Arranged Realism – Art in Games

Terrarium – vr artwork by Durk van der Meer

Visual arts are a key element within the game industry. Many artists are involved in making art specifically for virtual worlds, from drawing blades of grass, to determining the position of the sun. Every detail for the creation of game worlds is devised by a team of designers and artists. The exhibit Arranged Realism – Art in Games at Museum Belvédère in Heerenveen (9 October – 23 January 2022) shows the amount of detail in virtual worlds, how they are developed and, most of all, how they make us enjoy ourselves for hours in these worlds. Visitor info.

Game art from Dear Esther (picture: Cor Pot)

You can compare the making of a good game to a movie production. For years now, the game industry has been larger than the movie and music industry combined. In 2020 the number of active game players worldwide grew to 2,7 billion. The Netherlands plays an important part in this, both in players and creators. Amsterdam based game studio Guerrilla won prestigious awards for their game Horizon Zero Dawn, such as a Gouden Kalf (2017) and a Bafta (2018).

Ruins of the old ones – Horizon Zero Dawn

Exhibit Arranged Realism shows works and worlds in virtual reality, 3D-prints of game artefacts, interactive installations, game dioramas and concept art by the best digital painters in the world. Visitors can admire art from games such as Horizon Zero Dawn (2018, Guerrilla), Fallout 4 (2015, Bethesda Games), Desperados III (Mimimi Games) and Dishonored 2 (2016, Arkane Studios). Downright spectacular and never seen before are two entire game scenes that have been fully realised in 3D for Museum Belvédère, printed with resin, textile and paper.

Scars of war – (Lloyd Allan, Guerrilla)

Art history as a source of inspiration

A meandering road leading into a landscape, hikers in the wilderness, or a ship disappearing in dark evening mists. We recognise these style elements from pictorial art. The suggestive power of these types of images is eagerly used in the game industry; they appeal to each feeling of disturbing tension and grand adventures. Works by Romantic artists, such as Caspar David Friedrich and Arnold Böcklin, are often direct or indirect sources of inspiration. They mostly painted images from a religious worldview.

Game artists might refer to them, but they focus more on the visual sensations of a character in an awe-inspiring environment: staring into the distance, ready to explore the world. For the overwhelming landscapes, ambiance and lighting in Horizon Zero Dawn, the team was inspired by American Luminism from the late 1900s and European Naturalism landscape art from the same era.  

Gamers usually only get to see the end result of endless digital sketching, painting and designing, but concept art and their artists remain unknown. However, the interest in game art has increased the last couple of years. Concept drawings are now on offer at specialised galleries (such as Cook and Becker) and at international game exhibitions. The exhibit Arranged Realism – Art in Games displays a selection of these artworks in a museum for the first time.

The legend of the demon killing bow – Ghost of Tsushima

Testimonial in Dutch

Han Steenbruggen, directeur-conservator Museum Belvédère

“De samenwerking die Museum Belvédère aanging met Indietopia resulteerde in een geslaagde tentoonstelling met publicatie. In een museum dat zich sinds zijn oprichting vooral concentreerde op schilderkunst, waren de wereld van games en digitale kunstvormen nieuwe fenomenen. We hebben veel gehad aan de expertise van Indietopia in deze en waren meer dan tevreden over de wijze waarop wij het medium aan ‘ons’ publiek konden presenteren.”

Testimonial in English

Han Steenbruggen, director-conservator Museum Belvédère

“The collaboration that Museum Belvédère entered into with Indietopia resulted in a successful exhibition with a publication. In a museum that has mainly focused on painting since its inception, the world of games and digital art forms were new phenomena. We have benefited greatly from Indietopia’s expertise in this area and were more than satisfied with the way in which we were able to present the medium to ‘our’ audience.”

3D prints

We use the latest tech developments in resin and 3D printing to make objects from games such as Dishonored 2 and Cyberpunk 2077. The process uses high-end monochromatic displays and UV-sensitive resins to create astonishing details in a matter of hours. This enables us to create unique pieces with details as low as 50 microns.

These items were printed at Prototopia, the testing ground we run together with Fablab. Some pieces had to be printed in several parts, glued together, and then air brushed. The left photo slider shows a gharial and bird for a replicated game scene from Dishonored 2, figurines for a diorama of Desperados III and a skull with implants inspired by Cyberpunk 2077. On the right are a still from What Remains of Edith Finch and the replica of that scene.

Virtual reality

Terrarium – experienced in vr 

Visitors can experience one of the artworks in VR: Terrarium. Dutch Artist Durk van der Meer uses unorthodox methods of creating 3D objects in VR with Google Blocks and Substance Painter. This results in unique shapes that stray away from the straight and symmetrical forms made with traditional 3D modeling software.

Durk is interested in protopia, the opposite of dystopia, a future where science and nature exist in symbiosis. In his imagination, these things combine into some kind of colourful science fiction. Where buildings are built to be beautiful and last hundreds of years. Where technology infuses our surroundings with visual poetry. And where minimalism is kept to a minimum.

Artists such as Moebius (Jean Giraud), Jeroen Bosch, M.C. Escher, Marc Giai-Miniet and Antoni Gaudi are a source of inspiration for Durk, for the world-building quality in their work. Projects like this help to make the museum experience more interactive.

VR chairs in the expo (pictures: Cor Pot)

Game consoles

To drive visitors to pay more attention to gaming, three PS4s run What Remains of Edith FinchJourney, and Dear Esther. These games are a gentle entry to the game world as both the controls and gameplay are simple to get familiar with. And they supply gamers with a flow of masterfully written narrative.

What Remains of Edith Finch


Dear Esther

Photo Mode contest

In the run up to the expo, the museum and Merijn de Boer organised a photo mode competition. Professional photographers judged the entries: Marcel van KammenMariska de Groot and Stijn Doors. The lucky winners are Cynthia Hellemink (portrait), Susanne van Elferen (landscape) and Jamie Nooten (architecture). Their framed pictures are on display at the museum.

Cynthia Hellemink (portrait)

Susanne van Elferen (landscape)

Jamie Nooten (architecture)

Other parts of the exhibit

Part of the exhibit is an installation that tracks interaction in the air, displaying a simple application with characters from Arkane Studios. It uses lasers to track hand distance and runs on a Raspberry Pi 4.

On display are 70+ big boxes from the 80s & 90s. They are part of the collection by Anne Bras, also known as PC King. The similarity between these boxes and old movie posters is not a coincidence, as the artists that created them often worked on projects for both the film and game industry.

Scenographer Caroline van de Meent and the team of Fablab helped to replicate a scene from Dishonored 2 in 3D. Wooden furniture, 3D-prints, and items such as a watering can and flower pots truly make the scene come alive.

One display shows artefacts from games such as Dishonored 2 and Horizon Zero Dawn. Some were 3D-printed at our testing ground Prototopia. We also called in the help of several painters to airbrush the 3D-models. Click on the images to go to the presentation of the artefacts.

Internship project

From September 2021 to February 2022, our talented intern Jolan Huijskes created a 3D-tour of the exhibit, by scanning nearly all the objects and rendering them in Unreal Engine. These screenshots capture some of his achievements. On the right you’ll find a VR experience he also made of the ‘Terrarium’ artwork by Durk van der Meer.


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