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A Cyber-Renaissance In Art Direction


August 22, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4
 

Personal spaces -- that makes me think of Heavy Rain. Did you play Heavy Rain?

JJ: You know what? My Heavy Rain is still wrapped!

That's a shame; you should play it.

JJ: I know!

I mean, it's not exactly subtle. Let me go back: It is not subtle at all. But the beginning of the game is very happy, and then the game takes a dark turn.

The first environment is the personal living space of the family, and it's bright, airy, cheerful, colorful, precise, and modern; and the second environment -- the reason I thought of it is that their boxes are still packed. They just moved to this crappy house: crappy wallpaper, gray, bleak, sad.

JJ: So there's like a narrative of the moods of the characters and what they're living through...

...being portrayed through the environmental design.

JJ: Yeah, yeah. I think -- probably unconsciously -- whatever environment that we design for a character or situation probably reflects a bit of those things. Yeah, maybe not as strong as I could have done.

But I think that that's something that's not really common in games, period. As you get through a game, particularly very linear games, environments get more and more wowing. The goal is usually to have this environment be cooler than the last.

JJ: And we have less and less of even that in games, I find. It's still there, but not all games do this as much anymore.

Well, they're not as linear and can't guarantee that you're going to see environments in progression. I don't know if it's due to production changes in terms of how art's created, but there's more consistency, maybe.

JJ: Yeah. It also has to do with the production stuff. But I think that's it; that's why there's an art director. That's his job.

But I think true art direction is misunderstood in our industry still. 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. Art direction has to be about meanings, it has to be about metaphors, it has to be about visually communicating stuff -- all of this stuff you've been talking about. And you just said it yourself: there are very few games that do that.

Gaming is an intensely visual medium, and the player is intently concentrating on these visuals for a long period of time, and probably more intently concentrating on them than in any other medium. So we've got to communicate meaning more directly to the player using visuals.

JJ: Absolutely. A lot of the answers are in movies or TV shows or books. They just need to be adapted because, obviously, our medium is interactive. Most games are 3D where you can look all around, so it changes how those things need to be implemented, but the solutions are the same. I think there's an education that needs to be done.

Do you encourage the members of your team to look afield? That's something we touched on earlier.

JJ: I do, but it's really hard because they're so not used to doing those things. That's the thing. It's a hard education. It's funny because -- I don't know if you've ever read Disney's biography. It's very interesting because, when he started in the '20s and early '30s, animation was really considered nothing. There had never been a movie made. It was always the little minute-long things that were between big movies. He's the first one to have that vision that, "Hey, I can make a long movie with that."

Animators were just kind of weird people doing stuff that created moving things, and he's the one that had this vision: "No, no! This is just like movies. Really, let's get trained." He would get industrial designers to come over and teach the animators about industrial design; architects... The animators were obligated to attend those classes.

For animation today, it seems very obvious, almost a hundred years later, that you go outside and to the zoo and draw animals and learn your anatomy and learn about architecture. But back then, it was unheard of. He was known to be almost crazy to push all that stuff, but he was the one who created and started what animation became.

I think that this still hasn't happened in whatever form that it has to happen in the video games industry. We're still too much stuck into what we know as just games, and we need to get more people that have other artistic perspectives. We need to bring these people in and teach us stuff and do stuff with us and things like that. We're professionals about -- like I said -- funneling these things back to games. That's what we know, but there's a lot of stuff out there that we don't know. We need people for that or need to educate ourselves.

People have been struggling with the fact that the ground keeps shifting technologically every few years, and I think that maybe, this generation, we're getting our longest time to sort of be robustly focused on one set of problems to solve with less ground shifting.

JJ: That's why I hope that this generation is still going to keep on going for awhile. I think it still has a lot to give.

Especially if you're not concerned with the fact that tech is not the answer to aesthetic concern, I can't see why you'd really care for the generation to push forward.

JJ: Well, I do care! I want to have the latest bells and whistles, but they're not a crutch. Fair enough if I have them, and I do want to have them. I see that as being mandatory. But, to me, it's just one part of the equation.

If I have the same tech -- the same super high-tech thing as the super high-tech games out there -- and I have an edge on the vision, then I consider that we have the superior product. I'm not saying that this is what we have now, but I'm saying this as a theory. It's not up to me to say if we succeeded at that, but, as a theory, I see this being stronger. If you have the same tech -- all the bells and whistles -- but you really have a real art direction, then you have a winner. This is what BioShock did with the Unreal 2 engine.

It wasn't even Unreal 3.

JJ: Or Mirror's Edge -- Mirror's Edge is Unreal. It looks nothing like other Unreal games, and that's what it's all about. To me, that game beats them visually by miles because they said, "Okay, we have all the bells and whistles, but we have our own visual direction or visual communication."

"We'll go in the opposite direction."

JJ: Yeah, and then it stands out. Then, is the game good? Was it a success because it made money? I'm not talking about this right now; that's not necessarily my job, and it's probably not because of that that Mirror's Edge did this or that. But at least the art director did exactly what he had to do; that's your job.


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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