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A Cyber-Renaissance In Art Direction
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A Cyber-Renaissance In Art Direction

August 22, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

I feel that, very often, the art direction of games gets hung up on details. Take one sci-fi shooter versus another sci-fi shooter. They have a space marine with armor, and you can see the armor was intensely, lovingly crafted by a talented artist to specifically carry visual touches that they think are relevant; but, if you take a step back, the two games don't communicate much different.

JJ: Yeah, I agree. This is something that we did in Human Revolution. The amount of detail is pretty crazy at every level of the game in terms of the environments and the characters -- even if you look at all of the props. Something like 1300 props were all concept art-ed.

The style is very homogenous in the game; it's not a very photorealistic game. It's a stylized game because I truly believe that, if you have a proper stylistic visual language, that actually makes the world more credible -- not photorealistic, but credible -- because everything fits within the same visual language.

If you have a head that looks super photorealistic but then the texture behind it is not, to me there's a discontinuity there. But if everything fits within the same stylistic language, it feels more credible. Anyway, that's one of my theories.

So you need to get into a lot of details, to get back to what I was saying, and it's exactly that. To some degree, I can say that there's almost as much love that was put into designing the little tech props that go all around the game than put into the armors like you were saying or stuff like that. It's very thick at all the layers of the game: high and low.

From object to world.

JJ: From object to world; it's exactly that.

You talked about cyberpunk being done before, and it certainly has. Did you use any reference?

JJ: Yeah. You can't get around Blade Runner, obviously -- the canon -- visually, at least. Ghost in the Shell; Akira... It's very obvious when you look at the game, as well, that I'm a huge fan -- and also the artists that I work with -- of Metal Gear Solid and a bit of the Asian aesthetics in the game. A lot of people ask me: "It's so obvious that Square Enix are in there, visually," and I'm like, "No, this was all in there before they acquired us." This is stuff that we already loved. We did that ourselves.

Though Metal Gear did something similar, very few games have done what you're doing in terms of sticking to a reduced palette, and emphasizing that as a visual strength. If there's one series that's done that, it's Metal Gear.

JJ: I totally agree with that. Also, in terms of movies and other cyberpunk stuff, obviously we reread all the William Gibson stuff. All of those things are really important. And reading all of the things in transhumanism and cybernetics, because it's such a central theme to the game, was important.

Another good reference that is not cyberpunk at all, but was important for the whole Baroque/Renaissance feeling was the movie The Duelist. It's Ridley Scott's first movie, which is actually more in the Napoleonic era -- which is not Baroque or Renaissance at all, but it's got a way of treating the image that's really reminiscent of Vermeer's paintings or Rembrandt's paintings and stuff like that. Also, the movie The Girl With the Pearl Earring was all about Vermeer's painting. He was an early Baroque painter, so that was very good reference for that.

What's interesting about those is that they're one-step-removed references. Did you actually go to Vermeer, or did you go to the things that were influenced by Vermeer? Did you want to create a Vermeer-esque feeling, or did you want to create an interpretation of an interpretation of Vermeer? Do you know what I mean?

JJ: It's a bit of both. The thing is that, when you tell your guys, "We're going to mix cyberpunk with Renaissance stuff," it's like... [makes the sound of a heart monitor flatlining]. It's never been done. I couldn't walk into the office one morning with a reference from a game or a movie or whatever and say, "This is how you mix them." It just did not exist. Only so much iteration -- it looked really crazy, at first. It did not work, and at one point it started gelling.

My point is, those references -- let's say Vermeer. Sometimes, those things are not present at all in the game. We had to kind of dose them properly. The more a character, or the more an environment, is engrained in the transhumanist values -- are really pro-transhumanist -- the more Renaissance stuff is going to be there; and the more against transhumanism that character or environment is, the less there is going to be.

So if you look at the CGI trailer, for example, there are parts in that trailer that you pause, and it's Adam Jensen talking to David Sarif; it looks like a Rembrant painting, literally. I'm not talking about the actual reproduction of the painting The Anatomy Lesson from Rembrant; that is obvious.

But other scenes in those sci-fi offices -- with the way we did the lighting and everything, if you pause it, it looks just like a Rembrant painting. So that was overt. Other times, we're using it more as an inspiration than trying to make a scene look like a Vermeer painting or whatnot. There are places like that, but usually it's more of a global inspiration.

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