|(Detail) When we finished the Uncharted game, they gave us a month off. This combines two separate genres, sci-fi and historic, in the one image. A Scottish Highland village, mixed with this massive spherical ship, anchored in the air above.. © Robh Ruppel |
Boss Films thrived and Robh also freelanced in Los Angeles, working on the movie 'Misery' with Rob Reiner and Norman Garwood. He also went back to the Art Center College, where he crossed over and did some teaching on their invitation. "They wanted an additional teacher for the landscape class and I taught that for several terms and then I said, 'Hey why don't we start doing this on laptops, because most of these students are going to be working digital anyway', and from then on we went out into the field and painted on our laptops, from life." Ruppel had turned his class into a digital landscape painting session.
Robh also found figure drawing education at the California Art Institute, run by Fred Fixler. This is where he met Morgan Weistling, Greg Pro and Glen Orbik and others. Form and structure life drawing, half tones, light and shadow oozed from that class and both students gathered a great deal of knowledge.
"I found influences all over the place, from Syd Mead, Joe Johnson, John Berkey. But then painters and illustrators like Richard Schmid, John Singer-Sargent and Ron Cobb," says Ruppel. "I spent several years as an illustrator, and back in the eighties I'd shoot all my own reference material. With my film background, I had my own kit of Mole-Richardson lights and did all my own lighting. I found that everything that I had learned was coming into play. Creatively, it was the start of an extremely exciting time for me."
Robh Ruppel worked at Disney Feature Animation for 11 years. "I started off as an viz dev artist on 'Atlantis', 'Mulan', 'Tarzan' and 'The Emperor's New Groove'. I was Art Director on 'Brother Bear' and then later 'Meet the Robinsons'."
As he kept an eye on the latest projects, more and more concept work Robh saw in magazines, on TV and in galleries seemed to be from games. 'Gears of War' concept art from John Wallin, Craig Mullins and others. "I was teaching at the Art Center College and at same time working at Disney. My students and I were browsing through some of these amazing images of work coming out from this industry when one of them mentioned that the guys he knew at Naughty Dog were looking for a new Art Director. It wasn't all that quick: it actually took quite a while. They saw my web site and I went in and saw them a few times. I looked at working at a lot of other places, but Naughty Dog just worked out."
|© Robh Ruppel |
|© SCEA Artist: Robh Ruppel|
"It broadened my horizons, that’s for sure," says Ruppel. "It made me a better artist by making me so aware of believable and appropriate detail. I was never a fan of detail for detail’s sake but having to invent a 'forgotten' culture and have it integrated with existing ones is not for the faint of heart. The amount of research and understanding that went into this game was something I had not experienced before, and I’ve worked on a variety of assignments from publishing to feature film design."
"In the democracy that is Naughty Dog you’re held accountable by the group mind, and it’s pretty unflinching. It's flat hierarchy though. There's no managers, no producers. You need to stay interested in what you're doing. It is a very different template to the usual workflow at a film studio. Disney and Naughty Dog are polar opposites but still the work gets done and the discipline is there at all times. Art is the beginning. Through drawing, painting and sculpture the world is slowly defined, stair by stair, handrail by handrail, and pile of rubble by pile of rubble."
|© SCEA Artist: Robh Ruppel|
In the first Uncharted, we pretty quickly thrust Nathan Drake into circumstances where he had to assume the role of the hero, and help those around him to survive. I came in close to the end of the original Uncharted production: I did the last six months. It was a good introduction to Drake as a character, but we had subtly suggested that there were more layers to him, that in his 'real life' as a modern-day treasure hunter, he probably associated with some dodgy characters, and might be a little shady himself. So while we intended Drake to be essentially a decent guy—charismatic, charming, with a good moral compass when the chips were down—we always wanted to portray him as a bit more complicated than that.
He operates within a questionable fraternity of international fortune hunters—really just a euphemism for smugglers, con-men and thieves—so from the beginning of development, this seemed like a compelling aspect of his character to explore: the tension between his 'light and dark sides,' and how the various people in his life would pull him in different moral directions. Drake came out of hundreds of designs, and came out as a believable real, grounded character. There was a definite drive to reflect what was happening to him into the character in the game, indeed a little darker than the original.
|© SCEA Artist: Shaddy Safadi|
|© SCEA Artist: Robh Ruppel|
We deliberately developed the supporting characters as kind of emotional satellites for Drake—mirrors that we could hold up to show these other sides of him. So we’ve put a lot of emphasis on telling a character-driven story, rather than just pushing the story forward with visceral action, plot devices and set-pieces.
One of our main goals with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was to approach the design as a union of narrative and gameplay, and to tell a character-driven story. Watching the production from within, gave a very isolated view of it because we were seeing it from the drama of production."
Following the creation of the Borneo level in 'Uncharted 2' was kind of surprising for Ruppel because it came together so well. Frank Frazetta's jungles were referenced and the way he draws his jungles with the same sensuality and fluidity that he uses when he paints human figures. So for the Borneo level, the artists started by making it a wet, swampy jungle with thick vines and trunks and heavy moss everywhere. That’s when it really evolved and became its own distinct jungle. "We set the time of day for early morning, and moved away from an all-green environment," said Robh. "We looked for anything that would distinguish it from the first game, because we wanted to avoid Uncharted 2 being labeled another jungle game. Overseeing the look of the Train level was pretty gratifying too. The artists working on it really followed the designs so well and concepts so closely, even down to how the ground looked."
Career opportunities are wider, more diverse now than when, say Syd Mead or Joe Johnson started out. In fact, they have never been more expansive than right now. "There was no entertainment major at college, or concept art positions, but now the field is so active," says Ruppel. "The key to staying fresh is to see each day as a challenge; to question your progress. There's still plenty of room to grow at Naughty Dog. The whole challenge is to keep mastering my skillset. The assignment itself is almost secondary to, 'what am I learning today,' 'how am I making my shapes look more real?' Robh is finding himself drilling into learning how light behaves as a fluid in an image, but also working to really understand how it fills a room. Always studying future trends and research, Ruppel is clearly someone who loves what he does.