The lights are on
How much time goes into creating a new character for a game? A lot. For every good idea a team will often have to sort through dozens of bad or misguided ones. But after months of tireless iteration a fully fleshed out character begins to emerge. BioWare’s art director Derek Watts walks us through the process of creating one of Mass Effect 2’s more original teammates, Thane.
“A lot of the time we will do the head first and then work on the body. I chose Thane because he was the toughest character for us to get. We had a written description of him to start with; we usually get about a paragraph of text to start, and that's all we really need. For us the key words were “career assassin”. The problem was, he was going to be the female love interest. Now that doesn't sound like much if you think about it, but it got us all mixed up a bunch of times, because women were going to have to find this guy attractive. So we asked all the women in the office what they liked in their aliens, and that kind of got us going off a lot of weird directions in the beginning and made it harder than it should have been. As far as men go – like with the Asari – you make her blue and give her the perfect body and you’re good to go. Women are more sophisticated than that.
This first set of drawings is by [concept artist Ben Huen]. This is his phase 1. We had talked to a few different girls around office, and I know Jude Law had come up a couple times. If you look at the guy on the left, the guy with the back paint on his eyes, he looks slightly like Jude Law. But we were also looking at some birds of paradise, and you can see some version of Thane were he had decorative feathers; we were thinking maybe he could've been very proud of the way he looked.”
“This is done by artist Matt Rhodes. He’s been around for a while. He did a lot of the characters from Mass Effect 1 – probably 95% of them. So at this stage we were actually talking to [Mass Effect producer Casey Hudson], and we were thinking maybe Thane was like the perfect man. Maybe he had like this mannequin head, but he had this slight fuzz of hair, almost like a baby – with number one you can see it on his forehead. We kept messing around with this red mark that we thought might be his key feature. What we usually do is get feedback from some people at this point, and the women looked at these and went, ‘I'm not sure about that guy. He's got a giant red mark on his face and he’s creepy.’ And we were like, ‘what he looks cool.’ So we went back to the drawing board."
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These people have amazing artistic abilities. I'm still working on polishing up my stick figures. :)
Wow, thank you so much for this insight. As a Game Art student, this is utterly fascinating and inspirational. Thanks again!
wow i can barely customize a good shepard and they have pimp stuff wow
They did a good ob on desining the charachers
This process is truly incredible. I like the fact that even when the artists think they have the look they want, they keep plowing through in case something better comes along.
Amazing work. It's really cool to find out what goes into making the deep and intriguing characters that I really enjoy.
Amazing artists over at Bioware. Keep up the great work guys/gals.
~p.s. shoot some more blue women my way :)
Now do these for the other characters. I wanna see Grunt, Samara and Jack from starting concept to final!
The guys at bioware made thane a truly interesting character that everyone can get into.
Always love seeing the transition from concept to final. Keep digging up the goods. I'm going to eat a pear, I want more by the time I get back. Hop to it.
the fact that you can romance him makes me feel dirty...
I didn't even realize you could be a Girl until my Girlfriend started playing...
That's some fascinating stuff! I always love to see what goes into making a game or movie and the concept art is one of the coolest things about games. I love to see how characters could have turned out!
Thane is certainly one of the more artistic characters - I can see why he gave them trouble. All the other races in the game except the collectors were already present - already had a style. The Drell were the only one's that had to be conjured up fresh.
I'm also hoping in Mass Effect 3 we get to see the 100% scope of all the major races. Turian colonies & cities, Turian females, Krogan females, Elcor worlds & colonies, Hanar worlds, the Geth homeworld, etc.
thane is the man. i just recruited him and ive been waiting to do so since ive seen the trailer where he snuck into a room full of armed guards and took them all out in hand-to-hand combat. such a badass.
vanguard shepard + grunt + thane = uber team
slightly lacking in tech but i never found much use for tech moves anyways.
His early faces looked pretty weird, they all have some sort of deep dramatic look on them.
All those looks for thane look amazing.
Very interesting article. I always love having a little insight into what goes on in making video games.