I think one of the more tedious tasks for Camp Bears was whipping out beautifully illustrated game scenes within a reasonable timeframe, so I just wanted to share a personal method of getting production time down to just three days. In the beginning, there was a lot time-consuming experimentation on Illustrator itself, but I’ve since discovered that it’s way more efficient to do most of the layout work on paper first. Here’s how I would break it down:
Day 1: Sketch out the scene on paper.
Yes, I’m recommending that you dedicate an entire eight-hour-day to just sketching on paper. Why? Because this minimizes guessing on the computer, which takes much longer. In the end, drawing a line with pencil is much faster than with the brush tool on Illustrator, even if you have a fancy tablet.
Normally, I first start off sketching really basic layouts in small boxes; if I’m unsure of what to put in the scene, I’ll start looking for inspiration and sketching buildings and objects out.
Once I kind of have an idea of what my buildings will look like, I sketch out a few possible layouts, while keeping in mind how much empty space I want. (In our case, we wanted at least half the screen to be “walkable space”.)
In the end, you should have a full-page layout, traced in ink (doesn’t have to be colored in unless you want to).
The only drawings I’ll do afterwards are more detailed studies of what an oak leaf should look like, what’s the pattern on a birch trunk, how my roof shingles should be laid out, and such.
Day 2: Trace and fill in solids and mesh gradients. Start detailing.
To start off, I’ll scan in the drawing from the previous night, crop, and place as a background in Illustrator to trace over. I like to trace by hand rather then use live trace, because I like having clean lines — but that’s just a personal preference.
After an hour or two, I should have everything traced out, filled in with the paint bucket, and have added gradients with the mesh tool. (I like to keep a paint bucket layer and a mesh layer, in case I ever need to go back and change something. Once you’ve converted an area into a mesh, it’s really difficult to reshape.)
I’ll spend the rest of the day adding details to my main components. The nice thing about drawing on Illustrator is, everything is vector-based so I can copy/paste numerous times, resize and whatnot, rather than draw everything out individually. For example, the ivy and brush only contain one or two leaves really, and I just copy/pasted, resized, rotated, over and over. Then I selected a few in groups to change colors and transparency, add some drop-shadows, and whatnot.
Day 3+: Add the final touches!
Depending on how much you have left to do, this could take anywhere from half a day to the rest of the week.
Tada! If you’re slow at first, don’t worry, because it gets much faster and easier over time. Eventually, I’ll have enough assets (trees, flowers, rocks) that future scenes become a breeze to piece together. I’ll admit that the scene above actually took a week because it was one of the first that I drew and I was still getting the hang of Illustrator, but here’s an example of a scene that I did within three days, because I was able to reuse a lot of assets:
planning out how this scene was going to connect with the rest
really quick 5-minute doodle that turned out to be really useful
final scene completely planned out on paper
how far I got by the end of day 2; background was completely “recycled”
finished by day 3, midday!
You can do it too!