Monday, 8 September 2014

New Blog Reminder

Just another reminder that my main blog is now here, where I'll hopefully be posting a bit more:

(you can follow by adding the url to your reading list)

And my portfolio can be found here:

Friday, 25 October 2013

New Blog for Third Year

We've been instructed to create a new blog for third year, so here it is, please follow as I doubt I'll post here much! (Also Blogger is terrible so if the Follow button doesn't appear along the right then try it in a different browser or moan about it to me and I'll change it, I care about stuff like this far too much).

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Uni Tomorrow, At Last

It's been a surprisingly long summer, and like most people, I didn't do as much as I had hoped, but I'm still pleased with what I did do. I learnt a lot about composition, 3 point perspective and being more loose and imaginative with my environments, as well as stuff like refining digital images better (vignettes, grain and colour filters are a blessing when used smartly, not liberally).

This is a traditional drawing that I'm very pleased with how it turned out. I started it two years ago and then pretty much didn't touch it until a month ago over summer, then finished it in around a week. It's the largest traditional drawing I've done; 16" x 22", of model Allison Harvard. Mercedes Helnwein's works were a large inspiration, as I've been a fan of her rendering ever since I first saw her work. My only regret with the image is the grain of the paper spoils the rendering in areas, lessening the chiaroscuro.


Some more random sketches, alongside stuff for my FMP. My favourite idea so far is definitely a Studio Ghibli/Imperial Boy inspired city in the sea. This idea is also helping me to improve my perspective and ability to render depth and liveliness in images.

Over summer I did try to complete my backlog of games; I kept buying cheap games and bundles, because, well, I like games! They all added up though and kept distracting me last year, so I hope by blitzing through them this summer I can not be distracted as much in my third year. I also did the other social stuff, like meeting up with friends, frequent bike rides and such.
I managed to complete over the summer the following games, complete with a brief (hopefully artistically relevant) review of what I thought of them:

Runner 2 - Fantastic art style and soundtrack, humorous yet uninteruptive story and addictive gameplay, not much more to be said.
Bastion - Far better than what I anticipated, beautifully told story and great gameplay and soundtrack.
Bioshock - Probably good graphics for it's time, far more impressed by the non-linear environments and varied combat though. Story was also smart and interesting.
The Bridge - Super-indie and pretentious game very reminiscent of Braid, but incredibly well designed and hand-drawn puzzles that never made me feel too smart or too dumb; complete with vague open-ended story (I like stuff like that).
Crysis 2 - Fantastic use of engine, considering the textures and models seemed inferior to its predecessor. Combat was also just as good but the story was rather boring.
Dark Fall: Lost Souls - Nicely pre-rendered environments & atmosphere for a point 'n click, but story, voice acting and objectives were all too downright bad or vague to fully enjoy without needing a walkthrough.
Dead Space 3 - Gorgeous atmosphere in the space levels, and good graphics and presentation overall, a decent game in its own right, but when compared with the original Dead Space, and even Dead Space 2, a massive let down for fans of horror and immersion; tried to appeal to all the wrong audiences.
Far Cry 3 - Blood Dragon - Far more than just a cliche 80's video game re-skin; great story and new locations make it well worth the money, especially if you never played Far Cry 3.
GTA III & Vice City - Kind of felt obligated to play these with the release of GTA V being imminent at the time, having started my GTA career with San Andreas. Still impressed me even with their old age, despite the extremely unforgiving AI and bad luck that often befell me.
Lone Survivor - Despite the awkward controls and retro-esque (and not in a good way) visuals, a surprisingly immersive game, with the atmosphere and story greatly helped by the audio. Not many games get me genuinely attached to characters, as I did when i befriended a cat I named Sunny; the only other sane life in a zombie infested city.
Max Payne 1 & 2 - Like GTA, I felt obligated to play these after completing Max Payne 3. Fantastic noir storytelling, more-so in 1 than 2, and great gameplay and attention to detail, more-so in 2 than 1. Great graphics for their time, with level design that's sadly rarely seen nowadays. Remedy are definitely a company that has never let me down.
Medal of Honor (2010) - Probably one of the worst games I've willingly played. Abuses every single trope and cliche of modern gaming - story, audio, gameplay; everything. Also very glitchy for a big budget release, incredibly short (not even 4 hours) and generally very boring, although it did have some occasionally redeeming qualities about it.
Remember Me - This got a lot of hate for its linear gameplay and awkward fighting controls (although I thought the combo system was actually pretty fresh), but the art direction, graphics and audio were all fantastic, definitely a more enjoyable game if you're an art student.
Scratches - Another horror point 'n click with nice pre-rendered locations, but definitely not scary enough. The puzzles and story line were interesting though.
Slender - The Arrival - A major overhaul/remake of the popular indie horror Slender; short with a forgettable story, but very immersive, with nice environments, atmosphere, audio and tension.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP - Wanted to hate this because of the pretentious writing and next to no effort from porting from iOS, but ended up enjoying a lot of aspects, such as the environments (running theme here), soundtrack and story.

