so large, a high quality scan of the image can result in a 500 megapixel image, providing incredible detail in the grass of the greenish hill, among other things. An enlargement of this image is pretty breathtaking, and I like to think of it as one of my best images to date.

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That''s a wonderful photo, the details are crisp, and the sense of distance is conveyed well.

Here''s my bit of (constructive :D)criticism, bear in mind my near zero photography experience .

There is too much emphasis on the rocky relief thing(bottom left triangular section), which stands out and distracts you from looking far into the distance. The horizon line could be lower, allowing more cloud and sky to show greater distance. I''ve found that certain cloud/skies help convey emotions well, but capturing them is another thing entirely, (that''s why I draw ).

How are those ideas? Would they help in furthering the theme of contemplation?

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quote:
Original post by Garott
That's a wonderful photo, the details are crisp, and the sense of distance is conveyed well.

Here's my bit of (constructive :D)criticism, bear in mind my near zero photography experience .

There is too much emphasis on the rocky relief thing(bottom left triangular section), which stands out and distracts you from looking far into the distance. The horizon line could be lower, allowing more cloud and sky to show greater distance. I've found that certain cloud/skies help convey emotions well, but capturing them is another thing entirely, (that's why I draw ).

How are those ideas? Would they help in furthering the theme of contemplation?


Well, there are numerous ways to compose an image. Some are just as good as others, and some go towards conveying different themes. Had I lowered the horizon, I would have had to have my friend walk up the stairs a little more to fit in the picture, and that would have made him more horizontally center in the picture and his head would have been closer to the top of the green hill. Those are two things I did not want. Also, while cloudy skies are excellent subject matter, every picture should not be filled with a large portion of sky. If we did this, we would end up with most pictures having large protions of sky, and that would become mundane. I personally feel (and that is my feeling only) that the image successfully conveys expansive distances precisely because the land stretches off from the bottom of the frame to nearly the top. If the sky occupied a significant portion of the frame, this effect would have been lessened.

Another element in the picture which creates interest is the yellow flowered shrub just to the right of my friend's foot. I strategically placed my friend there so the bush would be visible and not exactly on the edge of the frame.

I think the image works better when presented in a larger size. Look at this version of it. It is just over 200k. It may stretch beyond your monitor, so maximize the browser window and scroll horizontally and verticaly if necessary. The feeling of distance can really be felt. To mimimize file size, I saved it as a low quality JPEG. The detail and color is much better in the original and capable of enlargement up to 25,000 pixels across.



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Edited by - bishop_pass on January 17, 2002 1:40:38 PM

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I generally do my composition in multiple steps, the first step being done using only lines and shapes, then step 2 is light and shadow, and step 3 is color. I usually just make drawings though, so sometimes I don't even get to the color step.

When composing my line drawing I usually try to have the image be balanced from left to right, but unbalanced from top to bottom to add atmosphere. For human figures I try to make them have their spines in a s-shape, so their pose is 'active'. For 2 figures touching you have to imagine them as one object and make sure they have a good shape together as well as each separately. It's usually good to have more than one object that show the same or mirror-image motion (e.g the pegasus and the cross leaning away from each other below.)

Another element of composition I got taught about in high school that nobody mentioned yet is 'visual path', the path a viewer's eye takes when it travels over the image.

Here are two pics (not mine!) which I think show beautiful composition.



Edited by - sunandshadow on January 17, 2002 10:27:53 PM

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quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
When composing my line drawing I usually try to have the image be balanced from left to right, but unbalanced from top to bottom to add atmosphere.


My concept of balance usually means the main focal point being off-center, and an object of secondary interest that is possibly smaller balancing the image on the other side. However, this is overly general, and rules are made to be broken all the time depending on the situation.

quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
Another element of composition I got taught about in high school that nobody mentioned yet is 'visual path', the path a viewer's eye takes when it travels over the image.


This is an excellent point. A visual path helps to lead the viewer into the image. It could be a roadway or trail, long shadows, a row of fenceposts, the direction of travel of something, or the direction in which someone is looking. And speaking of a viewer's eye traveling over an image, the longer the viewer's eye lingers on the image, and the more detail the eye has to absorb, the more likely the image will be successful.


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Edited by - bishop_pass on January 19, 2002 2:36:31 AM

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I wonder if there wouldn''t be a feature article one day on the gamedev.net front page which covered a small subset of the fantastic ideas being tossed around in this thread?

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quote:
Original post by Graylien
I wonder if there wouldn''t be a feature article one day on the gamedev.net front page which covered a small subset of the fantastic ideas being tossed around in this thread?


That''s an interesting thing to say, and I hope you aren''t being sarcastic. I don''t know who would be qualified to write such an article. I personally have no formal art training, but instead I have independently studied outdoor photography for eight years or so. I really don''t feel qualified myself.

I''m actually surprised at how receptive most have been to the ideas in this thread. I just wish more would throw out ideas on the subject, as vague as it is.

Like I said, take any theme, and try to previsualize.



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Bishop_pass :
I was wondering if you know about the Golden point thing ?
I notice you said :
quote:
My concept of balance usually means the main focal point being off-center, and an object of secondary interest that is possibly smaller balancing the image on the other side. However, this is overly general, and rules are made to be broken all the time depending on the situation.


It''s quite funny, ''cause that basically means you are using the rule without really knowing.
I think you should try to look up on "gold number" and art, you would be surprised.
As well, you describe balancing the masses in the picture in a nice way It''s fun to see you know the basic rules but you say you have no artistic formation.

Anyway, I wish I had more time, ''cause there is lot more that can be talked about in this thread, but I am getting kicked out, now





Sancte Isidore ora pro nobis !

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