the team used video of paint falling into a bowl of water
Conrad Roset’s main focus for the poetic platformer Gris was on creating an illustration that players could get lost in. Roset is an artist and illustrator whose work has been exhibited in galleries, featured in magazines and books, and commissioned by brands like Adidas and Zara. Gris was his opportunity to create a world, swapping the static for the fluid.
The game unfurls as a tale of loss and sorrow – a dreamy experience that’s more about evoking a kind of wordless enchanted bittersweet mood than offering up a thesis. As such, the imagery is the star of the show. Shapes cluster into plants, buildings form out of collections of columns, platforms and staircases. A gigantic bird shifts between a recognisable silhouette and an animated fluid mass.
Gris picks up motifs from Roset’s existing work. There are blooms of watercolour pigment, neat ink outlines, and a fascination with the bodies of lithe women. His style is spare, using a lot of white space to balance punches of colour. In translating that to a digital environment, he worked with his partners Adrián Cuevas and Roger Mendoza at Nomada Studio to make sure the filters, textures, watercolour effects and so on would produce the right look.
Bringing Roset’s work to life began with hand-drawn sketches, including watercolours. Once he and Nomada started the game, the art and animation moved to Photoshop but with an emphasis on maintaining the organic look and feel.
For example, there’s an animation whereby a cloud of colour blooms across the screen. For this the team used a video of paint falling into a bowl of water and then adjusted it in Unity so it looked like it was blooming from the right part of the screen. Those floods of colour are narratively important, too. They happen when a player gains access to a new part of the colour palette.
As well as Roset’s own work, Eyvind Earle’s Disney artwork is a reference point, particularly his concept art for Sleeping Beauty. Those images use layers to create the illusion of depth without linear perspective – a technique that translates well to a 2D platformer.
Earle’s influence is most evident in Gris’ forest sections where squared-off topiary is held aloft by tree trunks so slender they’re just vertical lines, with other vertical lines as branches.
Curiously for a game about grief, Gris seems to avoid anger, harshness and ugliness. But this too is an aesthetic choice. “There are some rougher scenes,” says Roset. “I liked the idea of talking about harsh topics from a gorgeous, aesthetically pleasing viewpoint.”
TOP: Flowers and trees need to work for platforming as well as the look of the scene.
RIGHT: Sketches allow an artist to capture the main shapes of a scene.