Consistency in long term projects – redo or not redo?

Consistency in long term projects - redo or not redo?

This is probably true not only for artists, but for other people doing creative and semi-creative work as well.

We artists under development usually change our style every now and then, and improve our skills over not-so-long periods of time. You can see how our skills have developed by looking at our creations from oldest to newest. Sometimes, we evolve really slow, so our works from one year to the next may not seem too different, and sometimes it’s so fast that you can pretty much tell that something was (or wasn’t) done in January, May or August of a given year.

As we evolve and improve, we look back and start disliking what we did before. Even hating it.
Our critic eye gets keener and we grow detached of what we made in the past, so we can safely say “Eww! That looks so bad D:!! What was I thinking Dx ?!”, and we think “I could do it way better now, and faster too…”

So what does this have to do with long-term projects (or projects that go on hiatus for a while and then you pick them up again)?
Well, if you have been working on something for a long time, you’ll know you get the itch to redo everything.
You can no longer look at the work you did before and be proud of it; you have improved and you *must* go back and fix it, so it matches your current skills because now you can do better and  it hurts your eyes to look at the stuff you did last year, or worst, 2 or 3 years before!

Sure, you can just suck it up and  keep working. It’s hard, but hey! the project needs to be done and it’s been long enough already and you just want to get it done, so you can show other people, be happy and move on.
But there is another problem with that:  consistency
As I said before, we artists in development change our styles every now and then, and what it was natural for us before, starts being more complicated to do; you have to look at your old work so you make sure it matches what you’re doing now, so the coloring matches, the proportions match, the light, the way you drew this or that… and it’s no longer natural nor fun, because you struggle to not do things the way you do (and/or like) them now (for example, draw big eyes even if you now like small eyes, or paint in soft-cel shading with many layers when you now like to do one-layer painter-y coloring – or vice-versa), and sometimes you have to just downgrade your skills so things don’t look out of place when next to earlier pieces. Sometimes you just can’t downgrade, your brain won’t let you; it’ll tell you it just looks wrong!

For people releasing things on page-per page or chapter-per chapter basis, this is not much of an issue, but in projects like VNs, where many graphic pieces that may have been done in different periods of time coexist in one space that has to be seen as a whole, consistency is an issue that needs to be adressed.

I’ve been there myself a few times.

The first time, it was when I was working on Astre@; I had worked non-stop for a couple of months to get it done, then dropped it because I wouldn’t get my presentation date and the script was never done. Then I picked it up again for a while about a year later and again 6 months after that. Some things I left them as they were, either because they were good, acceptable or because I didn’t want to bother with them. Some things I fixed because they looked plain wrong, or because I thought it wouldn’t be so hard to make them look better. I made  a couple of new things and one of them looked completely out of place because I was tired and didn’t want to bother with consistency anymore; maybe I would have got a better grade if I had been more careful, but in all it was ok.

Second time, it was with The Flower Shop, I think. It took me about a year of working very on and off to get it done. I had some things fixed in the middle when I noticed their flaws, but majorly left them as they were. I think you can pretty much tell which sprites I worked on first and which I did the last. 
When I had to start work for Winter in Fairbrook, I had already improved some things, so when I went over Jacob and Trent (that would have only neeeded a change of clothes over the old sprites, plus the extra poses), I *had* to redraw and recolor most of them, or they wouldn’t match what i was able to do now. Susana and Uncle Sam also got a renovation (Uncle Sam’s hands were hideous before!), and  the cat got completely redone. Again, the “What was I thinking Dx?!” thing. The sprites have been done for a while and I can start seeing flaws that I may or may not fix, depending on how much effort thaty would take; I need to focus on the Event CGs now, and even if I’m in the middle of a style shift, I have to go and look at the sprites when I draw them so I keep things looking the same.

Now, the longest project I’ve worked on is Flight of Twilight. It’s been what… 4 years? 5? I don’t even remember “Orz .
Without even showing you anything, you should probably guess that we’ve improved a lot throught the years. 
We’ve been through major improvement in proportions, anatomy and composition(and Sai’s instant horizontal flip button – oh, dear) that by default makes us want to go back and fix things, but we’ve also been cycling  through several styles, and sometimes we’ve made stylistic choices that look completely out of place with stuff we did earlier and/or the ones we would do later. Not to mention it’s three artists with hands on the production, so the style of each of us (at that point of time!) would find a way through, sometimes more noticeably than others.

As the colorist, I can account for many different ways of coloring and some coloring experiments I’d rather not have done. I used dodge tool for hair highlights in the beginning (shiny desu owo!!), tried some cel-paintery shading, then some adjustment-layer coloring, then soft-celshading with masks, then switched to Sai, tried one-layer coloring… I seriously want to go back and re-color some of that stuff. Badly.

At some point we did reach a point where we looked at things and there were different versions (some slight, some not) of each character! So we went, compiled all the versions and made character sheets with front, side and back views of the characters and front/back views of all the outfits and said “From now on, THIS is what each character looks like. Period!”. Yeah, we should have done that from the very beginning, but we didn’t think it was necessary at that time and would just use the 3/4 body sprites as reference for everything, like most people doing personal projects; now we know better!  Things have been better since then, though we still need to go back and fix some old things to match them.

However, it’s been a  long time and what we made that we thought looked fine before, or even just acceptable, is making us (artists) cringe. We’re now deciding if we should just update things style-wise, fixing the style choices and mistakes from past pieces that bother us the most so we can be happy with our work and stop hating what we did before, and spend time we’d rather be using to produce more art for the game; or just keep going and keep the consistency discrepancies (and the hating) without wasting any more development time.

It’s complicated.

Like one artist (who worked with watercolors) said in a panel when I was in college:

You have to arbitrarily decide when a piece is done and declare it finished and then never touch it again no matter what. Otherwise, you’ll spend the rest of your life working on it, because you’ll always find something that you could fix or improve, because you’re not perfect.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 9th, 2010 at 5:15 pm and is filed under General Talk, Projects, VN, Work. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.