We recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Epic Games Art Director Chris Perna about the just-released key art for Gears of War: Judgment. Do you have any questions for Chris about the Gears of War art direction? Post them in the comments and we’ll follow up with Chris in a future interview.
Raczilla: Could you describe the collaborative process of creating key art?
Chris Perna: Well we usually sit down with some internal marketing folks, ad agency folks and some Microsoft folks to chat about what we’d like to see. Initially we discuss the feel of the game and what we’d like to portray. Do we want to play up the action, the story, heavy mood? Once we decide on an initial direction then the ad agency does some rough comps visualizing the various directions we discussed. Then we get together and discuss again, this time trying to narrow the focus and zero in on one key idea.
Sometimes I’ll do my own comps and send over to illustrate a certain point, this can help narrow the focus faster. We’ll repeat this process as often as necessary until we’re all happy with what we have and then we’ll enter a polish phase. This is where we’ll get nit-picky and really fine tune the image and idea. In the end we’ll have a piece of key art we can all be excited about.
R: How many artists worked on it?
C: We had a few guys work on it internal. Chris Wells, Alex Whitney and Kevin Lanning did some posing during the comp phase. The final image is actually a composite from images I created in Unreal Engine. I posed and lit the characters and rendered them out of Unreal Engine at high enough resolution so that we were able to use them as final art. Every piece in the final image was worked on by multiple artists so it’s almost impossible to say how many. The weapons were modeled by an artist, then textured by another one, the characters and enemies were all modeled, textured and posed by artists. The architecture and background objects were all modeled and textured by artists. Also the ad agency used their own internal artists to create elements like the flag, composition, lighting, post process, etc. Twenty or more artists probably touched different assets at different times as we pulled this together.
R: How is it different creating art for an established series as opposed to when Gears was a new IP that wasn’t familiar to fans?
C: In an established franchise such as gears we’re not concepting new things as much as we would when establishing a new IP. There is more fiction to pull from and models, characters and artwork that have already been established. In a way it’s easier, but that’s a blessing and a curse. It’s easier, yes, but you still have to make it fresh and exciting for people playing the games. As the IP grows and ages it gets harder and harder to do that.
R: How did you approach showing Baird as the hero as opposed to Marcus for the rest of the series?
C: Well this game is about Baird and his character arch before the Gears of War trilogy. We wanted something familiar and something that at a glance people would know was Gears of War. We also wanted something that would look a bit different from previous covers yet not too different. If we go too far off the reservation we lose our identity at a glance. In the past we’ve portrayed Marcus in a somber pose on the cover. Since Gears of War: Judgment is a bit more action oriented we chose to go with something a little more action driven for the key art image. It still has a Gears feel and when you stand them up side by side with the rest of the covers, it fits in nicely.
R: What is it like going back to a time shortly after emergence day?
C: I think it’s fun, it’s what I’ve always wanted to play. What was it like when all hell was breaking loose and the Locust first emerged? I’ve always liked that element and was hoping we’d get a chance to set a game during that period in the Gears universe.
R: It feels like there is even more action and chaos than in the key art for past Gears games. Can you speak a bit about that?
C: Yes, that was a conscious decision, the game is more action oriented and brings back some of the more ferocious feel to its firefights. We felt like we should portray that on the cover a bit more than in the past.
R: What advice do you have for someone who is interested in working in the art side of the gaming industry?
C: You’re only as good as your worst portfolio piece. Look at what’s out there, go to CGtalk and CGhub and look at peoples galleries…all day long. Go to ZBrushcentral.com, look at what the Mudbox community is doing. Immerse yourself in CG artwork.
Join Polycount and post your work to their forums. Learn from and be humbled by other artists on these sites. Post to forums, get involved with cg communities. A lot of guys get hired from portfolios they post to forums.
Size yourself up, BE HONEST with yourself. I can’t stress this enough. Look at what the top talent is doing and try to gauge how far you are from it. Learn from it, be realistic, most likely you won’t get a top paying job in the industry right off the bat.
Don’t get discouraged, don’t give up but be honest with yourself. Persistence is a plus.
LOVE WHAT YOU DO! Don’t ever feel entitled just work your ass off. Don’t ever expect that you are owed a job in this industry.
We’ve all paid our dues and you will too. It’s hard as hell but can be well worth it.