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Hi all,

I'm new to the forum and am looking for some advice. I'm not from Film; In fact, I am a video game Art Director at one of the largest game makers in the world (Not bragging, just hoping to show that I'm legit in my queries.) The game I'm presently working on - I'd like to take it in an artistic direction that mimics the forethought and planning given to a film, from photography, to production design to color grading in post.


I'm reading everything I can find about it but some things I cannot seem to find answers for. Which brings me to this site. :) I'm hoping someone can help guide me through some of these murky waters.


1. In film, who decides what color treatment the film will have and when do they do it? Does Michael Bay say " I want it all Teal and Orange" from day one? Did Ridley Scott know up front that he wanted night time to be greenish in Black Hawk Down? These seem like important decisions and I don't understand who makes them, where it comes from, or how it finds its way to the myriad people who will be affected by such decisions (prod designers, costumers, etc.)


2. Along the same lines, do films have color scripts? Color is important for emphasizing emotional beats, etc but how and when is it determined? And who does it? Does storyboarding factor into this as well?


3. Another reason films look different, I imagine, is as a result of the film stock and lenses chosen. What goes into this decision making?


To put it all another way, it seems like there are dozens of variables that contribute to the overall look of a film. What things do I need to consider in order to develop such a cohesive package of direction?


What I want is to give my game a cinematic lens, I want it to feel carefully directed from the outset with thought given to the colors, the grain, the lens effects, everything.


This is relatively untread water for video game developers however and I really feel overwhelmed by everything I'm reading. I've got kind of an idea of what I want to do but not the vocabulary to explain it. I want to learn more about this aspect of film making so that I can develop a really solid plan for the art direction.


Any and all help is greatly appreciated! Thank you kindly.



PS- Any book recommendations would be highly appreciated too as I've got a list of about 30 going in Amazon right now and no way of knowing what is good and what is hot air. I dont want technical manuals, I want to understand the thought process that goes into designing the look of a film.

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  • 2 months later...

Hi Rob,


I just got interested in cinematography for games and happen to read your post, such a coincidence.

There are different approaches to all your questions, normaly the person that decides is the director or if the likes to work with his team in post production then also the DoP (Director of Photography), set designer, costume department and so on.


What I can tell you from my experience (Im a DoP, I shot 2 feature films, many music videos, commercials, etc.) is that as a DoP I like or try to decide as much of this as possible, still trying to achieve what the director wants. I like to talk to him about how he sees the project and then I give him some ideas, after brainstorming then I can decide wich kind of film stock, colors etc.


There are a couple of directors that know exactly the look the want to have, like on my latest sci-fi Feature film the Director wanted to go teal and orange to make it look more hollywood like (we are in europe), so it can be that directors know the color palette they want to achieve from the beginning.


Something good to watch that might help you are lots of making ofs (lord of the rings has like in total 18hours of it, and many Riddley scott movies as well).


If you have any other question just let me know, Ill try and help wherever I can.


Best regards


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Game development has been using movie-style preproduction for a while, I get the impression - certainly there are concept artists who do both. The fidelity of the game is now good enough that this is necessary - in fact many games rival CG movies now.



In film, who decides what color treatment the film will have and when do they do it?

Depends on the people. Ultimately it's the director's call, with due regard given to the desires of the people who're funding it - an action movie needs to appeal to a particular audience, etc. Commercial imperative narrows the field. But in general, it'll be a collaboration between director, DP and possibly people like the production designer, costumiers, etc. Equally, some directors are resolutely non-visual and only want to deal with actors. Some directors are so keyed into the visuals act as their own DPs (with the support of a very good gaffer, usually). Either is fine so long as there's adequate communication.


Along the same lines, do films have color scripts?

Not often. People will annotate scripts a lot. If there's am intention to do something very specific (look at Traffic for the colour-coded locations) I would probably write it up formally, but I have no idea how it was actually done on that particular production.


3. Another reason films look different, I imagine, is as a result of the film stock and lenses chosen.

Done well, all departments should be pulling toward the same thing, so, if you want it to be (for instance) green, then everyone from costume to makeup, props and set people need to know that and work with the intent, choosing colours that either coordinate with, complement, or at least don't fight that intent. Then you can light it to assist that intent, choose filters and lenses, and only then does it hit the film. The prototypical example of this is Saving Private Ryan, which was very green - but then, it's a movie set in northern France in June, so the world is fairly green, and everyone's in the military so they're also wearing green. It's well set up before it even hits the camera.

Obviously achieving that is a process, but there will certainly be round-table discussions between the relevant departments, concept artists, etc. I would expect a modern game does much the same thing.

