From giving projects a shot in the arm to working on Killzone 3 and Game of Thrones, this studio’s star is on the rise
KARAKTER, the team behind some of Game of Thrones’ most memorable scenes, create ambitious virtual worlds, built on style and substance.
The intrinsic design process is a term you’ll hear the KARAKTER team use regularly. Tobias Mannewitz conceived the principle when, in 2009, the studio was hired to lead an unnamed project out of a creative cul-de-sac.
It did so by doing what it does best: using expertise in concept art and creative development to create an ambitious and expansive virtual world, one built on both style and substance. “We were asked to review an IP in its infancy,” Tobias says. “It had a lot of cool content, but none of it made sense holistically because there was too much freedom and not enough logical rules governing how the world functioned. The world needed constraints to inspire the artists to come up with design solutions, instead of offering infinite possible directions.”
The principle in practice is best seen in KARAKTER’s work on Game of Thrones. The team, led by Tobias, provided concept art for the majority of VFX shots in seasons two and three – helping to set the scene for many of the show’s most spectacular moments, such as land-and-sea epic the Battle of Blackwater. The studio earned two Emmy awards for outstanding visual effects for its contributions and was invited back to work on series four.
“It’s all there,” Tobias says, referring to the intrinsic design process at work.
“The background for this universe was already brilliantly thought out by George RR Martin, so when it comes to designing for this world it’s an absolute pleasure.”
Tobias, Henrik Bolle and Floris Didden founded KARAKTER back in 2008. The studio specialises in concept and marketing art, not to mention pre-visualisation, art direction, graphic design, illustration and virtually everything in between.
While the founders each have their own areas of expertise, they’re united by a belief in the power of concept design. “It’s a communication tool for a narrative,” managing director and lead artist Henrik says. “Naturally, we’re always chasing the highest standard of technical execution in our artworks. But what we all agree on is that design is king: rendering a poor design won’t make it better, and a design that doesn’t have a strong world to live in is merely a novelty.”
“Take a character brief,” adds Mike Hill, the newest partner. “Say that a production is in full swing and, in the excitement to start
When it comes to designing for Game of Thrones it’s an absolute pleasure
making great content, nobody has created a backstory for the world. What are its conflicts? What are its cultures? How does it survive? Answers to these questions make it incredibly easy to not just design a character, but an entire culture. Bypassing this step though only gets you to the fun bit of iterating on a character for weeks on end without knowing where to take it next, wasting time and resources and ending up with a botched product.”
third time’s the char m
In 2009, Guerrilla Games invited the studio to work on first-person shooter Killzone 3. It was to be the first of many landmark clients. KARAKTER, then based in Amsterdam, initially worked as a splinter unit at the game developer’s headquarters.
The relationship endures, although the studio now works independently, and moved to Berlin in 2011.
KARAKTER is at its best working on AAA games. It has contributed to the success of titles such as Anno, Shadow Fall and Ryse: Son of Rome, to name just a few. The studio also succeeded in working on launch titles for both the PS4 and Xbox One.
Doing so requires the studio to take on multiple projects simultaneously. The founders take the roles of project directors. While they’re always hands-on, creating artwork themselves, they also build and lead a team of freelancers put together especially for each project.
Now in its fifth year, the KARAKTER team continues to hone its skills in creating engaging world designs. While most of its projects are top secret, Mike reveals the one he’s most excited about. “Killzone Shadowfall will be the next project to hit the shelves,” he says, “and we can’t wait to share the fruits of several years of labour.”
This epic space battle is an example of KARAKTER’s approach to marketing: a dynamic scene built on good composition and graphic elements.
The starting point for this original Killzone design was the cockpit of the classic
For KARAKTER, the question of backstory is pivotal to any character brief, serving to guide the entire process from initial concept to final execution.
The founders of KARAKTER act as hands-on project directors who build and lead a team of freelancers specially selected for the work in question.
One of the many designs created for the Anno series of real-time strategy games on PC.
Tobias Mannewitz’s set extension scene from Game of Thrones shows the camp of the Second Sons in front of the city of Yunkai. There’ll be much more Game of Thrones artwork next issue – see page 82!
Artist Henrik Bolle looked at Russian nuclear rocket silos and attempted a similar look for this image.