Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Art of Mass Effect

As part of my research into concept art I return to the book "The Art of Mass Effect" ( A book that collects the art work behind Bioware's scfi adventure game "Mass Effect") as it's an extremely good source of the amount of concept art and thought that goes into the design process of a piece of media. The book is a great souce as it outlines all major points of conceptual design such as character, costumes, vechiles, props and settings.

The artists use a range of techniques and predominately focus on digital tools rather than traditional ones (but they are still used in some places). In this blog post I'll be outlining some of the techniques used by the artists and commenting on the process of the overall design process.


It seems the process for creating a video game is very much like that of creating a film with the elabourate process of designing until everything feels just right. The first parts that are conceptualised it seems are the main characters, most likely as you'll be controlling one and interacting with them through the game, it also makes sense to build a character first as you can then build a world around that group and go back and adjust them further if need be.

Here lead concept artist Matt Rhodes draws a conceptual scene of Mass Effect's villian, an alien by the name of Saren. Completed digitally the styles drawn here is vastly different to the more realistic look of the game's version of Saren. This piece is important as it shows that concept art for a character can take place in a scene, this shows the qualities of the character better than a plain character-on-white design. The technique used by Rhodes is a line drawing coloured in with photoshop using a mix of burshes including those with textures.

It's good to keep in mind that a scene with a character can really help shape the qualities the director may want from the character and to highten the emotion the viewer will feel whilst watching.

Here we seen more of Rhode's designs, this time trying to establish a look for the alien Asari race that appears in the game. Most of the work is done in pencils and there is a large number of variations on the designs. Most likely Rhodes pumped these out as maybe slightly larger than thumbnail sketches until he found a design he was happy enough with the develop further.

It's important to note how many designs he did until Rhodes found one that he was confident with, on the left you can see the final design and it's vastly different from some of the preliminary sketches that were drawn. It'd be wise to bear in mind to not get to hung up on one idea and keep designing until you, as an artist have a good range to decide which to develop further.

With the main character's established it seems the artists went on to focusing on clothing designs for what human's and the other races may wear. Again this is complete using digital tools. It should be noted that a clear theme arises from which is generally a use of black with a secondary bold colour to even the design out.

It's imporatnat to note the continuity that the artists are creating here, slowly creating a breathing world that meshes well together, everything is designed to look asthough it belongs in that world and it's this level of keeping continuity in check that I will have to do when it comes to my own work.

Here we see one of Doug Chiang's rules being put into use. As part of the design process to create an insect like alien for the game Bioware artists are clearly doodling down various shapes and elabourating up on them. As Chiang states it's a good way to get some interesting looking designs and here the Bioware artists clearly use this method as a way of pumping out a collection of designs to the choose to elabourate on further.


With the characters and creatures of the Mass Effect universe created the designers then focused on vechiles. In comparison to the other pieces of the book these pieces are predominately completed with traditional methods rather than the other way around.

Again you can see definite themes with the large wheels and use of paneling. The designs are much stricter than those of the characters of creatures and have a much more "designed-as-a-product" look rather than something to appear in a film or game. Comparing these to the works of Doug Chiang it's clear to see that theres been a much more mechanical process put into these designs. They still illustrate their fucntions though as Chiang outlined these designs fall under the 3 second rule as you could easily imagine these vechile's functions by looking at them.

Again here we seen a range of possibilities for the final look for some of the games weapons. Starting out as a range of pencil drawings until one is chosen to be developed upon, notice though how unlike the vechiles these props are drawn from the side on making it much easier to see the detail, something that should be kept in mind when I come to designing some props.

From there the more developed designs recieve a dose of digital colour. The book contains more designs for props such as tables, chairs, walls etc and these are drawn from a view point rather than just face one so this could just be limited to the weapons. What's important to bring away from this is just the subtle changes added to a design before it reaches the final version.

With everything else designed, the only thing left for the Bioware artists to do is develop the worlds of Mass Effect. Each piece seems to be completed using Digital tools and techniques but as I've stated in a previous project some of the pieces exist only to help define the feeling and atmosphere of an enviroment.

With in these scenes action takes place to show how characters of the game may interact with the space given to them which helps bring the realisation of the final version closer and closer. As these concepts are developed more secure designs are put in placing combining 3d models with digital paintings to outline the layout of a level. It's interesting to see a technique as such used but it's also a logical step in creating the final version, slowly replacing the painting componenets with the secure finalised CG counterpart.


From this anaylsis I feel I've learned even more including the re-enforcement of techniques used by Doug Chiang are also used by other industry professionals, solidfying their worth as rules to adhear to when designing. It's also relieving to see that theres a distinct difference is visual aesthetics from the concept art to the final product as it means I don't have to worry about trying to be untral realistic should I choose to complete my designs for a film or game where realism is a key part of the product.

This anaylsis has also re-enforced a sense of completing numerous designs before choosing to develop any and that there are many considerations to think about when designing a whole world from characters to the environments they inhabit.

With each extra bit of research I feel more relaxed about the practical aspect of my project.

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