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Nicky Rhodes

       Is 'it' green?: Drawing and researching      
      Draw, Draw and Draw!     












    You have to keep drawing! Even if it’s not going well and you find you just can't draw. Maybe you're having one of ‘those’ days. That's ok. Take a break. Leave your desk and get some fresh air. Have a bite to eat or a nice cool beer. Relax.  Then get back to your desk. Change from a pencil to a ball point pen if you have to, draw! As seen below! I believe you have to draw and draw and then some, if you are going to uncover the gem you're after.   I like using a ball point pen as it makes you focus on creation rather than refinement. I’m looking for the rough beats which I’ll get plenty of time to tweak and refine later.         






        Early sketches for the Data Executive    
    Here I thought I would save time. I jumped straight into illustrator without really thinking, this is what I came up with. Very mediocre, slightly lifeless icon style. The character still had comedic value but it was missing a vital ingredient. My advice is simple: Avoid doing this- work on paper and then scan it in when you are happy.     






        Back to research  I looked back at my research. I focused on some Italian characters that seemed to suit. I finally found a great celebrity to loosely base my character around and I went from there.     



              Green IT. Character Design Process, Nicky Rhodes  



      Now we enter the refinement phase. As you can see above my sketching is a bit ropey and raw due to them still being in the working out stage. Once you are happy with your sketch idea; get feedback! Get as many people as possible to look at it and comment. I let work colleagues look through my final 6 character sketches. They would make passing statements, good and bad. Pick up on comments like: ‘I don't trust that guy’, ‘Is she a ninja?’, ‘he looks like a knight’, chances are these opinions will reflect the masses thoughts too.        






        If you can: adapt or, at least, consider what would happen if you turned the janitor into a knight? It can give character added dimensions. Not everyone has to like your character, just as long as they recognise what it’s supposed to represent then your job is done. Don't take offence if people say "it’s rubbish" or "that could be done better". But do question them, ask for specifics so you can refine it and adapt. Equally, be mindful and question "is their criticism founded and worth pursuing". Also wise to remember; you won’t please everyone you ask. People will see different things and want different tweaks. Don’t try to please them all. Take the ideas that resonate most with what you are trying to achieve, otherwise you’ll end up with something designed by a committee: vanilla and lifeless. 



Draw, Draw and Draw!

You have to keep drawing! Even if it’s not going well and you find you just can't draw. Maybe you're having one of ‘those’ days. . .


       Is 'it' green?: Incorporating character stereotypes            Stereotypes in the Design Process    






      Always reference from real life. I restricted myself to certain nationality groups. My aim was to capture a typical Slovenian/Italian etc   face type; taking into consideration features such as eye shape, skin tone, hair colour, etc. Often determining these traits are big generalisations and not factual. But it is a good exercise to have recognisable traits in your characters. It helps people easily associate your character with the nationality, age group, occupation etc your character belongs too.   A great example of this in practice is Wallace and Gromit. Many of the characters are ‘stereotypical’ British people. They have bad teeth, a fanatical love of tea, an insatiable appetite for biscuits and a dubious taste in clothing!      






      Stereotyping traits can refer to personality, such as a love for tea and biscuits, or physical traits like bad teeth. When considering the latter it is always best to get a wide sample for inspiration, then pick out the most commonly occurring similarities. Take care to be   aware socially when creating characters. My teeth are lovely and straight, by the way, but I can’t resist a cup of tea!     






     This is an example of my influene. I took inspiration from specific people in the limelight so the audience can easily connect with them. It’s always good to base characters on celebrities or actors, loosely. It is a great starting point. You may also find your characters become influenced by family members or work colleagues.        



Always reference from real life: I restricted myself to certain nationality groups. I was aiming to capture a typical Slovenian/Italian etc face type; taking into consideration features such as eye shape, skin tone, hair colour, etc. Often determining these traits are big generalisations and not factual but it is good to have recognisable traits in your characters so people more easily associate with the nationality, age group, occupation etc your character belongs too. 


       Is 'it' green?: decision making with design            



              Nicky Rhodes  



     Step Two - Narrowing it down  So now you have your initial research done. It’s time to break it down into categories. This will help build a clear picture of what to focus on.  With Green IT, I took the styles I thought best appropriate for the brief and split them into similar looking sections. Doing this helps to work out what style I want to achieve. At this stage it’s still ok to not know exactly what you want and you're allowed to get it wrong. This is a good process to narrow down your options to design styles which suit the brief and you are happy to pursue.     












