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Deus Ex: Human Revolution Art Direction Interview at The Critical Bit

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution Art Direction Interview at The Critical Bit

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 5 May 2012, 14:30:46

Tags: Deus Ex: Human Revolution; Jonathan Jacques-Belletête

The Critical Bit, the website that recently did a pretty interesting interview with Chris Avellone, has talked to Jonathan Jacques-Belletête, art director on Deus Ex: Human Revolution, about visual storytelling, cyber-renaissance art style, and unfortunate artistic trends. Have a snippet:

One of my favorite parts of Deus Ex: Human Revolution was the abundance of visual storytelling. There were many locations which conveyed a lot of narrative information through objects. Adam Jensen’s apartment is a good example – You can find out a lot about that character by exploring his home. Tell us about how you design art assets that can tell a story.

A lot of it has to do with the original brief for a location. For Adam’s apartment, right from the get go I called it “The Adam Jensen Museum”. Right there, it gives a very clear idea to the team about the visual narrative purpose of the location. It needed to be a place where just by walking around, looking at things (even some pretty small details), you would learn a lot about Adam; about his life (past and present), his likes and dislikes, his current state of mind, and so on. We spent a tremendous amount of time working on, thinking about, and designing these scenes throughout the game. It’s what we call the “show, don’t tell” principle. Here again, my belief is that few game developers fully understand this concept. Video game visuals are so much more than texture size, shader tech, polycount, and dynamic lighting. But hey, that’s my theory.

One of the main hurdles when creating good “show don’t tell” scenes in a game, especially in one as big and with as many different locations as Deus Ex: Human Revolution, is the amount of props that need to be created to fill the rooms and create the desired scenes. We designed and created more than 1300 props in the game, all of which were first conceptualized then modeled and textured following a precise visual direction. Not only does this give the game a very homogenous look, but it allowed us to have a lot of clutter and credible placements of objects (even if we purposely went overboard with the cluttered mess).

For the objects that are more story based, follow the “show don’t tell” principle, or are about precisely communicating a character’s personality, we’d sit down in a group and brainstorm about what would best fit the character or location based on their narrative briefs. Often a lot of crazy and over the top ideas would come out of these meetings, which needed to be toned down a bit!

The art direction of DE:HR has a style which combines futuristic and renaissance aesthetics. Can you tell us about some specific artists and pieces you found particularly inspiring while working on that game?

It took us a while to get to the desired look. It had never been done before. We were blazing our own trail here. It was pretty hard. After a while, we started to find a pretty solid visual design approach to the problem of combining the cyberpunk and the renaissance aesthetics. We were becoming more and more confident. Then I found this amazing British fashion designer named Gareth Pugh, who apparently had a lot of the same ideas, and had come up with a lot of the same answers that we did. That was a real breakthrough in our production design development because we had validation! A genial, praised, fashion designer was doing almost the same thing, so we felt like we must be doing something right. Other contemporary artists or fashion designers used for inspiration were Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Zaha Hadid, and later on, Irish van Herpen ( a new up-and-coming fashion designer who incorporates a lot of architectural theories and principles in her designs. She’s freaking genius!). Of course we also referenced the renaissance (or more the Baroque actually) artists like Rembrandt and Vermeer.

As immense as DE:HR is, there were several large locations which had to be cut during development. Was there any piece of content you worked on that was very difficult to see go?

Man… hell yeah. The Upper Hengsha was an entire city HUB. It was huge, it was beautiful, and it was visually meaningful in relation to the game’s themes and motifs. It also introduced important narrative content. This area is where we went the craziest with the architecture design, urban design, and the concepts of “eco cities”. Seeing the gigantic Tai Yong medical building right in the middle of this city, built on a humongous platform stacked over another city – it was quite a sight! The concept and level artists had come up with some of their most interesting and original ideas yet. You know, what needs to be done needs to be done, but it still hurt.

Which artistic trends do you see in games that you dislike? How would you like to see things done differently?

Generics, visual designs with no real thought behind them; the whole trend of flashy concept art just for the sake of making pretty images which don’t serve the actual production of the game; the color grey; metal everywhere; overuse of rust, dirt, and scratches; visuals that don’t have any real narrative purpose other than realistically replicating a location and showcasing the tech running it; games that create a very good global mood and atmosphere, but when you start getting into it you realize there’s no deeper visual content; everything looks the same and is repetitive (a game needs a good mood and atmosphere, but then it needs dozens of thousands of crafted, detailed, well-thought out ideas to truly support that atmosphere).​

You can find the full interview here.

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