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Thread: [Award Winner] Assorted tips and tricks

  1. #91
      torstan is offline
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    Today a quick mini-tutorial. This isn’t a photoshop tutorial, nor is it a tutorial for a polished finished map. This is a step by step in my own town creation method when I’m creating the first sketch layout. The key here is to have the town layout make sense.

    1. Draw the terrain and the major locations

    [Award Winner] Assorted tips and tricks-town_mapping_1.jpg

    Towns adapt to their surroundings. The first thing to do is to draw the terrain the town sits on. In this case I’ve picked a peninsula with a larger outcropping at the end. The coast is rocky and broken apart from a low bay on the NE.

    Once you’ve placed the terrain, use that to inform the locations of the main buildings. Here the castle goes on the highest promontory, with a commanding view of the sea and the land around. The cliffs on the promontory provide natural defences. Any land based threat must come down the peninsula, and the town will want to defend the harbour, so it’s natural for there to be a wall across the end of the peninsula.

    After placing the major defences, I add a harbour for fishing boats (food), a market near the docks (commerce). I place another couple of large buildings – 4,5 and 6 that could be a temple, inn and wizard’s tower respectively – the trifecta of important fantasy town locations.

    2. Place the major roads

    [Award Winner] Assorted tips and tricks-town_mapping_2.jpg

    Roads get people where they need to go. In this case, the road needs to take a fairly direct route from the main gate to the castle. Remember that the roads will follow the contours of the terrain. Avoid straight roads in fantasy town maps – they tend not to have heavy earth moving machinery so roads need to go around obstacles on the whole. It’ll help sell the sense of a naturally evolving town.

    Once we’ve laid in the main thoroughfare, add main roads to the source of food and commerce – these will be the high traffic routes. Add in a couple more – here I add the second road to the NE through the smaller gate.

    3. Add the minor roads

    [Award Winner] Assorted tips and tricks-town_mapping_3.jpg

    With the major roads in place the map looks bare. Add a web-work of smaller roads to fill in the gaps. Remember that the majority of the smaller roads are going to be to get people to the major roads. Add kinks and corners to give the minor roads some visual interest, and again follow the contours of the land.

    4. Draw in the houses

    [Award Winner] Assorted tips and tricks-town_mapping_4.jpg

    This can take a while, depending on the scale of the map and the level of detail you’re going for. In this sketch I was drawing on paper at roughly 2 inches square so a house could be little more than a dot on the map. Here the houses are a means of blocking in the space around the roads. Ideally when you’re done with the houses you’ll be able to see the roads even if you remove the road lines.

    And that’s it! You’re done with your sketch. Add a key and it’s a functional town map. Going from here to a presentation map is a different issue, but that’s a matter of style rather than substance.

    And here's a very quick colour for fun:
    [Award Winner] Assorted tips and tricks-town_mapping_5.jpg
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  2. #92
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    Default How to draw swamps

    Here's the breakdown of how I draw lineart for swamps.

    [Award Winner] Assorted tips and tricks-how_to_draw_swamps.jpg

    1. The rivers

    Swamps are often around a river - if this is the case, then begin with the river at the heart of the swamp. Unlike most rivers which usually run for miles without branches, in a swamp I add lots and lots of tributaries feeding into the main river. This indicates the water draining in from the wider swamp and helps to define the borders of the swamp. Because I'm drawing a 3/4 style map here, I emphasise the horizontal spread of the rivers over the vertical spreads.

    If your swamp isn't connected to a river, then ignore this step.

    2. Tufts of swamp grass

    Add in tufts of grass throughout the swamp. 2-3 lines spiking up from the ground should do the trick.

    3. Horizontal lines

    Here we really specify the area of the swamps. I add horizontal lines and ripples to imply the surface water in the bog. The lines don't meet up with the tufted grass - that separation helps keep the texture clean rather than messy. Finally I add a rippled line around the edge to define the limits of the swamp.
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  3. #93
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    Default Using the Pen Tool to Draw Buildings

    [Award Winner] Assorted tips and tricks-using_the_pen_tool_to_draw_buildings.jpg

    Following the previous tutorial about town design here’s a tutorial on filling in the buildings in the town.

    I’m jumping in at the stage where we’ve already got the terrain, major locations and roads mapped out. The next step is filling all the remaining space with buildings to turn a skeleton of a town into a town. The key here is to give the impression of a large number of buildings, without having to agonise over every single chimney pot and awning.

    1. Using the Pen Tool

    Here I’m using the pen tool in Photoshop (P) – you can also use the pen tool in Gimp (B). Under Paths, hit the New Path button, and give it a name. Here I’ve called it “Houses”.

