During a livestream to support Operation Supply Drop 2015 Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Character Concept Artist Richard Lyons and Environment Artist Andrew Maximov talked about their job at Naughty Dog and on the upcoming adventure of Nathan Drake.
Lyons mentioned that hisday-to-day job involves a lot of communication with the designers and Creative Directors Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, searching for ideas for character costumes, what motivates characters, and how that can be represented visually, and then that results into producing 2D artwork that will serve as inspiration for the character artists, that will execute on that vision.
Interestingly, Lyons explained that for a new hypotetical IP that kind of work would involve hundreds and hundreds of images, and months and months of work, with quite a large amount of people throwing in ideas.
As an example, for a “small” new ip he worked before with a “tiny” studio, a lead character required 140 different sketches and images.In comparison, if Naughty Dog wanted to do a new intellectual property, he presumes it would require thousands of images. “It would be huge.”
Lyons then explained the early phase of development that he calls “blue sky,” when ideas are tested, then the phase he defines “closing doors” comes. You start off with all the doors open, and every option is possible, then developers realize that they don’t want some of them and start closing doors progressively, and what is left is the path the game will take.
On top of that, there are factors to consider like stylisation, shape language, what demographics you’re trying to appeal to, what the team is good at, what can be achieved technically and more.
Maximow mentioned that he always starts in an Environment Artist role whenever he works with a new team, and then he branches off into solving technical issues for the art team.
He started on Uncharted 4 working on the new foliage animation tech, but then came Drake’s chest hair: he explained that tech often works across the board, so when he was working on the foliage, and he learned that there was a problem with hair animation for characters, so he brought up the idea of re-using the foliage tech. It’s literally the same wind driving the grass on the ground and the hair on Drake, after all.
He realized that the team had modeled Drake’s hair, so he decided to rig it with wind, and just put it in the game. When the Director noticed it, he sent a mail to the entire company saying “hey, this is next gen.”
Maximov explained further that the effect essentially costs nothing performance-wise, so “might as well do it.”
“That’s one of the things I really love about Naughty Dog, it’s that it’s always like how can we step it up a notch, how can we do it the way no one has ever done before, what can we do that no one has ever done before. And that’s I think the most fun part of my job. It’s coming in every day and knowing that the challenges we’re going to be solving, probably no one has ever solved before, and that’s really cool.”
Lyons added that this is a “really gung-ho attitude.” and fosters a really challenging attitude. Every time someone mentions something that seems “a little bit outrageous,” Naughty Dog tries to see what they can do about it.
Maximum continued by explaining that in several studios he worked at before, budget and time constraints push developers to say “we can’t everything.” You won’t hear that at Naughty Dog, where it’s like “It has to be there, somebody might notice, let’s go put it in, let’s come up with something and make it awesome.”