Creating an Engaging Narrative in the form of Visual Storytelling

Creating an Engaging Narrative in the form of Visual Storytelling

Rasmus shares insights into a graduate project at University for the Creative Arts, and the art of visual storytelling.

Since the age of 10, Rasmus Ross has been captivated by Flash animations and games online. These experiences have been its biggest inspirations, leading it to explore digital art as a drawing medium. During its A-Level years, it realised its passion for the game-making industry, and has now completed a degree in Games Arts at University for the Creative Arts. In this article Rasmus shares details of its graduate project, and how to create an engaging narrative in the form of visual storytelling.



As a teenager, I was engrossed in the online art realm, taking inspiration from Flash animations and gameplay videos. Having a passion for storytelling and sequential art, I have always wanted to create and share stories for others to read. As I grew up, I realised that I wanted to take this seriously and pursue a career in the creatives. This led to me choosing Games Arts as a degree at the University for the Creative Arts.

I had previously made attempts to make sequential art in the form of digital comics but found the process hard to maintain. Despite this, I continued to experiment with alternative methods to achieve my goal.

The main motivator for choosing to do Games Arts as a degree was my strong interest in character design. I wanted to improve on my skills and create even better designs for characters to stand out in the media I create. This article aims to explain what I did for my Final Major Project as I took personal work and continued it as a university project.

Ideas and Inspirations

Escapism started as a rough concept back in 2021 after writing notes from a dream. At the time I had no intention of creating a full story with these concepts, but since then I have had occasional ideas pop up which eventually came together during July of 2023 after the r/place event occurred on Reddit.

What started as a fun activity to pass time gradually became serious as protest art was being vandalised by live streamers who ignored the significance of the art piece. I wanted to help keep the art intact to keep the message visible to all. This resulted in finding group chats where like-minded people discussed strategies and formed alliances with other groups to help each other out if vandalism spread.

The event lasted 5 days, and I was able to reach out to many users during this time. Although now it seems insignificant and ridiculous to call it an important memory, the event still stuck out to me days and months after it ended. I took these thoughts intending to make something out of them and looked back at the character designs I had made prior.

I had previously made Visual Novels as a way to tell a story, and so this time I wanted to try something different. I still found the idea of digital comics appealing, but as I had struggled to keep a consistent cycle, I tried a different method where I would write in the form of a novel and draw illustrations for significant events in each chapter.

Escapism revolves around an MMO where players would join a guild and strategise on ways to defend their current territory, infiltrate, and claim other guild land. The methods used are up to the players themselves, and tactics would be discussed in guild forum boards. The battling side of this game was inspired by Foxhole, as I learned about the game during the r/place event as the protest art team allied with theirs.

The writing style takes inspiration from webseries like Homestuck and 17776 / 20020, in which there was a mix between narrative text and conversations both online and offline.

I wanted to focus on ‘guild leaders’; players who acted as directors for their guild, and how their in-game lives impact their lives in the real world. With how popular the game is, its important to keep their identities hidden.


Escapism has been a story developed in my own time. During the first term of my final year, I was making concepts for an entirely different project. It was recommended to me by my tutors that I take this project into my second term as it would benefit me from doing repeated concept art.

For any other project, you would typically start from the ground up when it comes to ideas. However, as I already had developed ideas and character designs, I initially struggled to come up with new designs for my protagonists but broke out of this mindset when it came to their avatars.

I wanted to create character reference sheets that I could easily reference using the skills I have learned from university. This involved a clear front and back view, and to give more insight into the character I also included items they used in their day-to-day lives. The settings these characters have mirror our world, and so I chose items, for example, phone brands and headphones that would match their lifestyle.

Using a 3D Model is the best way to maintain consistency. If you use Clip Studio Paint, you are given resources from the software itself and can download additional models from the asset store. I would recommend checking the store every week as new content is uploaded by users frequently, with some assets being released as free for a limited time before being locked behind a fee.

Clothing-wise, my main source of reference comes from Pinterest. The characters in this environment remark the sweltering climate, but some still prefer to wear long-sleeved clothing or layers as the temperature drastically changes when moving from indoor and outdoor spaces. The one downside that comes from using Pinterest is that it will end up keeping your algorithm thematically the same, so unless you have specific terms you want to look up, you could be trapped looking at the same rotation of clothing styles.

Tip: If you see something you find interesting, save it immediately!!

As the story is very character-focused, I also chose to make character expression sheets for the protagonists, choosing to do varied expressions that they would personally feel or react to when in certain situations. For characters that I had written to be mostly passive or neutral, I drew expressions in which they had no choice but to emotionally react.

I understood from feedback that the avatars’ initial designs were quite similar to one another, so to emphasise that they were avatars of different guild leaders, I went over their personalities and drew inspiration from animalistic features that represented them and their fighting capabilities.

There are many side characters in Escapism that I also wanted to have a proper reference sheet for. I took this opportunity to give them certain poses in their sheet so that I could still reflect their personalities without needing to create a full dedicated sheet for each of them.

One of three side character sheets

In the latter half of the term, I wanted to do full illustrations of the protagonists in scenes that would fit the story. These began as thumbnails that took inspiration from movie screenshots taken from Filmgrab, as I intended to replicate the cinematic feeling of these frames. After choosing certain thumbnails I liked, I redrew them as a sketch and painted over them in purely greyscale to make sure the values were correct, then used gradient maps to see what colours would fit the scenario best.

I wanted to push myself with these drawings, so I took time to look up 3D resources online through Sketchfab and assembled scenery in Blender, looking up tutorials when needed to get the right result.

Blender is a very powerful software with the bonus of it being completely free. It can be installed via Steam as well, which allows you to automatically update the application when new versions roll out. For one of my illustrations, I wanted to utilise a fish-eye lens to replicate the feeling of a peephole through a door. This would have taken a lot longer if I were to do this without the help of 3D, not to mention it being more accurate.

This series of illustrations also undertook lots of feedback during the blockout stages. Opinions from your peers can become a useful tool if you are willing to ask and will give you insight from a fresh set of eyes. It is your choice in the end if you decide to follow with their suggestions.

The results from these rendered pieces are something I am very proud of, and also reflect my progression when looking back at the time I have spent at UCA. I hope to improve further in the future!

Conclusion and Further Steps

The opportunity to take a personal project into serious development at university has been a great honour and motivates me day by day to improve my work. I hope to be able to bring these skills into the industry as a character designer and storyteller.

Although my time at UCA has ended, I will still be continuing Escapism as an online series. If you have read this far and are interested in how the story progresses, you can check it out here.

I hope that this article has helped encourage people to dive into the world of storytelling through art, it is a very important aspect of life and I would love to see more unique tales!

Reach out to Rasmus through his Rookies profile here.