    The advantage of using the path tool is that you can go back and edit any element of the city at any point. This is invaluable. It may be that you need to add a road later once and have to move some buildings to accommodate. This way, just use the direct selection tool (A) in Photoshop, or the pen tool (B) in Gimp and go back to edit the vector outline of the houses.

    Many path tutorials will focus on the fact that you can use the path tool to create bezier curves. We’re not doing curves today, but creating straight sided polygons instead. To lay a house polygon, click one for each corner. Because you’re clicking – rather than clicking and dragging – the path lays in straight lines between anchor points. Click again on the first point (you should see a small circle appear under the pen cursor) and the path will close. In Gimp – you need to command-click the first point to close the path.

    Click again somewhere else to start the next building, and you’re off!

    2. Use a variety of building sizes

    First of all, don’t worry about the shapes being precisely right. Any town map will have a lot of buildings, and the chance of a viewer looking at any one and judging the historical accuracy of the building shape are slim. You want the impression of an urban sprawl without having to carefully design each bit of sprawl. So, work quickly, and don’t sweat the details. But – make some decisions about the blocks that you’re filling in. A slum area should have smaller and more disorganised buildings – or solid tenement blocks. There shouldn’t be too much spare space. A wealthier neighbourhood might have bigger building with more empty space around them.

    Use a variety of building shapes. It may well be that buildings are mostly rectangular, but a complete uniformity of buildings forms a repetitive pattern – and out brains are very good at spotting repetitive patterns. That’s part of the reason we’re doing these shapes by hand. Add variety – t-shaped buildings, l-shaped buildings. It might start to look a little like the reject bin in the Tetris factory, but that’s okay. Remember, we’ll be seeing this zoomed out, not examining every single building in turn.

    Also, use negative space. We see not just the buildings, but also the space around them. Leave courtyards and meeting areas, squares and plazas. Leave more empty space in some parts of town than others – even if you don’t have a reason why. Either you’ll come up with a reason later, or your players will rationalise the difference for you, and add detail to your world without you trying.

    3. Let the buildings flow

    The roads and terrain have a flow to them – let the buildings work with that. Fill in the empty space around your featured locations, but use the buildings to describe lines and emphasise the larger shapes of the town. So, for example, a line of similar size buildings all curving around a bend will suggest that the buildings are all the same, and might help to sell a barracks, or pre-built line of miner’s cottages. In contrast, a set of widely varied buildings, all spaced out, might be the mansions of the wealthy – all created to each person’s taste.

    Filling in the buildings takes time – lots of time – but the end result is worth it. I’ve got a few methods of laying out blocks that are more automated, and these help for cities, but nothing beats just drawing in all the houses.

    4. Turn your path into a selection

    Once you’ve tweaked your houses to your liking, turn the path into a selection. (Path’s palette – button at the bottom ‘Load Path as Selection’ -PS, or Path Tool -> Tool Options -> Selection from Path, Gimp).

    5. Fill your houses selection

    Create a new layer, and fill the houses selection with a colour of your choice to lay in all the houses! Here I’ve used some layer options. I filled the selection with white, and set the fill opacity to 50%. I also added an inner stroke of 1px in black. There are lots of good choices for layer styles that can give you a more satisfying set of houses from this selection, but that’s a tutorial for another day. For now, you’ve got a full layout of your town.

    That’s it for now. I’ll post some alternative house style tips over the coming week, and delve into what to do once you’ve got all your vector outlines, later in the week.
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  4. #94
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    And a video to help explain this, and my process:

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  5. #95
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    Default Using dynamic brushes to draw in city blocks

    [Award Winner] Assorted tips and tricks-buildings2.jpg

    Earlier in the week I posted a tutorial on how to draw buildings with the pen tool. But sometimes drawing each building just takes too long. For whole cities, you probably want a quick way to lay in whole blocks of buildings. Photoshop can help - using dynamic brushes.

    1. Set up the brush

    Here's the settings for the brush I'm using. Start with a square brush. Add jitter and shape dynamics. When you're using the brush you should vary the spacing, size and amount of jitter on the brushes. This will give you difference in the shapes and sizes of buildings that will suggest the difference in the socio-economic status of the different districts.

    2. Lay in the buildings

    To lay in the buildings, either freehand along the sides of the roads, or click and then shift-click to lay in straight lines of buildings. At this stage - don't worry about going over onto the roads. We'll handle that later.

    3. Create a roads mask

    We create a mask on the buildings layer. Select pixels on your roads to get a roads selection. At this point you have a choice. The quick route is to select the buildings mask (option+click the icon), and then stroke the selection (Edit->Stroke...). The problem with this is that you end up with curved edges on the mask which doesn't look great.

