Assassin’s Creed III: Making Of The Cover

by Matt Miller on Mar 07, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Game Informer gets lots of questions about the images that grace our cover each month. Where do they come from? Who are the artists? Who writes the headlines? We were extremely happy this month to unveil two beautiful covers announcing Ubisoft's Assassin’s Creed III. On top of a fantastic wide-release cover, we also obtained a special edition cover image created by Alex Ross.

Here’s how it all comes together.

Game Informer editors begin conversations about a cover image well in advance of its release to the public. We coordinate with the publisher of the game in question, like Ubisoft, and ideas are pitched back and forth about the potential art, which has usually not been created or finalized at this early stage. Sometimes, early sketches are even shot back and forth as we aim to find an image that we think will be a good fit for the magazine, and the publisher thinks will speak to the nature of its game.

In the case of Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft Montreal worked with a creative freelance artist named Xavier Thomas (aka SeedSeven). “I’ve been working on major Ubisoft titles for the past eight years,” Thomas says. “I’ve been involved in the very first Assassin’s Creed episode for which I’ve designed the communication images and the boxart. My work is more a collaborative experience with the development team.” 

Small details offer hints to faithful series fans

Our cover image is the first glimpse of a new title for millions of gamers, so extensive thought goes into the tone and style of the image presented. In the case of Assassin’s Creed III, the image was built to showcase several elements of the game. “My main goal is to get gamers excited," Thomas says. "The cover image for Assassin’s Creed III will be the first image of the hero they will play, the very first hint at the new setting and fantasy the game will offer and I want to give them a feeling of immersion at first glance.”

Thomas’ image introduces Connor, and manages to simultaneously keep him grounded in the look of the Asssassin’s Creed franchise, but also set him apart from previous heroes like Ezio and Altaïr. “The key signature elements of the assassin are of course, the hood and the hidden blade which is always present but increasingly discreet to make place for new elements added to this character like his tomahawk or his bow,” Thomas says. “It’s exciting how the assassin outfit has evolved and offers new possibilities for the game.”

New weapons go a long way toward establishing the character, and the background snow hints at new elements of the gameplay, such as shifting weather and wilderness environments. Thomas continues: “Weapons should give the gamer a great idea of all the fantasies and the gameplay possibilities for this next Assassin’s Creed game," Thomas says. "But if you take a closer look at the image, Connor’s posing hints on his predator side. Environments are more organic and give you a cool idea of where a part of the game will take place.”

The use of a wraparound cover image offers a chance to communicate different things depending on how the reader views the image. “I wanted them to ask themselves: Who is the hero? Is he with or against the soldiers? The perspective changes whether the magazine is open or closed, ” Thomas says.

Individual elements of the cover image change as the art develops. For instance, one early version of the cover didn’t include the American flag behind Connor on the front cover, but the later addition drives home the setting of colonial America. Other stylistic features help to further deepen the immersion in the game. If you take a close look at the cover, you’ll notice sharp white lines amid the snowy backdrop – a subtle hint of the Animus visualization style that has always characterized the AC series, and hinting at the involvement of modern day events. Taken together, the single image remains mysterious, but offers insight into the new game for readers who are paying close attention.

Next: The limited-run second cover

Ross' final cover shows marked differences from the source image

In the case of Assassin’s Creed III, Game Informer was given the opportunity to prepare a second cover based on art that Ubisoft Montreal had commissioned from Alex Ross. Ross is one of the most celebrated artists working in comics, and has also created art for everything from the 2002 Spider-Man film to the Academy Awards.

Given that he was creating art based on an already existing image, we asked Ross about what elements he wanted to highlight. “There was some slight reworking of the figure position, much of it having to do with the elements he holds as weapons, as well as the proportions of the game cover,” Ross tells us. “With the digitally painted image they gave me, I translated that into my own style of working with watercolor paint on paper, keeping a lot of the same lighting and color value but incorporating more detail from the additional reference they gave me of the character’s clothing and weaponry. I was hoping to illustrate the face, which was mostly in shadow in the rough Ubisoft provided. It always helps to have a face to connect with, even one that’s mostly in shadow.  There were a lot of turnarounds from the video game they provided to me that illuminated what the character looked like, and I could then start off illustrating more than what they wanted to be seen and bury it gradually in greater darkness. ”

An early sketch by Ross of the cover image

Interestingly, Ross’ final image and the different back cover concept might have been closer to the original image, but Ross explored a different approach and ultimately settled on a front and back view of Connor. “There was a consideration of a full wraparound composition that showed a different view on the character with other figures coming up from behind that would have been seen on the back side of the cover.  Compared to that, the front and back view design seemed cooler and more focused,” Ross says. “There were tight sketches done of two different wraparound compositions, as well as multiple amendments of the main one we went with. I did a color composition as well by using markers over the final pencil rough, showing how the blue-white background might appear. Some commercial jobs that have this much importance to them require these greater steps before signing off on a finished illustration.”

Ross’ final image is completed in a very different way from Thomas’ digital art. “The painting is done in watercolor gouache on illustration paper. There is a modest amount of airbrushing in acrylic paint, mostly done after the full painting was done, just to accent certain areas like the cold breath coming from the character,” Ross describes. “Obviously any digital artists work in ways I’m not accustomed to, with tools I’ve never learned.  My style is similar in approach to a long history of magazine and paperback illustration. Ultimately I’m still working in the same manner that I learned in my art school.”

Even small details, like the color of the dot about the "i", are debated to find the best option

Whether we’re working with a single image or multiple potential covers, the editors at Game Informer receive the final art and begin to prepare it for use on our cover. A layout artist carefully positions the art on the cover, adjusts colors as necessary for print quality, and attaches any logos and other cover features. Meanwhile, we as GI editors participate in meetings about what, if anything, to place on the cover in terms of headlines. Sometimes that there is no headline at all, and the art speaks for itself – as was the case with Assassin’s Creed III. Different versions and headlines are tried on the cover, and other editors are consulted for opinions. As an example, in the case of the AC III cover, there was an extended conversation about the minor detail of what color would be used for the dot above the “i” in the Game Informer logo along the top of the front cover. In other instances, we might have six different cover headlines in contention before a final choice is made.

In the end, the hope is that we succeed at presenting an image that awakens the imagination of gamers, and speaks to what we think are the most exciting elements of the newly announced game.

We’ll have lots more details on the actual game of Assassin’s Creed III over the coming weeks. Make sure and check our game hub by clicking here or on the banner below.