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 Deus Ex: Human Rev  Art Lead: Art Direction 'Misunderstood'
Deus Ex: Human Rev Art Lead: Art Direction 'Misunderstood' Exclusive
August 22, 2011 | By Staff

August 22, 2011 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Exclusive, Art

Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, art director on Eidos Montreal and Square Enix's Deus Ex: Human Revolution told Gamasutra that within the games industry, there are misconceptions about what "art direction" really means.

"I think true art direction is misunderstood in our industry still," he said in a new Gamasutra feature interview. "I think we still see it as... 'Just make it look very, very shiny; shinier than the next game.'"

"But that's not art direction," he said. "Art direction has to be about meanings, it has to be about metaphors, it has to be about visually communicating stuff ... there are very few games that do that."

"We need to get our industry out of [the mentality] ... "Look how much better this metal shader is than this other game!" That's not art; that's tech. Art is a message, is a direction, is a flavor," he said.

For Deus Ex: Human Revolution, releasing this week, Jacques-Belletete and his art team adopted a "Cyber-Renaissance" aesthetic, one inspired by everything from the Icarus myth to Blade Runner to Vermeer.

The art team injected the game with these influences throughout the game, creating an environment that tries to show a story instead of just telling it.

"I think that it's a creator's responsibility to lay it as thick as they can, to put as much things like that in their creations," said Jacques-Belletete. "I think that, if it's there, people's subconscious somehow register all of these details; even at a subconscious level, they feel the thickness of the creation."

The art director talks extensively about turning a wide array of influences into a cohesive work in today's feature, live now on Gamasutra.

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The Game industry has not defined "Art Direction" Yet? How foretelling.

Joel Nystrom
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Yeah, wth? Yoshi's Island, Wipeout, Wind Waker, Okami, Portal, Braid, etc. etc.. These games do not have strong AD? Gimme a break..

And nobody's saying that a new metal shader is art or art direction.. nobody..

Malcolm Miskel
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They do, but those games aren't the ones dominating the market, are they?

Call Of Duty, Gears Of War, Assassin's Creed, Batman, Resistance, Battlefield, Oblivion, Fable, Resident Evil, Fallout . . . and before someone says "Well I can tell those apart!", I can too, but my point is that they all relatively look the same. When it comes to artful games Nintendo takes the cake, and indie games like Braid are a totally different ball game. They're hardly representative of the industry as a whole.

To me he's speaking like many artists do. He's putting meaning into the artwork itself and not just the picture. There's a difference.

Chris OKeefe
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Art direction, when done well in a game, can be subtle. I think to completely understand what he is trying to say, would require some education in the fine arts. When you look at great movies, there is an element of artistic cohesion where the various elements all work together in ways that complement each other. To simply take a colour palette and some basic design philosophies isn't necessarily an 'art direction.' Just because a game like Wind Waker uses cell shading and doesn't deviate from that graphical style, doesn't -necessarily- mean that it has great art direction.

Art direction isn't about unswerving dedication to a graphical style or a colour palette. Art direction is about finding common threads between games and art. Like Bioshock, for example, used architectual concepts(art deco) and related artistic and film inspirations of that era in order to inform not just the graphical style or a colour palette, but the entire -feel- of the game. If you knew what you were looking for you'd find a veritable treasure trove of artistic threads running through that game's overall design, all interconnected, in a way that many people just gloss over.

Of course, that it's subtle doesn't mean it's unimportant. Good art direction has an indirect but strong role in making a game feel natural and cohesive, even if a person doesn't see the minute details that lend that cohesion.

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In Art (lets limit it to pictures that have no production of movement or sound for just a moment) one has some paths one can take individually in any work one produces. A path can be strict Propaganda, helping the Geopolitical States commercially sell its brand of Religion or Nationality for appeal of all enclosed in those belief systems. Another path could be self directed, where one is selling one's own brand of bias as to how or what a given idea, ideal, or real view of the world is like. Of course there are brands in between those two extremes that can find marriage and appeal beyond closure. Art has been exploited that way for years through trial and error.

Speaking of games as art, when ever I personally play a game that invites me to shoot off the faces of enemy hordes, I really don't sit back and study the effect the art style of a game has and what it tells me politically or rationally about my own biased viewpoints. However I must question; does a studio looking to make massive profits off of their product sit back and think of the "art direction" of what they really want to say when a player partakes in such an events?

I ask this because one said game actually got a friend to recommend me to purchase a PS3 for the coming of its sequel. The MGS series. For days upon hanging out with this individual, he went on and on about the brilliance of story structure and characters, and the aspects of how the guns actually represent their real counterparts in the digital world. Note: this person went on to be a soldier in the millitary, had already developed a habit of loving, appreciating, and collecting guns at a early age (Through family encouragement ofcourse), and preferred mostly games with a realistic military style to them. What I though was just a silly game with over the top story structures and hyperbolic characters was actually a symbol for him to make take that next step in life to actually move forward with service to his country.

I myself having been a long time gamer never really though of the "art direction" the studio wanted to portray in gaming until about the time RE4 came along. Even in its realism handle there was still more game than logical direction, but the game in which I though it was cool to shoot off the faces of body snatched individuals in a Spanish background, came to be said by its creator to mean, the survival of man from the unknown "Other". This to me meant that it wasn't a mistake that this was the setting, and these people likeness where chosen because of relationship to normal is verse abnormal. He was actually trying to say that violence is at its highest form in people when the unknown or other is presented. Had these people been just racist villagers that hated outsiders your actions would have been murder, however thank Umbrella that the population where all body snatched before you got there.

So that brings me to what the "art direction" of CoD MW series really means for what they want to say? If I as a consumer am suppose to have a higher order of thinking outside the set piece of what the game is personally suppose to mean, then they had 2 misses of the trilogy so far to explain that vision. In the times of Alexander the Great and the ancient world before him, war was a necessity. Goya painted war as a horrible event. Thus "War is Horrible." Are they saying then that War is a cool as driving a high priced cars around the world? Or should I ignore their shiny rendered realistic MW weapons for the point of that it's just cool to shoot. The majority of games are driven by the simple art direction of "cool to look at" and nothing more.

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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"I can too, but my point is that they all relatively look the same"


Arkham Asylum is very dark while Assassin's Creed is very bright. Does black and white relatively look the same to you?

Kris Morness
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The art direction in this game is fantastic and definitely top-tier. What do you guys think of the uncanny resemblance of the Jensen protagonist and the art director?

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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I fail to see why a game with realistic art style is written off as bland and uninspiring.

Its as if you say a game with realistic art style is of poor quality. As far as I know, the indication of quality is whether the game is fun. I've yet to see where that isn't the case.

I've played the Space Marine demo, and the risky do-executions-to-gain-life idea is fun.

I also played Clean Asia which had extremely crude and simple graphics, but I felt the same thrills when I risk my life to deal one decisive blow.

Everything in the game is carefully tailored to fit the theme of the game, including art, mechanics, sound, story, et al.

The idea with Call of Duty is to immerse you in what would be the life of a real-world, modern day army soldier. Do you think using anime big eyes or cartoony proportions would help with that goal?