    A better way is the following - take your roads selection and then use Selection->Path to generate a path along your roads. Now, stroke the path with a rectangular brush. In this case we want the rectangular brush to go along the path, with no jitter and small roundness jitter. Option-Click the layer mask on the buildings, and stroke the roads with the brush. In panel 3 you can see the result of stroking the roads.

    4. City Blocks

    With the mask in place the blocks are now confined within the city blocks and you're done!

    A couple of notes – here I’m using my current work in progress town map – obviously the featured buildings are a totally different scale and can’t co-exist on the same map! Second – these styles of blocks work best when you’re going to view them quite zoomed out. I’d suggest that this works best if the image above was your working resolution, and the final scale was 1/3 of what you see there.

    Finally, a word on styling – here I’m leaving the houses as black silhouettes. Later in the week I’ll show you how you can style these silhouettes to make them integrate into your map.

    And, as with some of the previous tutorials, here's a video version:

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  6. #96
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    Default Drawing Old-fashioned Coastal Waters

    Really quick one today - this is an illustration of how to draw old fashioned coastal waters. Lots of historic maps use rippled lines to indicate the sea. Here's a couple of quick pointers on reproducing the effect.

    [Award Winner] Assorted tips and tricks-coastlines_and_water.png

    1. Add your first ripple
    First, draw the coastline in a nice dark brush - or press relatively heavily with your pen (this was a ballpoint on sketchbook paper). Then, pressing more lightly to get a fainter line, draw a parallel line to the coast. Where your coastline is ragged and fractal, this line should be smooth and flowing. Follow the edge, but smooth off the sharper changes. Try too keep the same distance from the coast as you draw.

    2. Add in the rest
    Now repeat this with successive lines. Each time you add another line, increase the spacing slightly. Also, smooth off the sharper corners of the line inside. If you have an inlet (like I've got here), don't cram the lines in to get through - smooth over the inlet, and draw another set of disconnected ripples within.

    This looks good with a light blue wash around the coastal edge as well - so this doesn't have to be just a black and white map technique.

    I prefer this to the procedurally generated version, as those tend to create artifacts when you get to the larger ripples. Gaussian blurs tend to generate hard straight 45 degree angles. But that's a matter of personal preference.
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  7. #97
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    Default Highlighting Important Buildings - Shape, Detail and Contrast

    Cities and buildings come up a lot in questions. I'll put together a software specific tutorial on buildings, but today I'm just going to go through my philosophy when illustrating a featured building like a castle or a temple. The process is the same, regardless of software. In this case - ballpoint pen on sketchbook paper.

    [Award Winner] Assorted tips and tricks-drawing-featured-locations.jpg

    A map is a complex image. We want to be able to access the important information quickly. To do this we can use three things the human brain does very well - identify things that don't fit the pattern, notice detail and focus on contrast. By giving out featured buildings interesting shapes we break any pattern of regular rooftops, and by detail and tonal contrast, we help the eye focus on them amongst the sea of buildings.

    1. Design the outline
    Historically, the most likely shape for almost any building is a rectangle. But that's pretty boring on a map. How do you know that a building is special from overhead if they're all rectangles? Here I've drawn three outlines for three featured buildings.
    • Inn
    The Inn has a main building, a stables and an outhouse/privy. The whole area is surrounded by a wall or fence, and the central area has a courtyard. The negative space (the courtyard) will stand out in a top down map.
    • Temple
    Temples are fancy. They're meant to impress, and they're meant to dominate. This meand buttresses and spires. I've avoided anything that might look like a cross - as that's always going to break any sense of disbelief - but the same principles apply. Add off-shoots and extensions. If it's a lawful god, make the building symmetrical. If it's chaotic, make it a rambling sprawl, if it's militaristic, add towers and gates. Circular buildings and domes are a good choice here too, especially when using graphics tools that make perfect circles easy.
    • Castle
    There's a lot to be written about castle design, so I'm not even going to try here. I've gone with a simple keep/fortified manor house and a curtain wall. Tower guard the vulnerable corners, and there's a hefty gate guarding the entrance.

    2. Add Detail
    Here we add some lines to give some sense of the detail. Our eyes are drawn to detail naturally, so if you add more detailing to your featured buildings, they'll stand out in a map. Here I've added lines to indicate thatching or tiles to the Inn. The temple also gets some tiles, as well as a turret or bell-tower at one end, and some little roof elements. The castle picks up walkways on the walls, detailing on the keep's roof and some internal buildings in the castle grounds (well, we all need somewhere to keep the foot soldiers, hawks and the horses).

