CGSociety :: Game Production Focus
14 March 2012, by Paul Hellard
Walking through the swathes of artwork collated for Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Revelations with Art Director Raphael Lacoste is actually like swimming in the deep cultural pools of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. It reeks of heady dust, fine spices and a rich family heritage. Architecture and poverty, riches and strategy all mix together in this visual feast.
Raphael Lacoste's love affair with matte painting and concepts started in the nineties as a student in arts, media and photography. “I didn’t have the chance to learn how to draw in the fine art school, as it was very conceptual art oriented, so I worked mainly as a photographer,” he says. "Later, I joined the school of the national center of the comics in Angouleme, France (CNBDI) and did my first 3D movie which was screened at SIGGRAPH in the year 2000.” Lacoste began in the videogame industry as a Level Artist, then was Art Director on Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Assassin’s Creed 1
, and on a couple of cut scenes for Prince of Persia like The Two Thrones
“I had the chance to join the Assassin’s Creed
development Team as Art Director when they were creating this new IP. Firstly, Assassin’s Creed
was supposed to be the Prince of Persia: next Gen
, but it became a new storyline, more realistic and grounded. Our big inspiration at the time were movies like The Name of The Rose
and Kingdom of Heaven
. Moody and realistic, gritty settings and characters,” says Lacoste. “We needed to move away from the Arabian nights.” It was for this that Raphael Lacoste won a VES Award for the high resolution cinematic in 2006.
It was after this that Lacoste stepped away from the video game industry to work for two years in the movies as a Matte Painter and Concept Artist. “Wanting to challenge myself, I worked on such movies as Journey to the Center of the Earth, Terminator, Immortals,
and Repo Men
. I have finally moved back since 2011 at Ubisoft as Art Director on Assassin’s Creed
, back to home!,” he yells.
“Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
was a beautiful project, but it also had some very short deadlines, much like the movie industry. The team had to make decisions very quickly on the art side, but Raphael is still very happy with the results!”
“We chose to use paintings and engravings as references, fewer photographs, more orientalist pieces of art,” explains Lacoste. “The big challenge we had was to create an open world but fashion a beautiful and detailed game at the same time. We created an entire workflow to build huge and diversified cities which was fully interactive. The team managed to create beautiful and level designed architecture, climbable in almost all directions. I think this game is an amazing blend between art, level design and engineering.”
Studies of the Hagya Sophia in Instanbul.
W.H. Bartlett did a lot of engravings of Istanbul in the 1830s. This was a great inspiration for the crew when they were designing props, streets and landmarks. Inspiration was assisted by painters like Ivan Aivasovsky and Germain Fabius-Brest of the same era as their art gave a unique interpretation of the settings. “Our concept artists were also inspired by traditional paintings and photos and tried to push the art to a next level, in style, image composition, palette and moods,” adds Lacoste.
Assassins Creed: Revelation
takes place a little bit later than Assassins Creed: Brotherhood
, when Ezio is 52 years old, in 1511. AC1
was happening during Altair’s Life, in 12th century, while Ezio was born during the Renaissance.
Looking back at the history of the area, Istanbul was the crossroads of the world at the time. The Ubisoft team tried to show that in the style of the different districts: the spice markets, dense alleys, the smoking Grand Bazaars, the Imperial and Galata Ports, the Topkapi Palace. “We also have a lot of crooked wooden houses, decorated domes, minarets, all with these Ottoman materials and shapes that will make you travel through the Istanbul of the 16th century,” explains Lacoste.
Istanbul is a blast of colors and oriental flavors. “What we also worked a lot on was the Time of Day, to capture the real feeling of sunrises and sunsets with that immersive atmosphere. What I wanted is to try to make the Assassin stop just running from rooftop to rooftop, to stop and have a look at the sunset behind Hagya Sofia,” quips Lacoste.
Altair stays the same in Assassins Creed: Revelations
and also because he was needed for the story. Ezio, on the other hand had to look different. He is on a journey, following the steps of his ancestor. He traveled in Syria, in the Ottoman Empire and onwards through into Italy. “We wanted him to look wiser, older, but also we needed to show that he was on a personal journey,” explains Raphael. “We designed him with Jeff Simpson, our Character Artist, and we gave him the Mongolian fur on the shoulder, the Ottoman patterns on the Dress, the red fabric belt (Altair had one), and hammered oriental pieces of metal as decoration and accessories. Ezio is also stronger, going straight to the point, he is less like an elegant show off like we saw him on Assassins Creed 2.
For such a short production, there were a lot of improvements to characters.”
Ubisoft went all out with the real world research for AC:Revelations. They had visiting historians give one-on-one descriptions of how life really was back then in those areas. The entire concept crew poured over books but they also took the chance and travelled to Istanbul to be immersed in the real setting. “I took almost 6,000 photos for our references,” explains Lacoste. “Capturing textures, mood but also for scale and a full appreciation of the architecture.”
“It is really important to travel to get the real feeling of the place that you will recreate afterwards,” he explains. “When you get inside Aya Sofia, the feeling is so intense that there is nothing comparable to be actually standing in this place.” However, another point is important, we are never creating documentaries on AC, we always try to stylise, give impressions, we are not recreating the reality... we try to push style and mood, but also like in movies, image composition and memorable moments."
“We also worked on lighting, and the time of day system was improved with new features like 3D differed Fog and mist which evolved dynamically during the timeline. We also pushed the style of architecture to get a more organic and dense feel. There are more crooked walls, organic muddy surfaces and wooden structures. I wanted to break into the graphics and the usual flatness of the architecture, to improve that reality."