So that's it for all the games I completed over summer. Part of my OCD wants me to mini reviews like this for every game I've ever played, but I don't really have time for that right now, got a rooftop project to be doing! I'm glad visual design and game production merge into one this year, it's less jarring when you have to switch between two vastly different projects over and over again over small time spans.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Random Notes I Thought I'd Type Up

So I've had a load of notes lying around from various lectures and demo's for a while now and being the clean-freak I am I thought I'd write them up so I can finally chuck them away without feeling like I'll lose that information forever (even though I've memorized most of it).

It's gonna be pretty random stuff so I'll try group it as best I can.

Handy 3DS Max Keyboard Shortcuts (the ones I use the most anyway):
1 - Vertex Selection
2 - Edge Selection
3 - Border Selection
4 - Polygon Selection
5 - Element Selection
Q - Selection Tool
W - Move Tool
E - Rotate Tool
R - Scale Tool
M - Material Editor
H - List of objects in the scene
P - Perspective Mode
U - Orthographic Mode
Alt + W - Fullscreen/Collapse the current viewport
Alt + X - Display see-through toggle
Ctrl + Z - Undo
Alt + MouseWhl Clickdrag - Rotate around object selected
Alt, Ctrl + MouseWhl Clickdrag - Smooth Zoom
Z - Snap zoom to selection
Space Bar - Lock/Unlock (pretty useless, but if 3DS Max has seemingly froze, you probably pressed this)
F1 - Help
F2 - Toggle Shaded Faces
F3 - Wireframe
F4 - Edged Faces
In UVUnwrap Freeform:
Ctrl + Dragging a corner - Scale in proportion
Ctrl + Dragging the rotate icon - Snap to angle

Also remember to prioritize polygons; if the budget is tight only used what is essential to structure or the silhouette, and remember that smoothing groups are your friend when used right!

Quick Basics on Composition:
Composition is arranging various elements of a picture into a pleasing manner.
The most important basics to remember on composition comes down to the following things:
Line - How the eye will be influenced to move around the image.
Shape - What is created by the positive and negative elements interacting, repeated geometry etc.
Colour - How colour is used; greyscale, complimentary, gradients, chaotic etc.
Texture - Affects the mood of the image, e.g. soft textures with smooth colours/rough textures with harsh contrasting lighting.
Form & Value - The depth of the image, how the lighting and values affects the ability to detect 3D space.
Space - The use of positive and negative space, e.g. a low horizon line with a cloudless sky conveys a sense of emptiness within the landscape.
Framing - using objects within the scene to frame other objects, another way of showing depth and scale.

Other things to remember include stuff such as: 
The difference between organic and constructed objects - organic tends to be very chaotic whereas constructed is more formulaic and ordered.
Using differential focus and depth of field to draw focus to a particular person or object in a scene. The Rule of Thirds and Fibonacci Sequence also allow a more subtle approach to this.

Rules on Vehicle Design:
Functionality should always comes before form; it doesn't matter how interesting the aesthetics may be, if it doesn't look like it should work in real life, or at least within the confines of the Universe it's set in, then a large level of immersion is lost. For example, a plane's body is always placed above or below one long wing piece. The wings are what keep the plane up and one solid piece is stronger than having two bolted on either side of the body.
A similar point is that it should have a believable and noticeable form of propulsion or movement, with some indication of an engine of some kind powering the vehicle.
The primary function of a vehicle should easily be reflected in its design. If it has been designed with the common intent to carry someone from A to B as effectively as possible, but later kitted out for protection against a zombie invasion say, then it should look like its been shoddily made into a defensive vehicle, not as though the occupiers had prepared for it in advance (unless of course they had, in which case we shouldn't really be mocking them).
Design/Character/Story should be added afterwards through things like weathered effects, stickers, vinyls etc.

