Gears of War 3: Concepts

Mon 16th Jul 2012, by Paul Hellard | Peoplestudios

CGSociety :: Game Production Focus

16 July 2012, by Paul Hellard

Celebrating the release of Ballistic Publishing's massive The Art of Gears of War 3 with Epic Games, CGSociety presents the first of two interviews. We discuss concepts with Jay Hawkins and Shane Pierce, Gears of War 3’s senior concept artists at Epic Games. These guys are super talented and continuously show they are on top of their game.   You can meet them virtually on a 'Meet-the-Artist' style thread about the piece and the Gears of War 3 game production at the bottom of this article.


JAY HAWKINS, Senior Concept Artist

CGS: There are set guides for the characters on Gears of War 3. Marcus and his bandana; Baird and his goggles; Myrrah and her headdress, but how far did you go outside those guides for characters?

JH: Going into Gears of War 3 it was pretty well understood that we didn’t want to mess with the core design of the main characters. They all had to be instantly recognizable to the player as Marcus, Baird, Dom, Cole, etc. Therefore, the key design elements needed to stay intact but with just a bit of tweaking to place them in the new story arc of a ruined and desperate Sera. We leveraged the new characters in Gears 3 to add aesthetic variety to the cast. The introduction of Bernie, Jace, Sam and others helped us explore character ideas without monkeying too much with the main dudes.

CGS: The common theme is Survival. This desperate aesthetic informed every aspect of character design. Can you expand on that?

JH: Designing the Gears of War soldiers for a bleak, post-apocalyptic world was a natural progression for the universe. Up until Gears 3, we had seen the fully battle-armored COG running around, stomping baddies, all clean and shiny. With Gears 3, we needed to convey that supplies have run out, military organization is out the window, and these guys are just doing what they need to do to survive. For the COG, we simplified the armor to the bare essentials. We distressed everything to make it look like materials had been used and repaired over and over. Adding a bit of grunge and dirt sealed the look.

CGS: Gears 3 takes place in summer. Please take us through the changes that had to be conceived for the guys at Sera for this change in climate.

JH: This might seem ridiculous, but the best way I could figure out how to suit up the guys for summer was to rip off their sleeves. The COG will always look massive and heavy. As pure warriors by design, I couldn’t exactly put them in Bermuda shorts and flip flops. It was almost a no-brainer to simply remove the sleeves on most characters and add a tattered, sweat soaked t-shirt underneath. To go any further would have taken away their bulk and battle-ready attitude.

CGS: Can you talk about the moment when the character is handed over to become the 3D model as opposed to the design, poses and studies that make up the 2D concept?

JH: When I do a concept I only want to draw it once. I am not a big fan of redrawing something over for the modelers and the designers separately. I basically try to make everyone happy with one single concept, providing as much detail as possible and being as exact as I can be. For instance, the concept I created for Marcus in Gears 3 was my only drawing of him. I drew his front and back, trying to hit every aspect of his armor, his attitude and his equipment all in one drawing.

CGS: Please let's discuss the work your department did on Gears of War 3. Where did you begin, both when you were given the task for Gears 3 and perhaps, what your training has been, before you began at Epic.

JH: I was lucky enough to be the concept artist for weapons, characters and monsters across the entire Gears of War trilogy. I graduated from college in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in oil painting and found my way into the game industry around 2001. I worked at several other companies as a concept artist until I landed at Epic in 2004. Gears of War is by far the best game series I have worked on, and it’s my favorite. Everything about Gears is what I am interested in as an artist.

CGS: Having had this Gears of War franchise taking place for about ten years now, that's an awful long time to live in that world. What's that like?

JH: Honestly, I would be happy drawing Gears of War for the rest of my career. As a kid I was only interested in drawing tanks, guns, crazy monsters, etc. People ask if I want to draw fantasy, or pirates, or little cartoon goblins for a change… nope. Gears is what I am about and I don’t think I will ever get tired of it. I still have so many ideas for the Gears universe, and hopefully I will have another 10 years to work on them.

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CGS: Please describe for those uninitiated, the work that your department did on Gear of War 3. Where did you begin, both when you were given the task for Gears 3 and perhaps, what your training has been, before you began at Epic.

SP: My focus has been on the Gears of War environments and architecture, so my workflow typically kicks off when I’m given an initial description of an area, usually a couple sentences in length. I’ll take a few hours to generate a couple roughs, and then I’ll pick one and start to finish it. Gears 3’s progress went really, really fast, so there wasn’t much iteration. Sometimes, I would be only halfway done with a piece, and they would take it from me and I would need to move on to another one.

After creating the overall look and feel paintings, I would sometimes do a breakout, which is a more detailed drawing of an element, an important set piece or something that’s too vague in the initial concept. Breakouts would then be handed over to the crazy talented environment team. It’s really a treat working with this crew, because you know that whatever you have designed, that those guys are going to take it and make it ten times better. They don’t just translate it for the 3D environment, they also add their own artistic interpretation into the architecture, and that’s what makes the art so special. I get pretty spoiled because of the talent here.


CGS: Having had this Gears of War franchise taking place for about ten years now, that's an awful long time to live in that world. What's that like?

SP: It’s been great. For a concept artist, the challenges are as good as gets. I love the Gears world from an artistic perspective. From the thick architectural shapes that are wrapped up in intricate detail to the overall lighting influenced by the Hudson River School approach, Sera is a fantastical yet very real place to visit, with plenty of places that have yet to be designed and explored.




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