Since its release in October, Bethesda’s Dishonored has continued to enthrall players with its highly original creative design, from the industrial streets of Dunwall to sophisticated weapon designs.
We caught up with Art Director Sebastien Mitton and Visual Design Director Viktor Antonov to discuss steampunk sensibilities, English traits and old-fashioned ingenuity.
----------What were the biggest challenges faced with finding the signature style of Dishonored?
The question of style was a challenge in the early stages of development; I’m not for realistic/procedural textures because I feel it looks too generic and boring- the same goes for geometry. I brought my academic background into the pitch and sold the idea that style, morphology, and hand animation are the keys for success.
--------Did you decide from the beginning that the project would take on a steampunk style?
As we slowly shifted our plot time period backwards, it began to inherit a science fiction layer we called Neo-Victorian, which is really close to retro-future because of its use of low technology. The character design was processed in parallel, but apart from the weapons and gadgets, the steampunk style did not affect the entire approach. Was there a specific atmosphere or mood you wanted to convey visually throughout the overall design?
We wanted to convey a nostalgic feeling of a city that was once beautiful and majestic, with a dreamlike and mystical mood – you can never define the exact time of the day or the season. Yet there is also a mood of tension and fear of an omnipresent danger lurking around the corner.Looking back at Viktor’s past experiences working on Half Life 2 and
the graphic novel The Colony, did either project influence Dishonored in
They both did to a degree. In Half Life 2,
I had to establish a realistic and dramatic way to light a city and
handle ‘virtual urbanism’ in order to make a city structure believable,
as well as to design a technology and sci-fi layer that tells a story of
a dictatorship and an oppressed people. With Dishonored and The Colony,
both are supernatural tales with modern elements and mysticism. In both
stories, a city is one of the main characters. Neither The Colony nor
Dishonored are pure steampunk, but they both deal the birth of metal
architecture and structures in the late 19th century.
stories from the late 19th century period have a lot of magic and poesy
that are pretty rare today. I wanted to share my passion for them and I
hope Dishonored or The Colony will help revive this genre for the
younger generation of players and graphic novel fans!
----------What kind of research went into designing Victorian-inspired technology?
I told every artist to take a reference of a modern vehicle and imagine someone trying to produce the same thing in 1750, or try to make a chair from the Jacobean era with the tools and knowledge we have nowadays. We visited many different museums in Paris, where we gathered around 5000 awesome reference photos.
With love and passion for handcrafted objects, you can create everything. The only thing that matters is to keep consistency throughout- if you want to go really crazy in terms of design, you need to find the right balance. The city of Dunwall has taken both a historical and aesthetic influence from London and Edinburgh during the Industrial Revolution. Do you think that using iconic cities for reference is essential to creating immersive and believable environments?
Absolutely – the most important thing about real iconic cities is that they have a history and a ‘soul’; they are living creatures in a way. A strong, immersive design should draw inspiration not only from the aesthetics but from the infrastructure and the inner logic of how a place was constructed. What kinds of challenges did you face with creating an immersive setting?
Defining a location with a strong identity, a place that feels foreign
and mysterious, like you’ve never seen before; then making this place
somewhat realistic and believable to everyone.
----------How did you create the initial character designs?
I approached the character design from a high level standpoint, as I do for environments. First, I defined the social classes: rich, poor, hostile, etcÖ I studied UK society during different time periods, from the 17th to the 21st centuries. One of our main themes of Dishonored is contrast; oppression, plague and death lead to contrast. This theme is the spinal column of our social network- it shows how people live, the connections between districts, the gap between poor laborers and rich aristocrats.
The first character lineup I did contains these different classes and included intentions of anatomy and posture. I focused a lot on traditional English traits, which included analysing books such as the work of Charles Dana Gibson. Did you use real-life models or actors as the basis for creating characters?
Sure! It’s critical to spend time analysing real-life models. In my career, I’ve always fought against clichÈ and based art direction on strong references. With Dishonored I’ve pushed this philosophy a step forward. We took two major photo trips to London and Edinburgh, where we gathered many photos of ìtypicalî English faces. Patrick Stewart, Ewen Bremner, Vinnie Jones and Ian McKellen were also good candidates when we began analysing traits. What were the biggest challenges faced with creating characters?Sebastien:
One of the biggest challenges was creating consistency among the characters. As I said, I think high-level before going deeper into each person. Based on my analysis, I completed a character intention sheet with additional intentions for animators, sound and VFX.
Our Lead Animator, Damien, was a great help because he proved that you can convey more emotion when you create specific stylised animations for each social class and particular characters. For example, our city guards have low shoulders, small heads and big hands, with several animations that fall halfway between humans and monkeys.
Dishonored is available now on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Visit www.dishonored.com for further information.
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