Documentations & Presentations
Things to remember:
A plan of action so you always know what you're doing. (Time management)
What the limitations of the brief/hardware are and how the art style and assets are affected by it (e.g. why 90% of games on the Wii have a strong focus on art direction and simplistic detail; the hardware isn't good enough for high-poly/texture assets).

A strong pitch consists of  a good mix of words and pictures, but leaning more towards pictures as this is a visual topic and therefore the easiest way of sharing your idea clearly. A strong opening is important too to grasp the audience and their interest, which should be followed by a clear and strong explanation to sell it to them. Backing up claims with stats and reliable information is also key.
Also have more than one idea to show you're open to variation, but keep it concise (6-10 slides).

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Summer Stuff and Year 3

Well we're pretty far into Summer now so I guess I'll post a catch-up kinda thing. I got into Third Year (yay) with a 2:2 (not so yay), and was just over a percentage off of a 2:1, which was pretty annoying, but then I learned that Second Year only counts for about 20 or 30% of the final grade, which means if I push myself to my absolute artistic limits in Third Year, which I'm going to do anyway, I can still walk away with a good mark. I know at the end of the day it's your portfolio and attitude that ultimately sells you, but I'd still like to aim for a high a grade as possible, because why limit yourself?
Without further ado, here's some stuff I've been doing, it's not much yet because I've honestly been playing games quite a bit and catching up on games I fell behind on, and seeing friends and such. There's some quick sketches and not so quick sketches, and some more developed pieces and a few studies thrown in for good measure.

Most of these environmental pieces were to try get a grasp on 3 point perspective alongside composition ideas, and the latter images are the final results of that, mixed with some Studio Ghibli inspired art style and themes. I'm actually pretty pleased with the above image; I keep saying I won't try watercolours again every time I use them, but here I actually took my time with them, used a thinner brush and mixed some with markers and stuff. If I could alter it I'd try vary the colour of the buildings a bit more and make the shadows contrast a bit more, and also involve the tram a bit more with the mid-ground but ultimately it was a success for me.

Quick study of a still from the following video (2m in):
dark mid-tones are something I have a hard time leveling out still (mainly the trees).

And lastly, I hopped on the bandwagon and did some Google Maps studies like everyone else.

I also have a portfolio website now! It's pretty basic at the moment, with not much work on there, but it can all be placeholder for now while I work on stuff over the Summer to gradually place in.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Why I think Halo 3's 'The Pit' is the best multiplayer map ever created

Arena shooters, such as Quake, Unreal and Halo as a more modern example all focus heavily on the map design and how it compliments the gameplay. The common trend with shooters at the moment however seems to be more class based, and even more so player-level based, meaning the more time you invest the more stuff you get. This is what makes map control change, as it's no longer for weapons that spawn, more about running around trying to find the next guy to kill. So, instead of talking about current level design for multiplayer shooters, which I don't have a familiar enough grasp on yet (because running around a map for 10 minutes trading kills isn't my idea of fun) I'm going to be discussing the map design behind more arena based shooters - that is to say ones that I personally feel are far better designed as they had ensure the player enjoyed the map a lot, to compensate for the lack of unlockable content seen in the average modern shooter nowadays. As you may have probably expected, the franchise I'm going to use as an example is Halo, and analyse and compare my personal favourite map of all time, 'The Pit' with a Halo 4 map, 'Complex'. Now before I take apart these maps, I'm going to start by saying it will be a comparison of what to do and what not to do with map design, as these maps are almost polar opposites in terms of fun-factor and clever design. I played Halo 3 for around 3 years solid, at least 3 or 4 times a week average, for probably at least 3 hours a day. According to, I've played on The Pit 644 times, at least (I had other accounts on Halo 3 as well). After all that, I still never got bored of it; I had the same team-based strategy on that map for 3 years, and never got bored of it, simply because the map was so perfectly designed. Within 3 matches of playing on Complex on Halo 4, I decided the map was terrible, not fun and poorly designed with no real flow to it at all.