    3. Shading
    So this is going to be different depending on the medium your using, but it's the point where the building stops being a flat sketch and starts to take on some life. Pick a direction for the light, and shade in blocks away from that direction. Note that buildings cast geometric shadows, and that shadows have different depths. The Inn gets simple geometric shadows, and a lighter shadow on the right side of the roofline. The temple i more complex - I use the shadows to emphasise the height of the tower, and the height of the buttresses. The castle gets the most work - each tower gets a long shadow, and I also added a set of battlements to indicate the crenelations on the walls. Deeper shadows here and there help to call out specific architectural features.

    If you'd like to see these techniques in a finished map, check out my Iconic Town pack: New Map Pack – The Iconic Town | Fantastic Maps
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  8. #98
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    Default Dungeon Walls

    [Award Winner] Assorted tips and tricks-dungeon_wall_styles.jpg

    This isn't really a tutorial, more a set of thoughts on different ways to indicate walls on a line map.

    1. Hatching

    This just looks great. There's no doubt about it. If you want to see a great example of this style, check out +matt jackson's work. When I'm doing hatching I tend to do loose hatching first - with each set of lines blocking out a square of space. Then I go back in and fill in the remaining space with lines. The hatches are 2-3 blocks deep around the walls.

    After hatching the walls, I go back over the wall lines again to make them darker. Or you can do what Matt does, and use a heavier weight pen for the walls than for the hatching.

    2. More basic hatching

    In this case I've gone more simple. This is a simple shading with 45 degree lines. I then go back over the region closer to the wall with another set of lines at right angles to the first set. This helps darken the region close in and lends a sense of depth. The main advantage of this is speed.

    3. Circles

    This style lends itself to dungeons in loose rock or earth. Draw dots around the walls, with a higher density close in and fewer dots further out. This can be very time consuming but it gives a nice effect. It's also the easiest style to encode in a photoshop or Gimp brush which speeds things up a lot.
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  9. #99
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    I am positively in love with this thread! Thank you so much, everything you have posted has been incredibly helpful! Not to mention it has also made my tinkering in the map making world less frustrating!
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  10. #100
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    Default Labeling Locations

    Eric Quigley asked about labeling recently and that prompted me to think a little about how I actually go about labeling a map. Often it's the last thing to get done, but it's also the most important. A map without labels is just a pretty picture, it's not useful. So, it's worth taking some care getting labels right.

    This is a photoshop tutorial, but these techniques are almost identical in Gimp.

    [Award Winner] Assorted tips and tricks-labeling1.jpg

    Today I'll be covering labeling locations. So I won't be handling titles, terrain labels, rivers or any of that. Basically, if it's a place adventurers can pillage, this is how we'll label it.

    1. The Font

    Pick something easy to read. I know we all like Deutsche Gothic and Pieces of Eight, but save those fonts for your title. The labels should be in something clean and simple. Here I've used Cochin, which is a nice serifed font that's a little unusual so doesn't immediately scream 'Times New Roman' at the viewer. Use different font weights to designate different locations. You can also use different capitalization. For example, all caps for Capital Cities, small caps for other cities, and capitalized lower case for everything else. In the Character Dialog in Photoshop there's a small caps option, which is a great thing to know about.

    2. Colour

    Don't use pure black. This I learned the hard way after doing the Midgard maps for Wolfgang Baur and Open Design. Black may read well on the screen, but it doesn't always print well. Here I've used a deep saturated brown.

    3. Placement

    I try to line up labels centered on the icon if I can. However, if there's a lot of detail in the map, you want to move the label to the nearest uniform space. So, place the label over all forest, all plains, or all water. Try to avoid placing the text over a line, such as a forest edge, coastline or river. The line will mess up the lines of your text and make it hard to read.

    4. A subtle glow

    Flat text on a map looks, well, flat. I add a gentle glow to the text to help pull it out from the background. I've given two examples here - one that looks good, and one that looks terrible. The glow on Holgren is an outer glow, with blend mode set to Screen and opacity set to 75% and a size of 5px. It's a very light yellow. You can see that the hard edge makes this look a bit nasty. Basically the sharp edge of the glow is competing with the sharp edge of the text, rather than complementing it. On Tranton, the glow is identical, but it has a size of 20px. This smoothes out the glow and has the effect of gently nudging the text out of the background. It'll also knock out some of the background detail, making it easier to read a label above a more complicated piece of terrain. It's a powerful technique, but can easily be over used! Be careful - in this case less is usually more.

    As always, throw any questions in the comments here and I'll do my best to answer them. Oh, and the map and icons are the Iconic Island.

    Happy labeling!
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