In one of the locations in the game, the Eagle Nest of the Assassin’s, ‘Masyaf,’ the concept team worked the shape of the rocks, trees and houses to get a perfectly balanced image composition.“As much as possible, we got rid of the flat ground and created a dynamic landscape with sloping, high architecture suspended on rocks,” he says. “The Idea was also to create interesting contrasts in the immersions and feelings.” One of Raphael Lacoste’s key inspirations were David Roberts’ drawings of ‘the Holy Land.’
“When we arrive on the edge of a cliff and discover a whole city, the impression is of an incredible open space. When we get lost in small crowded streets full of smoke, we are feeling oppressed. If we climb up on the roofs of the city, the feeling is far more liberating. We are mastering our moves, on the top of the living, breathing world. The contrast is also between the cities and the different quarters of the cities. We tried to make definite variations in the mood, even with edgy and almost monochromatic filters.”
“Color filters were also a big part of our palette of tricks,” adds David ‘Vyle’ Levy, Lead Concept Artist. “Using color themes was a great way to create a hierarchy between the various levels the player would visit, but also to decide on the visual balance between characters and environments.”
The staple tools of choice for the concept team in at Ubisoft’s High Resolution Cinematic Studio was Photoshop, tons of books and reference material.
The character team used 3ds Max and ZBrush for their workflow. They created the high-resolution models in very impressive quality, and then normal mapped mid- and low-rez characters for the game from them. The environment team worked on several models of houses and other pieces of architecture and props that were used to create whole cities! “It was like a huge Lego game and the challenge was to keep it organic even if we had tons of technical constraints,” quips Lacoste.
To have a specific style for this game, one of the ideas put forward was to focus on an historic aspect. The concept took inspiration from period-specific movies like ‘The Name of the Rose’ and ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’
“The mood of those films is really cool and the mix between modern picture treatment and historical setting for Ridley Scott’s movie is one of the main aspects of the look we tried to reproduce in ‘Assassin’s Creed,’” explains Lacoste.
“We recreated the major places that existed at this time in the cities. The Dome of the Roc, David’s Tower, and the Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem were recreated with extreme detail.”
“While recreating some landmark may not sound very independently creative, our extra tweak was also to exaggerate proportions to make them more impressive, create artistic setups to enhance the look and other little things that are historically inaccurate but interesting from the artistic standpoint.
It was also a great challenge for the artists to make such impressive buildings with game play points, as all the buildings are fully climbable by the player’s Assassin character! You will even be able to climb to the highest point in the environment, to look out on a view on the whole city.”
“This scale was accentuated in the high-rez Cinematic trailer that I art directed and the whole team worked on. That trailer was downloaded 1.25 million times; a big number!”
‘Assassin’s Creed,’ like many game productions, is not a linear game play by any means. In other words, an artist didn’t work on specific environments for specific paths.
“The player can go anywhere and we had to deal with it!” states Lacoste. “We created tons of different assets that were used, rotated and translated to make the cityscapes. Also, as the cities of ‘Assassin’s Creed’ are quite huge, (around 500m x 500m each) we couldn’t work with specific data. All the landmarks were individually modeled but most of the houses were generic with different shapes and different looks, depending on the quarters, either for rich, middle or poor class characters.
Once the beta of the game turns to Master, and the code is delivered to the DVDs, the Ubisoft ‘Assassin’s Creed’ concept, modeling and programming team is set onto other projects and disbanded. There is a unanimous opinion that this was a huge project for all concerned. “I cannot emphasize enough,” David Levy explains, “how much work has been put in every texture. There were hours of lighting and rendering. Each of the scenes were like pieces of jewelry, when it comes to how precisely those levels and characters were built. Knowing what the production was going to be after we were done, put the concept team under even more pressure, to deliver the best and most detailed, quality work possible.”
Concept and Environment artist’s favorite time in production is Pre-Production, because it is more creative. “I have more time to draw in preproduction!” says Lacoste. He understands the producer’s goal is to ship the game, not to spend time dreaming and recreating the world. “To be honest, with a mandate like redefining the Action Adventure genre, you don't really have the luxury to focus on anything but the task at hand,” adds Lacoste. “We are committed to delivering fresh gameplay wrapped in a rich and meaningful entertainment experience. Once we have done that we will think about other stuff, like going on holidays and sleeping.”
Ubisoft Assassin’s Creed
David Vyle Levy
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