August, 2010

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Conceptualizing History

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

The typical protocol of the concept artist on games/movies is to bring the original idea of the director(s) and/or producer(s) to life via image and then further tweak said image with the notes of feedback from the production team. Conceptualizing the images of the President’s House is a different beast from start to finish. Instead of an original idea of a world the artist has to portray, we had to use American history. Instead of getting notes from director(s) and producer(s), we got notes from historians who specifically specialize in the Lewis and Clark expedition. The constraint of accurately portraying the interiors of Jefferson’s new abode proved to be both meticulous and very rewarding. Meticulous because there is no definitive imagery of the interior of the President’s House, so a lot of focus and research was put into the details of how those rooms could have looked before we sketched them up. Rewarding because few other visual media, if any, have such a considered and accurate rendition of the President’s House. Let alone for a video game!

For example, take a look at these three versions of the Public Dining Room.

We went through several iterations on how this room could look and intentionally left the images sparse (no color or shading) since it saved timed and we were aware that changes would more than likely happen. We conjured up the first version (below) using our initial research such as books, maps, the Monticello website, etc. Using these we found out the size of the room and its contents such as dining table (who would of thought?), a dumbwaiter, girandoles, etc.

Version 1 of the Public Dining Room (click on image for full view)

The version 2 image below shows added content using the feedback from Barb Kubik, who is our super awesome historian. She noted that according to her resources, the fireplace was actually on the east wall, there were actually four doors, and more furniture was in the room.

Version 2 of the Public Dining Room (click on image for full view)

Version 3 displays small changes like a dining set on the table, a note to modelers on where the pier table would be, and switching around the dumbwaiter and sidebar based on further research.

Version 3 of the Public Dining Room (click on image for full view)

The following image is the Public Dining room in its final iteration.

The Public Dining Room's final iteration (click on image for full view).

We made this final iteration after showing Barb the version 3 image. She made comments based on her further research that there were actually two small dumbwaiters that would be by the tables and one on the south east door. Also, one of my favorite details, is the square crumb catcher under the dining table. Barb noted that during the time, textile workers would make square crumb catchers because it was more practical as circular carpets wasted too much material. The numbers at the top of the image are the room dimensions for modeling purposes.

You could spend 5 seconds in this room, but knowing that you were in a super accurate rendition of that room makes the experience so much more rewarding and meaningful. I think that’s a huge part of this game and is a big draw for players. Much thanks to Barb for all the help and time she put in. The team loves her for it. Thanks for reading.

Cheers,

Justin – Concept Artist/Modeler

Nez Perce Country

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Last week I traveled to Lewiston, Idaho for the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation’s 42nd annual meeting. “Meeting” is a misnomer, it’s more of a gathering and outing. Imagine a Star Trek Convention, but substitute Clark and Lewis for Spock and Kirk. I had a great time, met interesting people, and saw some beautiful wilderness. As a designer of this game, it’s important to me that I visit these historical places, explore them myself, and understand their nuances, in order to best portray them in the game. Similarly, being with so many like minded people also helps me see different perspectives and gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the history and the story.

One of the highlights for me was visiting an archaeological site of a Nez Perce longhouse, and many round houses from the early 19th century, in Hells Canyon. It is likely that these houses were part of the village at which Ordway, Weiser, and Frazer traded for Salmon (which rotted before they could get it back to the Corps!) It’s impossible to see in the photos, but there are depressions in the ground where the houses were.

[site of Nez Perce archaeological site visited by Ordway]

[a young Nez Perce dancer]

[Nez Perce beaded Imperial Stormtrooper!]

[Weippe Prairie, where the Corps of Discovery first met the Nez Perce after coming out of the Bitterroots]