Grandpa’s Quick and Dirty Method to Make Background Art For Your Visual Novel
Background art. Seems like not so important part of your Visual Novel. But you gotta have it. How else would your player know where the action is taking place? So you are either poor, lazy or you can’t make art if your life depended on it. What to do? How to get that background art?
Well. First of all, don’t despair. There are plenty of ways to get your background fix. So let’s review them one by one.
Yea. That’s right. Go to images.google.com and search for the image. Here’s the tip. Not all pictures are under strict usage rights. If you click on TOOLS then USAGE RIGHTS you will get several filters. Pictures ‘labeled for reuse’ you can use freely as they are. Those labeled ‘reuse with modification’ will require you to change something on them and we’ll later see how can you profit from this. As this filter is sometimes too narrow, you can try searching for those pictures labeled as ‘for non commercial use’, but only if you are making a free game, the one that you don’t intend to use in product that you will sell or the one that will not be created with goal to promote your business.
Some commercial games, even those you can find on Steam or elsewhere, use free unfiltered pictures, but it can mess with your graphics style for your novel or it simply looks lame. However don’t be afraid to appear cheap. If quality of art is not in the focus of your game, don’t waste your time on it. Sounds weird, but it’s like that… players are more eager to forgive you bad art than not good enough art. Specially if art is secondary to awesome story or characters.
Sites offering free assets
Every game writer knows how difficult it is to get art for their game. The struggle is real, so there are kind souls who share free assets, offer free backgrounds and you can profit from this. Usually the usage rights are quite liberal and it’s good karma to let your readers know who was the artist who helped you out, so don’t forget to give credits.
Someone left this link on Steam forum, it offers various free assets and it starts with backgrounds. Also note that it’s a three year old link so some of the sites might not be there any more.
Itch.io has an asset store and there is A LOT of freebies. It offers mostly sprite packs and it’s not that friendly for search and filtering, but you can find some nice backgrounds too.
Unity 3D has big asset store and some of the asset packs are free. You can find some decent backgrounds there, but what’s more important you can find textures and materials and you can use them if you ever decide to make your own background art.
You can also raid the free stock photo websites. For example, Pexels offers quite impressive range of background images and you can check attribution and usage rights for each one, but most of the time it’s just about giving credits. You can also pilfer some of the images for later modification.
Art of manipulation (or how to use filters)
So if you can use photos as base to paint over them, you’re a freaking artist and this blog post is not for you. If you can create a 3D model and then add textures and paint your background, then also eat my shorts. Heck, even if you know what a tracing is and you can actually trace nice background art from a photo, get out now, this is for us totally klutzy non-artists. Nah, just joking, you can stay and see how we will make cheap-ass lazy background art magic.
Ok, you’ve scoured the Google and all the asset stores and you found one you like, but you would prefer it to be a background in your style or whatever. Time to whip out the filters and manipulate your way to excellence. If you own a Photoshop, this is easy, just go to FILTER then FILTER GALLERY and you will see variety of styles making your original photo look like cutout, pencil drawing, watercolor etc. There are also sliders making it easy for you to pick the right look for your fantabulous art.
Rrrring-rrring, hullo, Earth to Grandpa
“Hey, grandpa, check this out. Not everyone is using PS, in fact, most of the community members don’t. It’s too pricey to buy and not everyone is lucky to have license inherited from the old gaming studio…”
“Oh, right, right… so what are they using?”
“All kind of free paint programs and believe it or not, many of CloudNovel community artists use – brace for it – mobile phones.”
“For… making assets?”
“Aye, so you better explain how to make them backgrounds on mobiles as well as on the PC.”
So, what to do if your assets are on the mobile device (phone or tablet). Well, that’s easy. You find one of them filter manipulation arty-farty apps. Sadly most use freemium model to lure you in to use their app, but there are some really neat ones, too.
At App Store for iOS devices, you can find many photo editing apps which provide filters as well. Snapseed is quite popular and free, but there are also others very useful tools. VSCO has proven to be very elegant with plenty of presets.
For Android devices, you can also try seeking photo editing apps. Some of them do just a single sort of filtering, so I’ll list those with better editing features. Photoshop Express is free and powerful to use, plus it comes with standard PhotoShop filters. Pixlr’s overlays and filters are neat, but I discovered that Photo Lab offers better filters in terms of background art making hack.
And for the God-fearing honest people who use PC, there are many online art filters that allow you to upload (or link) your image and manipulate it to your liking. There are plenty of websites out there who force you to pay them or register or generally try to make themselves a nuisance, but the following proved to be decent. PhotoFunia is a bit clunky to use, but it sports very good range of adjustable filters. Art .pho.to is pesky with it’s attempts to hook up with your Facebook profile, but it offers nice filters and you can bypass their defences and save the image. The best so far is Lunapic. Not only it has impressive filters, it allows you to stack filter upon a filter and it also dubs as retouching/editing tool. It is free and makes quite nice artistic effects.
How to actually do it…
Well, I think you got the idea by now, but I’ll sum it up for you. So you dig up a photo you like using google. Then you upload it to the photo editing app or website. Fiddle with the filters and their parameters. You don’t have to draw a single line, just start with cartoony or pencil sketch filters and take it from there. I’ve discovered that another good filter is ‘cutout’ which softens the lines in the original pic and add nice blurry effect. Then you can just save the pic and use it in your VN.
Depending on your skill you can trace some lines, retouch some items, maybe make different hued sky or lighting, but that’s out of the scope of this humble tutorial post. Basically you need to keep playing with the filters till you find the right formula that you can apply to all the art you need for your background image.
Yea, that’s another solution, you can always go to Resources page and search for backgrounds. There are hundreds of images available. Also if you are happy with your background art hack magic trick I’ve just shown you, then you can upload the result at resources and who knows, maybe you can earn some points!
We want to hear from you, so tell us your preferred filter and/or method to make background art!