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Ubisoft published an amazing interview with Naomi Savoie from Far Cry Primal team. It’s a great look into the art direction process and hopefully it will help you to get some nice insights. The interview was recorded and edited by Mikel Reparaz.
Creating a prehistoric world like Far Cry Primal isn’t as simple as looking back at what scholars know about the time. There is, after all, only so much that can be gleaned from pottery shards and millennia-old garbage pits. Bringing a place like the land of Oros to life requires as much creativity as it does research, and that’s where artists like Naomi Savoie come in. As a concept artist, Savoie worked to design the characters, animals and weapons of Far Cry Primal, drawing from anthropological knowledge and Stone Age fantasy to help create a unique setting where nearly everything is your enemy.
How did you approach the Stone Age design mentality? What kind of research did you start from?
Naomi Savoie: We always start by taking inspiration, and we inspired ourselves with movies and comics. But our biggest source of inspiration was actually real life. So we did a lot of anthropological research, and had consultants come in and help us understand a bit more about the Stone Age. Once we had all that reference material, we started doing work and defining the look of each of the tribes.
We knew, at that point, that we wanted three distinct tribes, and we did a lot of work in making their visual language very unique. For example, the Wenja, they’re very connected with nature, they believe everything has a spirit. So they wear a lot of animal pelts, and they have grounded, earthy tones in what they wear. Then you have the Udam, who are the most primitive of the three. They’re very big brutes, and they’re very chaotic in what they wear. They wear a lot of bone, and it’s very chaotically put together. And finally you have the Izila, who are the most advanced and sedentary tribe, and they’ve started doing religion. They have more technology, so they’re able to craft these beautiful stone masks, and they wear blue paint. They all have a very unique visual style.
How beholden did you feel to representing what you’d learned through research and talking to anthropologists?
NS: As we were talking to them, we realized that there are a lot of gray areas. They were telling us, “We have elements, fragments left behind for us from history, but there are a lot of missing pieces.” And they’re like, “you should actually feel free to take a bit of creative freedom in how you do it.”
One of the things we really want to put forward is the sense of scale in everything, to make you feel very small, because this was a time when man was very much at the bottom of the food chain and just starting to climb on top of it. That was the feeling we wanted the player to have when they start the game – you’re in this temperate forest with huge cedar trees, and you have the animals, which are also very massive. So that was a thing we pushed a bit further than it actually was.
Did you have a hand in designing Far Cry Primal’s megafauna?
NS: Yeah, actually. I designed the mammoth and the sabretooth and some of those animals. We looked at skeletons from back then, but even so, we don’t know what their fur would look like, and all that. So I did take a bit of inspiration from real life. For example, for the sabretooth, I looked at lions because they’re kind of close in anatomy. And I sort of merged the two and put my own twist on it. I made it much bigger, exaggerated the muscles, made the canines bigger and all that.
How did you tackle designing some of the spaces in the world, especially the man-made ones?
NS: I didn’t personally work on the environments too much, but they were still part of the visual identity we defined for each of the tribes. The Izila, being a bit more advanced, had a lot more tools to erect these big monoliths to their celestial things that they worshiped, so they used a lot of stone. They were also a bit more sedentary and started doing agriculture, so we were able to create farm segments. That was part of their identity as well.
Also interesting was the clothing because for the Wenja, and especially the Udam, sewing was not necessarily possible back then. We sort of had to figure out ways they would actually build things without certain things that we take for granted today. So we ended up with very chaotic-looking structures, especially for the Udam, because they’re more primitive.
Of all the tribes, the Udam seem the most like archetypal cavemen. Are they drawn from a real-life analogue?
NS: We actually looked at Neanderthals – very loosely. They’re inspired by them, but they’re still quite our own creation. Like I said, we take inspiration from real life, but we still push it very far, and still make it feel true to the fantasy of the Stone Age. We had references like Frank Frazetta, an artist that did a lot of stuff for Conan the Barbarian, standing on top of a hill and being very, like… Conan the Barbarian. That kind of style, we still wanted to inject a bit of that into Far Cry Primal, to play to the fantasy of the Stone Age.
We wanted them to instill fear in their opponents, because they’re brutes, so we worked on their visual language, like the bone and the horns in the masks that they’re going to wear, and even the scarecrows that they leave across the land. We loosely based them on Neanderthals, but we wanted to bring something a bit more interesting and creative. When people think of the Stone Age, they have certain preconceptions of what it should look like. So we wanted to play a bit into that. Like make it plausible, but make people’s Stone Age fantasy real, so they’re able to play and experience it.
Did you design the main characters? Did you have a theme or inspiration in mind when tackling those characters specifically?
NS: I designed Ull and Batari. I think I just really listened to the sort of visual decisions that we made for each of them. Whenever I design a character, I talk to the writers a bit and see like, OK, this character is a bit like this, personality-wise, and they went through this, so I try to be very coherent with what they wrote in order to represent that best in the character. I think Batari is interesting because she’s a queen of sorts. I tried to make her look a bit more regal, in a very primitive way, with her crown.
Given the work that has gone into creating this world, is it frustrating to hear people ask, “Why no dinosaurs?”
NS: A little bit. Well, not too much. We think the mammoths and the sabretooths are very intimidating beasts, and because we wanted to make the setting plausible, dinosaurs don’t have a place in it. It just fits the fantasy, so for me it’s not a question. So it’s not very frustrating.
What was the process for creating some of the weapons? Those are some nasty-looking clubs and spears. Did you create them more or less from scratch?
NS: That was the challenge, actually. Building weapons without the tools we have today, and still making them look very intimidating and very deadly. The visual language for each of the tribes plays into it, because as you’re progressing and upgrading your weapons, you’ll also be able to build weapons that your enemies are using. For example, the Izila spear, you’ll be able to craft that eventually, and it kind of has the visual style of the Izila as well. Weapon design was an interesting challenge. I had a lot of fun designing stuff that would look absolutely awful to get hit with.