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Here at 80.lv we love Life is Strange. It’s one of the mot visually attractive games released in 2015. It’s got an amazing style, which has purely artistic look. And it’s also one of the few games, which shows new mechanics and uses them flawlessly. We were fortunate to talk to Edouard Caplain from DONTNOD Entertainment – the concept artist behind the legendary game. He talked about the way the company created the amazing visuals, described the importance of light and shared some of his thoughts on great environment creation. We’re incredibly thankful to Edouard for his time.
Shaping the Look of the Game
Ahah I don’t know this is pretty simple actually. The art director had a very good idea of how he wanted the game to took. He gathered tons of art references in a folder, from Alberto Mieglo to Phil Hale, where you have realistic shapes but a stylised texture. This is something I tend to do as well on my personal work, and he asked me to do the same for the Life is Strange concept arts.
Using Concept Art
From the very beginning the game was aimed to look like animated concept art. It was a major aspect of the art direction.
To achieve that the 3D guys tried to reproduce the concept art, its style as well and not just its content. It meant every image had to be entirely painted, no photo bash. Every texture, or prop was reworked before being done in 3D.
On top of that, all the posters, paper note, magazines, etc which populates the levels are painted which adds to the 2D look.
Even the lighting was tweaked so we could have the banding we have in the concepts.
We have 2 main tones in Life is strange, one very warm, sunsety colors (chloe’s room for exemple) and a dark one, blue-ish (tornado scenes). So that was my base.
After that, the universe dictates the colors really. In Life is Strange we have a lot going on around teens, and their world is quite colorful.
Colors does play an important part in the game, the obvious blue butterfly and Chloe thing, but not only. You can do so much with colors, I love it. And you don’t always have such a large range to play with in every production, so it was sweet to have that freedom on Life is Strange.
The Production of the Environments
That’s a bit that I really like. When I paint I like to tell myself stories, imagine things that happened in the environment I’m working on, how it would affect it, what would be left of it, what ever really. But first lots and lots of reference work. It’s a key part for me. Before doing any concept I spend hours browsing the internet.
It’s the only way to make your environment feel real. Same for character work. You can tell stories if it feels right, if everything fits together. Then you can add the little details that will stand out, and tell stuff.
Once I feel I have enough material, I start a quick sketch. For Chloes house, I did a top view sketch of the whole house first. Sometimes the level designers would get a very blocky level first with the main structure, sometimes not. An overview sketch can be enough to check with them if everything works for them.
Then I make a final image of the room in colors with the lighting. First the main parts of the image, walls, floor, furniture. Details always at the end when I’m happy of the overall image.
Once it’s approved by the art director it’s sent directly to the environment guys, who are the ones doing an incredible job translating those images in 3D. There’s a couple back and forth if they need more info or an additional sketch, but it’s all down to them at the end making the cool environments we have in game.
I don’t know if it’s a richer effect than with the photo realistic ones – But when it comes to narrative games I think it’s easier to identify to stylised characters. You see less what’s wrong nor the limits of 3D… Because your brain already know it’s all not real. You concentrate more on the content, what’s going on.
Emotions are often so subtle in real life, they’re also easier to convey with stylised characters, you can push things more, be more bold. Same goes with colors or lighting.
So I guess it works best because of LIS relying so much on its narrative aspect. If the visual style helps the game it’s perfect.