If you don't do this, and just try to splatter a look on it with grading, or in the case of a game with creative shaders over the whole image which is more or less the same thing, it can look a bit forced and lacking in coordination. Personally I think the otherwise beautiful Deus Ex: Human Revolution had this problem to an extent. It's yellow, but the yellow doesn't really come out of the scene, it just feels pulled over the world with a filter.


The crucial advantage you have in a game is that you have complete control over everything, which is something films spend a fortune to achieve.


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I think you would like this book:



The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media by Bruce Block



What are the visual components, contrast and affinity, space and types of space, line, shape, visual progressions...



The color scripts you talk about can be plotted on the storyline/timeline as visual progressions.

Not just color, any visual component.


And let the progressions always serve the story.




A simple story and some progressions:


1. Special op's buddies are on tropical island vacation with wives and kids.

Phone rings and asks them...


2. Back in the city for emergent briefing and deployment.


3. Team enters "danger" zone.



The locations:


1. Worm, sunny, happy, big open spaces, colorful clothes, swimsuits, toys, drinks

saturated colors...


2. Gray buildings, less colorful patches, straight more confined spaces, dull sky, suits at briefing...


3. Dark, low key irregular chaotic small alleys.






1 2 3


Color - Warm, Neutral, Cold

Saturated, Normal, Desaturated


Value - Bright, Middle gray, Dark


Space - Open, Semi constrained, Constrained

Wide -> Narrow








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  • 3 weeks later...

Films employ camera angles as a fundamental part of their vocabulary whereas in games the point of view is at the mercy of the game player. So right there you are in trouble.


The other big thing, which should be obvious, but can often escape the game artist, is that games rarely involve a photographer's perspective of the universe - instead they involve (at their best) a graphic artist's conception of the universe. And at their worse - a graphic artist's concept of photography - which is always, at some sort of level, completely alien to what a photographer/cinematographer is otherwise ultimately aiming at.




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Hi. As an avid gamer, and not so great DP, here's an observation: I've never felt that games have gotten soft light right. Say light coming from a window, character lit by that light, shadows always look wrong/wrap doesn't look gentle enough. Also I would like to see the light quality change realistically in terms of softness and output as the character moves closer or farther from that soft source a la the inverse square law. I'm talking in-game engine here where I've never really seen this done right, that I can think of.

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That softness as a function of distance is not quite the inverse square law although it is a function of a distance. It's a scattering that occurs in the atmosphere. The further away the light must travel, the more air it must travel through and the more it is scattered by that air. The same effect is more visible in fog. A smoke machine is often used to reproduce this effect. It is also why you don't get that soft light on the Moon, because it has no atmosphere.


The softness of light from a window is of a different quality - but it can be quite well invoked in computer graphics using a lighting technique called radioisity - however this technique eats up a tremendous amount of computing time - so there is usually some less expensive (and less impressive) substitute technique employed in a computer game.


Doing a search on Radiosity should provide some good examples of offline rendering. I liked this one:





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Video games effectively don't do true soft light on anything other than pre-rendered graphics. The fastest ways of simulating large light sources involve either clusters of point lights of a sufficiently high density to approximate a large light source or true radiosity (more often called global illumination). This is not directly a technique for creating light sources, although it can be used to create a true softlight in the same way one would in reality, by bouncing a point light off a big, non-specular reflective object. Neither approach is anywhere near fast enough for use in realtime rendering, and really good global illumination can be impossibly slow even for offline rendered animation.


Some games (and offline renderers) produce soft shadows, by rendering a matte of the object that's casting the shadow from the light source's point of view, then projecting it onto nearby geometry. This matte can be blurred to give the impression of softness, and often looks good, although it's far from strictly correct (the degree of softness often doesn't increase as the distance from the casting object increases, among other things). But this doesn't usually mean that the light is actually soft when it falls unshadowed onto objects.


The impression of soft lighting can also be approximated using a technique called ambient occlusion (AO), which paints darkness into the innermost corners of objects. This is, again, an extremely approximate technique but looks good: images rendered with no actual light but with AO alone appear to be under entirely even lighting, which is arguably a softlight. Realtime renderers tend to approximate AO using something called screen-space ambient occlusion, which is somewhat more local (that is, restricted to considering small physical areas at once), otherwise the approximation becomes too obvious. This limits the maximum size of light source it can be used to suggest.


Unmovable objects may receive true soft light from other immovable objects, and cast and receive true soft shadows, but that's pre-rendered and then pasted onto the geometry like wallpaper. For instance, the windows in a building which the player can't move or destroy might cast soft shadows onto the floor, but when the player moves toward the windows, the light on the player is likely to be a hard approximation of the same thing. Likewise, if the light source needs to move, or sometimes to change in brightness, the shadows and fall of light can't be precalculated.


So, if you want to have a human-looking player character with real, true soft light falling on them - no, you can't, at least not yet.



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