• The very core of the Deus Ex series' visual substance is Cyberpunk. From the very beginning, Jonathan Jacques-Belletête [JJB], the Art Director at Eidos Montreal, knew this was something mandatory to the franchise and an obligation for Deus Ex:Human Revolution's [DX:HR] art direction. JJB quickly set-out to identify and analyse the main visual archetypes of the cyberpunk genre. That's when things such as futuristic anticipation, intense cluttering, the new creeping over the old, fog and smoke, information overload, corporate branding, cybernetics, transhumanism and many others became staple motifs in DX:HR's design, in order to create a proper cyberpunk feel.
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    Eventually though, any game Art Director has to ask himself the obvious question. Should we 'merely' digitally recreate the look of Blade Runner? How original would this be? What would it say about the studio's capacity for creativity? Of course, with today's consoles, the movie's visuals could be recreated quite faithfully, and the game would be automatically classed as cyberpunk.

    "That's where the concept of mixing aesthetics elements from the Renaissance era with cyberpunk came in," explains JJB. "I feel advancements made during this historic period had a lot in common with trans-humanism. If the Renaissance was about studying and understanding the human machine, cyberpunk is about upgrading it.

    In order to upgrade a system, you must first understand how it functions. Hence, by visually mixing those two eclectic periods, we created our own flavour, our own cyberpunk vision of the near future. We ended up calling this signature 'Cyber-Renaissance'."
    Free reign
    Human Revolution is the first Deus Ex to be released in a long time, so the franchise really had to be revived. Eidos and Square Enix understood this very well. They knew this meant giving the artists a generous amount of creative freedom.

    "Basically, I think that as long as the game felt like the first Deus Ex, and had a great cyberpunk visual direction, we were allowed to create it without corporate disruptions," explains JJB. "If DX:HR ends up being a great game, it will be due to this unequivocal freedom Eidos and Square Enix entrusted us with.

    The core design team was full of industry veterans, mostly from Ubisoft Montréal. "We were all on good projects before moving to Eidos. In fact, we really had no reason to leave other than we seriously wanted to make a new Deus Ex, and start a brand new studio," says Jacques-Belletête.

    There were top dogs like Jim Murray, Thierry Doizon (Barontieri), Éric Gagnon, Sébastien Larroudé (Rainart), Brian Dugan (Chippy), Trong-Kim Nguyen, Richard Dumont, Donglu Yu, and François Cannel.

    These artists were all chosen for their obvious talent, but also for their capacity for designing things. For their aptitudes for thinking like industrial designers, interior decorators, architects, fashion designers, graphic artists, urban designers and a whole bunch of other design fields.

    DX:HR is a highly designed game. Everything in the game has been conceptualized. Every single prop has its own concept art (that's 1,300+ props). Every piece of fashion, of machinery, all the different urban set pieces from traffic lights to park benches have been thought out and conceptualized.

    They were then all faithfully recreated in the game with a very homogenous style. All this design-centric approach makes for a very detailed and believable vision of a near future. It generates a coherent world. "At the end of the day, that's why these people were chosen," adds JJB. "We needed to create an entire world from scratch, and I needed artists capable of thinking like designers."

    The Metal Gear Solid series was definitely an influence on DeusEx. "I'm a huge fan. Pretty much everything in it has always inspired me," says JJB. "It oozes style and design elegance. Visually speaking, the pseudo-reality it presents to the player is impressively compact and homogeneous.

    As opposed to many North American games, the series never aimed for photorealism, but somehow the believability of its visual world is extremely potent and more credible than most 'photorealistic' games. That's what I like in a game, that's the kind of art direction that truly connects with me. Slick, stylized, highly designed, and memorable."
    The Deus Ex series is known for taking players around the world, trying to solve international conspiracies; and 'Human Revolution' is no exception. So the crew had to envision and create a wide array of locations. They never went on location though. What they did was write creative briefs for each real world location and contract a local photographer to take thousands of pictures. This came in handy for the different cities visited during in the game. Sprawling streets heavy with billboards and signs of all sizes and colors; dark alleys with trash everywhere, and rooftops overlooking great city vistas.


    Location Location
    No matter the location, what was often important for us was to surprise the player. Too often in games locations are recreated as is. For example, the interior of a bank would look just like any boring bank you've ever walked into. The lobby of an office will also often look just like any cookie cut-out lobbies out there.

    In many locations in DX:HR, we tried to counter balance the mundane with things that either look out of place or out of the ordinary. A good example of this is in one of the streets of the Shanghai map. There's a vacant lot between two buildings filled with hundreds of abandoned air conditioning units painted in different colors. Why is it there? Who made this? That's up to the player to decide really. But it definitely creates something different and most probably memorable.


    Textures
    All the textures in the game were created digitally. DX:HR is quite stylized, and in order to get the style running persistently throughout the creation, there had to be a recipe to follow.