Now the reason why I believe The Pit and many other arena based shooter maps are great is oddly because of the lack of depth to the unlock systems, as mentioned earlier. I can't really think of a multiplayer shooter that has a vast weapon/item/aesthetic unlock system, that also has a respectable amount of great maps. Developers seem to focus on one or the other. Now Halo 3 is an arena shooter, so no gameplay altering unlocks - at the start of every match every player is at an equal level (excluding personal skill). The weapons and items within the game itself are placed at certain areas of the map, and over time players learn where on the map they are, and how long they take to respawn. This means the map already has a natural flow to it - the players are trying to get to these 'power weapons' and ensure they have the upper hand for their team. Alongside this natural flow, are the choke points and vantage points of the map. Throughout the course of a standard team match, either purposely by the players will or because of flow of the match, players transition through these gameplay highlights and give the match meaning; players will move to areas of importance when the time is right and slow the pace when they need breathing room. Of course every player has free will, they can do what they want within the confines of the game, but because of the way the map has been designed, they will often find themselves back in the action and natural flow of the game. Now I will quickly add that adding a sprint function (in my opinion) can easily break the natural flow of any map. It's used just to get to and away from the action and not much else. It serves as a cheap escape tactic when you bite off more than you can chew in a firefight, and consequently level designers need to make the map almost twice as big to accommodate the sprint function. I've never felt Halo 3 needed sprint because the movement speed was already nice and speedy, and you played more cautiously because you knew you couldn't just run away. The maps also stayed a nice comfortable size and didn't feel over-sized just to compensate the distance sprint can cover.
The Pit is a 'training facility' according to its description - it's little back-story is that Marines would train there for combat preparation. When it's not being used for that, it's a cargo bay. Now, this design choice probably came into play during the maps development, or before it. Whatever the case, in the maps earliest stages, it needs to play well - it needs to be enjoyable. Much like a painting, if the first few stages aren't right, the final product never will be. Now right from the get go, the idea of a training facility is a strong one, as the story behind the map is also combat based. This works stronger than if it were say, a town centre; that doesn't sound like it would play particularly well.

Even in this early concept art from Bungie, you can see how heavy the focus was on combat training and flow (such as the naming of the bases, and arrows on the floor).

Before the map is even textured or had small details added in 3D, it needs to be play tested. For multiplayer maps, 'how pretty it is' should be one of the least important aspects of it. If you were to remove all the textures and unnecessary 3D areas on The Pit, you would still be able to assume that its some kind of man made facility with a focus on on-foot movement and combat training, because of its design - it has a few levels accessed via ramps and lifts, long lines of sights from high areas and corners with raised walls for cover.
For arena shooters, these sort of features should be mandatory on multiplayer maps; the map should be reasonably sized for how many people are on it, it should have areas that work well for concentrated fighting and areas that are good to fall back to. These sort of things come about during concepting and whiteboxing, but can only be properly tested within the game itself. This is where Bungie succeeded immensely on The Pit, and 343i failed immensely on Complex.

