Kollective Learning Ep 02 : Art Direction Part 2 - Linear vs Non Linear Inspiration

General / 18 January 2018

Hello there!

In this segment of the Art DIrection series; i'd like to bring up the topic of image referencing and inspiration gathering techniques that you would embark on before creating a design. This could be during the earlt brain storming Phase or even during later Stages of the Design. I will share my  mindset to have when approaching this and show an example of them in action.

The classic reference or mood board has a series of images that inspire an artist to take it to the next stage of the creative process; but it is also used to inform and communicate the ideas that are in the creative's head before they start executing the design. 

Here is an example I created for one of my previous projects - and using the pureref software to compile it.


In this example- my goal was to find interesting references for a retro diving suit and to combine it with a plated knight armor. By scouring through pinterest boards, Google images and even Artstation- I hand selected these images that I personally felt would be cool on my design. 


The downside of this approach was that my angle of research was very linear; as well as shallow. I was relying purely on instinct and current tastes to dictate my selection of references.

So, in light of this situation- i've developed two mindsets to adopt when tackling the challenge of creating useful references.

The methods are

1) Linear or DIrect References

2) Non Linear or In-Direct References

1) Linear Referencing

Linear references are visual and descriptive information that provide direct information of how a design should look like. These references reflect the real world and are there to assist the believability of your design.

- Linear references are images that help you lock the laws of the universe you are designing for.

- Images that help solify and make believable the world that you are designing for.

- help inform you on missing details and minute elements that are present in the real world.

Example- for the Diving Knight suit; a more appropriate linear reference would be images that explained the construction of the suit.

2) Non- Linear Referencing

Non-linear references are visual and emotional information that help guide the subtext or hidden meaning of your designs. These references can be in-direct in terms of the realm, world or subject- as the core purpose is to evoke a certain psycological feeling.

- Non linear references target human emotions, the end feeling of your audience.

- focuses more on subjective terms like personality, character and meaning.

Example- for the Diving Knight suit; a more appropriate non- linear reference would be something that evokes the feeling and mood of the intended design. in this case; a sense of weaponized pride and purposefulness- as well the pursue of intellect and ability versus size and strength.

you can view the final artwork for the Dive knight design in the link below



Hannibal Lecter Design from the 1991 film - The SIlence of the Lambs; Directed by Jonathan Demme

production still from the film

The character of Dr. Lecter from the above mentioned film was portrayed mastefully by Sir Anthony Hopkins- a calculative, scheming and violently unpredictable serial killer who had a taste for manipulation and human flesh.

Now- if we were to reverse engineer this design; we can start to unpack it into to sets of visual references or moodboards. One being Linear references, and the other Non-Linear references.

Linear references for this character design would be images that help explain his visible physical conditions- things that we can see and understand immediately to make him plausible as a real character. 

- his age, body type, built

- his current outfit choice

- timeline and world that he resides in

- his occupation (in this case, an imate in a maximum security criminal asylum)

example of a Linear reference sheet for the character design

These references are incredibly useful to solidify the position of him in the world we are trying to sell to the audience; it also allows us to understand where he is currently in the timeline of the story. 

However; there is still little or no information on the personality and character of Hannibal in any of these references.

For that- we'll have to look deeper into the symbolism of his character. 

In the Film, the protagonist Clarice Starling- played by Jodie Foster; must interview Hannibal- with hopes of him shedding some light on the psycological profile of an unknown serial killer. Doing so- she exposes herself mentally to Hannibal's mind games. Exchanging stories of her troubled childhood and vulnerability for his insight.

The relationship could be symbolized as a modern telling of Adam & Eve and the Forbidden Fruit. Where Clarice (Eve) who wants information (Fruit of knowledge) by confronting Hannibal (The Snake).

Hannibal's entire movements, acting, personality derives from the calculate and predatorial movements of a snake. Not just a snake in the biological sense- but more importantly in the emotional sense. Most people are afraid if not cautious and respectful of a snake. Tapping into this universal psyche; portraying these elements in the demeanor of the character Hannibal creates a human character that undoubtly feels predatory.

Now compared to other portrayals of Hannibal in the later films and Television series- there is a much different emotional language being expressed. I would digress that although these renditions of the designs were suited for their respective story arcs and media formats- in my opinion, they did not have the same design purity as the one portrayed in The Silence of the Lambs.

Gaspard Ulliel from Hannibal Rising 2007  and Mads Mikkelson from Hannibal TV Series 2013-15

In Resolution,

I believe that good designs- irrespective of medium, formats or styles; should evoke both linear visual ques and non-linear visual ques to be succesful. 

Moving forward- it'll be interestings to see what design posiblities when you take this approach to designing and establishing Art Directions.


and thank you so much for taking the time to read this!