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Creating Illuminations for Video Games

The feedback we get the most often when showing off Legends of the Round Table is how unique and unusual its art style is compared to other games!


In this article, Pierre, our artist, offers a sneak peek of his work, carried out with love and passion, which consists of creating the game's illuminations.  





Pierre began drawing at an early age. Before getting involved in comics and manga illustration, he took a few courses at the Beaux-Arts, before finally devoting himself to the traditional art of the Middle Ages at the Institut Supérieur Européen de l'Enluminure et du Manuscrit, which he attended in Angers.  

 

Game screenshot showing a forest in summer with a sword stuck in a rock and rays of sunlight in gold lines.

The term "illumination", meaning "to bring to light", "to illuminate", is the art of decorating and colouring a calligraphic text using pigments and gold. This includes miniature scenes, margin ornaments, lettering and the entire layout of a manuscript. This typically medieval manual practice evolved considerably between the 8th and 16th centuries. For LotRT, we based our artistic direction on the 13th century, and mainly on several key manuscripts from this period.

 

Illumination depicting ladies and damsels above the ramparts, and squires accompanying two knights on their mounts ready to joust. Two of the noble ladies hand a wreath of flowers to one of the combatants.
Codex Manesse, 13th

As LotRT's entire aesthetic is based on illumination, integrating the hand-painted pieces into a video game raised several challenges. The aim is to preserve as faithfully as possible the materiality of the work on screen, without detracting from the game's playability: movement, interaction and the crossover between 2D and 3D.   

Let's take a closer look at the main steps in producing an illumination, following authentic techniques. 

  

In the beginning was the planning.  

The most crucial part is predicting and preparing the visual requirements depending on the context the piece will be presented in: the narrative, the technical challenges, the historic aspect and how the player could interact with the game, leading to the animations of these illuminations. Thus begins a complex process of reflections, sketches, and simulations. 

 

Outlining and drawing the pieces.  

Once everything has been defined, such as the choice of colors and the place they occupy, we begin the illumination by drawing the shapes, the primary outlines of the object or the emerging structure.  

  

Photograph of an unfinished pencil sketch of two knights jousting.

Applying the gold.  

A large proportion of illuminations are composed, among other things, of gold leaf. The gold leaf is applied at the very beginning, as it requires delicate attention and must not run the risk of being stuck on top of the colored pigments in the image.  

 

Preparing the pigments.  

The body of the illumination is made from paint prepared and applied according to very precise methods. The illuminator first prepares the paint by gathering and mixing the ingredients to obtain a suitable substance to apply with the brush. Colors are made from pigments extracted mainly from organic or mineral matter and ground to a powder, which is then mixed with a binder. Different types of binder are used to make the final paint homogeneous and sticky.   

  

Photo of a rough malachite rock, a pot with powdered malachite ready to be prepared, and a palette with a brush.
Malachite pigment

Creating and shading flat tints. 

The flat tints are the first layers of pure, solid colors that are applied to a larger or smaller area of the sheet. Once the smoothest, most uniform hue possible has been obtained, the main color is then shaded, according to the technique of the century in question, by adding a darker shade for the shadows and a lighter shade for the highlights.     

In the 13th century, although there were few nuances, the borders were regularly enhanced with a white line. Each period has its own palette of colors, depending on its heritage, resources and locality. What's more, each period assigns colors a precise code and meaning that will evolve over time! 

 

Very close-up photo of our illuminator painting a solid colour for a character.

To define is to finalize.  

An illumination is completed by outlining the painted shapes of the drawing with a black line. To do this, ink is applied with a brush or pen. The stage and importance of the outline also evolved over the centuries that illumination was practiced in the medieval era.  

  

Not quite done yet!  

Once the illumination has been finalized, it must be digitized. The painted piece is first scanned with the best possible calibration, because the aim is to preserve as faithfully as possible the rendering of the material on the screen. Then Pierre cleans, adjusts and refines the image in software. 


Illustrated challenges UI screen with, on the right, an illumination depicting a knight holding a sphere of power in a pentacle. On the left, there is a narration with the following text: "In the half-light, something almost imperceptible attracts the attention of our heroes. Shimmers of light move and shimmer like reflections shimmering on the surface of water."

Our level designer will be able to integrate it into the scenes and interfaces of Legends of the Round Table. Once the integration is complete, you'll be able to navigate inside this entirely hand-painted universe!  


Now you know the process of creating illuminations for video games! I also hope you've gained a better understanding of the love and passion that emanates from LotRT.


Clélia & the Artifice Studio team 

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