Stu­dio pro­file

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

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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

Apache he­li­copter.

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.

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