In this crudely annotated diagram of The Pit, I'll try explain some of the key areas of the map, and why they work so well. The map is symmetrical, so I've only annotated one side. Being symmetrical is automatically a bonus point, as this ensures for team based games, both teams start in the exact same position, mirrored. While asymmetrical maps can be balanced well to compensate the asymmetry, I feel symmetrical is always a strong starting point. The red blob is where the team starts. For most high-level 4v4 team based games, the initial 'rush' at the start of a match would be: one or two players head towards (1) and (3) respectively, and the other two players go towards (5) and (6). This is because this is where all the power weapons spawn. Within the first 5 seconds of a match, we already have a natural flow to it - players trying to get the upper hand by ensuring they get the better weapons. The sniper rifle spawns below the tower at (1), and players would normally lift up to the top and try cover their teammates getting the Rocket Launcher at (6). This is a very good vantage point, especially with the sniper, as the arrows demonstrate that it has a huge line of sight across the map. However, this is obscured by the walls at (2), (3), (5) and (6), meaning that it isn't too much of a vantage point, balancing the map. The tunnels at (3), (5) and (6) are alternatives to getting to the other side of the map, but sacrifice cover. People can bank grenades off of the walls without compromising their own position. (2) is a good way to quickly traverse to the opponents side, but risks being shot at by whoever may be on the tower at (1). A good offensive team strategy would be to move the sniper to (3), giving them a good view of the opponents side of the map, and have the other three teammates push through (5) and (6), effectively forcing the opponents onto the open space below and on (4). Because of the design of the map, the team that co-ordinated themselves better get the upper hand and push the other team into the areas of the map that are more open and susceptible to being shot at.
The large walls separating a lot of the map also allow players breathing room. If their plan isn't going so well, they can fall back and recuperate in a safer area with ease. What's good about The Pit is that it has a lot of cover, but not so much that you're constantly bumping into walls and chasing people round corners. Any less and it would be too open, anymore and it would be too annoying. For example, the corner at (2). If that wasn't there it would be a flat platform with no cover - no player would risk running across that gap without anything to fall behind if they get shot.
The thing with shooters nowadays is the maps tend to follow a sort of racetrack kind of design - players run around the maps getting kills and continue running or backtracking - I don't often see people stopping and controlling an area with other members of their team. I can't recall the number of times I've sat, nervous, tied at 49-49 (first to 50) on The Pit in high ranking Team Slayer. Both teams would retreat to their sides, formulate a plan, and wait. These quiet moments are far more tense and enjoyable than desperately trying to rank up for the 45th time to get a new scope for my assault rifle. It's because of the way the map was designed - with a heavy focus on map control and weapon placement - that allows these sort of matches to occur. I get that most people would play FPS's to pass the time, and constant rewarding with level ups and unlocks helps maintain interest, but to me, having a game that's properly designed and allows for extremely fun and extremely tense matches captures my interest far more, as it's just so much more memorable.

Now this is Complex. A fitting name really, because it seems 343i tried to slam as much into this map as possible. Given that this map currently sits in the Team Slayer roster on Halo 4, it's fair to compare it to The Pit as they are both used for 4v4 or 5v5 team based gametypes. Already we can see that the map is huge for this; its probably around three and a half times bigger than The Pit. This could attributed to the fact that Halo 4 allows you to sprint, therefore allowing you to traverse the map faster. This seems to be the design behind every Halo 4 map, but it doesn't really work. Making the map this large, regardless of sprint, instantly messes up the flow of the map. Couple that with the fact Halo 4 doesn't really have traditional weapon spawns anymore means that the initial rush at the start of the map doesn't focus on certain areas, and the instant respawn means there are always going to be people on the map at all times - there's no breathing room.
This is a great example of how altering the gameplay inevitably means the map has to be designed to accommodate this change as well. The focus for this seems to be less for multiplayer gameplay, and more for visual flare. There's a lot of fancy geometry outside, and some nice lighting effects cast by the monitors inside - but if it doesn't play well, what's the point? Removing the textures for this map, You'd be able to tell that it's a man made structure sitting within nature. But it's kind of hard to tell that its a research facility, there's a lot of geometry that doesn't really lend itself to that too well. I also personally can't see how 343i could play test this map and say to themselves 'Yeah, this is a fun map, it plays well and the community will enjoy this'. It might work in a single player environment, as there are a lot of elements that lend themselves nicely for that - courtyards for skirmishes and interiors to fall back to - but in a multiplayer environment, no. 
Teams spawn at #1 and #8, and the match often ends up trying to control #4. Now this is admittedly a kind of natural flow, but the problem here is that #4 is too powerful of a vantage point. It allows you to see the entire map, excluding the interior areas. If a team has two or three players up there with decent aim, you're going to have a hard time getting anywhere. The only time I've felt the map played semi-decently was when the entire game was focused at #6, occasionally branching out to #5 and #7. This is one quarter of the map being used - all that extra space, it's not needed. The interior at #6 has a few corridors and ramps, with an open backyard area. Nothing too fancy, but it worked. Then you go outside and see a plethora of ramps, platforms, trees, rocks, all manner of things that clutter the map and at times even make the framerate struggle. 343i seem to have forgotten that simple is often better - hell Blood Gulch from Halo CE was just an oval shaped canyon, and it's iconic. A lot of the maps on Halo 4 look nice, yes, but they don't play that well, and the framerate occasionally dips. Even more annoying is that to save render time, they knocked back the time it takes for weapons to disappear once dropped. This is a terrible idea. What it means is that that Sniper you just picked up that could turn the tide of the match for your team, but you were then unfortunately picked off before putting it to good use, will disappear probably before you can get back to it. Why? Because no one was looking at it, the game engine decided it was unimportant and deleted it. That Sniper is now gone for a good 2 or 3 minutes before it reappears on the map, all because the maps are too engine demanding, and gameplay takes a hit because of it. It sounds weird coming from am Environment Artist, but gameplay should always come before visual design.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Importance of Composition

