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A Guided Tour Of Battleborn's Art

Thanks to Borderlands, Gearbox's original IP are known as much for their art styles as their gameplay. For Battleborn, the developer is once again aiming for a distinctive look, one that can accommodate the immense creative variety present in the game's universe-spanning cast of heroes. Join us as several Gearbox artists and animators walk us through some of Battleborn's concept art and explain why they're excited to be working on the new project.

Battleborn's art director, Scott Kester, was kind enough to provide his thoughts on several pieces of concept for the game, which you can see below. Kester served as a character concept designer for the first two Borderlands games before taking the reins for Battleborn, and his comments provide great insight into the creative process and goals that Gearbox's art team is striving for.

We've also included quotes from several other Gearbox designers and animators, who we spoke to while visiting the studio. Nick Wilson (who stymied me with a Borderlands Easter egg way back in the day) is Battleborn's lead visual FX artist, and he explains how his team's work helps make each character feel unique while unifying the art style as a whole.  Additionally, animation producer Trey Davenport and senior animator Dia Hadley explain their approach to bringing Battleborn's eclectic characters to life.

Finally, Gearbox has brought on Michel Gagne to serve as Battleborn's effects director. Gagne is an accomplished animator who has worked on dozens of feature films, including The Iron Giant, Brave, and the Star Wars: Clone Wars television series. Gagne's hand-animated art style is unmistakable, and after he entered the video game industry with 2011's Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Gearbox jumped at the chance to work with him.

You can click on each piece of concept art to view a larger version of the image.

Kester: This is an early concept of the Jennerit Empire's home world. My goal is for people to be shocked when they see this game and the variety of content that's in it. We have these factions, and hopefully when you get a look at somebody, you get an idea of where they're from, and when you see the world they come from, they should feel at home there. I hope that when you see art like this or you see Rath or Calderius in this world, you say, "Okay, that's where this guy is from." It looks unified but could almost feel like different games.  When I see what we're building here, you'd think a whole game would be wrapped around that, and it would just be sci-fi, gothic-cathedral TRON land, but that's just a section of what we're doing.

Kester: It was important to us to make the minions iconic. We tried to give a look that was understandable and approachable and made sense within our world. He's kind of cool, kind of badass, but at the same time he's kind of silly. We tried to give them an aesthetic that had a lot of character and style, but wasn't just a joke.

Kester: We knew we wanted a spider-mech because we all love spider-mechs and we all love robots, but we needed to find a way to give them a certain charm and a little personality. We added humanistic qualities to them. Why would you ever make a robot that has human hands when it doesn't need them? Why wouldn't it just have guns mounted to it? Well, because it's cooler to have the robot actually hold something.

Davenport: What's really important in the central animation team, is that we're big on ownership. So when somebody gets assigned a character, there's always an owner...whoever owns that character helps bring different identities to the characters that come into the pipeline. While we keep the [animation] style consistent by working with everyone as a team, we're also able to give each character a unique identity simply because everybody has their own visual take [on their own characters].

Hadley: When we first started Battleborn, [we had] the silhouettes of all the characters – the first 15 characters or whatever – and [I remember] how different they all were. When I first looked at them, as an animator, you start drooling – especially when the tech guys say, "Hey, we've got all sorts of memory you can use." And we were like, "Alright, every [character] will have their own animation set, and their own – everything." So, just the run cycles alone...everybody has a distinct run cycle, so if you see a character running out of the corner of your eye, you can distinguish who they are right off the bat.

Coming Up Next: Gearbox discusses the importance of visual effects and establishing the tone of Battleborn...

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