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Miscellaneous Reading

Introduction to Thumbnails


Research is the point where you gather as much information about the subject you are working on as possible. Read books, go online, and see your subject matter in person if you can. Make small sketches, draw what you see, not what you know, explore what is essential to the object or character or place you are designing, the concept. While you draw these small sketches try to keep these questions in mind:

  • What does it need?
  • What makes it recognizable?
  • How does it fit into the world you are designing it for?
  • Who's going to use it?
  • Who's your audience?

All of these questions and more need to be answered in this preliminary stage. Print out all the reference pictures you have and make a binder of them or hang them all around your walls. Do whatever you can to absorb everything about your subject. This is the step that is usually under emphasized by the student artist.

Student Insight: While attending DigiPen the students are told over and over again that research is very important while working on projects. Students have all sorts of reference materials available to them such as books, the internet, and everything around them. When students are ready to start working on their projects the importance of having reference materials is strongly recommended otherwise the finished product may come out not the way the student intended. Observation is also KEY to understanding the subject matter. You may study from photos as reference materials, but observe them closely,for example, what makes a horse -- a horse. Study the details and then put the pencil to the paper.


Once you have a grasp of the subject it's time to make tons of small sketches once again, called "thumbnails." Thumbnails are called thumbnails because they are supposed to be as small as your thumbnail. Size isn't as important as the fact that each of these sketches needs to be fast and unrefined. Don't put much time or effort into a drawing you are most likely going to throw away anyways. Explore your subject to the fullest extent. Try out crazy and wild ideas. Play around and push shapes as far as you can and then pull them back. Your drawings don't need to be very good, they are just supposed to be small notes and ideas. You should have between 75 and 200 thumbnails depending on the time constraints you have and the subject matter.

Student Insight: While marking up thumbnails a student would spend less than 30 seconds on each. Remember these thumbnails are rough and shouldn't be masterpieces, but at the same time they have to show a clear understanding of what the artist is trying to convey. Again, this can not be stressed enough, make sure there is a lot of reference to study from while marking up thumbnails. It is possible for a student to run out of ideas and having these reference materials can help the student pick up the pace and/or get back on track.


Superthumbs are made by taking your favorite thumbnails and making them bigger and combining them together. This is when your drawings should get a bit more precise. While still loose ideas, the superthumbs are more refined and explore value and composition. Don't get bogged down in the details yet. A superthumb is still a thumb, not a masterpiece.

Student Insight: When at this stage you can add some more detail to the thumbs, but again remember you will end up throwing away most, so try not to spend any more than 5 to 10 minutes on each one. This is depending on the time constraint of course. At this stage the exploration of coming up with great ideas start to become beneficial and as a student you will realize the benefits of starting with research and the importance of having reference.

Color Comps

Once you get some Superthumbs that you like, it's time to add color. Pick one, two or three thumbs you like and redo them in lots of different colors. Explore crazy combinations rather than throw them out offhandedly, you never know what it's going to look like until you see it. Try everything. Once you've done a bunch, narrow it down to a few you like and try slight variations on them until you get one you want. Remember that as the environment get s defined you may need to change your color selections so variety at this point is important.

Student Insight: This stage could be called the "have some fun stage." The exploration of colors is a huge benefit. Try to spend time on these Color Comps and explore the different possibilities, you will be surprised with what you come out with, but also keep in mind the time constraints.


Comps are almost full sized practice versions of the final work of art. These are relatively detailed and refined compared to the earlier parts. They should be done in the medium your final work of art is going to be in. Try a few of the finalized color comps you came up with and change details here and there to see what works best.

Student Insight: Depending on what final piece you are going for you will want to explore the medium it will be in. For example, if you are planning on creating a final piece using oil paints, don't go crazy with Prisma Color Pencils. If you want to go digital and create a painting using Photoshop don't spend your time trying to create something in Flash. This stage should be close to the final piece and should be treated as such.

Finished Work

Pick your favorite comp and finish it to full size and with as much detail as time allows. This is the highest level of polish and finish you can muster. When you're done with the final image, frame it, print it, do whatever it is you need to do to put it on display, put your name on it, date it, and you're done.

Student Insight: Allow some time to be spent on the final piece. If you really enjoy what you are doing it will show in your final piece. There isn't anything more depressing than spending a lot of time on a project not enjoying it and coming out with something YOU know could be a lot better. Even if you think it did not come out the way you wanted it, make another final piece, simply said, "I dare you to do better." (Rob Kmiec)

External Sources

Storyboard references

  • Ohio State University Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design
  • Animatics & Storyboards
Personal tools
Game Design
Multimedia Production
VG Programming