Composition is a crucial component of visual media. It's what is used in paintings, photos, film and I guess even professions such as architecture to create something visually pleasing to the viewer. Often these techniques will go unnoticed, but will still have an underlying effect on the viewer that makes them enjoy the scene presented to them regardless. 
Composition is essentially arranging various elements of a scene into a pleasing manner, or one that portrays the necessary effect you want. Such elements include line, shape, colour, texture, form, value and space. Arranging these elements properly is crucial for an artist to know, and such knowledge can be transferred into 3D work. Although when simply making game assets the compositional element is lost, the development of how that object came to be what it is isn't, and where it will sit in the final scene or level will be based on how your concept art conveyed it. Similarly, designing levels will also use the common principles of composition; how the player moves through the level, what their focus is drawn to and what works subtly etc.
Composition is one of the most crucial features of a painting alongside the technical skill that makes the painting work. Without it, you just have a scene that could be a still from a movie taken at the wrong time, and it just doesn't work. Likewise, using it wrong could portray a completely different effect to the one intended; as demonstrated in Michael Freeman's 'The Photographer's Eye': a photo using a low horizon line and shot landscape of a solitary boat at sea gives a sense of scale and solitude for the boat. Taking the same photograph portrait with a high horizon line distorts the effect of the image, and we're left with something that at first glance doesn't really look quite right; a boat clearly at sea, yes, but we don't know how far out it is or if there are more boats just out of frame.
I'm going to try use some terminology from this book and personal knowledge gained from lectures and such to annotate the following images, so forgive me if some terms aren't quite right, but hopefully I get across effectively what I know about the importance of composition.

While this render of Queen Myrrah from Gears of War 3 doesn't seem to have much going on, there are certain elements that help further identify the character beyond what is initially seen. Firstly, despite being female, who - pardon me if this sounds sexist - are more often seen as sex symbols rather than symbols of power and dominance, she still exerts a sense of fear and threat. Her restricted colour palette and backlit figure helps increase her threat level, as does her stance. The shape of her armour pieces are also large and clunky, again contradicting her curvy female figure, thus altering her silhouette from a less intimidating cliche sexy-female-game-character pose to one that evokes much more power and threat.

As a game artist it's crucial to be able to convey certain features or characteristics or feelings in a painting to the viewer so they know what should be going on in that scene. In these two pieces of concept art for Halo 3: ODST, it shows what is occurring at night and what occurred earlier that day. This is a crucial part of the storytelling for the game, so it was important for the artists of the game to convey those two different feelings - lonely and lost in a mostly abandoned and wrecked city, and also pinned down and against the odds, but with support from your fellow marines to help you push  forward and conquer the enemies. These two feelings are helped by various compositional elements such as the colour palette in the top image and the framing of infantry in the bottom.

I apologise here as I am now going to use a barrage of stills mostly from the opening of my favourite film, 'Paris, Texas' to demonstrate brilliant use of composition. After seeing the opening again in my lecture on Thursday I was reminded of how incredible it is, how Wim Wender's used the shots the way that he did. As my lecturer mentioned, you notice new things and techniques on subsequent watches that you may not have noticed the first time round, and indeed I did on Thursday. There will be some spoilers, so if you haven't seen this stunning film yet, please go do so now.

In these two shots from the very opening of the film, we see the protagonist wander into centre frame, in the middle of this barren desert. To exacerbate this sense of isolation, a very high horizon line is used to give a sense of scale and show the viewer straightaway how lost this man really is, which again works as a reflection of the protagonist himself. He looks up at an eagle staring down on him, and a low horizon line is used to help increase the height this bird is at, and show how easy it can escape from the situation that this man is stuck in. The shot is slightly off centre to accompany the fact that nature is very random and chaotic.

