BioWare Talks the Art of Dragon Age: Inquisition

Neil Thompson, Director of Art and Animation for BioWare's Dragon Age: Inquisition, spoke at a GDC session about some of the artistic and historical influences that helped make up the award-winning game's overall look. We at DT were really impressed with the technical feats of Dragon Age: Inquisition and we were excited to get a deeper insight into how the team approached creating such a massive and immersive world. During the talk Neil spoke about Dragon Age: Inquisition, and how the basic premise of the game is that magic is a dangerous thing, and the people that have used it have become corrupted, and it's this corruption that ultimately leads people to do evil things. This simple premise of the game is what the art team kept in mind during the production of the game. Dragon Age: Inquisition is very much steeped in medieval history, and took a lot of influences from medieval times for the overall art direction. They also used the idea of Momento Mori to inspire the art of DAI, which was a practice in medieval times that was a reminder of mortality and death. Momento Mori bread a lot of very creative artwork on the topic that dealt with the subject of death, and the plagues of those times, which the art team studied when setting the overall style of the world. The team at BioWare utilized Dice's Frostbite Engine for Dragon Age: Inquisition, which was a completely new engine to the team, as they used BioWare's proprietary game engine Eclipse for Dragon Age 2. What the Forstbite Engine gave them primarily was surface response, the way light falls on materials, and this is something the team wanted to nail down in DAI. [caption id="attachment_40731" align="aligncenter" width="800"]dragon age image 01 © 2015 Electronic Arts Inc.[/caption] During the early stages of DAI the art team would take a lot of the color palette influences they found from a lot of the materials in medieval times, and they put that into the hands of the Concept Artists, and with all the various influences they start to produce their work, and the ultimate goal of the concept art is to represent the world of Dragon Age: Inquisition taking its cues from the Renaissance and medieval time period. What is central to the themes of DAI is the story and the characters, and the concept art has to reflect that, it needs to establish a world that is both lush and vivid both also interesting and has something going on that drags you into the world. Neil Thompson also mentioned that we often still view the medium in a frame, and the goal as an Art Director is to decide what the final frame looks like. One of the most important qualities of an art team is trust, you build a team of a lot of talented creative individuals and as an Art Director you have to trust those individuals to interpret your creative vision, and it's your job to build the team and give them the capabilities to succeed. [caption id="attachment_40732" align="aligncenter" width="800"]dragon age image 02 © 2015 Electronic Arts Inc.[/caption] When it came to the character design of DAI the goal was to build and interesting character through the shape and the profile and to really try and give the sense of who the character is through that design. For example, the character Cassandra has a very hard and rough personality and that is reflected in the overall design of the character, the eye brows, the bone structure is angled and sharp to represent who the character is. One of the things that the art team wanted to keep intact is the humor, which is something BioWare often tries to incorporate into their worlds. Yes it's a dark game, but there can still be humor found in it. As Neil Thompson stated, "It's a game, and you can't take it too seriously. It's very important when we're in the studio to take our work extremely seriously, but you can't take yourselves too seriously." For much of the architectural elements in the game and the different factions, the art team gathered relevant reference to help influence their designs. For instance, they studied a lot of Nordec reference, the massive churches in Scandinavia, and the huge heavy wooden structures all help to provide excellent reference when establishing the feel various factions. Some of the top takeaways that Neil Thompson spoke about during the talk can be condensed into a few bullet points that as an artist, or an Art Director you can keep in mind for your own projects.
  • Build and promote your primary aesthetic direction
  • Gather contextual relevant reference
  • Remember that art should support narrative and gameplay
  • Art that has value should be able to stand up to scrutiny and interpretation
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