    JJB wanted the game to be slick, and to have very low frequency textures. "After some exhaustive tests, we got what we were looking for and crunched it into a bunch of rules which were then followed by all the texture and shader artists," he explains.

    "I'm quite happy with the results. I wanted an original visual signature for the game, and not using any photographs definitely helped in achieving this. Like our Production Manager Martin Dubeau once said, it's a very 'texture-centric' art direction."

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  • Characters
    Getting the proper character designs proved more difficult than first anticipated. The main obstacles were the stylization of the Cyber-Renaissance. In order to get a proper stylization in character design, a visual language needs to be defined that works efficiently for all the characters as well as for the rest of the in-game visuals. It needs to work as a piece of concept art, but mostly, it needs to work inside the game. The biggest hurdle was the Cyber-Renaissance. This mixing of two very opposite flavors had never been done before. "We truly had to thread our own path with the Renaissance aesthetic direction," says JJB. "But I think we eventually nailed it down quite well. It's not on all the characters of course, but when it's present, it makes for some quite interesting and refreshing character designs. The work of fashion designers such as Gareth Pugh, Vivienne Westwood and Iris Van Herpen were good inspirations."

    Adam Jensen, the game's protagonist, proved the hardest. The EIDOS crew wanted him to look like a 'behind-enemy-lines' agent and like someone who could walk into a high class establishment all at the same time. To top it all, Jean-François Dugas (the Game Director) wanted Adam's mechanical arms to be visible. All these variables made for a difficult equation to solve. Having bare arms meant giving him a vest. Giving him a vest meant making him look like a douche bag. It never really worked.

    Until Jim Murray came up with a solution so simple they couldn't believe it hadn't been thought about before: "'Let's give him two outfits,' he said. We shared the idea with Mary DeMarle (Narrative Game Designer) and Jean-François Dugas, since giving the main character two outfits is more complex than it might sound at first," recalls JJB. "We all agreed on how to do it and Jim Murray nailed the final design of both outfits in under two months. The Adam Jensen we all know and love today was finally born, after more than two years of team work. I think I cried a bit," admits Jacques-Belletête.
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    CDC Engine
    DX:HR runs on a highly modified version of Crystal Dynamic's CDC engine. Some of the main features added for the desired look of the game was screen space ambient occlusion, deferred shading, compositing shaders that allowed the EIDOS team to get a very high level of detail and granularity (high density matter), lots of features to support the intense need for fog and smoke such as volumetric lighting.

    The engine also made intense use of light maps, but they ended up switching this for a completely dynamic model which in turns helped greatly in coding the features mentioned above.

    Colors
    "We call the color palette in the game 'Black and Gold', explains JJB. "I got the idea on a lazy Sunday afternoon while watching TV. The idea is that black represents the cyberpunk side of the game. The film noir elements, the dystopian setting.

    On the other hand, gold stands in for the Renaissance, the human body and transhumanism, as well as the last drop of hope left in the DX:HR world. At the same time, if you look at the paintings from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the color schemes are also often within that black and gold spectrum." Now, not everything in the game utilises this color palette. There are a wide range of other color schemes depending on the locations. But black and gold are definitely important in the game, and were used extensively in marketing and communicating the game.

    As an high-end Art Director, JJB tries new things and creates games that look different and have their own visual signature. This means that I spend a lot of time looking for inspiration in all sorts of weird places. Eventually, all this ends up as a very interesting concept... on paper! Then comes the time where we need to figure out how to give it life, and mostly, how to make it work within the videogame medium. And this is when I start bleeding from everywhere.
    Copying previously successful formulae can help create another successful game. But, says JJB, if you try to thread your own path, to distinguish your product from the masses, you will most probably have to experiment with some techniques and approaches that you and your team have never tried before. "But that's fine by me," says JJB. "They are entitled to think that. Hell, maybe they're right even! But that's when you got to be at your strongest. You have to believe in yourself and in your vision. You need to work constantly to find better solutions to support your direction."

    I believe the secret at this stage is iteration, iteration, iteration! Especially if you are trying to create something new and unique, and/or a new franchise. There's no way you'll get it first shot. And if you do, you're just not trying hard enough or you're just copying someone else. Iteration is key. Sadly, a lot of people still do not understand this very well in our industry.

    But once this unbelievably painful phase has passed; when all the directions have been nailed, assimilated, and brought down to recipes the production team can follow and understand, the fun truly begins!

    Deus Ex: Human Revolution has been created by a huge bunch of extremely talented and passionate people. It is truly a work of dedication and love. In the Montréal videogame industry, you don't stay on a project for four years if you don't like it. You leave and go to the company next door.

    So trust me when I say that the team was choke full of bad ass soldiers who believed in this game. I want to thank every single one of them. This has been the craziest, toughest, and best project I have ever been on. I hope our passion will show through the final product. Peace!

    Relatedlinks
    Deus Ex: Human Revolution
    Eidos Montreal
    Square EnixAlternative site

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