In this shot very clever framing is used to make it appear as though the protagonists brother is more successful than he actually is, although at the time the viewer doesn't know this, but they know something isn't quite right with the shot.

And indeed in the next shot, it's revealed he works at a billboard company, and isn't in the scene we originally thought him to be. This technique admittedly isn't entirely useful for an artist, but it may come in handy for an illustrator.

This shot slightly follows the rule of thirds, and the 3:2 ratio (?) compliments the scene nicely. The use of colour is exceptionally well executed as well - the unnatural green lighting contrasts nicely with the late evening-lit sky. Couple this with the location of a gas station and the character's cup of coffee and tired appearance, and we are presented with a shot that works so well on many levels at conveying the mood expressed by the character.

Later, when the two brothers finally meet, Walt is shown driving off to the right into the horizon, and the next shot shows Travis coming from the left, and Walt follows shortly from the right and they literally cross paths. In the above shot, the camera is framed nicely by the man-made mailboxes that look out to a large mesa, allowing the viewer to gauge a sense of scale, helped by the vanishing horizon line. This makes the next shot appear very lucky; how these two characters crossed paths in this vastly empty land.
The below shot is also a great example of repeating shapes and how they are aesthetically pleasing. Throwing too many unique shapes at the viewer can be jarring, and by using repeating shapes, in this case lots of vertical and crossing lines, it can help ease the viewer into the scene more.

'What's out there Trav? There's nothing out there.'

These two shots pretty much speak for themselves - a textbook example of a vanishing point and the horizon line, probably in their most cliche form. But what is key is how it's used within the scope of the film. We see the train tracks from two different perspectives, but both trailing off into nothing (at least the viewer sees nothing). The accompanies Walt's rather depressing metaphor of life, Travis came from nowhere, and in his current state, he's going nowhere.

Another gorgeous shot that reflects Walt's feeling of helplessness in the film - at this point he is with his brother, but Travis refuses to speak, and is generally being a bother to Walt more than a relief. the pathetic fallacy of the weather correlates with Walt's feelings, as does the blurred lighting and framing. The use of contre-jour could also symbolise that there's light at the end of the tunnel.

The slightly canted angle and low light used here symbolise how Travis is mentally broken at this point; he's still getting used to being back in contact with people again after 4 years of isolation, and he can't sleep, so he cleans clothes and shoes to pass the time.

Another nice use of the golden ratio, with a slight low angle used to bring out the shape of the abandoned truck a little more. The use of negative space here is well done as the sky is clear with a near perfect gradient, which looks very effective in this scene, as opposed to if the space would be cluttered with clouds.

A subtle shot that I only just picked up on, but it effectively shows how you can convey feelings with even the most mundane of things, even the feet. by themselves. From left to right, Hunter's feet are tapping away, he's only a child and is very hyper and more active than anyone else. Anne is clearly nervous at Travis meeting Hunter again, shown by her rubbing her leg. Travis, still rather uncomfortable at the thought of being back in civilization is sitting rather awkward and upright, and Walt actually seems rather calm and at ease - he's probably just relieved to be back home.

Skipping straight to the end of the film for two last shots (I could annotate this film shot by shot if I wanted to, but that's not in the best interest of my time), here we see Travis confronting his wife properly for the first time in 4 years, and probably my favourite scene in all of cinema. The way it is composed is truly incredible - the slow editing and drawn out scenes really help improve the emotions that Jane is going through, and the way her character deteriorates through the scene is fantastic. What I love about the above shot, and the scene, is how purposeful Travis composes himself. He knows what he's about to do, and conducts himself appropriately. The choice of him facing away from her, even though the glass is one-way, is one of true caliber, which demonstrates to the viewer just how much Travis cares for this woman, so much so he literally doesn't want to see her breaking down. The dark lighting on his face also mimics his dark past that he is revealing to her, and her innocence is shown by the warm lighting.
The below shot again speaks for itself - expertly constructed - Travis literally seeing himself in Jane; he is ashamed of what he's done to her and this room works almost like a confession booth to him. The differential focus also shifts our focus to the reflection but it doesn't shove it in our face like modern cinema probably would.

I'll finish with some stills from the outro to Parkway Drive's 'Home is for the Heartless' DVD of their world tour, featuring some gorgeous shots demonstrating some great uses contre-jour, silhouettes & shape, framing & colour.