Giuseppe’s Brush Set & the Making of Occultus Mediterranean Cabal

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free brushes for making video game art

This week’s free brush set is an extra special one created by digital artist Giuseppe di Girolamo. We’re fortunate to have him share both his brush set and the story of how he came to use SketchBook as part of his process for creating art for a new hidden object game, Occultus Mediterranean Cabal. You can download Giuseppe’s Brush Set and install it in SketchBook Pro for desktop, but before you start making art with these brushes, we encourage you to read a bit about how Giuseppe used these brushes to make video game assets. It’s a window into an artistic process you may not have ever considered.

The making of video game art

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Where do ideas for video games come from? Sometimes, they simply come out of a group of people sitting around sharing their supreme love of video games. Such was the case with Giuseppe di Girolamo and his friends Luca Alba, and Paolo Gallo, and Filippo M.Vela — together as Sylphe Labs. The four friends, each with a serious love of indie games, gathered together in Palermo in 2014 to share their know-how and work up an idea into a marketable game. Two years later and they’ve just released Occultus Mediterranean Cabal, a hidden-object game for PC/Mac. What’s especially interesting about this game is how it was developed. It’s a mix of 3D and 2D assets and artwork that uses SketchBook as a beautifying step in the process.

The process for this “Secret Backyard” level goes from basic polygonal shapes to textured brilliance to fine, hand-painted detail.

Their game-art process: 3D –> 2D

Originally, the team had thought the best way to approach the art of this game design would be to draw and paint every single asset, background, and character in the game as a  2D piece of art. They were intent on creating a uniform style that followed Giuseppe’s own style of art from a previous game he had made. But after trying out some early stages of the game prototype they built, they came to the conclusion that this process would lead to an insane amount of development time. The number of graphic assets would be absolutely enormous, so much so that creating them would overwhelm or slow down the actual creation of the game.

It’s not uncommon for developers to come to this kind of conclusion, and it’s the reason an initial working prototype is so important. Once you’ve proven to yourselves that the game mechanics work, you then have to divide and conquer as a team. You have to figure out how to break up the work of writing the code and designing the assets into manageable chunks. If you don’t balance the actual work equation among your team, you may collectively feel like you’re always waiting on that one person to finish their part.

One of the best things about creating a game like this is you can add spectacularly detailed art for players to discover like Easter eggs.
One of the best things about creating a game like this is that you can add spectacularly detailed art deep in the landscape for players to discover like Easter eggs.

Creating the artwork in stages

The team settled on an approach that would speed up production and allow them to have a unified look and feel that spread the work across the team to take advantage of each person’s skills. They pre-rendered backgrounds in 3D apps and then worked their way toward SketchBook for finishing. Here’s their process:

  • Connecting & 3D modeling: In the first step, Paolo created concept art of the game environments as a 3D model. In essence, he created the “rooms” where the gameplay would take place. He used Modo 3D, an app that some game developers use to create basic 3D renderings, and Z Brush, which lets you sculpt your 3D models and refine them. Giuseppe helped out with some of the textures in spots (e.g., marble church floors, leaded stained glass windows, paintings). The final result of this step can be flat and polygonal, but it might also have some added detail.
  • 3D Camera shot and lens simulation: In the second step, Filippo set the camera position and shot, as well as adding light sources. Game players view the rooms/levels in find-and-replace games from specific viewpoints, and Filippo’s job is to help make that space look realistic based on the chosen viewpoints. Sometimes that means adding shaders to smooth out polygonal edges or add visual effects to objects, which he did in Lightwave 3D. (For a nice introduction to shaders, check out this tutorial).
  • Digital painting: Finally, Giuseppe took over to enrich the scene with hand-drawn details. His friends jokingly liked to refer to this last rendering pass as the “Giuseppering” stage, which is a pretty wonderful name. Sounds like they had a lot of fun with this process. Finally, Luca put all of the graphic assets together inside Unity 3D using code he wrote to make it all come together.
One great thing about using 3D models as underpinning: You can very accurately simulate light that flows into these church windows.
One great thing about using 3D models as underpinning: You can very accurately simulate the light that flows into these church windows.

Why hand painting matters

Giuseppe felt strongly that the game should have a hand-painted look, and it’s hard not to agree with him. Hidden object games are strikingly similar in their basic objective. You scour a sometimes elaborately detailed painting/photo/illustration and uncover objects based on either clever clues or just plain can’t-stop-won’t-stop looking. What sets the best of these games apart is the artwork. Users will spend hours upon hours looking at every detail of art in these games, so the art style and its execution is a big part of their appeal. What probably makes this process especially rewarding is the amount of control you have over the composition of the scene combined with the ability to work and work the details until you absolutely love the final result.

Of course, that kind of re-working and layer-based fiddling is what makes digital painting tools so attractive. You can focus fully on your skills as a line artist, or you can indulge your love of a particular affect or come up with a completely unique stylization that gives your game a totally unique appeal. For this game, Giuseppe created a special brush set that he used for things like drawing vegetation to save him time and make the work feel like it was being done on actual canvas with traditional paint.

hand painting 3D models
The three-stage process at work: Basic 3D shapes, followed by texturing and smoothing, followed by all the detailed “findable” objects.

The final result

The hard work of these four friends has been realized. The game was published by Anuman/Microids and recently offered for sale by BigFish, a well-know provider of find-and-replace games. You can buy a copy of Occultus Mediterranean Cabal on your Mac or PC or take a level out for a spin with a free trial. (Note: On the day of publishing this post there is a special 70% off sale!). You’ll soon also be able to get it on iOS and Android. When you download and play this game, don’t just think about it as a story of a missing Italian grandfather. While you’re running your eyes over all the details of these 60 locations, 20 mini games, and dozens of close-up scenes, stop and take a moment to think about how what you’re looking at went from conception to completion.

cat gif
One of our favorite details of the game — this dozing cat.

It’s clear that a real love of drawing and painting went into this game, and we’re thrilled to have Giuseppe and team share their story and artwork with us. We love both looking at and hearing about the details. Check out the video trailer for a quick look at the look and feel of the game:

Giuseppe’s Brush Set

This brush set has a ton of great options. The pencil is a grease pencil, 4B, very rough (like Disney); it’s perfect for sketching. He includes a soft dirty rubber, which mimics the traditional rubber used on rough paper. Graphite, widely used in school, allows you to create noisy and blurred drafts. It’s ideal for chiaroscuro sketches and illustrations. The smudge brush he included has a particular texture that simulates the surface of the canvas or a rough sheet. You’ll also find a ballpoint pen, a synthetic and standard brush, and a brush just for making fur. He also includes a series of foliage and flower brushes that he used extensively when creating the artwork for the game (e.g., jasmine and bougainvillea found in the Secret Backyard level).  And finally, a few texture brushes that Giuseppe tells us saved his life several times. It’s already one of our favorite sets ever. He even made the gorgeous brush icon art! If you like this set, please don’t hesitate to check out his blog and perhaps even say “grazie” on Twitter — or better yet help support his work by grabbing a copy of Occultus Mediterranean Cabal.

Installing the brush sets

Being able to share and install these weekly free brush sets in the desktop app is one of the features for SketchBook subscribers. If you’re using the latest desktop version of SketchBook, simply double click on the .skbrushes file, and it will automatically install. Check out this article for all the details about brushes and legacy versions. If you haven’t tried the subscription, you can download a free trial and unlock Pro membership for 15 days (no credit card required).