        Decision making time!  I find this stage super tricky. I loathe making decisions. I’d rather merge all the styles and ideas together but this is an ill-advised method. It can become time consuming, messy and often doesn’t work out in the long run.  If you find things are getting tricky- you can't find the style you want and nothing is working out- go back to the previous step and do some more research. You might just stumble on something better.   Looking back, the images I have chosen all seem similar. I had drifted back to my comfort zone without realising, doing exactly what I wanted to avoid.  Back to the initial research stage; this time you know what you're not looking for. You have come a bit closer to the style you want through eliminating those you don’t.        






        Even after the decision making process you can still add or take away pictures that are more in fitting with what kind of style you want to achieve. Styles can be merged together or influence each other too. There is never a right or wrong way as long as you keep all your research in this way you will be ready to work in a clear and focused direction.  Three mega things to take into consideration:  -     What stands out most?  -     What styles connect with each other?  -     Which path is most efficient? (Depending on your project length and budget, you may need to be limit how far you stretch yourself)     Back and forth  There are still a fair few styles on those pages. But narrowing it down, we are starting to see some strong themes emerging. For example: a cut out style with flat defined lines. The only images that are swaying focus are the Monkey Island and Rayman imagery. These indiscretions become easy to spot using a layout like this. It saves time and lessens headaches, allowing your brain to focus on creativity.  Refinement- Last-ish step before we start the design process.  Now you will be able to see that I have taken out loads of images and added Scooby doo character stylings into the equation. I have done this because it’s all part of the refinement process. You can take away images… it doesn't matter how many. As long as you're left with a range of images that help you work towards your desired style, you’re making progress.  As you can see I’m very indecisive and want to pinch bits from different images. This isn’t wrong, if anything, at this stage in the process, it makes your work unique and hopefully best tailored to your brief.   



So now you have your initial research done. It’s time to break it down into categories. This will help build a clear picture of what to focus on.


       Is 'it' green?: Research process    Step One - The Research Process    



              Nicky Rhodes  



     Gather a selection of images from a range of artists, depict an assortment of styles in keeping with your art direction. Eventually, you’ll want to start narrowing them down and categorising.  From these inspirations build your moodboard, keep in mind the purpose of your brief. Be sure to add detailed annotations to your moodboard, this will help keep your work focused and streamlined. The ‘Narrowing’ down process will be discussed in greater detail in tomorrow's section so be sure to check back in then.   Case study:    Research outline for  Green IT .   My brief:         Create 6 characters both male and female in a ‘cartoony’ style.   Remember:  your final result will depend on the research you focused on in the beginning. Important direction decisions are made in these early stages.



Gather a selection of images from a range of artists, depict an assortment of styles in keeping with your art direction. Eventually, you’ll want to start narrowing them down and categorising.


       Totem's top 10 serious games for 'Earth Day'    It was Earth Day Wednesday - Who took the Google Quiz and what did you get? Be honest! I got a ‘Woolly Mammoth’, ‘So unique, you're technically extinct. But on the bright side, scientists hope to be able to clone you some day’.  As promised we are bringing you another list collating together ten serious games out there on the market. Last week we brought you the list  Totem’s Top Ten Games for Learning , this week can you guess the theme?  It’s Environmentally Aware Games!  To kick it off we are going to start with a serious game that has a ‘Call to Action’ built in making it (almost) unavoidable to not get involved in the issue of Fracking.     






         Frackman  - Drilling under homes and fracking for gas to make a profit- at times action eat into profits but the costs to the community are a much bigger deal. The game play is limited but if you want to take a second shot at it Team Giraffe have built in a ‘Call to Action’ which sends the player to an online petition calling for the ban of fracking under homes- a hot issue at the moment with Mark Ruffalo publicly calling on the Government to ban all kinds of Fracking. Good intentions and useful links for further reading, but  What the Frack  is the game to play if you are serious about learning more on the issue. It’s very wordy but very informative and you are free to choose the outcome, good or bad.            






                 Rhino Raid  – I really enjoyed this one! A rhino out for revenge on the poachers who have mercilessly taken his beloved. Really captivating graphics coupled with simple but addictive gameplay.  It has entertainment value without compromising on its aim; there’s plenty of information to absorb in just a short period of play. Flint Sky Interactive have even made it really simple to find out more and donate from the game  .           






            Climate Defence  – Not the most captivating or motivational game, it gives the player a brief look at the real struggle of slowing down climate change.  An unbeatable game (unless you cheat), on ‘Real’ mode there is no way to win, driving home the extent of the damage done to our planet. Facts pop up offering further information on climate change and its effective but lacks depth. It is informative but if links to external related sources were incorporated it would make for a better educational experience.                












