In­ter­view: Dar­ren Ba­con

Project pil­lars, stu­dio cul­ture, and the fi­nal five per cent: Halo’s lead con­cept artist takes Gary Evans be­hind the scenes of the AAA-fran­chise

ImagineFX - - Contents -

Halo’s lead con­cept artist takes us be­hind the scenes of the AAA-fran­chise, and talks stu­dio cul­ture at 343 In­dus­tries.

You work as a con­cept artist at video games de­vel­oper 343 In­dus­tries. You’ve just fin­ished de­sign­ing a ve­hi­cle for the new Halo. You’re pleased with it, this as­sault ve­hi­cle. You like the en­ergy weapon, the anti-grav­ity propul­sion sys­tem, the hatch on top that cov­ers the player. It’s func­tional, but it looks good too. At least, you think it looks good.

You take your con­cept into a meet­ing with the rest of the team. Some­body speaks up. A fel­low con­cept artist doesn’t like your de­sign. This per­son’s got a prob­lem with your hatch, that part of the ve­hi­cle that cov­ers the player. They don’t think it looks good at all. In fact, they think it’s ugly.

So you and your fel­low con­cept artist look to the head of the ta­ble, to Dar­ren Ba­con, lead con­cept artist on the Halo fran­chise. He thinks for a minute, then points at some­thing stuck up on the wall – an over­rid­ing idea that helps guide the pro­duc­tion process. He’s point­ing at a “project pil­lar”.

“If a project pil­lar is ‘game­play first,’” the Amer­i­can says, “it’s eas­ier for a team de­sign­ing a ve­hi­cle with a dis­puted ‘ugly’ hatch on top to know what ac­tion to take. To solve the dis­crep­ancy, the teams knows, at a project level, that the game­play func­tion of be­ing able to cover the player is more im­por­tant than some aes­thetic pref­er­ence. There­fore, they can make the right de­ci­sion for the project, know­ing what’s most im­por­tant ac­cord­ing to the pil­lar.”

the good, the bad and the ugly

It doesn’t mat­ter whether or not your hatch is ugly. It mat­ters that your hatch serves its pur­pose. This, Dar­ren says, is where things get a bit weird, a bit para­dox­i­cal. Your con­cept art can be good and bad at the same time. It can suc­ceed in be­ing func­tional, but be less suc­cess­ful as a stand­alone piece of art. Your work is still very good. It’s

If a project pil­lar is ‘game­play first’ then it’s eas­ier to know what ac­tion to take

Per­fectly com­posed “This im­age was done near the ship date of Halo 5: Guardians as a mag­a­zine cover pro­posal. It was tricky be­cause there were so many com­po­si­tional el­e­ments go­ing on.”

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