Camera projection: bringing a painted scene to life

Camera projection: bringing a painted scene to life

By Marco Hüllen

May 9th 2014 at 2:20PM

Daedalic Entertainment lead artist Marco Hüllen explains the ground-breaking technique that makes Silence: The Whispered World 2 look so unique

I once saw a fan project video showing a scene from Monkey Island 2, recreated using the CryEngine, where they used camera projection. This allowed them to integrate 3D, without losing the charm of their art style. When I spotted this, I felt that this is the right thing to do for Silence: The Whispered World 2.

Camera projection is a technology that has rarely been used for adventure game development. Maybe, because it results in a hell of a lot of work.

The technology allows us to accomplish so much, from atmospheric camera perspectives to action sequences. Most of the time, we let details of a scene tell the story. Most of the details aren’t part of the mesh, though, so we’re not planning on using effects like normal maps. Having said that, our art style wouldn’t work that well using these effects anyway. Still, we can easily animate leaves or fog, for example, to create weather effects and atmosphere. Using the old technology, we would have had to draw this frame by frame.

Employing camera projection is quite some change compared to the first The Whispered World game, where we focused on classic hand-drawn 2D characters and backgrounds. We used parallax scrolling to get some depth into the painted sceneries, but that still left us being quite limited, resulting in flat layers shifting in front of each other.

All our art and scenery is driven by the game’s story. Story sets scene and atmosphere. It’s story first, game design second – this includes the objects that a location needs to contain, to be able to offer the puzzles we want to offer.

Once we defined all that, I draw first concepts. The team chooses the best option – and then the real work starts: conceptualising the actual location, with all its details and layers. We especially have to pay attention to defining which layers can be implemented on their own, and which ones need to be linked to others, so that the 3D artists can build a mesh out of this.

Currently, our 2D graphic artists are working on filling the sceneries with heaps of details. Since we’re zooming into each scene a lot to portray our characters, we need way more details than for our previous games.

Another important point is the lighting of each scene: We need to define pretty early which objects will have shadows on them, and what these objects need – slightly stronger colors, for example – to still be recognizable for the viewer. Wherever we have shadows being casted in our 3D scenes, we need to implement them in a way that they fit the hand-painted 2D scenery.

We can easily animate leaves or fog, for example, to create weather effects and atmosphere. Using the old technology, we would have had to draw this frame by frame.

My plan was to come up with a graphic style that isn’t too far away from what we used to do by hand-painting our art, and still use 3D. So this is why we went for the camera projection technology, which focuses on hand-drawn art, which only after finalization gets projected on a 3D mesh. This also helps creating a more realistic and sinister world, which represents the story very well. As we want to use zooming and other techniques in Silence, we can’t really use contour outlines as we had them in the first The Whispered World game. It simply didn’t look that good.

Approximately two years ago, we designed a prototype, and tested camera projection within the cutscenes of another adventure gaming project of ours, The Dark Eye: Memoria. We received awesome feedback for this, so we decided to keep this direction and to design all of Silence using camera projection.

Even though the style changed, the spirit of the first game and its atmosphere are still part of Silence: The Whispered World 2. I always compare these projects to movies: If you think of the first The Whispered World games as of a playable cartoon movie, Silence is like a playable CGI animation movie.

Marco Hüllen is lead artist at Daedalic Entertainment. He started working for the company in 2007 and created The Whispered World, one of Daedalic’s most critically acclaimed point-and-click adventure games. With his current project, Silence: The Whispered World 2, he not only continues the story of his game and world but also brings many new elements into classic adventure gaming design.