              Oiligarchy     – On to oil! At first glance (I thought) this game was an easy play through and hadn’t much to offer. But boy was I wrong! It is a really controversial play; weighted choices like ‘prompting a homeland attack’ or ‘declaring war on Iraq’ are easily made, your focus is on profit not people! Environmental issues: from destroying the local wildlife and villages to issues such as the harmful gases speeding up climate change are touched on too. This is a very pointed game despite its simplistic, colourful art style and the initial impression it might give.             












                Human Footprint Interactive    – Better to think of this as an educational tool. Found on the National Geographic site, it offers up some interesting individual information such as the amount of chickens needed to sustain your lifetime egg intake. – Fun Fact, ‘Ireland’s annual harvest supplies a lifetime of potatoes for 91,000 Americans’.  Planet Food  is very similar, awarding players badges for completing different tasks; growing awareness of the food we eat; more interactive and offering a wider range of avenues to discover, a great way to grow individual awareness.          






           Earth Hour    - A really sweet game with a very simple objective; ‘turn off the lights’. It was created for WWF as part of the ‘Earth Hour’ initiative which takes place globally on the last Saturday of March every year. There is a ‘Call to Action’ located below the game which gives the player more information on the effects of climate change and there is also a ‘Donate’ button for WWF.            









               Fraxinus - Played on Facebook   



            Fraxinus –Play this on Facebook and seek revenge on your friends for all those ‘Candy Crush’ and ‘Farmville’ notifications. This game is just as fun and addictive but a heck of a lot more productive! Working out the sequences and ‘stealing’ them from other players all while helping scientists (actual real-life, white coat wearing scientists) develop a cure for the Chalara fungus; a disease that has the potential to wipe-out 90-95% of Britain and Irelands Ash trees, a colossal figure when you consider Ash is the third most common tree in Britain! – If this is a cause you are passionate about then I really recommend looking into  BIFOR    and the work they are doing. For those of you who enjoy walks in the countryside and want to do your part saving the trees too,  Tree Health Survey  is an App which allows users to report issues of disease in trees to the appropriate Government Officials.            












              Citizen Science  – The ‘Steward’, foretold to save the local lake from becoming too polluted to swim in, time travels to gain a better understanding of the actions which resulted in the polluted lake. It is aimed at a young audience but there’s an important lesson we can all take to heart; each one of us have a role to play in building a better, more environmentally friendly world. ‘Citizen Science’ the term itself is a worldwide movement where individuals do what they can to progress the research of scientists into various environmental solutions, like the ‘Tree Health Survey’ and ‘Fraxinus’.  Zooniverse  is a huge database of Citizen Science projects with a range that caters for every interest.           






             Plan It Green  -        A building sim; the aim is to give an old energy sucking town a newer greener facelift. As Mayor there are a range of factors to consider when building; this game incorporates alternate energy solutions like solar powered houses, wind farms, even hydro plants! It was enjoyable and an easy play. Sim City EDU (only for teachers and students), Electro City (a more challenging play), IBM CityOne (choose to either the environmental route or a corporate route, makes for an interesting selection of players) – are just a few more titles in the building sim category with an environmentally aware aspect.             






                        Flower  – It’s always good to take a little time and appreciate the world around us. If everyone did this, who knows, maybe all these other issues we’ve discussed wouldn’t be issues! This game is really beautiful. It is tranquil, calming and very spiritual. Playing as the wind, flower petals are collected resulting in a whirlwind of beauty where each blade of grass moves independently! This game is gorgeous but it is more than just a simple pleasure for your senses (it has a great sound track too), it encourages a need in the player to actually go out into the real world and appreciate all it has to offer. This game is raved about by avid gamers and non-gamers alike. A nice little positive to round off a content heavy list!          There are so many games out there that focus on real issues, educating people of all age groups and motivating people into action, this is just a drop in the ocean of what’s on offer ( there’s games for that too). It is well worth the exploration and there are some real gems that provide great ways to get involved!     Here at Totem Learning, we have been busy doing our bit too!  Is IT Green , is the Serious Game which will equip players with the knowledge and skills to make their business energy efficient and save money in the process.     Nicky Rhodes our resident 3D and 2D Artist has been working diligently on this project. She has recorded her process and methods for any aspiring artists to learn from and we are delighted to announce they will be released on our blog very soon. Not to be missed by artists at any stage of their career, there’s sure to be something to learn for all – talking of which did you see Chris Chadwick’s post on  the Golden Ratio ?     Remember you can get involved on the discussion of your favourite Serious Games and candidates for future Totem Top Tens by using the hashtag #TL10 on twitter!



The second in Totem's Top Ten Serious Games Series. This blog is all about games that address environmental issues.