Visual style plays different roles when watching films, animations, and playing video games. It also plays a role when you're starting your business or diving into a career as a freelancer. It's what makes you stand out amongst the crowd of creators and storytellers to give your spin. There's plenty of moving pieces to create a solid foundation for a story, and this is one of them. So we'll cover the basics and give you enough to take the next step to formulate your style.
Now with that out of the way, let's jump right into it so you can get started with your creative vision.
What is visual style?
The visual style is all about the looks, the appeals, and the setup. To break it up further, it's about using colors, lighting, clothes, character design, props, and so much more. Music and textures can play a similar role as the other elements mentioned above for your projects. Combining them in different ways and amounts will ultimately become your "visual style." It simply depends on how you decide to execute them together. Just note that there are limits to how far you can push them, and the best way to find that out is through experimenting. Of course, some research ahead of time wouldn't hurt, especially studying from your favorite artist, director, or studio would be a suitable start.
The visual style in Film
Everyone has a favorite movie that they will always go back to watch, no matter how many times they've seen it. Before you start watching that movie again, take some time to analyze it and break down what you liked about it. Here we'll cover a few examples of the noticeable style from different directors and keep in mind that we're only looking at one aspect of their creativity.
So let's begin this segment with Wes Anderson and his use of symmetry. We'll focus on this because it's the most noticeable for any casual watcher. Depending on your taste and creative background, symmetry may be something you want to avoid. For some, symmetry is often frowned upon, and many find it just being lazy. Is it, is the real question? Well, believe it or not, Wes Anderson is notorious for his symmetrical scenes and how he decides to use them. As you scroll through the examples below, imagine a line cutting through the middle of the picture, and you'll see just how symmetrical it is.
Wes Anderson isn't just known for his use of symmetry but also for his colors and his strange sense of humor. To take a deeper dive, here's a great video to watch from Studio Binder to learn more about the thinking behind his creativity.
Moving onto another interesting director is Tim Burton. At first glance, his film has a dark and gothic look. Movies like Edward Scissor Heads,TheNightmare Before Christmas, and Sleepy Hollow share similar colors and darker tones.
For Tim Burton, we're merely focusing on his choice of colors but as you watch the three different trailer you'll notice other elements that may pop out. One example would be his influence on how the characters and environments look throughout his films. If you're interested in for a more in-depth look at his directing style, take look at this video!
On a more comical side, Michael Bay has been known for some interesting choices and calls when he directs his films, but we'll be specifically focusing on his excessive use of explosions. The explosions were so noticeable that people have made parodies of them for different movies to show how unnecessary they are in his films. Whether you love it or hate it, it doesn't matter because this is just what fits his creative vision.
For each director, there is more to how they direct their films and how they discovered what ultimately works best for their creative storytelling. If you ever have doubts about your ideas, remember someone was willing to fund a series of movies with killer sharks coming out of a tornado.
The Visual Style in Animations and Video Games
Much like movies, video games and animation will go through a similar process of mixing all of the elements mentioned before to create something unique. Of course, they all have their respective challenge and obstacles to overcome to reach the final product and make sure it stands out enough to engage with their audience. With that said, both animations and video games can exaggerate their characters and setting to emphasize the stories they want to tell. So going through the examples below, I would encourage you to take some mental notes on what sticks out to you, whether that's the characters, the environments, the lighting, the colors, or whatever else.
Understanding the Market
Find out what's your favorite genre, whether that's science fiction, horror, fantasy, romance, and the list goes on until you find what interests you the most. It is critical for several reasons. The first is that this gives you a foundation to start researching what has done well and what hasn't. The second is reading the reviews from the audience and how they felt about it. When it comes to reviews and critics, look to the ones that give you a breakdown of why they reviewed the way they did. Leading down to our third reason, that's you taking it apart, writing down some notes, and formulating how you could do it differently and maybe even do it better.
Looking for styles
As a creative individual, inspiration can come from anywhere, and I mean anywhere!
Websites like Artstation and Behance are excellent to find professionals, highly talented artists, art directors, and visual storytellers. It also means it's the perfect spot for you to do some digging to see all the colorful styles that would stick out to you.
Streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, etc., are great places to look for references. This one takes a little more time since you would need to watch the content through to understand the work and give it a chance to shine. In the case that it doesn't, write down why it didn't work for you and how you would change that.
Another great spot is your local library or bookstores. Go in and open up a book on specific genres you like. Like anything else, you would need to give it time and think about what caught your attention in the first place. Is it the cover, the introduction, the story, or something else? Whatever it is, take notes of it to reference it later.
your own style
If it wasn't clear already, let me tell you, it's all going to take a lot of time and experimenting to see what works for you. Use this blog as a guide to figure it out and how to go about doing it. Every artist and creative thinker struggle with finding their style. So look into the genres you like the most, research what has and hasn't been successful and make notes for the future. Do your homework and connect with people in the same boat as you are, or find someone online to talk to who has experience. After that, it's an ongoing experiment, showing it off to your friends and family, getting quality feedback, and then repeating it all over again. It's all about having patience and learning to work with your process and not against it.
Why is it important?
Why does any of this matter, and why you should care! It's all about identity and branding for everything you will do and want to do in your creative career. As you grow, your followers and supporters have something to stand behind as you grow and adapt to how the world of storytelling is shifting back and forth. It is crucial to remain sharp and vigilant at what you do because of the people that enjoy your work. It's also important to them, believe it or not.
It's the same for a business and establishing a brand identity. Your customers, supporters, and followers have something they can regularly expect from you and still enjoy the work.
It is a lot to take in, and you shouldn't try to get it done overnight. So be patient, enjoy the journey and have fun because it'll be worth it in the end.